The gambling industry in the UK has exploded in the last fifteen years. The rapid technological advancements have helped to facilitate the boom in gambling and this has helped generate billions in revenue. There are however several social and economic implications with gambling shops. Gambling shops tend to take away more from society than they contribute.
Businesses have an obligation to return profits. That is their goal and everything else is secondary. They have no moral obligation to ensure that society is “better off” unless it is at the request of their shareholders. There is however a bigger, more poignant point that has to be made. That is betting shops, particularly in poorer areas take away more than money.
I have lived in South East London for my entire life and I pass through Deptford on a daily basis and at the beginning of a road named Evelyn Street there is a William Hill. If you travel further, some two hundred yards or so there is a Paddy Power. Across the road from the Paddy Power is a Jennings Bet and across the road is a Coral. On one road there are four competing betting shops, all providing the same service. All situated in an area of relatively low income and more importantly, all taking more away from the local community than putting back in. The main reason why I am opposed to so many betting shops in poorer areas is because the very nature of gambling ensures that money is taken away from the participant. Bookmakers may glamorise unfavorable odds by emphasing the potential winnings and bombarding customers with the rewards, but there would be no gambling industry if it were designed to reward customers. Its very purpose is to take money away. Moreover, there is more to lose if you naturally earn lower income. Individuals on lower incomes are spending a higher proportion of their earnings in betting shops; therefore they bear a greater burden if they lose.
According to BBC News bookmakers argue they create jobs and support the local community. Vague and hollow statements may wash with some, but that is an empty statement. Labour costs are the price every business must pay regardless, so to opine that is stating the obvious. “Support the local community.” How? By extracting money from low earners? Betting shops omit what we call in economics negative externalities. Externalities are the cost or benefit of ones actions that affect a third party. Betting shops create jobs (positive externality) but the increase in reckless gambling results in higher policing, higher health costs and a reduction in the quality of local lives for the rest of the community. All negative externalities. Thus, the high social costs far outweigh the social benefits.
Earlier this year more than 1,100 local Southwark residents signed a petition to curtail the number of betting shops in their local area. The campaign is aimed at changing planning laws so that betting shops cannot move into closed banks or post offices. Currently they can because they are classified as financial and professional services. But a change in the law will see them have to go through different, more difficult channels to obtain retail space. Something that would be welcomed by many.
Rowena Davis, a Councillor from Peckham South London started the petition, here is what she said:
“When I walk through my area within 10 minutes I pass eight bookmakers and that means they are more common than post offices or corner shops. We know they are clustering in poorer areas.”
Clearly this is an issue that several parties feel strongly about. As I mentioned earlier, betting shops have no moral obligation to uphold, their aim is to maximise profits. But they should still be aware of the high social costs that are imposed on society because of their predatory actions and local councils should also be aware that when betting shops are saturated on a high street, they will bear higher social costs as a result.
Privatisation in the UK during Margret Thatcher’s premiership was intended to shift the economic burden away from taxpayers into private hands. It was intended to erode the natural state monopoly and establish market-based competition. Economic theory suggests that privatisation eradicates the state owned monopoly and creates competition in the market, which should lead to better services and a lower cost. Government led businesses are said to be inefficient at providing services that a private led firm can do, so the appeal is certainly there.
Nationalised industries tend to provide goods and services with high social value, goods such utilities, agriculture and transport tend to be provided by the state because these derived demanded goods are viewed as essential. Unlike firms, the state’s intention is not to maximise profits, so there are no shareholders to appease, nor answer to. This has its advantages and disadvantages because constantly operating at a loss will impose a burden on the taxpayer, who may feel their taxes would be best utilised elsewhere, where there taxes are not being wasted.
This was central when Thatcher and her government suggested that a wave of privatisations across various sectors such as transport, telecommunications and utilities were the best way to reduce the burden on taxation and the optimal way for consumers to be provided with essential goods and services. The state was viewed as a natural monopoly and the highest consumer satisfaction and utility is gained through competition, it is competition that yields the greatest efficiency and the lowest possible prices. Therefore, establishing competition through several competing firms was central to this proposal. Economists Todaro and Smith suggest,
“Proponents [of privatisation] suggest that it curbs government expenditure, raises cash to reduce internal and external debt and promotes individual initiative while rewarding entrepreneurship”
Clearly the benefits of privatisation are clear, the eradication of the natural monopoly is perhaps the strongest because it opens the market and allow more firms to compete. However, in the UK this unfortunately has not been the case. The wave of sell offs during the 1980s continues to have a significant effect on life in the UK today. Services such as gas were privatised, so was telecommunications and parts of the rail industry. Some twenty years later after firms such as British Telecom (BT), British Gas and regulatory bodies such as Network Rail not only stifle competition, but they appear to have replaced the very monopoly it was created to replace.
