13 January 2020

Mickey Mouse micro-objectives: rape statistics

In our complex societies, the alternative to coherent, meaningful, goals expressed in numbers are incoherent, meaningless goals expressed in numbers. That's bad enough, but there are times when numerical targets are devised such that they are not just devoid of meaning, but work in ways contrary to their ostensible intention. Here is one recently reported example:

Pinellas Sheriff’s Office boosts its rape stats without solving cases, Allison Ross, 'Tampa Bay Times', 5 January

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The details aren't important: it's a familiar story. The problem with this, and other Mickey Mouse micro-objectives, is that the numerical target is uncorrelated to any aspect of societal well-being. They sound good, these targets, and they might have started out as well intentioned. But they are too easily devised or perverted by people with an interest in avoiding effort. People can get away with this because few of us will challenge such high-sounding goals as 'reducing rapes', or 'dealing with crime', or 'reducing climate change'. Only in retrospect do we see how the targets and indicators associated with such ideals are so poorly or cynically designed that they have the effect of nullifying their stated goals.

The case for Social Policy Bonds rest on two pillars. One is the channelling of market forces into the achievement of our goals. The other, though, is the precise definition of these goals. For any quantitative measures of progress, our goals should not only be meaningful to ordinary people. They should be ends in themselves or inextricably linked to those ends. They need to be broad and long term, so that solving one problem can't occur simply by creating others, or shifting the problem into another region, or kicking the can down the road.

So how would Social Policy Bonds deal with rape? One way forward could be to target for reduction -  nationally - the numbers of people in anonymous surveys who respond 'yes' when asked whether they have been raped. That could form one of an array of indicators, which could include some that are currently used. All such indicators would have to fall within a prescribed range for a sustained period before the bonds would be redeemed. Choosing these indicators wouldn't be simple. But what is the alternative?

For more about Social Policy Bonds see SocialGoals.com

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