An Unnecessary Role

embracing false choices

“You sit and wonder just who’s gonna stop the rain”

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The ongoing spasm of vaguely reactionary nostalgia that is Blue Labour and the recent ‘Tesco Revolution’ (sic) in Bristol reminded me of this brief post from Matthew Yglesias from last year. He writes:

To throw a couple of bold claims out there that probably nobody agrees with, brands, chains, standardization, and replication are some of the most underrated economic phenomena and single-establishment retail businesses among the most overrated. There’s an association between multiple-establishment restaurants and low quality, but I think that if you take a broad view you’ll see that this is both a contingent phenomenon and a waning trend.

Now, yes, I’m quite sure there are valid ethical and environmental arguments about supermarkets, certainly in comparison to their smaller high street counterparts. But I suspect also that the view of their quality expressed above is common to many people, and the reduced costs that supermarkets provide common to many others.

Blue Labour make a big play of ‘the death of the high street’, ‘Tescopoly’, the destruction of community. But I am simply not convinced that there are enough people of voting age (outside of North London) who see many of the downsides of consumerism as not being worth the trade-off of higher quality produce at lower prices. By all means seek higher standards of social responsibility, but seeing multiple-establishment retail as essentially and inevitably harmful is out of touch with most people’s experience.

As a brief footnote, I’d also draw your attention to this:

The point, however, is not to argue the merits of these restaurants but merely to observe that they’re successful. And in particular, they’re successful at exactly what our health care & university systems are terrible at, namely actually balancing cost and quality or even at times finding innovative ways to skimp on quality.

This may seem an obvious point to make, but while we are debating the ideological future of the Labour Party there are real live services that need running by Labour councils. Providing local government of high quality at low cost to residents is what Labour councils were elected to do – because it’s only by doing that that they have the resources and the capacity to protect the vulnerable, shape their communities and meet the aspirations of their electors. Maybe that’s something we can learn from big business. Is it really all that different from the business of big government?

(The title is, of course, from every Blue Labourite’s favourite Bruce Springsteen song The Ties That Bind).

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Written by samelliot

June 8, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Posted in Cynicism, Finance, Labour

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