Twelve Radical Policies

12 Policies for Theresa May

Brexit currently dominates UK politics but other issues should not be neglected. This article from July 2016 is as relevant now as it was when Theresa May gave her first speech after becoming PM.

From July 2016: Theresa May wants more social justice and is already putting in place a cabinet to fight against ‘burning injustice’. This is a position many would fully support but could she be even more radical? Here are twelve truly radical policies that question assumptions about how the major policies and institutions in society work and whether we are now on the road to re-think them.

  1. Politics:People are disillusioned by the current political process. They no longer believe that politicians act in the interests of the people. Politicians self-select, and although ‘elected’, are not truly representative. They are often seen to be acting in their own interests. Although political debate is reasonably open, this often just creates an illusion of fairness and acts as a smokescreen to the reality of what is happening behind the scenes. There is a gap between what is said and what is done and the inconsistencies are covered by selective evidence, mis-information and confusion. We need a parliament that is truly representative. MPs, like jurors, should be selected at random from the population as a whole and in that way reflect the age, gender, ethnic groups, employments, incomes and values of the population as a whole. See:

  2. Economy: GDP as a measure of progress is bankrupt. It assumes a link between income/wealth and happiness that is only true at low levels of income and wealth, but creates a system of incentives for everybody that drives behaviour towards greed for its own sake. Globalisation is leading to standardisation, impersonalisation and increasing inequality. We should continue the program to find new ways of measuring wellbeing and put in place a more coherent program for people to better understand and achieve individual wellbeing rather than the accumulation of financial wealth. We should support people to become more effective and self-directed and less pushed around by the circumstances they find themselves in. We should create a system of incentives based on a better understanding of the individual and society. See: Wellbeing is not just the satisfaction of needs

  3. Justice: There is little justice in the current system because money determines the quality of representation in court so the poor are punished and the rich escape scot-free. Furthermore the prison system fails on every count except temporarily removing offenders from society so they can do no harm. Far from rehabilitating offenders, it puts them in an environment where criminal values, culture and skills can be better learned. Far from deterring criminals and motivating them to reform it exposes them to criminal role models, makes crime the norm, and further dis-empowers them making crime the only option. Far too many criminals have mental health issues and should be treated using a medical rather than a criminal model. The criminal justice system needs total reform based on a far more informed psychological understanding of what motivates crime. See: Who’s to blame?

  4. Employment: there is no magic about full employment. Everybody that wants a job could have one. The government can create money and it can just as easily create useful and productive jobs. There is no reason why people should spend their time in the demoralising search for work when they have skills. We should put in place a program of public work that can always provide basic employment. This would be designed to further key values, rather than profit, and translate these into productive activity that furthers those values. The barriers to gaining employment need to be removed and mobility between jobs increased so that people can work themselves into the most productive and enjoyable positions.See: True Value

  5. Education: Mark Twain said ‘Don’t let school interfere with your education’, and he was right. Schools fail to capitalise on children’s capabilities and saps the motivation to learn. We should introduce programs to make schooling child centred. This involves discovering individual pupils interests and skills and using our best understanding of learning processes to configure flexible programs to develop these as a collaborative venture with peers, parents and employer organisations. Budget’s for education would ‘follow the child’ as is now done with health budgets. We should move education from being primarily a structured teaching activity to become a more guided discovery learning activity. We should encourage values of diversity rather than standardisation and conformity.See: Ken Robinson’s TED talk on education and creativity

  6. Defence: It has been said that the world spends far more on armaments than what it would cost to eliminate basic world poverty. Defence makes sense to those that want to protect the assets they already own (or who want to gain more assets). It makes no sense to the vast majority of people who are less concerned about assets than peace. So what’s the problem? It is that the vast majority of people, who care less about assets than peace, rely for their incomes on fulfilling the motivations of those few who have and control the world’s assets. There is a pernicious feedback loop whereby it is useful to have more assets to better protect the assets you already have. This applies to most people but only some are so motivated to control assets that they are willing to fight for them. See: Defence spending and world poverty