John Moore was the Minister in charge of initiating the wave of privatisations. He said in 1983
“The long term success of the privatisation programme will stand or fall by the extent to which it maximises competition. If competition cannot be achieved, an historic opportunity will have been lost.”
He said at the 1983 Conservative Party conference:
“Our aim is that BT should become a private sector company…[but] merely to replace state monopolies by private ones would be to waste a historic opportunity. We shall continue our programme to expose state owned industries to competition.”
Moore explicitly states if privatisation cannot lead to a competitive market “an historic opportunity will be lost.” I could not agree more because had the privatisation initiatives been applied appropriately, with legislation implemented to prohibit cartels forming in the case of the rail industry or outright monopoly, like BT in the telecommunications market then these formerly stated owned industries would have created far more jobs on the sheer fact that the market would be significantly larger, they also would have lower prices. And they would have lower prices because there would be ten or more firms each competing to try and get customers, so lowering prices in order to attract custom. If however there are two or three firms, then they are more likely to collude, whether it is explicit or tacit, the outcome is the same and it is near impossible to detect.
Commentator John Gamble stating in 1994
“When BT, BG and the water industry were divested, the Conservatives failed to liberlise their markets meaningfully and as a result, were forced to create regulatory mechanisms and institutions to prevent the utilities from abusing their positions.”
I mentioned in my piece about regulation and the above inflation gas price increases and how regulators in many instances interfere with business activity and can actually do little to prevent firms from these price changes. It should be noted that the way a customer will have low prices is through competition. That was the reason why Mrs. Thatcher sold off many state controlled firms, but we are seeing today that the state monopolies have been replaced by cartels and monopolies in some cases. Moreover, this is conflicting to what was proposed. One could even suggest that a return to state operated firms were better, because at least they are accountable to the public. Private cooperations are accountable to shareholders are not obliged to disclose information to stakeholders.
Privatisation in the UK does appear to have shifted from natural monopolies to private monopolies in the case of BT and oligopolies in the case of Network Rail, British Gas and so on. Clearly, this is the oligopolistic market structure is not competitive and fails to provide sufficient customer choice. Customers are therefore left to demand essential goods from limited suppliers, resulting in high prices. Unless privatisation leads to a highly competitive market, with several competing firms, it is merely replacing the very entity is supposed to be replacing.
I first saw this documentary about two years ago on BBC2 and it remains one of the finest, if not the finest documentary I’ve seen. Adam Curtis manages to draw upon what appears to be obscure links and pull them together to identify a big and fascinating picture. If you are looking for some answers to the current financial situation then watching this video is a must.
Peter Schiff is an American investment broker, author and financial commentator. This compilation video is very interesting. What strikes me is the accuracy in which Schiff’s predictions have come to fruition. Check it out, certainly worth a watch.
There has been no secret of the coalition’s economic policies. That has been to reduce the deficit, i.e. the amount of money the government looses each year. The government has also aimed to reduce the burden of high levels of government debt. How it implements these policies has a drastic effect on the UK economy and in particular, unemployment.
Government debt management affects all aspects of the economy. The substantial reductions in government spending have led to several members of the population forced to find alternative employment. George Osborne was confident that the private sector would compensate for the jobs lost through the government policies. It is therefore vital to analyse how government debt management has affected the rate of unemployment. UK unemployment is currently 2.53 million, which is 7.9% of the population, which has fallen from the previous is sixteen year high. Last year unemployment peaked at 8.4%. This was an increase by 118,000 from September to November 2011 and a further 28,000 from November to January 2012. Clearly the government’s policies have not had the desired effect.
Above is a graphical depiction of the rise in unemployment from 2008, with both jobs losses in the public and private sector also depicted. Despite the claim in the November 2010 Budget, Osborne claimed that the private sector would compensate for the jobs lost in the public sector, the evidence is clearly contrasting to the government’s claim. The Chancellor claimed,
“Public-sector job creation would far outweigh the job losses in the public-sector.”
