French Lessons

If you’re apartment-hunting in Paris “contre services” is what you hope not to see in an advert – especially if you’re an attractive female student.  It can be perfectly innocent, but all too often it’s a not-so-subtle code meaning that the rent will include sexual favours.

This is the iniquitous result of a housing crisis that the French Government admits is the worst since WW2 with money rents (never mind the ‘extras’) rising far beyond the reach of most ordinary people.  The BBC has more here.

No doubt many lessons can and should be drawn from this but what strikes me is what it tells us about markets.  All too often we forget that the undoubted beneficial power of markets is subject to some rather restrictive but crucial conditions like, for example, that there are ‘many willing buyers and sellers’.  When this is not so, when the one of the parties is not so much willing as desperate, then the balance of power becomes too unequal and the market becomes dangerously perverse.

In other words, a market can malfunction just as dangerously as the brakes on your car if they are not properly maintained.  Such maintenance is a core responsibility of government in a complex modern economy and it neglects it at the extreme peril of the more vulnerable members of society – the old, the young, the poor, the sick.  Labour is, of course, neglecting it which is why they are finding inequality, child poverty etc. so intractable.

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