  7. Health: We pay doctors and other health workers mainly for the work they do in treating illness. The more illness the greater the drain on the public purse. This is the wrong way round. The Chinese used to pay doctors for keeping people well. We should shift the reward systems in medicine and public health towards prevention rather than cure. Payments should be tied to outcomes rather than procedures so that it becomes clearer which interventions affect outcomes. There is much that affects health that is nothing to do with medicine. We have the statistical techniques to disentangle the complex webs of causation (both medical and non-medical). We need to look at health from the point of view of the whole individual rather than in terms of medical specialisms. See: The Future of Mental Health

  8. Accountability: There used to be a time when if an engineer designed a bridge (s)he was required to sleep under it for 6 months after it was constructed. In the modern world we have lost the connection between policy/design and its consequences. An agency should be put in place to trace these connections across activities, especially banking and finance, politics, food and drugs, education and parenting, employment, prisons and legal processes. The agency would be asked to propose and implement ways in which those responsible for the control of actions can be made much more directly accountable for the consequences – both good and bad. We need better mechanisms for tracking how decisions are made and who they affect. We need to track the intent behind decisions and assess whether the actual outcomes match the intentions. We need to tie accountability to intent and to consequence. See: It doesn’t end with Grenfell

  9. Energy: One area in which jobs might be created is in the saving and cheaper production of energy. Local generation of energy (solar and wind) and living ‘off the grid’ can be encouraged. Dependence on oil and gas can be reduced. More people can be engaged in the task of identifying and reducing high-energy usage and installing lower energy solutions and local energy generation. The costs of electricity generation from solar and wind is now below the costs from nuclear and fossil fuels. See UK Government Report on Electricity Generation Costs November 2016

  10. Transport: Congestion causes enormous waste and frustration We should focus solutions on reducing demand rather than increasing capacity. We should make it possible to walk and cycle to work rather than commute. Electronic communication can be used to replace much travel. We should provide greater incentives for home working, staggering working hours and tax travel to pay for it. See: Report on UK Traffic Congestion

  11. Foreign Aid: We should move to a system where people from the UK would be funded to apply their skills to sustainable projects in developing countries, and where people from those countries could come and exchange knowledge, skills and contacts that they would then be committed to use in their home countries.See Cambridge-Africa research links

  12. Voting: In the internet age the current system of voting is arcane. It is crazy to only be able to vote between two or three political parties when there are thousands of issues, many of which cut across the political spectrum. We should develop electronic mechanisms so that public opinion on a multitude of issues could be continuously monitored and reflected back to the people. This would provide the data for a more informed debate on the preferences of different interests and form the basis for more responsive policy formation. See: Digital Democracy


Theresa May’s Speech

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Rod Rivers' interests include writing about economics, psychology, and philosophy; listening to Radio 4 and watching TED and YouTube videos; engaging in conversations with friends and colleagues, and re-experiencing the world through the eyes of his two teenage sons. Living in the 21st century is a huge privilege.

Posted in Control, Influence, Politics, Power, Uncategorized, Well-Being, Wellbeing

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About This Blog

This series of blog postings takes a multi-disciplinary approach to social policy, bringing together ideas from psychology, economics, neuroscience, philosophy and related subjects to inform policy makers and other professionals about how we might think in new ways about the individual and society . There are some easy ways to read it:

• Very Easy – Just read the blog titles: Most blog title are propositions that the blog content attempts to justify. Just reading the names of the blogs in order from first to last will provide an overview of the approach.

• Quite Easy - Just read the text in bold. This brings out the main points in each posting.

• Easy - Just watch the videos. This is easy but can take a while. The running time of each video can be seen in the caption above it. Hover over the video to see the controls – play and pause, large screen, and navigate around.

