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February 19, 2008



Um, Will, where do you think Pret, Eat and the others came from? Hasn't it occurred to you that they were started by capitalists who thought that they were filling a gap in the market? And that they spread because they were successful - that people abandoned the italian death-vans for them? Do you really think that there is no competition in the London lunch market?

What makes me laugh is that actually there are no equivalents of Pret or Eat in NYC - only the equivalents of the horrible italian sandwich shops we still have here in odd corners of London. So your illustration is the wrong way around... And have you EVERY seen any advertising for any of the sandwich chains? I haven't

Oh, and a point for your sub-editor - impressive quotes from obscure theorists are somewhat undermined by the confused idea that non-doms (who are not connected to private equity or sub-prime, BTW - they're more like russian oil men) pay NO tax. They pay lots of it - just not in the UK. A common mistake, to be fair, but still a mistake.

Sorry to focus on incidentals rather than the main point, but I'm not sure that you have one ;) Precision, Precision, Precision!

Will Davies

bge - we seem to be talking at cross purposes. I think you've misunderstood my post, and I certainly can't make any sense of your comment.

My main point is: capitalism involves a transformation of egalitarian market relations (think eBay) into asymetrical relations of power (think Tesco). British culture lends itself to the latter, whereby people either roll over and allow themselves to be dominated or obsessively seek out positions of domination. We're less interested in markets where the equality is guaranteed as both a premise and a consequence.

You have, like you say, failed to address this, but instead chosen to attack me for quoting an 'obscure theorist'. If you got less wound up, and concentrated on trying to work out what I'm saying, then maybe you could offer a critique, which I'd then be interested to read.


Braudel is super straight -- and super famous.


I wasn't wound up, just slightly amused at the way you deployed a long sequence of analogies *all* of which fall apart under examination.

Hmm. Asymmetrical relationships? If capitalism is asymmetrical, where are the symmetrical relationships with which you would contrast it? Peasant agriculture, where there's one middleman who tells the farmer the price? Or State ownership, where the only counterparty allowed is the state? Anyway, it’s more complicated. Ebay is a corporation, that has an asymmetrical relationship with its users (c.f. the recent ‘sellers’ strike’). Tesco is a powerful buyer to farmers – but just look at how Sainsbury’s position has deteriorated over the last 10 years to see where the symmetry lies in supermarkets’ relationship with consumers.

It might be more accurate to say that change in market conditions, driven by technology (ebay), business process innovation (Tesco) or whatever, happens continuously, that it often result in shifts in pricing power relationships, and that these move in different directions depending on the details of the case. The impact of the internet on the travel industry has been to create far more ‘symmetry’ – while ever increasing development costs has had the effect of reducing the airlines to a choice of just two aircraft suppliers… there is no one-way process here.

Getting back towards sociology, there is a trendy (clothes, I think) shop in Toyko called 'Not Found' - the name chosen to make it impossible to find on Google. Word-of-mouth only, please.


Anyway, there are areas where there is not much free flow of information. (London sandwich shops are a very bad example, but who cares) - assymmetry. This has generally poor consequences. Fine. Economists spend lots of time talking about this.

There are also areas where the fact that there is a free (symmetrical) flow of information makes it harder for ME IN PARTICULAR to buy something cheap – in other words, harder for me to buy your asset for less than someone else would pay because you are ignorant (the London property market is indeed a good example of this). But is this a bad thing? (Are you associating the free flow of information with speculative bubbles? Not sure I’d agree with that one. )

Or are you saying that you’d like less money-grubbing in some things - housing, say (and not out of any self-interested desire to afford a family house in London on a 30-something’s salary, but because of concerns about social cohesion, community and all that stuff) And more money-grubbing in things where you can’t find what you want, like sandwich shops?

If so, fine, but how? Julian Metcalfe didn’t like the lunch choices available in London, so he started Prêt a Manger. There is a free market in sandwiches. But how do you move things the other way - to restrict other people’s freedom of action? This is covered under ‘market failure’, which is not a topic short of literature!

Andrew Brown

I meant to come back to your point about if "competition were to arrive - a new cafe selling better food, for a decent price - would anyone notice?"

I kind of think we might, I'd certainly try Leon again and if that goes well will recommend it to my friends.

Will Davies

bge - thanks for your expansion on all of this. Your economic analysis all looks very valid, and I'm sorry that you still don't seem to get what I'm talking about. For instance, I am NOT talking about symmetry/assymetry in the sense of 'information symmetries'; I am NOT suggesting that bubbles are caused by free flow of information (surely, if anything, the opposite of the truth); I am NOT outlining some regulatory programme.

I also happen NOT to be an economist, whereas perchance you are. It's frustrating not to be able to explain myself, but I doubt I can do a better job than the initial post, so better just leave it I think. However I reject the implication that I have mis-applied some textbook economic logic, when I have never subscribed to a textbook economic logic in the first place.

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