Timmy elsewhere

City AM:

This is also the general reason for privatisation in a nutshell. Where increased profit is not the driving organisational force or incentive then the organisation is not straining those sinews to make us all collectively richer.

Given that we do like being collectively richer, therefore we should be privatising everything not entirely nailed down. Just to expose all to those bracing incentives which have, over the past couple of centuries, driven us from that peasant destitution to the current situation, where we have the luxury of pondering whether Countdown could survive in the cut throat world of the private sector or not. Or must be protected by the public service remit of a not for profit broadcaster.

Sell it, preferably yesterday.

29 thoughts on “Timmy elsewhere”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    The way to increased profit is efficiency by and large. Which does not feature highly in government-run or quasi-monopoly suppliers to government (see BAe).

    There is no case for the government to run anything much.

    Off topic: the European authorities say they are going to stop printing 500 euro notes. Because terrorism. Which is to say, tax evasion. I hope bitcoin survives.

  2. Talking about GDP like you do isn’t going to be very convincing to many people outside of those who already want Channel 4 sold off. Especially when you talk in such general terms.

    Also, when you recast someone’s argument you need to make it clearer what bit is the ‘recast’ argument (although really a sub-editor should have sorted this).

  3. The only question in all of this is what counts as “something the market can’t provide” and when I look at all the weird and wonderful stuff coming out of Amazon, Netflix and the USA in general, it’s hard to find much outside of parliament TV and CBeebies.

  4. The Stigler has it right. C4’s fêted diversity programme looks less and less special in an era of effectively unlimited bandwidth and the falling cost of production. We are genuinely in a golden era of TV, and C4 does not seem to be adding much value.

    Sell it, sell it, sell it. Then sell most of the BBC. Cut the licence fee by 90% and use the money to commission programmes by all means, but an entire state-owned industry is not needed now.

  5. Alastair Harris

    You can’t sell the bbc. Its too big. Break it up and sell the bits. Would probably get more that way. It would be a mistake to keep the rump. Public sector broadcasting is dead.

  6. Alastair Harris said: “You can’t sell the bbc. Its too big. Break it up and sell the bits.”

    I’d plump for telling it to raise its own revenue how it likes and giving shares in the BBC to license fee payers. Let them do what they want with them. They have paid for it enough times over as it is.

    The state selling it would be the usual unseemly scrabbling around for dosh but given it’s the BBC it would also be mixed up in grossly overwrought politics. Giving it to the public who have paid for it for years avoids that. It would also avoid the temptation for ministers to have a favoured model for a post-privatisation BBC (along with favoured people running it…) which would fail in short order because they are incompetent.

  7. We’d need to keep the BBC World Service. As with France24 and Russia Today, it’s a strategic asset. Until recently it was funded by the FCO.

  8. Last time I listened to the world service (admittedly some years ago) it’s output seemed to consist solely of soap operas telling foreigners that the streets of London are paved with gold and they’re all welcome to come and help themselves.

  9. There would be a case for the Beeb if, for instance, it carried disinterested news. But it hasn’t for decades, so sell it off.

  10. I think the case is not quite so clear cut, Tim. The way that British Rail was privatised was disastrous – Branson and co benefit but railtrack seems to be accruing ever-greater losses. The problem was that the management in the last 10 years of the nationalised service were focused on reducing costs and increasing returns on capital. And they did it pretty ruthlessly. The privatised owners were not able to keep that going, for whatever reasons.

    Electricity and gas did lead to short-term reductions in consumer bills but we have the situation now where no one wants to invest in generation capacity without a massive subsidy.

    BP and Britoil worked.

    BT worked in that it became possible to get a phone line without waiting a year and call charges have reduced massively and there has been massive investment in the network that would not have happened in the good old days. However, the shares are not much higher than they were at flotation and there have been significant phases of boom and bust and the pension fund is a black hole in the economy. What was privatisation meant to achieve?