• Harder – Read the whole blog. Useful if you are really interested, want to learn, or want to comment, disagree with the content, have another angle or whatever. The blog is not being publicised yet but please feel free to comment and I will try to respond if and when I can.

The blog attempts not to be a set of platitudes about what you should do to be happy. In fact, I would like to distance myself from the ‘wellbeing marketplace’ and all those websites/blogs that try and either sell you something or proffer advice. This is something quite different. It takes as its premise that there is a relationship between wellbeing, needs and control in both the individual and society. If needs are not being met and you have no control to alter the situation, then wellbeing will suffer.

While this may seem obvious, there is something to be gained by understanding the implications of this simple idea. We are quite used to thinking about wellbeing in terms of specifics like money, health, relationships, work and so on, but less familiar with dealing with the more generic and abstract concepts of need and control.

Taking a more abstract approach helps filter out much of the distraction and noise of our usual perceptions. It focuses on the central issues and their applicability across many specifics that affect how we think and feel.

The blog often questions our current models of the way we think about the human condition and society. It looks at the things we all know and talk about – decisions and choices, relationships and loss, jobs and taxes, wealth and health but in a way in which they are not usually described. It tries to develop a new account, that draws on a broadly based understanding of what we now know from science, culture and common sense.

If you are looking for simple answers you will not find them here. This is not because the answers are complex. It is because the answers are not necessarily what you expect.

If you are looking to explore in some depth the nature of wellbeing and how it is influenced by what you can control, and what others can control that may affect you, then read on. Playing through some of these ideas into the specifics of policy, at the level of society and the individual, will take time but I hope you will see the virtue of working from first principles.

When walking through any landscape different people will see different things. A geologist might see an ice-age come and go, forming undulations in its wake. A politician might see territorial boundaries. Somebody else may see a hill they have to climb together with the weight of their back-pack.

Taking a perspective of wellbeing and control is different from how we normally look at the world. It's a deeper look at why and how things happen as they do and the consequences on wellbeing. It questions the relationship between intention and outcome.

We normally see and act through the well-worn habits of our thoughts and behaviours as they have evolved to deal with things as they are now. We mainly chose the easy options that require the least resource. As a survival strategy this generally works well, but it also entrenches patterns of thought, behaviour and emotion that sometimes, for the benefit of our wellbeing, need to be changed. When considering change, people often say ‘well, I wouldn’t start from here’. And that’s the position I take. I am not starting from the ways things are or have evolved, but from the place they might have been had we known what we know now and had designed them.

The blogs argue that, in an era of specialisation, we have forgotten the big picture – we act specifically and locally within the silos of our specialised education and experience. We check process rather than outcomes. We often fail to integrate our knowledge and apply it to the design of our social and work systems (as well as our own thoughts and behaviours).

To understand society we first need to understand the individual and to this end, a psychological account of how we feel, think and behave based on notions of wellbeing and control is proposed. And not in an abstract airy-fairy kind of way, but as a more or less precise theory that forms the basis of a predictive and testable computational model. The theory is essentially about how, both as individuals and society we manage multiple (and often conflicting) intentions in real time within limited resources. I call this model 'the human operating system'. This is like a computer operating system except that it is motivated by emotions, modulated by reason and is expressed in the language of mind and its qualities of agency and intentionality.

Just as in the mathematics of fractal geometry, complex structures can emerge from simple rules. The explanation given of the interplay between emotions, physical bodily states, thoughts and behaviours shows how much of the complexity in the individual can be accounted for by a set of relatively simple rules. This can be modelled using a system of symbolic representation and manipulation involving intentions and priorities operating in a complicated and changing environment.

The language and models that we use to understand the individual can also be applied to organisations and other structures in society. Through an understanding of what makes for wellbeing in the individual we can also understand what makes for better wellbeing in society generally. The focus, therefore, is on understanding the individual and then using that understanding to inform how we might think about other structures in society and how all these structures relate to each other from the point of view of wellbeing, shifting patterns of control and the implications for social policy.