Unemployment in the UK continues to rise to record levels and the jobs being lost in the public sector are a direct result of government policy. When The Chancellor made the premature assumption that the private sector would compensate for the jobs lost through the public sector it may have highlighted an inadequacy in government policy. High and rising levels of unemployment is detrimental for economic growth because it places a financial strain on those working as transfer payments such as Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and benefits. The number of individuals claiming JSA has risen by 28,000 from November 2011 to January 2012. With further increases expected for the rest of 2012 and 2013. Moreover, there has been an increase in part-time employment as jobseekers have been desperate to earn some income, but it is proving insufficient to make a substantial difference in terms of contributing towards substantial economic growth.
In addition, the higher than target inflation, those in work will have less disposable income and the government will have to increase transfer payments out to those affected by unemployment. Secondly, tax revenue will also decrease simply because less people are in work, the government must therefore create employment in order to raise taxes so it can finance expenditure that can later contribute to economic growth.
Unemployment is therefore the greatest challenge facing the UK economy because it does not appear to declining. By making such large expenditure cuts, the government may have undermined any recovery effort and may find it very difficult to reduces its debt obligations. The most effective method to reducing government debt is establishing sustained economic growth, however, sustained economic growth in the UK is some considerable way away. Although the UK economy is no longer in recession, rising unemployment will continue to place a severe burden on those in work due to the inflationary and tax restraints already in place, with lower disposable income, growth is likely to remain very low. Moreover, the method in which the government has chosen to reduce its debt may have exacerbated the problem because of the sharp rise in structural unemployment.
The elite tier of professional football in England prior to the formation of the English Premier League was in a state of serious decline. Stagnant revenues, diminishing attendances combined with the egregious image of hooliganism made the highest echelon of English football unappetising for spectators and potential investors. English Football was not highly regarded by global football purists and was not seen as an avenue for investment from potential foreign investors. I am hoping to establish the fundamental differences between parliament style elections and fan ownership, which is more common in Germany and Spain and the ‘laissez-faire’ or “highest bidder wins” market system of private ownership in England. The essence of the argument shall compare FC-Barçelona and Liverpool-FC respectively.
Since the inception of the Premier division the English Premier League has become one of Europe’s most popular divisions. One of the main reasons why some English teams have become financially and commercially more successful is partly due to the ample transformation of the league itself, but also due to the fact that English teams are open and susceptible to foreign investment and ownership. In opposition to that notion are football teams in Spain, with the exception of clubs like Malaga, who have foreign owners; they remain in the minority. A financial institution like FC-Barçelona has a regime in place where members or ‘socis’ buy shares in the club, and elect a President to run and organise the club on their behalf. So the running and handling of the club is at the hands of the shareholders, who are effectively the fans. This is in stark contrast to a club such as Liverpool-FC, whose principal owner John W. Henry and club Chairman Tom Werner run the club on behalf of a firm named Fenway Sports Group. They operate the club without any fan-shareholder scheme. FSG own an array of sports teams, including Major League Baseball team the Boston Red Sox.
Foreign investors have witnessed the growth and expansion of the English Premier League since its formation in 1992. The English Premier League has become the most popular division in world, with broadcasting rights in over two hundred nations. Foreign ownership is the basis of the current argument; foreign investors usually bring vast amounts of financial capital, which is used to aid its competitiveness within the division. The current Premier League champions Manchester United have benefited from substantial foreign investment.
On the 6th February 2007 ownership of Liverpool-FC changed from the Moore’s family into the hands of American businessmen Tom Hicks and George Gillett. The American duo made promises of lavish spending, a new stadium and promises of Liverpool’s ascension back to the elite of English football once again. In 2010 those words could be seen as chimerical at best. The club was purchased with debt and when HBOS could see that there was a good chance they could lose out financially, Martin Broughton was brought in to sell the club. What this episode has done is highlight the potential vulnerability that English football clubs can find themselves in because they are potentially open to ownership from any consortium. This would be impossible at FC-Barçelona due to the system in place.
An institution like FC-Barçelona is not exempt from financial debt, far from it, but the idea of two non-Catalan businessmen buying the club, and adding severe debt to it is unimaginable. This is because there are unwritten barriers in place to prevent such an event from ever occurring. FC-Barçelona pride themselves on certain values, the togetherness with the fans is perhaps the most pivotal. One does not suggest that clubs in England do not share the same unity, quite the contrary, but the actual running of the club is by the fans. Foreigners that are employed can hold influential positions, such as Johannes Cruijff (who was a senior advisor for the club) but never the president. FC-Barcelona would be violating EU law if they abstained from hiring non-Catalans, but elected officials must be from Catalonia if they are to hold the influential positions. This certainly helps matters with the club because football is perhaps the most unique business, in the sense that it requires an almost religious faith an understanding that typical businessmen may not comprehend. No matter how much studying is done prior, people in the city, those around the club are always going to have a far greater passion for the club and this is a problem with foreign ownership because whilst there have been substantial benefits, foreign owners can suffer from imperfect information, which is detrimental to the club.
