Government and our services: what can we do?

Here are three ways the government can help make the economy more just and secure for all. This list gives a small overview of ways the government could act and actively promote an economy where people feel more secure, where people would feel valued as a part of the community and a part of the work force.

Nationalisation – Public ownership in whatever form can be used to run unprofitable markets and of course areas whereby profit is undesirable such as the NHS. It is however often overlooked that nationalised industries can also generate revenue and promote growth simultaneously. The East Cost Main Line, a state run competitor to private railway companies actually gives back to the exchequer helping to meet day to day spending. However as with all large organisations, institutions and monopolies, they don’t always run as smoothly and they can feel safe from competition and lower their performance accordingly.

It would appear there is only one way to make sure that the services and industries we want to own as a state are effective; through oversight, restraint and accountability to the public. For this to work effectively the services have to listen to public opinion. While nationalisation has had a mixed past and people argue over the level of it’s efficiency, it is generally accepted that private firms were failing the public prior to the mass nationalisation of the 1980’s. Market monopolies’ investment in the workforce and the equipment provided were put on a back burner as no competitor was likely to arise and the demand was near total inelasticity, meaning that producing less and charging more was the optimal position of the firms the public relied on as sole supplier. This was turned around but then by the late 70’s faced problems and criticisms of their own.

Shared Ownership Models – Both public and private companies can gain from representation on boards, unionisation or in simple terms having a say on how a company is run, and increasing use of the mutual model of ownership. Popular in parts of Scandinavia, this approach seems to have been welcomed by the UK Labour Party whose sister party is the Cooperative party. However they have not yet implemented or backed this idea with nearly enough vigour to fundamentally reshape the UK economy. Inroads however are being made through Cooperative Councils in London boroughs like Lambeth, and recently places such as Southampton have taken on this initiative which is a welcome start.

This isn’t a case of simply implementing or supporting cooperatives or other forms of shared ownership, it can become more complicated than it may appear. Simply replacing shares with bonds in banking would be hard for large banks but reforming the banking system to make it like Germany’s Sparkassen banking network with hundreds of small local banks is far easier to make this model and better suited.

A good way of looking at this sort of model is the fundamental belief that companies that get too big can become detached from public opinion. Smaller voices can become crowded out and seem small and insignificant. This can lead to lower worker moral and also a poorer service.

Intervention/Regulation – The idea that the government can intervene in the market to bind it to act favourably to those at the bottom of the income scale. Policies might include forcing energy companies to put the elderly onto the cheapest tariff for example, or incentives to pay the living wage. A government should try to direct the economy to a more equitable and resilient state rather than let the market alone dictate the allocation of resources. In the medium and long term this could mean market reforms that break supply from demand in the energy sector to lowering costs and break up the retail side into smaller providers such as cooperatives, and lowering profit margins allowing the consumer to benefit from both a say and savings.

These few short examples would ultimately lead to a more socially just economy, they have their own benefits and costs but the most important part of the argument however is that we don’t have to buy into the lie that without money the government can’t help. It is a choice not to act, not lack of ability.