Successive governments from Thatcher on, have been committed to free market capitalism with minimised regulation. That was the bad theory that got us into this mess. But the prescriptions for what will get us out of it, permanently, have so far been piecemeal and fragmentary. The pragmatic response of the British government may restore confidence short term and get the wheels turning again, but it does not offer a coherent long term alternative to the erstwhile orthodox wisdom propounded by the late Nobel laureate Milton Friedman and colleagues.
The long standing fixation with creating shareholder value still persists just below the surface despite the current crisis. ‘The Rise and Fall of Management’ flags up the much broader responsibilities that directors have legally shouldered for the past 150 years, but if the City and top directors have their way, when the current crisis is over, it’ll be ‘back to business as usual’. Those directors will still be aligned with shareholders rather than customers and employees, and paying themselves extreme amounts of money irrespective of either short or long term performance. The bonus culture is regaining momentum and no matter how much the media and politicians berate the greed of City martinets, until action is taken to restrict or tax unwarranted bonuses, they will continue to be taken.
A key tenet of free market capitalism is that businesses should focus exclusively on maximising shareholder value and not allow other considerations, apart from compliance with the law, to intrude on their business activities. As demonstrated in ‘The Rise and Fall of Management’, approaches such as corporate philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and business ethics, are only justifiable if they add to profitability. This appears to be a clear and simple model for businessmen to work.
The announcement of around 1400 job losses at the Bombardier rail works in Derby signals the beginning of the end-of-life stage for another great British manufacturing industry, resulting more or less entirely from the incompetence and stupidity of the ‘madmen in authority’. Their latest incarnation, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, was interviewed this morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to explain why it was ‘correct’ to award the £1.4 billion Thameslink contract to the German company, Siemens, rather than to Bombardier, UK’s last rail producer. His explanation was based on his belief in ‘free trade and open markets’, although, to do him credit, he had noticed that ‘the Germans award contracts for trains to German builders’, and ‘the French routinely award contracts for trains to French train builders’. He described their approach as looking ‘more strategically at the support of the domestic supply chain’. Well what does he think the British government’s role is supposed to be? Is it to be looking after strategic British interests, or to promote an outmoded ideology that has proved time and again to be disastrous, in particular, to British manufacturing? Well, he and Vince Cable have written a letter about it to the Prime Minister! Good for them!
Continue reading The Bombardier Fiasco