Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Nationalising the pubs

At a conference in 2015, I suggested that the government had screwed over the pub trade in so many ways that it was only a matter of time before it had to be nationalised...

“Intervention upon intervention will lead to failure,” [Snowdon] said. “If we distort the market so much there will be no market left and the only people who can look after pubs will be politicians.”

“This is what I mean when I say that by 2020 we could be on our way to some kind of state-ownership of pubs; if they are regulated in such a way they are not able to be run by viable businesses.”

... The outspoken libertarian expressed his belief that politicians weren’t really concerned about the existence of the traditional British pub, saying if they were “genuinely committed” to the continued existence of the pub trade “they could and should halve alcohol duty and amend the smoking ban” and permit landlords to have one smoking room.

This was hyperbole. I was speaking partly in jest, but only partly. My colleague Kristian Niemietz also had his tongue in his cheek the other day when he looked forward to a socialist dystopia...

But the respected beer writer Phil Mellows has now made the case in earnest in Jacobin.

Recession, smoking bans, and changing lifestyles, plus an industry structure that has sucked profits towards major chains, mean that despite all the innovation, pubs at the heart of their communities have struggled to keep beating.

...Sometimes only the state is big and bold enough to save an industry. Given its record of success, it is long past time for the nationalization of pubs to return to the political agenda. It may sound far-fetched — but so, at one time, did Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn.

The government certainly has experience in running loss-making industries. Thanks to the policies of successive governments, the pub trade is on the brink of becoming one of these.

Needless to say, I do not think that nationalisation is the answer. It would not address the industry's underlying problems and would lead to people who don't go to pubs having to subsidise those who do.

Industries come and go as people's tastes change, but there is nothing natural about the way demand for pubs has fallen in the last ten years. As I said in Closing Time, the industry has been crippled with high taxes and excessive regulation. Pubs do not need to be treated as charity cases. They do not need even more regulation and they certainly do not need state ownership. They just need to be given what the Australians call a fair go.

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