What do rich people have that poor people don’t? I imagine that ‘money’ is the first answer that comes into your mind. Well, yes, but let’s break this down. What does money give you? It gives you choice.
Farmers began co-ops in the mid-19th century because they were being sold expensive, rotten food by private food sellers. Because co-ops were providing better produce at cheaper rates, other private food sellers had to up their game. Farming co-ops weren’t non-profits; they were a different type of capitalism. The free-market doesn’t just mean the consumer wins because they have a choice of products to buy; they have a choice between outlets which are structured differently. Different forms of capitalism competed to create better capitalism.
At the time of the financial crisis, I remember seeing very little analysis about how the Co-operative Bank fared in comparison to it’s shareholder counterparts (although, to be fair, the Co-operative bank is not a true democratic co-operative). If we had a greater mix of co-operative banks and shareheld banks, with co-operative banks being perceived as being more ethical – the theory goes that a greater amount of customers choosing to bank cooperatively would signal to the shareheld banks that they wanted more ethical banking. The shareheld banks would have to get more ethical in order to compete. On the other hand, if a greater number of consumers perceived the shareheld banks as more efficient/cheaper, the co-operative banks would have to get more efficient/cheaper in order to compete. Thus, the pendulum would swing, increasing the efficiency, cheapness and the ethical credentials of banking.
What I’m arguing for is a greater plurality in the structures we interact with. In order for this to come about the State must recede. The main argument against greater marketisation of public services is the perception of capitalism as being unethical. A greater plurality could mean adding a dimension to capitalism that means organisations/outlets have to compete with each other on grounds of their ethical credentials as well as with prices, quality and providing shareholders with dividends. Most people don’t think about this dynamic between capitalist organisations when they think of the free-market.
The sector I fear for most is education. Classrooms don’t look that much different than they did in the 1930s. Even though almost every other area of our lives have changed our schools still look the same. Children don’t all learn the same, but we teach them all the same. Education does not seem to be moving with the times at all. I know no one who makes their living as a fine artist. I know a great deal who make their living using Adobe Creative Suite. Yet, I was taught fine art in school and I was not taught how to work any part of the Adobe Creative Suite.
Ultimately this rot is due to a lack of plurality ergo a lack of incentive to change and innovate. In my ideal world there would be three different types of school structure – schools run by private shareholder capitalist companies, schools run by cooperatively owned capitalist companies and schools run by private charities/non-profits. There would also be three types of funding – private funds, charitable donation and government vouchers. Vouchers give poor people what rich have. Choice. Were this the case education would look different in a very short period of time and unrecognisable after a long period.
This lack of choice is precisely why social democracy sucks. It sucks flexibility and plurality out of the system. The NHS, state schools and other public services are as good as they’re going to get. If that’s good enough for you, fine. But it may not be good enough in 50 years time. Changes in structure and competition change the game for the better, both ethically and efficiently. Embrace it.