Thursday, July 09, 2009

The right tools for the job

I don't understand why it is that just because I'm a conservative I shouldn't be in favour of nationalised industries. I think it's partly due to the fact that people still wrongly assume capitalism to be a political system - even though it clearly is not - and therefore, if you are even moderately right wing you must favour private enterprise over state owned industry.

I really don't see this as being the case. Capitalism is simply an economic system which is used, by and large, by virtually every kind of government there is regardless of whether they are left or right wing. It is used because, although far from perfect, it is by far the most effective economic system there is - but that should not distract us from its shortcomings which are many.

I think it was Churchill who said that democracy was the worst kind of government there is apart from all the others - well so it is with capitalism and economic systems. Just as you need to have effective checks and balances on democracy you also need to have effective checks and balances on capitalism too and, as I have always maintained, this can only be done effectively within a national context.

The thing is, private enterprise is not always the best way forward for certain industries. The Victorians understood this which is why the Royal Mail was a state owned industry as that was the only way a universal, nationwide service could be maintained - as a state owned monopoly. Could it be done better by a private enterprise? Almost certainly where the service is profitable - but most definitely not where it isn't.

You won't be surprised, therefore, to learn that I totally oppose the sell off of any part of the Royal Mail and believe completely that it should remain a state owned industry More than this, I believe that the services provided by the Royal Mail should once more become a monopoly as this is the only way to enable Royal Mail to regain much of the profitable areas of its business that it lost out on to private companies who get to cherry pick what they can offer and to whom.

I have similar views, as I've noted before on the railways. The only way you can ensure that you have a fully integrated and universal rail service is by making the whole damn network - track, stations, rolling stock etc. - a state owned monopoly. I know people point to the British Rail of the seventies as demonstrable proof that this won't work - but that ignores completely the realities of that time with underinvestment and all too powerful and militant unions.

I'm also in favour of the utilities being state owned - water, gas and electric - for the same reasons. Beyond that I'm more or less in favour of everything else being open to private enterprise free market capitalism

However, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes free market capitalism and private enterprise fails and when it does I believe it is the duty of a national government to step in and help out in certain cases - particularly in industries which are vital to our economic and national well being.

I think this is especially important in key manufacturing and production industries such as defence, car/truck manufacture, coal and steel, aerospace, shipbuilding and other major, "heavy" industries.

Let me make it clear that I would always prefer - if and when possible - that these industries would not be state owned and open to the vagaries of free market capitalism (but, as always, within the context of the nation - I'm just not into the whole global free market thing which, as I've made it clear elsewhere, is going to be a monumental disaster for the west in general and Britain in particular).

However, if capitalism is failing to deliver what we require from these industries then I believe it is right and proper for the national government to step in and either take over ailing companies or, if we are completely lacking in a certain field , start new companies to fill the void.

I would hope that this would be done always with the intention of privatising those companies when it is prudent to do so - but with certain provisions that they must remain wholly British owned and with measures in place to prevent aggressive takeovers of other companies in those sectors which would once more reduce competition and leave the resulting conglomerate as a private monopoly.

I don't believe this is left wing "socialist" thinking - I believe it is a sensible policy for any government to pursue. These industries are vital to a nation as they are often the lifeblood of the innovation and technological advancement that drives a national economy forward. They are also vitally important to our education system as these major industries need quality graduates and skilled workers.

It's one of the most overlooked failings of our education system that one of the reasons the quality of education has declined so significantly is simply that there isn't the same need to produce highly educated school leavers anymore. The law of supply and demand is just as important in education as it is in selling televisions.

State owned industry, conservatism and a fundamental belief in free market capitalism are not mutually exclusive. Far from it - it makes eminently good sense for any government to keep all available tools in its tool box and to be prepared to use them if and when necessary. And sometimes only one tool will do the job right.

2 comments:

Chalcedon said...

I think of myself on the whole as on the right politically. I too favour the whole Royal Mail being a service and remaining under public ownership. None of the good bits should be sold off. I also agree about the utilities. selling them was tantamount to a criminal act. They are strategic assets as are the railways. Also, all ordinance should be produced by UK state owned companies. Remember when the Belgians (thankless bastards) refused to sell us bullets during the Falklands war? We must never be in that position again.

Anonymous said...

Well you may or may not be a conservative but all this guff about strategically important industries (car-making? Why?) is straight out of the Wilson/Callaghan 1970's socialism hymn-book.

You think British Rail failed only because of excessive union militancy? What do you think the unions would do if we created another universal monopoly behemoth?

If you want to go back to waiting nine months to rent a telephone designed thirty years ago, then ok, I hope it keeps fine for you, but for Heaven's sake don't drag the rest of us back with you.