We have reached the point in this country where private companies are prepared simply to walk away from providing services and products essential to modern civilisation. National Express walked away from its contract on the London-Edinburgh East Coast mainline. Were there then to be no trains to Scotland? Of course not, the line was temporarily renationalised and has run very well. But what to do when no one wants to run a petrochemicals plant or a petrol refinery because there isn’t enough profit in it? The government will just shrug and pay the import bill.
Ed Miliband’s suggestion of a price freeze on the energy companies was met with cries of Marxism by conservatives. But it is capitalism that is now delivering empty shelves, just as communism used to do. This is not the market as Adam Smith conceived it. His market ensured by the invisible hand that whenever we needed something it was there. Now it increasingly is not there and “the hand” that is responsible is increasingly visible – and horrible to behold too.