Is the free market the barrier to solving social problems or the remedy?

Despite what we hear in the news media the free market (less government intervention) does not practically exist. However, that does not deter commentators discussing the negatives and positives of the so-called free market that democratic countries seemingly operate in.

Whilst economically protectionist policies (more government intervention) can have detrimental effects in markets (countries) they are implemented in, they also can serve to work to the advantage of a trading economy.

Matthew’s sliding market economy scale 🙂


In reality, economies of all major trading blocks and nations are best described as being on a sliding scale, with more open economies (less barriers) the UK be considered one, to more planned economies (increased barriers) North Korea at the extreme end.

It is important to keep in mind that despite what is perpetuated on the news and by commentators, the “free market” does not actually exist in reality, and is more theoretical. In practice, all markets in the world are mixed economics.

It is also important to remember that the economy is connected and not independent of other aspects of the world, like the environment, health and future well-being. Economics degrees at some universities are rigid and dictate that economies are separable. However, the work that groups such as rethinking economics is doing to change economic curriculums is outstanding.

The Social Problem and the 2019 General Election
In the 2019 UK General Election this falsehood continued to be perpetuated. The Labour party pushed the narrative that the free market is detrimental to the UK by pushing for more government intervention, through renationalisation and much tighter regulation of the way business operates (Elliot, cited in The Guardian, 2019).

The Labour party focused on its big selling points in its manifesto; free broadband, free adult learning, free dental care, the biggest council house building in a decade, abolishing tuition fees and the establishment of maintenance grants (Elliot, cited in The Guardian, 2019). None of which are bad socially, although how effective a policy of free broadband is questionable (how would the market correct itself in the case of a market failure?). For example, if the sole free broadband provider begun to experience severe technical issues then where does that leave customers?

Freer markets as a solution to societal issues
So, why do those who advocate for free markets or shall we say “freer” markets think of them as solution to all manner of society’s problems?

Solving the societal issues with less intervention
Let us go back to a definition of what a “free market” is, Britannica defines one as:

An unregulated system of economic exchange, in which taxes, quality controls, quotas, tariffs, and other forms of centralized economic interventions by government either do not exist or are minimal (Orlitzky, 2018).

Many economists hold that no one can be made better off without making other individuals worse off, (like the absence of externalities or informational asymmetries, among others) (Orlitzy, 2018).

According to this theory, the indivisible-hand mechanism of self-regulating behaviour, society benefits by having self-interested actors make free economic decisions that benefit them (Orlitzy, 2018).

Many arguments are put forward for using increasingly freer markers with less regulation for solving social issues. From homelessness to climate change, or the quality and safety of council homes.

Indeed, the desire for freer markets can go full circle and begin to adopt protectionist elements. Some advocates for less government intervention in markets, are in favour of the UK leaving the European Union. Such an exit no matter what the end deal is, does lead to a scenario where additional trading barriers are put up with the UK’s largest and closest trading partner.

The advantages of freer markets: Innovation
There are many advantages of freer markets, however, I have decided to focus on one area for clarity and to keep this article concise.

Freer markets are advantageous in that they can provide freedom to innovate more easily. This is probably the strongest argument for less government intervention in markets in the 21st century. A lot of social problems are the result of the lack of innovation.

Depicting the effect of a negative externality and market failure

Without innovation we would not have had steam engine technology or information technology, which has opened markets, created new business models and connected those disadvantaged and excluded from society.

The disadvantages of freer markets: Market Failure
The disadvantages of freer markets are numerous, from profit being the motive for success, market failure, and equality not always equating to equal opportunity. I have selected the one disadvantage that I believe to be most pressing. A free market requires consumption to survive and it requires it at unsustainable level, in a finite world.

As the COVID-19 pandemic is proving if people stop spending instead of spending on goods and services a freer market will struggle to stay alive.

Freer markets require spending and production, which consumes vast amounts of natural resources. Freer markets can contribute to increases in pollution, however, they can through emission trading schemes also be used to cut emissions, with intervention! (such as the European Union’s ETS scheme).

