Blackout

Take a big old state-run company, break it up and bring in competition from a number of smaller outfits. And then sit back and watch what happens.

And it’s the damage that we doYou’ll never knowIt’s the words that we don’t sayThat scare me so- Accidents will happen (Elvis Costello)

It all seemed such a good idea at the time. Take that big old state-run phone company and break it up. Bring in competition from a number of smaller outfits and bring down the cost of a call for the unwashed masses.

For a while, things went well. The new phone companies gave the public a real choice of phone provider for the first time. And things certainly seemed a lot better than they had been before. Consumers were happy that their monthly bills were smaller, which they were. And the company shareholders were delighted as the stocks of the new phone companies escalated, which they did.

With the phone problem licked, deregulation and restructuring spread to other industries – first to the power companies and then to the railway network. Soon, no-one could remember the ‘bad old days’ when the government used the people’s taxes to support ‘incompetent and inefficient’ state-run monopolies.

Until it all went a bit pear shaped. You see, when push came to shove, the new kids on the block had their shareholders to report to – and their shareholders wanted a return on their investment. So the very infrastructure of the businesses – the railway lines, the phone lines and the power lines – lay neglected in favour of a short-term operating profit.

And then accidents started to happen. The new phone systems started to ‘go down’ at random intervals during the day. Trains started to crash because no-one could ‘afford’ a modern safety system. But worst of all, electric power to several major cities was shut down for hours at a time.

Suddenly, the stock value of the new kids on the block started to drop. Then it fell. Then it plummeted. And then the investors got mad. To lick their problems, the desperate CEO’s cut back any future investment in telecommunications, cut back rail services to make them economical and started to write enormously incomprehensible white papers on the state of the nation’s energy.

After years watching their noble ideas of a free market economy crumble in front of their eyes, the government decided that it would have to clean up the mess. Taxes were hiked and funds set aside to shore up the privately held phone, rail and power industries – to reconnect the phones, to re-lay the rail lines that were buckling under the heat, and to dispose of the nuclear waste that was piling up.

I’m sorry to report that it didn’t work. While the shareholders of the privately held industries still got their payoffs, services did not improve at all.

Finally, the government had had enough of the shenanigans. The accountants who ran the privatised industries were lined up against a wall and shot and the engineers who ran the large state run monopolies were brought back in to fix the problems. Which they did.

Ah, dear reader. What a dreamer I am.