Monthly Archives: January 2014

We need to rediscover the idea of a mixed economy

It seems rather bad manners to mention this, but what happened to the idea of a mixed economy?

The idea of wanting to achieve both a thriving private sector and a strong public sector seems to have become passé. Now, we are told, you can have one but not the other. And private sector growth is good, and public sector growth is bad.

This week we have heard of outline political manifestos stressing the need for local authorities to show “value for money”. Probably alongside their statements on apple pie. Innocent enough, but it comes from the same political song sheet as “more for less”.

Now, most economists who don’t fear for their job security would tell you that economic activity rates are agnostic about any private vs public sector ideology. Except that the private sector pays its economists more (in general) than the public sector, and the piper calls the tune. Worse, in some parts of the public sector the ideological requirement is to promote the private sector alone.

So who is there left to champion public sector growth? We need to stop apologising for the quality of life improvements that come from full employment, from diverse workforces, from social goods, from environmental protection, from lifelong learning and from rich cultural lives. These are not nice-to-haves. And in a mixed economy these are not conditional on the beneficence of a few wealthy individuals in a light-touch regulated private sector characterised by growing inequalities.

But these days to argue for a mixed economy is so left-wing that you might as well raise a red flag and call for world revolution. However, having a mixed economy does not require a five year plan for bread, or national targets for pizza production.

Surely with the UK housing market in crisis, with youth unemployment at record high levels, and with the wider London area overheating while many parts of the UK shiver, the days of private-good and public-bad must surely end soon. What is needed is a return to a more balanced, more equal, fairer economy which returns to its rightful place as a servant of society, not its controller. Public service, in fact.

More …

New urban trend in Brazil, 6000 teenagers in one mall, nowhere else to meet. HT @scharlab

Last month, six thousand teenagers using social media turned up one day at a shopping mall in São Paulo, Brazil, and started a new trend.

Urbanists will probably be interested in the article below, which describes this new trend in detail and explains the context of Brazilian cities where shared, public meeting spaces are said to be very few.


HT @scharlab Brazil Character Lab

Opening up the EU market for more choice in wheelchairs

Why is it so hard, and so expensive, to buy a good powered wheelchair?

The industry response is that they have high overheads, low volume sales, after-sale support, and costs associated with assessments. They claim that internet remote selling of so-called medical technologies such as powered wheelchairs may be cheaper, but the industry says it is unethical.

The EU Court considered these arguments and disagreed. The test case was in 2012 concerning the use of the internet to sell contact lenses in Hungary, which the Hungarian government tried to ban on health grounds. Details in the link below.

The EU Court also spelt out the difference between medicinal products (such as drugs) and medical technologies (such as wheelchairs) and decided that an open market in equipment is lower risk than in prescribed drugs.

This still begs the question whether a wheelchair should be seen as a medical device at all. What about skateboards then? Or tricycles? People can also hurt themselves when they don’t use these correctly.

But even with the current legal definitions, there is no EU legal reason for not having a vibrant, efficient, competitive market in power wheelchairs and similar equipment, just as there is a open market for your choice of a mobile phone. Of course, sometimes assessments are needed and these should be provided for separately.

And ethically, any assessment ought to be independent of the range of products that the assessing company provides.