Recently I’ve been talking about the narratives that sustain the Tory ideological project, specifically the ALF (All Labours Fault) and TINA (There Is No Alternative) narratives. But of course underlying these is the ‘Private Sector Good, Public Sector Bad’ narrative. Let’s call this the PIGSPUBES narrative.
The idea here is that the only efficient and just way human beings have discovered to distribute scarce resources is through the mathematical phenomenon called ‘market forces’. Market Forces are described by the Free Marketeers as a simple mathematical truth in which scarcity or abundance is what determines value and the scarcer something is the more valuable it is. It is claimed that in complex modern societies consumers can create scarcity because of their collective wants and needs and thus ‘market forces’ will ‘objectively’ determine the price of commodities and thus the extent to which they are collectively valued.
And of course there is some truth to the idea that scarcity can increase what people are prepared to pay for goods or services. The demand on hotel rooms during the school holidays is much greater because parents can only take their children away in the holidays thus rooms are scarcer and thus people have no choice but to pay more or not stay in a hotel at all. This is undoubtedly true but is it just (i.e fair)?
St Thomas Aquinas thought not:
“If someone would be greatly helped by something belonging to someone else, and the seller not similarly harmed by losing it, the seller must not sell for a higher price: because the usefulness that goes to the buyer comes not from the seller, but from the buyer’s needy condition: no one ought to sell something that doesn’t belong to him.”
Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae, 2-2, q. 77
So one of the greatest of Christian Theologians thought that increasing the price because of scarcity is in fact immoral because the difference between the normal price and the scarcity inflated price is ‘unearned income’ that has nothing to do with the effort of the seller.
The other problem with the theory underlying PIGSPUBES is that it’s not scarcity or abundance that sets the price and motivates production and the provision of services but the ability to make a ‘profit’. So even though all of humanity really, really need and want health care it is expensive to provide and a ‘profit’ can only be made by providing health care to those who can afford to pay the full cost (and a bit extra for your profit). Due to the cost of researching, developing and providing health care this ‘profit motive’ excludes the vast majority of humanity from receiving services and products they desperately need and want.
Even so the Free Marketeers argue that history shows us that when products and services are provided by the state, bureaucracy, inefficiency and waste are an inevitable consequence, and that only the discipline of the profit motive,in conjunction with market forces, can counteract this. So a central question has to be… does history actually show us this? Well, sticking to health care the facts show us that the private health care system in the USA is one of the most inefficient in the world. The Huffington Post reported on a Bloomberg report on this subject earlier in the year here. The Bloomberg report found that in terms of efficiency the USA health care system rated 46 out of 48 and below China, Algeria & Iran. The article pointed out that the common factor in the most efficient systems is “tight government control over a universal system”, which is exactly the opposite of what the PIGSPUBES narrative tells us should be the case! And lets face it the Huffington Post and Bloomberg are hardly hotbeds of Left wing Marxists.
Even using the logic of the Free Marketeers themselves it is clear that commercial organisations are only as efficient as they need to be to make a significant profit and that the administration involved in buying and selling is just as bureaucratic as any other form of admin. It’s also true that the logic of free markets leads inevitably to monopolies because commercial corporations established to maximise profit like to eliminate competition thus creating scarcity and thus enabling to maximise profits by increasing prices.
The PIGSPUBES narrative is at best a naive idealistic theoretical belief in a system that actually behaves very differently to the theory. At worst it’s simply a lie told to stop people questioning the dismantling of the welfare state in the interests of the wealthy ruling class. Either way it’s bollocks.