Common Space: the case for national companies

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We all have our favourite blogs. I am well aware this is not the only one there is. One of my favourites is Common Space, which is published by Common Weal, which I think is probably the most innovative think tank on the left of British politic right now, but is very definitely Scottish through and through.

The themes it discusses are usually universal though. Take this, published today, from Robin McAlpine, Common Weal's director on what he describes as national companies:

The idea of 'national companies' is one Common Weal pushed quite hard in its Book of Ideas. The theory behind them is quite simple.

At the moment our economy is absolutely dominated by the myth of 'consumer as policy maker'. This myth is that the many deregulations, privatisations and policy changes (almost all to the substantial benefit of big business) were really driven by you, the consumer.

It was you-the-consumer who wanted the mass proliferation of lightly-regulated gambling all over British society, and had nothing to do with intensive lobbying of the Blair government by the gambling industry.

It was you-the-consumer who demanded poverty wages in the food service industry because you wanted pennies off your burger. The corporate lobbying behind this was all for you – the enormous profits of these corporations is incidental.

It was you-the-consumer who chose the mortgages you could never afford to repay (the so-called 'ninja loans'). The fact that you didn't know you wanted them until someone phoned you up and made them sound too good to be true is just capitalism.

The point here is that consumers do not set policy – they choose between what is offered to them, largely on the basis of very sophisticated and very expensive advertising and marketing strategies.

If big corporations are using their economic power to change markets, what can be done? One powerful option is to use publicly-owned companies to change markets in the other direction.
And then politicians have a gun held to their head being told that 'consumers won't accept it' to any piece of regulation or policy the big corporates don't like. If you've been in social policy lobbying for even a couple of weeks, you'll have heard this argument.

That is the point of neoliberal capitalism – corporations are set up as a direct challenge to the authority of government. Government has its voters but corporations have their customers, so democratic legitimacy becomes only one form of legitimacy.

There is more that builds very powerfully on this argument before he concludes:

I'm not suggesting we end market economics. I'm not suggesting that private providers wouldn't be free to compete with these companies. In some cases the private sector would be the only ones offering specialism. And there are people who may like permanently switching their energy supplier to take serial advantage of introductory teaser rates.

My point is this; why won't the market allow for those of us who want to choose a non-profit, pubic-good option which perhaps doesn't have the cheapest teaser rates but which, over five years, gives us the most secure, stable and lowest cost option for people who don't want to spend hours a month checking and shifting all their suppliers?

The answer is actually fairly simple; the corporates don't really want you to have 'free choice' at all. They want to make you choose between them so they control not only you and your cash but also the market as a whole and, by extension, have enormous influence over the policy and regulation of those markets.

National companies are our opportunity to choose something else.

It's worth reading in full.

And please note that I am open to suggestions on blogs worth reading: guest posts being entirely permissible on this theme, preferably if you have no link with the blog in question.