The Worldwide Weblog of Donald Pincher

by Joshua Gaskell

Tag: Free Market

Tuesday, 14th April 2015

One of the problems with the EU is that it has so far proved unable to inspire the sense of love and loyalty (i.e. patriotism) that many Europeans feel for their individual member states. I would suggest that one cause and symptom of this is that, unlike countries, the EU is never referred to as she or her. The feminine third person pronoun is conventionally used for a whole range of things personified as female, such as a ship or boat, a conveyance, a cannon or gun, a tool or utensil; the moon, the planet Venus, a river, the sea; a city, the church, an army.

In the name of pan-European solidarity and continued peace in our time, may we not add to that feminal list, ‘a supranational and intergovernmental organisation, a free trade area, or economic association’?

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Tuesday, 3rd March 2015

Private vices, public virtues, phr.

Pronunciation: /ˈprʌɪvᵻt ˈvʌɪsɪz ˈpʌblɪk ˈvəːtjuːz/
Etymology: < pop. var. of subtitle: The Fable of the Bees, or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits (1714) by Bernard Mandeville.

1. Regarding eighteenth-century spending: Mandeville’s provocative assertion that the private vice of acquisitiveness is a necessary evil in creating the public virtue of a thriving market economy.
2. Regarding twenty-first-century borrowing: the Tories’ self-contradictory assertion that debt is natural for private individuals (student loans: hurrah!), but unnatural for the public purse (deficit: boo!).

Wednesday, 11th February 2015

The received view of the Beeching Axe, whether one approves of it or not, is that it was an instance of Big Government made smaller, and of a piece with the later privatisation of British Rail which, as far as trains go, made government so small it disappeared. The idea that Richard Beeching was actually clearing up the Victorian private sector’s mess is an interesting revision (though little consolation):

[France and Belgium] were organised from the centre. I think it depends if you’re thinking heroism, or if you’re thinking state control. The fact is, Britain did it privately. And so it was a complete free-for-all, which, in a sense, with Dr Beeching’s ‘rationalisation’ of the system in the 1[9]60s… a lot of that needed to be done. Because if you were a landowner and you had the money and you could get yourself together, you could get a railway anywhere you wanted. So not planning it centrally was, later on, a big disadvantage. But as I say, people nowadays prefer the heroic approach rather than the state-controlled approach.

– Julia Elton on the In Our Time about Brunel

So it was the law of supply and nil demand, not the bloated state, which created a system that needed to be rationalised. As for heroic: Brunel’s Great Western may have been; Worst Group’s is not.

Monday, 9th February 2015

A prediction for if the free-trade-and-philanthropy crowd ever manage to get the BBC sold off: a few years down the line a charity will be set up to buy advertising space and ease people’s misery by not using it, thus leaving more time for programmes; the charity will campaign to ‘Make Adverts History’, promising to do so if people donate just a little more; eventually, they’ll have enough money to fulfil their promise – at just about the point when the average annual household donation reaches £145.50 (adjusted for inflation). This sensible and desirable state of affairs will be recognised with some sort of ‘charter’ and ‘licence fee’, and people will say, ‘What a brilliant idea this is. Why did no one think of it before?’

Tuesday, 28th October 2014

An open letter to the Secretary of State for Transport:

Dear Mr McLoughlin,

Earlier in the year, I was thinking about the history of New Cross and New Cross Gate stations, opened just ten years and six hundred yards apart by rival entrepreneurs – the Britain being forged in the white heat of the Industrial Revolution was no place for restrictive practices. However, I argued that though our own age is one of free-marketeering white heat regained, it is also inevitably one of restrictive practises; and that, as such, our railways remain in the private sector either through blind faith or (heavily in)vested interests. Now I know how pushy it looks, to quote yourself, but I did relevantly continue,

The trains are overpriced and overfull, supply is not meeting demand; but it’s no longer possible, as happened in 1849, for a group of entrepreneurs to rock up somewhere and compete by actually building. Today’s train operating companies expend all their white heat in competing franchise bids, but once the franchises are awarded they continue as complacently as the nationalised system supposedly did.

Having passed through private and nationalised railways, we’re now stuck with the worst aspects of both: the disadvantages of monopolies, but without the advantages of having them run for the public good. A third way indeed.

I would like provisionally to withdraw this scathing speech and suggest an experiment. Given that we have at our disposal a veritable parliament of train operating companies, squawking for franchises, let’s put their go-getting capitalism to the test.

While a small number of the stations that fell under the Beeching Axe have since been reopened – funded by local councils and government agencies – most of them remain closed. So given that public money is tight, lets give the TOCs – from Abellio to Virgin – carte blanche to raise money from private investors and put forward proposals to reopen and run old branch-line stations. This should be a win–win: if they prove themselves the entrepreneurial equals to the London and Croydon Railway of old, then a few towns will get their stations back; and if they prove themselves to be supinely rent-seeking organisations, then that’ll settle the matter and we can bring back British Rail without delay.

Yours sincerely,
Donald Pincher, SE23.

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