    BA….similar to BT.

  11. I agree with Diogenes – privatisation can work, when you can align the incentives with the ‘public good’ that the organisation is meant to achieve. Of course if there is no ‘public good’ then there is no point in it being in the public sector in the first place.

    If you agree with the public good mission of Channel 4 (whatever it is, not sure myself), then the privatized structure of the resulting organisation is important. Otherwise it becomes just another media company, and we have enough of those. There’s no certainty that a misaligned profit motive would improve the public good output of any organisation.

  12. Neither the BBC or CH4 is state-owned. The BBC is state-funded, yes, but not state-owned. The were both created through statute, but then so was Bank of Scotland, Yorkshire Water and the precursor to nPower. However, Parliament Is Sovereign and has Eminant Domain, so it has the absolute power to declare that the proceeds of any sale of any asset (*ANY* asset – your house, your car, your children) goes to the state. In fact, the acts creating the Beeb and CH4 have a Winding Up clause that passes all assets to the state after winding up.

  13. @ diogenes
    Britoil was massively incompetent – it should never have existed in the first place – and it remained (albeit slightly less) incompetent until it was taken over. It should have been shut down and the assets auctioned off.

  14. Andrew M, a strategic asset is an army corps. Or, if you think psy ops works, an army corps of psy operators.

    Otherwise you’re just in national champion land.

  15. The licence fee payers should collectively decide where the BBC goes next.
    Alas, for this to be possible, the Board needs to take all the powers currently under DCMS and Parliament, including the power to set the licence fee and the Board also needs to be elected by the licence payers. Some trustee candidates might campaign on a more-BBC platform, some might campaign for less daytime TV and a lower fee, some might even campaign to sell the whole thing off ( the UKIP MEP vote to make me redundant argument )
    Alas, accountability to the people who pay for you is not part of the BBC ethos.

  16. Edward Lud,

    France24 and RT are in no way national champions. They’re propaganda arms of the state. I’m quite happy with the state broadcasting propaganda (disguised as news) to the rest of the world.

    Broadcasting propaganda to ourselves is a waste of money though.

  17. Andrew M, it’s a matter of personal taste, I suppose. The only propaganda arms of the state I am interested in are those dealing with countries with whom we are at war (whether or not explicitly). Int Corps psy ops, in other words.

    Otherwise, you might as well argue for British Airways as a flag carrier. Or telling Malaysians to buy Marmite.

    And anyway, is it really the case that in the absence of a publicly-funded BBC, the more benighted parts of the globe would not be looking to us, and to others like us, for vaguely reliable reportage?

  18. There was I time when Thomas Cook (a travel company) was state-owned, and I am sure had many tearful passionate defenders.

  19. @Tim Worstall
    “Where increased profit is not the driving organisational force or incentive then the organisation is not straining those sinews to make us all collectively richer.

    This is the argument I use against people who advocate electricity, gas, trains etc being quasi renationalised into “Not for profit” firms.

    The example I use is:

    Monopoly NFP Firm makes a profit. Managers/staff have a choice.

    Do they
    a) increase their wages?
    or
    b) reduce prices for customers?

    Not one NFP firm advocate has replied across many forums

    P

  20. John77, I was under the impression that britoil was privatised and that stags made a pile. I was one of them.

  21. I’m watching a BBC (!) documentary about the Ordnance Survey. Very interesting. One point that emerges is how the government propagandists, the OS, published unreliable maps in order to deceive the Soviets. Who were not deceived, and filled in the blanks themselves. so, i, growing up in the 1980s, using OS maps as a cub and then as a scout, was using unreliable maps which, now i look back on it, occasionally perplexed me for reasons i did not then understand. Likewise, too, when in the TA in the 1990s.

    As a prototypical member of the Thatcher Youth, I’d have been buggered. As a member of an invading Soviet force, the very incompetence of OS’ misdirection would have been very helpful.

