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From competition to the foundational economy

For thirty years, the British economy has repeated the same old experiment of subjecting everything to competition and market because that is what works in the imagination of central government. This book demonstrates the repeated failure of the 30 year policy experiments by examining three sectors: broadband, food supply and retail banking. It argues against naïve metaphors of national disease, highlights the imaginary (or cosmology) that frames those metaphors, and draws out the implications of the experiment. Discussing the role of the experiments in post-1945 Britain, the book's overview on telecommunications, supermarkets and retail banking, reveals the limits of treatment by competition. Privatisation of fixed line telecoms in the UK delivered a system in which the private and public interests are only partially aligned in relation to provision of broadband. Individual supermarket chains may struggle but the four big UK supermarket chains are generally presented as exemplars because they have for a generation combined adequate profits with low price, choice and quality to deliver shareholder value. The many inquiries into retail banking after the financial crisis have concluded that the sector's problem was not enough competition. In a devolved experiment, socially-licensed policies and priorities vary from place to place and context to context. However, meaningful political engagement with the specifics in the economy will need to avoid losing sight of four principles: contestation, judgement, discussion, and tinkering. While others can be blamed for the failure of the experiments, the political responsibility for the ending and starting another is collectively peoples'.