A typical Saturday morning in the Thorpe household typically involves me meandering, in my usual untidy fashion, to one of the menagerie of corner shops which cosset Hammersmith high street from the unkempt collection of bookmakers, pawnbrokers and fast food joints which seem to be the fate of most urban centres.
From the shop, I will descend to the most desolate corner of a quiet bar and languidly let the tensions of the week be traduced by the temerity of the Times crossword. A potential constraint on my enjoyment of this rather rustic ritual is the propensity of the corner shop to have extra long queues on Saturdays.
Those of you who know me will be familiar with my typical demeanour, being that of a man who looks like he has been late for an appointment for sometime, but has no idea where he is actually supposed to be.
Tending to be pursued by a thousand ideas a day, my insistence on tracking each one down its individual rabbit hole lends my mood a mania which makes the Saturday morning mooching a rather necessary treat.
That’s why corner shop queues are a problem. Saturdays, which should be as undemanding as a Tory backbencher’s parliamentary question, suddenly become a source of fresh stress.
The queues are of course caused by people buying Lottery tickets for that night’s draw. While listening to the rat-a-tat of people reeling off their particular lottery preferences, the thought occurred to me as to whether the National Lottery is fit for purpose. As someone who once made a living writing horseracing columns, I won’t claim any moral objection to the principals behind the lottery. Its not, as some Liberal Democrats appear to believe, a tax on the poor. Rather it’s a consumer lifestyle choice, no different from me buying a Times and an overpriced premium larger.
My idea instead is to put the by-products of this lifestyle choice to work for the benefits of society.
Camelot , the company which runs the lottery, make large profits, based merely on the fact that they administer the game, they have not invented anything or produced anything new, in short, they add little value to the process and thus are unnecessary in economically liberal terms. Rather than nationalising the lottery, award the franchise to run it to the post office network, newly demerged from the Royal Mail.
This would allow the purely social good which is the Post Office, to be subsidised by the purely economic good which is the Lottery, without the state needing to interfere in the day to day running of either, and only the private company, Camelot, which adds no value to the process, loses out. While there are worthier causes than the Post Office, the post office already has people in place who know how to run a large scale distribution business.
Having the lottery administered by the NHS for example, would mean people who have no experience of this being deployed, instead of allowing them to concentrate on managing patient outcomes.
Camelot has recently announced that it is to double the price of its main ticket. Any company which can double its prices this economic climate without citing significant net increases in input costs is operating from a monopoly or oligopoly position in a distorted market.
Economic liberalism was founded to destroy such market distortions. When its impossible to pursue the traditional economically Liberal solution of flooding a distorted market with ‘thousands of little buyers and sellers’, the next best solution is to control the market and direct its surpluses to providing wider social goods.
Achieving social liberal outcomes through the use of economic liberal solutions is the optimal outcome for Liberal Democrats.
* David Thorpe is a member of the Liberal Democrats in Newham, and works for an economics publication.