Saturday, March 04, 2006

Choice, monopolies, moderation and the pursuit of happiness

Choice is much vaunted as the key to universal happiness these days. Certainly I wouldn't want to return to the days when monopolies provided many of our services - the days, for example, when one had to become a subscriber of the GPO if one wanted a telephone and one had to wait six-months for a black Bakelite one unless one was Important or a Doctor in which case one could jump the queue (as we did in our house in SE10 because one of its occupants knew how to pass himself off as Important) - but you can have too much even of a Good Thing. Moderation in all things my dears.....

I haven't bought a digital camera because There Are Too Many To Choose From. I'd be certain to meet someone the next day who could have got me A Much Better One At A Fraction Of The Cost (although one of the joys of no longer working for a Big Corporation is that I meet fewer such Smart Alecs). And when we bought a car it was awfully difficult to convince the salesmen that we wanted a car and not a status symbol. I began to wish I lived in an eastern European communist state in the 1970s. Then I'd have gone to the town hall to apply for a form that would (eventually) have entitled me to a certificate that I could (after a couple of years) taken to a grey warehouse on the outskirts of town to get added to the waiting list. And a decade or so later I could have gone back for my car.

Michael Bywater has some thoughts along similar lines in his sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant, sometimes irritating but generally fine book Lost Worlds (see under Shoes, Just). I got given it for Christmas because he'd managed to arrange for it to be the Radio 4 Book of the Week just when lists were being drawn up for that great festival of consumerism. The admirable Stephen Fry was the reader, it's spooky getting to a passage that was included in the radio abridgement because my reading voice suddenly changes into his.

I hope we never reach the day when we have to consult comparison web-sites before calling an ambulance because we've broken one of our legs......


At 03:49, Blogger Aunty Marianne said...

The out-of-hours doctors here in Brussels are organised on an agency basis. When my ear infection flared, I called one agency's hotline, and they couldn't get to me, so they recommended another, which didn't answer the phone at all. So I bundled my ear into a large hat and took it to the ER of the largest teaching hospital in Brussels because it was the only way to get treatment. Luckily it wasn't a busy night for them.

So private provision and choice doesn't always provide efficiency or indeed a service at all. Swings and merrygorounds, I expect.


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