    None of this is to detract from the beauty of OS cartography. But Gawd save us from placing trust in the official version.

    Unless of course the BBC4 documentary, as an official version, is also not to be trusted.

  22. Why is it that the Timmy elsewheres all seem to link to site that require dozens of unvetted scripts to access the content?

    I am willing to turn of the adblocker but not the script blockers currently.

  23. France24 and RT are in no way national champions. They’re propaganda arms of the state. I’m quite happy with the state broadcasting propaganda (disguised as news) to the rest of the world.

    I listen to what were the former short-wave broadcasters, most of which are Internet only or some FM rebroadcasts in places that have spoken-word FM (not so much the US). You can make a reasonable argument that for the smaller countries, it’s a way to get their name out there as a different sort of advertising. (And now that they don’t have to fire up those massive transmitters, probably a good bit cheaper, too.)

    Back in 1999, I wrote a letter to Radio Slovakia International. On the envelope, I put as the last line of the address, “Bratislava, Slovak Republic”. A few days later I received the letter back from the USPS telling me to write the name of the country in English. Whatever. So when I took the envelope back to the post office, I was told that in fact, deliveries to the country had stopped because of the war. (Um, I don’t think so.)

    You can see why it would be a good thing for the smaller countries to be better known in a good way.

  24. Bloke in Costa Rica

    I would shut the BBC down and auction the copyright in its archives. Then I’d sell the buildings but only under the condition they not be used to make television or radio. The capital equipment would mostly be needed to be put beyond use lest it fall into the wrong hands. All the clerical stuff would be seized and burnt or put through a hard disk shredder. The goal shouldn’t be to keep it running more efficiently. It should be to shut it down and eradicate its culture without throwing away too much money. You need to destroy the institutional structure, otherwise it will just reconstitute itself somewhere else. De-weaponising the BBC would be a big task, but well worth it.

  25. “Andy H
    May 5, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    Of course if there is no ‘public good’ then there is no point in it being in the public sector in the first place.

    Otherwise it becomes just another media company, and we have enough of those.

    There’s no certainty that a misaligned profit motive would improve the public good output of any organisation.”

    The ‘public good’ is whatever people are willing to pay for them to do. Otherwise its not a ‘good’, its simply raw coercion.

    If you think that a) we ‘have enough’ media companies and b) that they don’t provide public goods just by virtue that people are willing to pay them for their output then you don’t really understand what a public good is.

    Even things like police, courts, and fire – all considered ‘public goods’ are not things that *have* to be publicly run. The public good angle opens up the ‘free-rider’ excuse to *force* people to pay for single-provider services of these sorts. Except that people will pay for protection, fire services, schooling, etc if left to their own devices – just not necessarily in the forms that allow easy cooption by third parties looking for power and prestige.

  26. The BBC has never been an unbiased, neutral news source – none of them have ever been.

    If a news source *seems* unbiased and neutral that only means its biases align with yours.

    The only difference between today’s BBC and the BBC of the past is that today’s BBC champions different causes than they used to.

  27. Such hatred for the BBC.

    Well if you want to burn it down it’s your stuff. May I recommend putting high density housing in it’s place?

  28. @Agammamon

    I think you’ve mistaken what the public good would be. Take fire services for example – the public good is not protection of a single house or office, its the additional benefit that accrues to everyone comes from having a universal service that covers everyone through some kind of mandatory cover (taxation etc).

    You can argue that there is no benefit to that, and that people could just choose to buy their own insurance (or not). That would be arguing against the public good itself.

    A separate argument would be whether this public good would be best delivered through the public sector (as it is today) or provided by private contractors – that’s where the alignment argument comes.

  29. Liberal Yank,
    > Why is it that the Timmy elsewheres all seem to link to …
    Because Timmy likes to get paid?

    Agammamon,
    As you say, all news sources are biased; including the BBC. That doesn’t matter though. What matters is whether foreigners place more trust in the BBC than in their home-grown news sources.

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