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July 27, 2008



Interesting take on Stoke Newington. As a resident, I certainly feel that something would be lost if Tesco and the likes colonised the area. At the same time, I can see that this could also be nimbyish and exclusionary, even snobbish and reactionary. This seems to be a double bind, though: would it be possible not to want Tescos to open stores everywhere (including in my 'hood)without being a nimby?

As for Wetherspoons: there is a parallel with Tescos, in that the both piles it high and sells it cheap, and offers an illusory choice (you can choose anything, as long as you choose it within our store/ pub).

Will Davies

Neil - I'm of course being a little provocative, and I am not some sort of Thatcherite lover of big business over small. What irks me, and many like me, is when people seek to pick and choose the aspects of free market capitalism that most suit them, then cloak that as authentic and artistic. It's all very well closing off the property market to the outside economy, but would these same people be happy to allow the value of their own homes to linger in the 1970s?


That's a good way of putting it, and going by what I've heard about Stoke Newington in the 70s, not many of the current residents would much enjoy that!


Your positive view of Wetherspoon's Old Street is based on some fairly simple democratic themes:

* Source of community
* Fair pricing
* Culturally-inclusive (probably more like culturally-ambivalent)

Your negative view of Wetherspoon's Old Street is based on some fairly simple capitalistic themes:

* Self-improvement through fear (well no one's going to succesfully sue Wetherspoons for obesity, cancer, alcoholism)
* Property as an equal to people

What is more important to you? Fairness or wealth? Kevin Roberts knows the answer.

Meanwhile, over in Hoxton, there's drug usage, Nathan Barley attitude and rising housing prices inducing Birkenstockification.

I live on St John Street and would rather shop at a NISA than a Tesco Extra.

Will Davies

All perfectly valid, Mark. If I'm allowed to get away with saying this, what interests me is not whether we select economic criteria or moral-political ones, but how the two are entangled. Life is bloody complicated.

It would be a bold politician or policy-maker who defended the autonomy of people to forge self-destructive and mildly anti-social communities. Equally, it would be a perverse form of cultural policy to help large chains drive smaller shops and artists away. I'm just trying to point out that our choices don't fall neatly into the win-wins that politicians depend on. To which you might reply 'obviously they don't'...


Obviously they don't.

What interests me is the aggregate balance between these two sets of criteria. Increasingly I feel (as per your allusions regarding the good folk of Stoke Nieuwenstad) that the capitalist goals are overpowering the democratic. Which is fine if you're visiting Old Street, but not if you're living around (t)here. But hey - isn't this just like big business' focus on quarterly results at the expense of long-term corporate health: the ultimate survivors are those that do both, well.

* goes back to making tin-foil hat from Guardian-paper-derived papier-mache *

Will Davies

On a related note, it's interesting to consider what people mean when they say they 'prefer' to shop in x non-global-conglomerate than in Tescos. Do they mean better value? Unlikely. More convenient? I doubt it. Better produce or choice? I don't really buy that either.

What they probably mean is that they would prefer to live in a world in which a marketplace of small, independent stores was both more efficient and more diverse than anything that could be contained in one vast box. I would certainly like to live in such a world, but sadly it doesn't exist, for reasons of transaction costs that Ronald Coase pointed out. This explains why - as the OFT discover to their bemusement - they express a political preference towards a dispersed market, and (at the end of a long hard day in the office, with a family to feed etc) and a consumer preference towards monopolists...

Real Ale

Real Ale at prices you can laugh at
And at wetherspoons price id buy it even if Robert Mugabe pulled the pump
even if only to wind up the middle class zealots who think everyone should use daddys trust fund to sustain their (very expensive) self illusiory organic existances.
They think they are left wing but sustain themselves on the middleclass gravy train
the revolution is fermenting in a pint of Real Ale
Drink to that Brothers and Sisters

Juvenile Dwarf

"...I would certainly like to live in such a world, but sadly it doesn't exist, for reasons of transaction costs that Ronald Coase pointed out...."

Erm, what? This is an argument about economies of scale, not transactions costs, surely?

Will Davies

Until the 1980s or so, competition authorities used to work around the assumption that distributed markets were preferable to concentrated ones, and effectively protected small competitors from large ones. What changed this was a set of ideas that originated in Coase's work on transaction costs, showing that centralised and monopolistic forms of industrial organisation could be more efficient than distributed, competitive forms.

Jack Stilgoe

As a resident of both Stoke Newington and Demos, I am trying desperately to disagree. There are residents of Stoke Newington who are snobs and there are Demos insights that are stretched a little too far. But there are also plenty of people in either place who think have a genuine desire to see and do things differently. The negotiation of authenticity is a tricky thing and, the more I think about it, the more I think that the answer is for us not to take ourselves too seriously. But this brings a danger of irony and Nathan Barleydom. Maybe a reassertion of light-hearted pluralism is the answer... I envisage something along the lines of "Who will buy" from Oliver!

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