There are a number of social problems that don't lend themselves easily to being solved by markets... so the solution that some have proposed? Create artificial markets, bounties and contests to solve them - identifying new solutions and experiments that pay only if they produce the objective outcomes desired. The Canadian government just announced its support for social impact bonds (GlobeandMail via Brian H on FB):
The Conservative government is throwing its support behind social-impact bonds – an experiment that rewards private investors for putting cash toward social causes.This is an idea that's also being explored in the US (NationalPost):
The government on Monday released a list of projects that could be financed in this way, such as programs to build housing for people with disabilities, reduce recidivism among young offenders or encourage more young aboriginals to learn a skilled trade. Ottawa said it will work with interested groups toward launching projects.
The arrangement is not a bond in the traditional sense. An investor pays a group such as a non-profit to deliver a social service and is rewarded with an agreed upon sum from the government if the non-profit achieves a measurable goal. The financial risk falls on the investor. If the goal is not met, no government money is spent and the investor is out of pocket.
In August, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the country’s first concrete program, which is aimed at reducing the rate at which young offenders return to crime after their release.
“Currently, nearly 50 percent of adolescents who leave the New York City Department of Correction return within one year,” according to the press release unveiling the plan. “The new program announced today, ABLE, aims to reduce the likelihood of reincarceration by providing education, training and counseling to improve personal responsibility skills, including decision-making and problem-solving.”
Goldman Sachs will finance the plan for four years, which will be operated by MDRC, a non-partisan New York non-profit organization. The loan will be partly guaranteed by a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the mayor’s family foundation. To be judged a success, the program will have to reduce the number of youths returning to jail by 10%, as measured by an independent third party organization. If it works, the city will repay Goldman, plus a profit; if not, the city pays nothing.
Massachusetts is seeking proposals on a similar initiative, and a second program intended to provide stable housing for the chronically homeless. Both homelessness and recidivism are high-cost items for government; if the programs succeed, the public savings would be well worth the profit paid to the backers.