19 July 2018

Wanted: humble billionaires

Most of our chronic social and environmental problems don't have simple solutions. Governments, though, are reluctant to relinquish power and therefore keen to control the funds and institutions whose ostensible purpose is to solve our problems - even when these bodies are manifestly overwhelmed, incompetent, or corrupt. It shouldn't be surprising that politicians, whose lifetime ambition has been to accumulate power, behave like this. It's a bit more surprising that billionaires are subject to the same conceit: 
Tech billionaires from Mark Zuckerberg to Bill Gates have done impressive philanthropic work, but they have both applied their hubris and their cash to failed efforts to try to reform education in America. It turns out that being great at computer software doesn't necessarily make you great in other areas. ...
Memo to tech billionaires: Just because you solved one problem with a simple solution doesn't mean all problems have simple solutions. Let's continue to register our displeasure with tech titans when they show their arrogance, and let's be a little more skeptical when they want to reinvent everything from food to space travel. Stop worshipping guys like Elon Musk, David R Wheeler, CNN, 17 July
So it seems that those who have power or money, having achieved their personal goals, think they are the people best placed to achieve society's goals. Social Policy Bonds are a means by which government or billionaires could both articulate society's wishes and channel funds into satisfying those wishes, without actually doing the work themselves. They could, instead, reward the achievement of our goals, without dictating who shall achieve them nor how they shall be achieved. They would still have the power to articulate these goals and to raise, or spend, the revenue required for their achievement - things that they are good at. But, under a bond regime, they would relinquish the control over how these goals are to be achieved. That would be difficult for politicians or billionaires to accept. But the stakes are high: our social and environmental challenges are too big and too urgent to be left to to those whose expertise lies solely, it seems, in the accumulation of power or money.

We need diverse, adaptive solutions, with time horizons longer than those of individual lifetimes. As a species, we now have massive potential to solve those problems that have bedevilled mankind for millennia: war, for instance, poverty, illiteracy, disease. Social Policy Bonds are a means by which we could motivate people toward solving these problems. Governments aren't likely to be the first to issue them. They owe too much to existing career paths, methods, and institutions. But billionaires? They could be more amenable to persuasion. They want to see the right thing done. All it would take is a bit of humility on their part so that they don't feel they have to be the ones doing it.

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