From bank interest rate-rigging to soaring water bills, free market enterprise is dogged by criticism that it stands for parasitic cartels - not the ordinary person. Yet, the weakness of capitalism lies not with the free market, but where it lacks competition. We need a consumer revolution to arm the little guy to take on big business.
De-regulation since the 1990s strengthened UK competitiveness and productivity. But, what was in it for a London cabbie, or a hairdresser in Newcastle? Plenty. He could fly to Nice on holiday 83% cheaper. She could call her sister in Australia at a fraction of the tariff - or buy her son a football T-shirt at a 15% discount. Whether it was the latest Tom Clancy thriller from Waterstones, or a flu remedy at Boots, it cost them less.
Since then, capitalism’s reputation has been tarnished – from bailed out banks to water executives pocketing bonuses in a year that saw the dual farce of floods and hose-pipe bans. For many, it points to systemic failure. Yet, these flaws point to a lack of competition that should allow consumers to deprive lousy service providers of their custom. The ‘big six’ energy suppliers wrap up 98% of the market - yet none rank above ninth place for customer service. The ‘big four’ banks control 78% of the current account market - but are some of the most loathed by customers.