To See What’s Wrong With Regulation Consider Murdoch’s Times

Sure and there are parts of the economy which need regulating at times. The electricity market did well when no one could own a generator, and a distributor and or the grid in between. Water companies were well regulated using the RPI-x% formula.

But there is of course a downside to regulation. Bureaucracies do tend to get rather set in their ways, they don’t adapt and have the flexibility of more market orientated organisations. The reason being they don’t have to, government bureaucracies don’t go bust through lack of being fleet footed, market organisations often do.

To see this consider the following:

Rupert Murdoch has been told he must overhaul independent oversight of The Times and The Sunday Times to win government approval for newsroom cuts. Jeremy Wright, the Culture Secretary, said he was “minded to” approve an application from News UK, the media mogul’s British operation, to lift a ban on staff journalists working across both titles. However, he said he was “unable to accept the proposed undertakings in their current form” due to concerns about “lack [of] clarity and certainty over roles and responsibilities” under a special governance regime meant to curb Mr Murdoch’s influence over UK media. The rules were agreed with the Government when he bought both newspapers in 1981 amid fears…

That American declaration of interest thing – very occasionally I get to write a comment piece for The Times. No, that doesn’t influence my views on this.

So, anyone care to think of an industry that has gone through more changes since 1981 than the newspaper one? That irruption of the internet and web? Where, as with this very site, two blokes can set up their own news outlet on capital costs of maybe £100 a month? In our case, very generously covered by donations from readers? (And yes, thank you, such donations currently cover almost exactly those server and bandwidth costs – editorial beer allowances are still own pocket expenses).

And yet note. That vastly, hugely, changed newspaper business is still being governed by the bureaucratic regulations put in place a generation ago. That’s a human generation ago, that being what, ten generations of internet time?

That being that problem with bureaucratic regulation of anything. It’s not adaptive over time. It fossilises around the time of its creation. To which there is really no answer other than execution of all bureaucracies after a decade. If they’re still needed then recreate them – but don’t just allow them to continue. Sure, an expensive way to do it, possibly even wasteful. But wouldn’t it be fun to do the executing?

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Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

Nothing outside the state.