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Center for Environmental Policy

Governing for the Future: How to Bring the Long-Term into Short-Term Political Focus

Wednesday, November 5, 2014, 6:00-7:30 pm, SIS Founders Room

Jonathan Boston, Professor of Public Policy in the School of Government at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Jonathan Boston, Professor of Public Policy in the School of Government at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

There are strong political incentives for democratically-elected government to focus on policy issues of immediate concern and to give priority to policy options with positive, short-term electoral payoffs. Correspondingly, long-term risks – whether fiscal, environmental or social – are often downplayed or overlooked. Particular problems arise when long-term solutions require voters to bear costs over the short-to-medium term in order to secure future benefits or minimize future risks. The problems of climate change, child poverty and the fiscal sustainability of retirement incomes are examples.

Various strategies have been adopted over recent decades, across both developed and developing countries, to alter the structure of incentives so that decision-makers are likely to give greater weight to the interests of future generations. Such strategies have included shifting certain decision-rights to higher or lower levels of government, transferring certain decision-rights to non-elected (expert) bodies, constraining the decision-rights of elected officials via constitutional means, and seeking to enhance the ‘voice’ of future generations through a range of institutional, regulatory and other policy devices. But how effective have these approaches been, what lessons can we draw from recent experience, and what other ‘solutions’ might be available?

Jonathan Boston is Professor of Public Policy in the School of Government at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He has published widely on various matters including public management, social policy, climate change policy, tertiary education policy, comparative government, and ethics and public policy. He was a member of the New Zealand Political Change Project from 1995-2002, which explored the behavioral, institutional and policy implications of MMP. During 2000-01, he served as a member of the Tertiary Education Advisory Commission, and more recently he was Director of the Institute of Policy Studies (2008-11), Director of the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies (2012-14), and Co-Chair of the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty (2012-13), established by the Children's Commissioner. His most recent books are Child Poverty in New Zealand (with Simon Chapple, Bridget Williams Books, 2014) and Future Proofing the State (co-edited with John Wanna et al., ANU Press, 2014).

Read Boston's lecture: "Governing for the Future: How to bring the long-term into short-term political focus"


Sponsored by the William K. Reilly Fund for Environmental Leadership and Governance