20. COMPETITION, BIG BUSINESS AND PUBLIC OWNERSHIP

THE economics of laissez faire were founded upon the theory of a market highly competitive between small units. The "higgling" of this market in which the producers were constantly endeavouring to obtain a higher value for their products and the consumers were constantly endeavouring to reduce the price for their requirements was thus the self-adjusting mechanism which ultimately determined what was, and what ought to be, produced.

Passing over for an instant the rights and wrongs of such a system, one may well concede that it was a fairly accurate reflexion of the nineteenth-century economy without necessarily agreeing that it represents either a desirable or practical feature of the present day.

Many and fundamental changes have intervened, of which the first, and not the least, is the increase in the size of economic units.

Even in the heyday of laissez faire economics one type of business enterprise sullied the general uniformity of the economic pattern. Rival railway companies might cut the rates and compete in minutes between London and Edinburgh, but in the main railway companies were not in competition with one another, and their rates were not obtained by the "higgling" of the market. As a matter of fact their position is far more competitive at the present time since they have to face road haulage. But neither the size nor the type of obligation undertaken, the statutory requirement of rendering a uniform and reliable service, really ever permitted the classic Liberal solution to be tolerable.

The result was that public control has always been exercised over the railways. Their rates and conditions, to-day,1. are determined by the Railway Rates Tribunal and the Railway and Canal Commission; their services are to some extent controlled by statute; the conditions of carriage are not terms which they are free to impose on their individual customers. Although owned by individual shareholders whose average holding is

____________________
1.
Written before nationalisation was complete.

-107-

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The Case for Conservatism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Part I. Preliminary 7
  • 1. the Philosophy of Conservatism 7
  • Part II. Basic Conservative Ideas 16
  • 2. the Religious Basis of Society 16
  • 3. the Organic Theory of Society 24
  • 4. Country 31
  • 5. Commonwealth and Empire 36
  • 6. International Order 41
  • 7. Authority 44
  • 8. the Liberal Heresy 48
  • 9. the Socialist Heresy 54
  • 10. Liberty 60
  • 11. the Idea of Law 68
  • 12. Natural Law 70
  • 13. the Rule of Law 76
  • 14. Progress 83
  • 15. Continuity 86
  • 16. Enterprise 89
  • 17. Incentives, Liberal and Socialist 91
  • 18. Property 97
  • 19. Trading for Profit 103
  • 20. Competition, Big Business and Public Ownership 107
  • 21. the Land 119
  • 22. Trade Unions and Co-Operatives 125
  • 23. the Politics of Abundance 133
  • 24. Education 143
  • Part III. the Socialist Case Examined 147
  • 25. Introduction to Part III 147
  • 26. Profit and Use 150
  • 27. Public Ownership 154
  • 28. Planning 163
  • 29. Inequality of Income 167
  • 30. Inequality of Wealth 174
  • 31. Poverty--Its Cause and Cure 181
  • 32. War 189
  • 33. Standard of Life 192
  • 34. Housing 197
  • 35. Public Health 200
  • 36. Social Insurance 202
  • 37. Unemployment--The Facts 207
  • 38. Unemployment--Cause and Cure 213
  • Part IV. Policy To-Day and To-Morrow 225
  • 39. General Election, 1945 225
  • 40. Foreign Affairs 235
  • 41. Social Policy 250
  • 42. Economic Policy 260
  • 43. Food and Agriculture 277
  • 44. Nationalisation 284
  • 45. Britain at the Cross Roads 296
  • 46. the Politics of the Next Election 303
  • 47. Epilogue 311
  • Index 315
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