Friday 1 September 2006

Who needs regulation?

Last week I went off on a bit of a rant about privatisation. This was in response to some comments in the press by people who are opposed to the whole process. I felt that some, in fact, now I think about it, ALL of their arguments were out-dated, poorly conceived and just plain wrong.

I suppose my biggest objection to the objectors is that their view of business is just so old-fashioned and what’s more has been proven wrong so many times. Look at Eastern Europe during the various communist regimes they suffered, look at even some of the developed economies like the United Kingdom during their quasi-socialist lunatic periods and look just across one of our borders and see economies that have been utterly ruined by central control. Economies where endless committees, and worse still, politicians, decide on what can be bought and sold, what prices we have to pay and even who can buy certain things. Economies where farmers are told what to grow by committees of political functionaries, not actually anyone who knows anything either about farming or what the market actually requires. The European Union has been a particularly bad example of this, paying massive subsidies to farmers to grow crops that nobody wanted to buy and that ended up being destroyed.

The whole idea of centralised control of the economy has shown itself on every such occasion to be a catastrophic failure. Surely it is better to allow the people who actually know about production and trade (the people actually doing it) to decide for themselves what is sold and how? Would you want to be on a plane at 10,000m that was being flown by a committee or a trained pilot with thousands of hours of flying experience? What’s the difference between that and entrusting the economy to government?

The whole centralised approach seems to me to deny some very basic truths about human nature. I’m not afraid to suggest that there are certain attributes of human beings that, while they should be moderated, should nevertheless be understood and even encouraged. For instance a sensible amount of enlightened self-interest is a good thing. Good for the person concerned, for his or her family and even for the nation as a whole. People who are looking after themselves and their family are going to be the ones chasing the best deals, the best jobs and the best salaries. Then take it one stage further. What do people earning more money actually DO with that money? Well, some of it they invest in other companies, even if they just put it in the bank, but more importantly they spend it! They spend it on products and services that are what? Yes, they are made and delivered by other people demonstrating their own enlightened self-interest. Also these people spending their hard-earned money pay taxes, taxes that can be spent allowing other people to earn money, to protect what they have earned and to educate all our children to become successful in turn.

The very best way to help all this happen is to keep governments away from any position where they can ruin a business by meddling. The very worst people to take charge of an economy are people who want to control it. Like the heart in a healthy body the market will keep itself going perfectly well if it’s left alone. That is the essence of the free market operating in a liberal democracy. Left alone it will look after itself.

Oh and one minor point that is often mentioned that is a useful by-product of trade freedom. No two free market liberal democracies have ever waged war upon each other.

As I’ve said here before the marketplace has been here since the very first cave man sold a dead antelope to his neighbour in return for an axe. It’s nothing new, it’s been with us since the beginning of humanity. We are, at our core, hairless, social, trading apes and the marketplace is our natural habitat. It’s what we are and every social experiment to construct something “better” has been a miserable failure.

The fact is that the liberalisation and eventual privatisation of organisations like Air Botswana and BTC offer us a real opportunity to get better, cheaper and more exciting products at lower prices. Surely that is much better than electing a government to ruin, sorry, run them for us?

By coincidence on the day I wrote this I heard on South African radio a telecommunications expert discussing the central state control of telecoms. He pointed out something I had never realised. Central government control of communications is only ever found in developing economies, never in those that have actually got there. In most of Europe, the USA and Australia there is no Ministry of Communications. In New Zealand, he said, they have even abolished the telecoms regulator. He finished by saying something that summarised it all for me:

“The best regulator is competition”.

This week’s stars!

  • Arne and the team at Arne’s Horse Safaris for being great with kids as well as adults
  • Fred at AON for really speedy and efficient service
  • Felicitus at Minchin & Kelly for keeping customers informed and for being really friendly, upbeat and helpful.

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