There are many advantages to foreign ownership within the Premier League however. The increase in popularity because of the increase in foreign investment due to rise in foreign ownership, has propelled it to becoming the highest revenue-generating league in world football. Figures from the 2008/2009 season show that revenue in the elite division of English football was the highest in the world. English football clubs generated some €2.3billion in revenue, this figure was more than double the French Ligue 1 figure of €1.5 billion. This gives us an indication of the revenue generating ability of top-flight football in England. As an entity generating over two billion in revenue it is not surprising that according to Deloitte football accountants, of the top twenty highest revenue raising clubs, seven of them are Premier League teams, including Liverpool-FC. Liverpool were ranked seventh in the 2008/2009 figures, generating some €217.0million in revenue. This figure does show that Liverpool, contrary to popular thought of gross mishandling of financial matters, were still in fact performing to an excellent standard. There was enormous debt, but the figure at hand does at least illustrate an excellent financial performance. Figures prior to 2007, when foreign owners did not own Liverpool were not as high as the current figures. According to Deloitte sport, in 2004/2005, revenue was €181.2million, in 2005/2006, revenue actually fell by €5.2million to €176million, in 2006/2007, revenue rose to €202.1million. This does highlight the sudden importance of new investment, particularly due to the relative financial instability prior to Hicks and Gillett’s tenure.
With the Premier League generating so much in revenue there are many relationships to depict from the increase in foreign ownership and increase in revenues. Arsenal Football Club is a public limited company and their leading shareholder, Stan Kroenke, is an American investor. The recent AGM meeting was viewed as platform for fans to voice their discontent with the running of the club. Further evidence suggesting that a football club requires a strong understanding between fans and board and unfortunately this may be lost with foreign ownership. There is clearly a reliance on foreign ownership in the Premier Division; in addition, the acquisition of Blackburn FC by the Venky family is another example of the clear appeal for foreign investors to buy Premier League clubs. Whilst it would be incorrect to group all foreign owners in the same category, the Venky family’s ownership highlights the lack of cohesion between fans and oweners. This bond is critical for a smooth running of any football club. Moreover, Blackburn’s relegation and farcial managerial “merry-go-round” speaks volumes of a clear lack of understanding from foreign owners.
Més que un club translates to: More than a club. This statement is a reminder of the tradition of FC Barcelona. Due to the harmonisation with board members, players, coaches and fans, FC-Barçelona is operated with coherence, because of the greater understanding, the fans having a much greater input with regards to club matters. The same could be said about clubs such as Bayern Munchen and Ajax. Although they are not of the same ownership model, their respective boards consist of former players. Therefore they function from the bottom up, rather than top down as many English clubs do, Andy Mitten a writer from the UK’s football magazine Four-Four Two suggests that
“Barça is owned by its members and the fans demand daily communication with players and coach.”
The coherence between the fans and the board is one of the main advantages of having fan ownership or heavy involvment of past players. Firstly the bureaucratic responsibilities are spread, not evenly, but spread nonetheless. This means that everybody has got a degree of responsibility and this gives the members a greater voice, so if things are not running smoothly, they can opine some of their immediate concerns and actions will be taken. This kind of power is what majority of Liverpool fans wished they had when the threat of administration was lingering over the club. Because Hicks and Gillett had complete control of Liverpool, the fans discontent went unheard, with their protests and anger failing to produce results they wanted, at the pace they desired. This is an illustration of how fan ownership is superior to a privately owned club that is susceptible to foreign ownership. Liverpool-FC, like every other football club, rely on the bond between club and fans, and that was in jeopardy due to board room events, what made the problem even worse was the fact that many fans felt as if their opinions went unheard, something that could not have materialised at Barcelona, a clear benefit of fan ownership.
