During the boom years before the present credit crunch there was much talk about the efficiency of the markets and attempts at rolling back the activity of the state. The market knows best became the mantra and areas of provision which had for a time, at least in the UK, been predominantly the preserve of State or Local authority provision came to be opened up to private enterprise.
This wave washed through our energy utilities, it saw provision of residential care for older people massively opened up to private firms, it ushered in the expansion of private hospital provision and it resulted in the massive selling off of public sector housing.
Much of this was beneficial and necessary. Unfortunately, as is so often the case in life, one can have too much of a good thing. Political parties became enamoured of private enterprise and forgot the basic lesson that no means of organising human affairs is infallible. There are risks and downsides to all things.
But "the market knew best" and the politicians trusted the market and private enterprise. We fell for the snake oil of "light touch regulation". We listened when the private enterprise spivs and racketeers told us all that regulation "stifled competition and enterprise". We let them run with their private enterprise model to the end of a very long leash in the financial sector. Look where this has got us.
We have only ourselves to blame of course. We allowed ourselves to fall for this spiv snake oil remedy.
A recent report by the Audit Commission in the UK shows that our public Local Authorities are in fact quite well prepared for the down turn. It appears that they saw it coming and took actions to prepare themselves. Not so our banks. Not so our major corporations. Not so the fat paid-too--much chief executives in their plush private enterprise boardrooms.They all failed; completely and utterly.
These spivs and speculators should be thankful this Christmas that they have so far escaped being lynched by the mob and strung up on their own expensive Christmas trees. They have wrought disaster not only on this country but worldwide. Many tens of thousands of people, in the coming year or so, will pay with their jobs for the incompetence of these charlatans.
Hopefully there will be less hubris in the future from the private sector. Private enterprise does not have the answer to everything. It is not intrinsically better than the public sector; it does some things well and in other areas it can be very dangerous if left uncontrolled.
There is a role for both the public and the private sector in a modern state. It is about time our politicians took a more adult view of this and realised that while private enterprise can indeed deliver wealth and growth it can and does also harbour massive greed and irresponsibility.
What we need urgently is a framework of regulation for both the public and the private sector which is realistic and flexible and where regulators have the powers and resources to properly assess and control risky behaviours for the public good.