Writing today for City AM, Paul Ormerod argues “It’s time to fight the claim that consumer choice doesn’t improve public services”. Quite right.
Ormerod indicates one of the trends of our time:
The new Labour shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh said last week that she was “open” to the idea of returning all train services to state control. Damaging reports into the Al-Madinah free school in Derby have led to sustained attacks on the idea of freeing schools from local authority control. Certainly, a substantial part of the electorate appears to be opposed to profit-oriented companies providing services in sectors such as education and health, as a Policy Exchange report showed last year. And just this week, a poll by YouGov for the Centre for Labour and Social Studies found that 68 per cent think energy companies should be nationalised. There is a general unease about markets, especially in the light of the financial crisis.
One underlying misconception among people whose sentiment is against choice and competition appears to be that nothing should ever go wrong, that the existence of a problem indicates the failure of a system. That’s just not how society works.
The point about choice and competition is that people can exit unsatisfactory arrangements for better ones. Society is a process of co-operation which will never stop while people live. We must accept that people and their efforts will sometimes fall short. The thing to do is not entrench that failure by backing it with state power but to enable people to find some better solution.
That’s what choice, competition and markets are about: driving up quality and service while driving down prices. It’s the best mechanism there is for improving our lives.
- Israel Kirzner, How Markets Work: Disequilibrium, Entrepreneurship and Discovery (PDF)
- Jesús Huerta de Soto, The Austrian School: Market Order and Entrepreneurial Creativity andSocialism, Economic Calculation and Entrepreneurship
- Mark Pennington, Robust Political Economy: Classical Liberalism and the Future of Public Policy