If you want an insight into what a state that fully embraces “free market” ideals to their ultimate conclusion looks like, look no further than London 2012. If we were to create a society that was built entirely on a “free market” model, it would look something like this giant marketing opportunity dressed up as an athletics event. All of those crying out for the state to be shrunk into insignificance, for taxes to reduced to a bare minimum and for public services to be placed in the hands of the private sector, are seeing their dreams come true. And what a dream it is. So what does this free-market showcase tell us about what this kind of society would look like?
A purely “free market” system certainly does not bring with it a greater degree of transparency. As I recently highlighted in my article for ORG Zine, Freedom of Information is not a legal obligation, it is an optional extra that can be ignored or responded to depending on the whims of the organisation subjected to the request. As LOCOG makes clear on their website, they are not subject to Freedom of Information requests which means, even if they are in receipt of public funds, they do not have to account for it. For this is what comes with a corporate society. Such corporations are not accountable to the general public, they are accountable to shareholders. As far as they are concerned, you have no business knowing about how they run their business. Compare and contrast with the public sector. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, you can find out how your money is spent because it is your business to know. Admittedly, the Act isn’t perfect and public sector bodies do get away with not disclosing information, but do you think handing over public services to the private sector will make it more or less likely that such information will be disclosed? If in doubt, just look at LOCOG.
Ok, so in this “free market” society you are not entitled to access information about how such a society is managed, but at least it doesn’t impinge on your personal liberty, right? Well…
Apparently not. As this notice that has been floating around the internet makes clear, you can only buy chips on their own if you purchase them at McDonalds. At all other food outlets they must be purchased with another item (fish in this case). Essentially, your choice is restricted to those caterers that are “approved” by the “governing body” (LOCOG). The power of the sponsor has meant a restriction on the choice and freedom of the individual (although this ban has now been overturned due to the amount of publicity it has attracted). The reason for this restriction? An exclusivity deal signed with the governing body. You would think “exclusivity” and “free market” are mutually exclusive terms. It appears not.
5. Linking policy
a. Links to the Site. You may create your own link to the Site, provided that your link is in a text-only format. You may not use any link to the Site as a method of creating an unauthorised association between an organisation, business, goods or services and London 2012, and agree that no such link shall portray us or any other official London 2012 organisations (or our or their activities, products or services) in a false, misleading, derogatory or otherwise objectionable manner [my emphasis]. The use of our logo or any other Olympic or London 2012 Mark(s) as a link to the Site is not permitted. View our guidelines on Use of the Games’ Marks.
So, criticism that links back to the LOCOG site is in breach of their “linking policy”? I would be interested to know how exactly such a breach will be punished. Presumably someone is checking every link back to the site for potential criticism.
And then we come down to the issue of efficiency. We often hear that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector. It is, supposedly, the key reason why we should privatise or out-source services. The public sector is costly and inefficient, the private sector is efficient and cost effective…
The depth of the crisis over G4S’s Olympic security preparations became increasingly clear on Thursday as recruits revealed details of a “totally chaotic” selection process and police joined the military in bracing themselves to fill the void left by the private security contractor.
Guards told how, with 14 days to go until the Olympics opening ceremony, they had received no schedules, uniforms or training on x-ray machines. Others said they had been allocated to venues hundreds of miles from where they lived, been sent rotas intended for other employees, and offered shifts after they had failed G4S’s own vetting.
So a pure, “free market” system even fails on efficiency, the advantage it supposedly has over the public sector. As Deborah Orr puts it:
It doesn’t seem credible…believing the private sector is more efficient while actually in the process of drafting in the public sector army (which I’ve heard prides itself on efficiency) to address the mess the private sector G4S has made of Olympic security. G4S are not only inefficient, but delusional and cowardly. They didn’t even admit they were fouling up until the last possible moment.
It seems that in such a “free market” utopia, we know less, have less choice, our right to free expression is reduced and what do we gain? More inefficient services. It’s ironic that, in this “free market” utopia, society begins to resemble not so much the truly free society the libertarians and free-marketeers envisage, but a variation of early twentieth century totalitarianism. If nothing else, the London 2012 Olympics provides a disturbing insight into what the future holds for a society organised on the basis of a false free-market ideal.