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our enclosures and theirs

with 7 comments

From the front page of Saturday’s Guardian:

James Murdoch repeated his call for the BBC to be reined in today, saying that the corporation should have its licence fee funding reduced by government so that it becomes “much, much smaller”.

In a question and answer session at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival following last night’s MacTaggart lecture, the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation in Europe and Asia suggested the licence fee should be reduced significantly.

“If you simply constrained the expenses – with plenty of advance warning – the next [licence fee] settlement or something like that – [you say] the number is ‘X’. We have got a huge debt pile in this country. We have financial issues. I think the BBC would prioritise pretty fast,” Murdoch said.

He added that the corporation’s 24-hour news channels and website were inhibiting the ability of commercial competitors to invest in news. “The news operation is creating enormous problems for the independent news business and it has to be dealt with,” he said.

“The BBC should not be in the business of competing with professional journalists. The consequences [for] independent journalists is probably the most urgent one to deal with.”

So the point would seem to be that any public provisioning of goods or services, whether efficient or not, crowd pleasing or not, must be considered first and foremosts as an enclosure of a space where profit could have been and should be harvested. I have a feeling we’re going to be seeing quite a lot of this argument in the next few years – we already are, both here with the BBC and in the US with health care reform. The problem is that according to the rules of the game as currently constituted – in the political structures and ideological atmospherics of our time – Murdoch and the like have their point. If GDP is the only metric that matters, of course they are right.

Perhaps nothing illustrates so clearly the inefficient efficiency and aggregate brutality of markets as a means to distibute things we need than the fact that if there’s something we can with relative ease give out for free we, following our logic, allow someone, set up a tollbooth, and charge a premium for access to it. Just because it’s better for someone to turn a profit than for no one to turn one.

What’s left? Those public sidewalks (called pavement here, which is something different, though similar, at home). Why should everyone happily walk around on those nicely paved paths, all for nothing, when they represent a massive opportunity to grow profit. Why not distribute contracts for corporations to build very fine wooden boardwalks, one inch above the public ground, complete with coin operated turnstiles at the begininng of every block? Perhaps just a micropayment, a penny per go.

Not only would it be a tremendous boost to the economy, but these boardwalks would foster the efficient delivery of sidewalk access, as those who didn’t really really need to go for a walk would stay off the public thoroghfares, especially during peak hours, when we might well charge more.

And once we had the boardwalks-over-sidewalks system running, I’m sure we would find lots of other opportunities for this sort of economy boosting operation. There are the obvious candidates of course – socialized systems of medical care, public or even private not-for-profit education provision (Princeton University as an infringement of the right of the University of Phoenix to operate a high-end profit-based university in central New Jersey), public libraries (could save a flagging Blockbuster Co.), police and fire protection, etc.

Perhaps when all of this was done, we could move on to the truly large untapped markets, such as that which would be generated by enclosing our living spaces in impermeable plastic bubbles, from which the air is systematically withdrawn and then reintroduced. Perhaps some state subsidy would be available for the poor, but there’s no reason that most of us should be simply breathing when we could be boosting GDP by paying for breathing rights, paying for breath on our debit cards or by bank direct deposit.

At any rate, they’re right – even the mildest, most customer friendly forms of socialism are inimicable to the efficient operation of markets. This is because public goods, in the end, tend to win. Can’t have people voting with their eyes, feet, minds, and bodies when we could have them voting with their wallets.

Written by adswithoutproducts

August 31, 2009 at 8:16 am

7 Responses

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  1. Ha! Brilliant!

    Now I am depressed.


    August 31, 2009 at 9:58 pm

  2. Thanks Sisyphus! Sorry about the depression. I actually think though that this is an argument we could actually win, and on many fronts. I’ll say more soon.


    August 31, 2009 at 10:03 pm

  3. Since we all know how ‘inefficient’ bureaucracies are, why not outsource our taxes? Surely the private sector could decide how to spend them more responsibly.

    I don’t know about it being an argument we can win, but you’re right that its absolutely fundamental to challenge this profit assumption. But I think your irony would be lost on many. In a world where natural resources will be more and more scare, it’s only ‘logical’ that asthmatics and smokers should bear more of the cost of maintaining a livable atmosphere.


    September 1, 2009 at 1:58 am

  4. OTOH, about 10 years ago, my (republican) mom was on a committee for a proposition that successfully stopped all development on our town’s rolling hills, using the argument that the rights of the general townspeople for an unspoiled view trumped the rights of rich developers to buy and build mansions-with-views-of-the-town. So I have this tiny tiny hope that if we can only explain things in the right way (sell them with the right ads?) we can bring people over to our side.


    September 1, 2009 at 3:36 am

  5. Indivually, of course, I applaud those efforts. But cumulatively, claiming things like vistas as ‘rights’ is exactly the logic that allows people to commodify them – if I own the right to my view, I equally have the right to commodify it, and so, not only in the future do I reserve the right to sell it to developers if I (speaking for the community) see it as helping the community at a later date. And my right to this view is also the right to divert other peoples tax dollars to having the police remove indigents from the woods etc etc…


    September 1, 2009 at 4:11 am

  6. Sisyphus,

    I agree wholeheartedly and yours is a good anecdote, yes.


    I also agree with you. But I simply can’t think of another way of doing this, at least not with a chance of it working.


    September 1, 2009 at 11:38 pm

  7. Mmm, yes, it’s the chance of it actually working that’s the hitch, no? But really, the revolution must be self-conscious. What’s so fascinating about the health care debate in the US right now is that this consciousness seems to be developing organically. You’ll find statements like, “Some things just don’t work when controlled by the profit motive…” which, if the thought weren’t closed from public consciousness in this present moment (for Badiou is certainly right to call this a Second Restoration), logically extends to, “nothing is better/more efficient/etc when controlled by the profit motive”. The real problem is planting the seed of this extension without saying the Forbidden Name, you know, that S word, or that M guy…


    September 2, 2009 at 12:39 am

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