You can see that issues are not black and white and a combination of intervention and freer markets’, work together to achieve targets rather than orthodoxy.

Shifting the sliding scale: Freer markets in the age of Brexit and COVID 19
The challenge the UK faces at present with Brexit and COVID 19 poses significant challenges.

The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union is bringing with it a huge number of unintended/unseen consequences.
The proponents of the UK leaving the European Union argued that a free trade deal negotiated with the European Union would more advantageous than membership itself.

However, the pursuit for freer trade has led to an increase of trade friction (through being a third country) with Department for International Trade officials to advising British business to form EU-based companies to circumvent border issues.

This is an example of an unintended consequence of leaving the European Union, it could be argued however, this was forecast. What this shows is the pursuit for freer markets can in fact have the opposite effect.

COVID 19 poses a significant economic and social threat globally. There is no doubt that economic competition in the pursuit of self-interest between various large pharmaceutical companies aided the rapid development of vaccines. However, those private sector achievements were only matched by public sector intervention.

In Conclusion
This article is not comprehensive but does bring key points to the fore.

Both interventionism and non-interventionism in markets have drawbacks. What this article shows is that the trade-offs have undesirable outcomes, which is too damaging for a country to go one way over the other.

For this reason, countries deploy a mixture of the two. The COVID 19 pandemic is one such example with many large economies intervening in markets to bail out businesses and support citizens.

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My four years using Ubuntu

This post has been a long time coming. I have always intended to write a post on how fantastic Ubuntu was, why I like using it, and why I believe it is miles better than any version of Windows. Especially, Windows 10 if you value privacy and usability highly.

Ubuntu is a free open-source operating system a flavour of Linux, which means anyone can see, test and edit the code. Whereas Windows and MacOS are closed source and propriety.

Since my early college days when I first heard of the new(ish) Ubuntu project and seeing how it functioned, I was intrigued.

Back then installing Ubuntu 6 was tricky work, but I had ordered the free CDs and distributed them around college. Including one to a very interested technician in the IT department, I did have a play around with it on an old system but I found the learning curve a bit steep back then. The operating system was also more complex than the current versions today.

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Then came 2016

I had started a masters and could not get work completed on my old iPad. I made an investment in a laptop built by PCSpecialist, the Lafite 2. You can choose to have an operating pre-installed, but I knew I had to have Ubuntu.

From that point forwards, I have had no other operating system but Ubuntu on my laptop since purchasing it at the end of 2016.

The experience has been one of learning and simple amazement. Installing Ubuntu 16.04 was much simpler. The install process was much more of a breeze than I experienced back in 2006.

The lockups and blue screens of death of Windows no longer occurred. The overall stability and reliability of the operating system was astonishing.

Usability had vastly improved from the previous version of Ubuntu I had used. The unity desktop environment and particularly the heads-up display, saved me time whether it was file searching or looking for that app I installed. There was a learning curve, especially with regards to the Linux terminal but it was not too steep. I was able to download and install iPlayer videos and use software such as Zotero referencing very easily.

Since then, I have upgraded to Ubuntu 18.10, 19.04, 19.10 and most recently as of April version 20.04.

One of the big things about using Ubuntu over other Linux distros for me is the community. Including the extensive support and information available on the internet.

Anytime I broke something, wanted to customise something, or wanted to install an app, a simple search online revealed all and the Ubuntu community helped no end.

Then came 20.04

An Ubuntu version like no other!

That is not to say 16.04 was not great (the first distribution I used) it’s just 20.04 polished over an exceptionally smooth product 😊

First, there was the boot up time (major improvement) over 16.04. It is something I noticed right away. Small performance improvements which mean apps load even faster.

Second, the new icons, fewer clicks between important functions, night light.

Third, snaps. I am still on the fence about this but I think this will improve in time and aid how apps are installed. I rarely download apps from the Ubuntu store, I prefer to go to the source anyway.

