Why do I keep blogging about nappies? Because decrying the use of disposables rather than cloth (or vice versa), does not make for sensible policy. As such, the seemingly simple question of disposable versus cloth embodies in microcosm the inescapable difficulty of making policy about bigger concerns. There are always angles that we cannot foresee. Cleo Mussi, for instance, writes to the New Scientist:
.... I wonder whether the research comparing [cloth] to disposables took into account the fact that babies using cloth nappies tend to be toilet-trained day and night at a much earlier age – there is little more uncomfortable than a wet cloth nappy. A difference of six months to a year would lead to a child using 1100 to 2200 extra disposable diapers or nappies – a lot of extra landfill. Cleo Mussi, Letter to the editor of 'New Scientist', 12 DecemberOur environment and society are too complex and changing too rapidly for us to favour even one of two types of nappy. Our knowledge of existing and new scientific relationships is also rapidly expanding. Yet the way we make policy makes little allowance for such difficulties. Typically, a government (heavily influenced by corporate interests or ideological baggage) makes a top-down, one-size-fits-all decision, ostensibly based on fossilised science, and then moves onto something else, rarely revisiting or even monitoring (pdf) its performance.
When bigger challenges than nappies loom, this way of doing things generates commensurately bigger problems. Whether it's climate change or health or global conflict, neither government nor any single conventional organisation can know all about the relevant human and scientific relationships, let alone keep up with them. Nor can they anticipate the diverse effects their policies will have over both time and space. The complexities are too great, and any single body is going to be too pre-occupied with its image, the latest events, or its members' individual goals to care much about outcomes.
Yes, outcomes. Even obscure wrinkles, of the sort about which Mussi tells us, can have big, unforeseeable impacts. Only people who are continuously motivated to achieve our goals, to look at the effects of their initiatives, and to adjust their ideas accordingly, can develop the diverse, adaptive approaches that we need to solve our social and environmental problems. Social Policy Bonds are one way in which we could stimulate such initiatives. They have other benefits: most significant here is that issuers of the bonds do not need to specify how a problem is to be solved in order to get people started on solving it. Our goals are stable: the optimal ways of achieving them, especially when complicated by time lags, feedback loops, a multitude of known, unknown and unknowable variables, are not. We can and, in my view, should, issue Social Policy Bonds targeting such goals as dealing huge, urgent problems such as climate change or global conflict even though the ways in which they are to be solved are beyond - well beyond - the purview of our current policymakers and their paymasters.