I may have missed something. I will add it in if I remember. Overall, everything in Ubuntu just works. Word processing, web browsing and emailing. I only go back to my Windows desktop for gaming.

I still do miss the unity heads up display, though, I understand it was rarely used.

As Ubuntu 20.10 is due to be released next week, I can only see yet more improvements.

I will not be installing 20.10 as it is not a long-term release (LTS). Ubuntu releases long term stable versions every three years, with new features in point releases that are supported for 9 months.

Here’s to more Ubuntuing! 🤓

Coronavirus: The Importance of food security

The Coronavirus pandemic has shaken the globe. This once in a lifetime disaster has claimed over 100,000 lives globally and continues to do so. Most international crises do not directly lead to job losses, death, economic insecurity or food insecurity. However, this pandemic has trigged all three.

Food security, or insecurity is largely a problem of the developing world. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) defines food security as “existing when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO, 2020).

To put this into context in the developed world, people do not have to grow their own food for survival, or additional sustenance, however, in the developing world this is more common. Smallholders are dependent on their land, and in many cases are not fortunate to have access to supermarkets as those in the developed world do. This month bare shelves brought the long neglected issue of food insecurity to the unaware rich world.

Panic Buying

As grocery items on shelves disappeared, panic further increased. Shelves in supermarkets that were stripped bare of hand sanitiser and handwash the previous week were soon stripped, of toilet rolls, fresh fruit and veg, tinned food, cereals, crisps, meat, fresh and frozen. Supermarkets imposed limits (arguably way too late). Shelves that were restocked by night workers in supermarkets, were quickly stripped bare by shoppers who rushed in when the stores opened.

What all this demonstrated, is that the supply of food, particularly in the end stage, delivery to customer is especially fragile. Whether through online delivery, or in store. The supermarkets have assured the general public that enough food is available which may be true but the delivery of it to consumers is the weak link. It is possible to see supply disrupted by a number of sick delivery drivers causing issues for supermarkets in a region of the country.

Supply of food in the developed world in normal times is rarely a pressing issue. As Tim Laing professor of food policy at London’s City University puts it “panic buying aside, our supermarket shelves are usually full. We have access to a greater range of ingredients at better prices than at any time in human history” (Laing, 2020).

As a researcher on this topic its interesting to see an actual focus on short and long term issues of food security globally.

Laing in his book warns that the UK is food system is “stretched, open to disruption and far from resilient” (Laing, 2020).

Laing goes further to state the bitter reality that faces us ‘we have a massively fragile just-in-time supply chain which could easily collapse; a depleted agriculture sector which produces only around 50% of the food we actually eat, leaving us at the mercies of the international markets; and production methods which are damaging to the environment and human health’ (Laing, 2020).

With UK overeliance on international markets and an inability to grow enough food (due to lack of usable land) for its citizens, which is not solely a UK issue. We have to turn to researching into other means of production and look into altering the means of consumption incrementally.

The food system is fragile, complex and not able to react to the demands of panic buying without interventionist policies, food is very much a finite resource and the production of it even more so. A good thing was at the time of this crisis there were no high rates of food loss present in the UK. This would have put untold strain on the food supply system. The panic buying has now ceased, largely because people have stocks of food to last over two weeks and also because of the restrictions in place at the major supermarkets.

One thing the pandemic is demonstrating is that policymakers must be proactive with regards to the food system, it is not enough for policymakers to take a laissez-faire approach.

More updates on the topic of food security, particularly in this context will be posted here.

References:

Rayner, J. (2020) ‘Diet, health, inequality: why Britain’s food supply system doesn’t work’, The Observer, 22nd March [Online]. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/22/tim-lang-interview-professor-of-food-policy-city-university-supply-chain-crisis (Accessed 13 April 2020).

Wood, Z. (2020) ‘Supermarkets ready for a new week of rising to the virus’s challenge’, The Guardian, 29th March [Online]. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/mar/29/supermarkets-ready-new-week-virus-challenge (Accessed 13 April 2020).

Happy 2020!

Happy New Year 2020

Happy New Year 2020

Happy 2020 to all my readers.

I am terribly sorry about the lack of activity this year. I do have a new post in the pipeline ready to publish in around 2 weeks time. Feel free to check out my latest news articles on food security.

There will much more to come on my research interests in the new decade.

I hope everyone has had a Merry Christmas and I wish everyone a Happy New Year. Best wishes for the future 🙂

MSc International Public Policy Graduation

I graduated (again) back in December 2018. Followers of this blog may be aware that I was reading a MSc in International Public Policy at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). I studied part-time so the masters was over two years. It actually felt pretty swift on my part, it seemed like only a year of study.

Graduation day was amazing. It felt more a culmination of both my BA and Masters combined, so it really made this graduation feel extra special.

I achieved a merit overall which I was happy with. However, I am very aware of the fact that I could have actually got a distinction if I really knuckled down in the first year.

The journey through my masters really awakened my interest in public administration, partly studies of the end stages (implementation and evaluation) and behavioural policy. I am certain that I would like to continue research in either public administration or some policy field. The reason I hold such ambiguity over this is because I have so many fields that I hold a passion for. My journey through this degree has really been responsible for this and I feel much richer for it.

My journey from here involves getting into a stable career and planning for the future. I have some plans but I do not think they should go public just yet.

A video of the entire graduation can be viewed below. Unfortunately, only a edited version is available (should now start at roughly the correct time, you can scroll back if you wish to watch the whole ceremony):

I did mean to publish this earlier but had issues with getting the video online and I have been extremely busy, better late then never! 🙂

30 today

I’m 30 today!

Today’s the day I hit the big 30. Wish me the best for the next 10 years 🙂

Onwards and upwards to the big 40.. eeek.

Over the past few months, I have been busy completing my Masters with graduation on December 19th. I am really looking forward to my second graduation and the plans I have for the future.

Big love to all the loyal readers of my blog.

Why is being housed by the state perceived as a personal failure? Part 1

Social housing debates are at centre of the political discourse right now, and they rightly should be following the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the ongoing UK housing crisis.

We need to ask ourselves collectively some very important questions. It is time to move away from the strong doses of individualism we’ve shot ourselves up with and start thinking together as a collective society.

No civilised country, can call itself civilised unless people have housing rights which includes having somewhere safe and secure to live, from the richest to the poorest.

I would like to turn attention in this blog post to the following. Listening to Leading Britain’s Conversation (LBC) earlier in the week, tackling the question of social housing. A caller rang in and stated “Why don’t people work to move out a council home. Why do people in this country think the state owes them everything? My parents came to this country in the 1960’s and they worked and they never relied on the state”.

This sort of viewpoint in regards to council housing is unfortunately far too common in the UK. It’s rather elementary to put your experiences, or someone else’s, as indicative to what everyone being housed by the state should do, or be doing. The world is extremely complex, no two people are the same, no two groups of people are the same, no two parts of the country are the same, the environment you grown up in is not going to be the same as another persons.

The thrust of this blog post though isn’t why some hold such views (as crazy as they are). The caller stated his parents came to the UK in 1960’s and have never relied on the state, that may well be the case but when we read behind this we see the statement holds value judgements. Not everyone is like necessarily like yourself. If you are not lucky enough to have come to the country in the 1960’s when jobs were more easy to come by, or are/were more reliant on the state in the sixties because you have less capital you fall into a category that this caller presumably has.

Statements such as these lead those living on a council estate to fear openly admitting that they do.

‘Social shame’ is present in UK society. This goes for all areas of state dependency, not just social housing.

Grenfell Tower Burning

The Grenfell Tower tragedy highlighted the many failings of UK society. Not just of local government, but by how people who live in social housing are viewed by those who do not or never have resided in social housing.

By this I am referring to both citizens and politicians. Those that have never lived in social housing tend to hold positions of power, over those who do.

This very imbalance is a danger to British democracy, at a local and national level.

The image of the blackened hull that is Grenfell Tower should wake us all up to the dangers of lack of empathy and understanding. It should also wake us up to the face that we need to think collectively in order to help others out. So we too may lead lives that are happy. The more people in our country that are happy and not living in terrible conditions the better it is for society collectively right?

We also need to focus on power, who has power. Why do they have it? How? We need to forever question what government is doing, and be critical. At both national and local level, here it seems in Kensington and Chelsea local government were/are able to do as they please without very little oversight from anyone with power. The residents were disempowered and nobody was listening. This HAS to change but can only be done by mobilisation of the people on mass. The Grenfell Silent March which begins at Kensington Town hall and ends at the Lancaster West Estate is one way of doing this, as well as remembering the 72 victims of the tragedy. Now with Brexit and many other issues on the central agenda it is critical that this does not fall off the political agenda. The people of North Kensington need our support not just for a brief moment, but a lifetime.

Only if the citizens of the UK mobilise can we rid ourselves of the class system that has plagued the UK for centuries, and finally tackle rising inequality. We cannot go on creating areas where there are shops implicitly stating to one section of society this is not intended for you and just (2 minute’s walk in North Kensington) short drive away there are shops targeting a different class of person. It is clear that this will take time, primarily as the upper classes/elites who actually most likely prefer the status quo are more than likely to be in positions of power.

To make matters worse the new leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council (appears she is not so new). Has NEVER set foot in Grenfell Tower or any other tower block at all. I wonder if you can guess which part of Kensington she is living in? 😕

There is a massive disconnect between those in power, and classes. Nowhere is this more poignant then in North Kensington, with similar cases up and down the country.

Clearly, as someone senior in the council she should have visited the tower, without question. This involves conversing with residents, and investigating the many complaints. If she had actually visited the tower in the many years in which residents were complaining, she would may herself have acted. Her position in my opinion is surely is also untenable.

A clear problem is representation, if someone is unable to take the time to step foot in any tower block in a borough they have a deputy leadership role in, how are they supposed to represent all the people in that borough? Especially if this said person is middle/upper class, visibly. Everyone needs to connect with the people they should be working on behalf of, and that means everyone a borough. Nobody in this council appears (or actually cares) about representation of the poor, traditional working classes or service class. I am aware by simply mentioning the class system in this way, I am partly responsible for upholding it.

And finally, Grenfell Tower has clearly changed how these country perceives social housing. Has it truly touched all corners of society? Probably not. For too long social housing tenants have been held in contempt by councils and housing associations. From my own personal experience of living in 1970’s tower block (featured image on the right) reporting issues to Enfield Council and them not being acted upon, often with that familiar response that KCTMO residents had, stating that nobody else has reported the issue and issues often taking long to resolve.

To conclude. Why is Social Housing considered a failure?

Being housed by the state is considered a failure by some in society because of the increasing lack of empathy, the overuse of value judgements, lack of care, lack of oversight by us collectively towards those less fortunate. The over focus on owning property and gaining wealth through property has led to a destruction of society as we know it. This over focus on purchasing property is partly fuelled by the fact that the rental market is poorly, regulated with poor securities.

We have allowed society UK society has become more individualistic, more about “keeping up with the Jones”. The idea that people live in council homes out of choice rather than need as the LBC caller suggests is another reason. It is clear not everyone is the same, and tarring everyone with the same brush is a problem that a majority of UK society appears to have.

Too little oversight at local government level has allowed for conflict of interest, corruption, or just general disinterest all of which seem to be rarely picked up in any official statistics (which is equally worrying!).

This is a tragedy that we are all responsible for. Lacklustre politicians and indifferent citizens. We are all responsible.

(In a few weeks in the top menu, I will add a link with videos of various events recorded post Grenfell for viewers. For those wishing to understand more about the problems residents faced in Grenfell Tower and the Lancaster West Estate the Grenfell Action Blog is a good place to start.)