The cadre of fans, players, coaches and board members is clearly an advantage in comparison to Liverpool. However, there are some noticeable hindrances to fan ownership nevertheless. FC Barçelona is in debt, despite revenues of €405million. They have outstanding loan repayments of €155million. Debt in business is inevitable, but an option for an English club in this situation would be to try and find a new buyer in order to ease the financial burden, something that drove Liverpool-FC to finding new foreign owners. Not every club that is in debt in England tries to find a new buyer, that is simply not sustainable, however, there is always that option. One of the main reasons why Liverpool had to find new owners was due to the mismanagement of the club’s debt. If Barçelona were open to foreign ownership there would be potential foreign owners waiting to make an approach. Nonetheless, because of the traditions, it is not a possibility. This ‘financial stubbornness’ if you like, thus prohibits all potential avenues of better financial management that would be helped due to foreign investment. Barçelona are a profitable organisation, but debt mismanagement can cripple any organisation, regardless of stature, history or tradition. Even with the possibility of foreign ownership, Premier League clubs are always susceptible to debt; hence the importance to run an efficient model, despite the threat of debt however, there is always that possibility to find a foreign buyer, something that clubs like FC-Barçelona cannot do, or Bayern Munchen would not do..
Barçelona retain all the broadcasting rights, which benefits Barçelona due to the high demand for their services. However, the oligopoly created along with Real-Madrid, has created an imbalanced situation for the rest of Spanish football. English teams receive an equal share of broadcasting revenue, thus increasing competition amongst teams. The oligopoly with Real Madrid has penalised Spanish football as a whole, one of the main reasons why the Premier League is so popular is because of its competitiveness. Moreover, a combination of equal broadcasting rights along with openness to foreign ownership gives the Premier League a competitive advantage.
Fans in England may require a greater voice with non-board room matters, but the fact that clubs are open to foreign ownership is a good attribute, but good owners who understand the needs of the club and the fans are vital to the success of the club, regardless of nationality. Liverpool-FC’s new owners have brought some stability and a clear focus to the club, despite the sacking of previous manager Kenny Dalglish. The renewed stability is welcome, but fans and board alike must realise that a close relationship is vital. Football clubs with heavy fan involvment at fan and professional level function a lot more harmnony and it holds board members accountable to their actions. Certain episodes have blemished English football, the current state of Blackburn Rovers, Portmouth and Liverpool’s financial shape prior to new owners highlight what can happen when owners do not have a clear understanding of the football club they own. Of course other factors must come into consideration, but owners must bear most of the responsiblity, if the owners have a greater input, they have more control, thus the they are more accountable.
Eurozone leaders tacit failure to take prompt action leaves Eurozone a long way from recovery.
The current eurozone crisis is not going to end any time soon. Despite Mario Draghi’s so-called “ice-cream,” a pledge by the European Central Bank (ECB) to intervene in the European bond market, the optimism was brief and the current crisis remains more potent than ever. What is most striking are some of the parallels between the current eurozone crisis and the European Monetary System (EMS) crisis of 1992-1993 and more importantly, the inability of European ministers to act effectively on past mistakes.
Many Greeks and Spaniards have stoned police cars and set fire to shops to protest budget cuts, to little avail. Hitherto, the EMS crisis, although in hindsight is not of the same magnitude, relatively speaking, there are many mistakes that have been repeated during the current crisis. Interest rate harmonization across the entire euro-zone clearly does not work due to the structural imbalances of the Northern, wealthier states and the Southern, poorer states. Similarly, when the UK wanted to reduce interest rates during the 1992-1993 EMS crisis, they were prohibited, due to the dominance of the German economy (sound familiar ?) and when they maintained high interest rates due to several factors, including the reunification of East and West Germany it had a detrimental affect on the British economy. Moreover, this imbalance of economic performance requires a significantly tighter fiscal framework that will complement the monetary framework already in place, without this, the crisis will not be solved and this increases the possibility of another crisis reoccurring in the future. Furthermore, had Greek, Spanish, Irish, Italian and most European nations adopted a much stricter fiscal framework, then the problems of today would be severely reduced.
It should be noted that the legal framework was already in place to circumvent nations from binging on cheap and available credit, but this has proven to be nothing more than hollow rhetoric. The ECB’s decision however to act as lender of last resort should provide the framework for the fiscal unity that the euro-zone has required since its inception. Monetary unity alone is not sufficient, both fiscal and monetary unity is required to harmonize the euro-zone. Nevertheless, by accepting the stringent fiscal reform package, the indebted nations will be relinquishing national sovereignty, which is a consequence of the over indulgence of available credit. Undoubtedly, these are the very beginnings of the proposed reforms and many citizens in the heavily indebted countries may not have the patience to wait until these reforms manifest into tangible results. This transition period marks a significant time for the euro-zone and many nations may feel time is running out. The Stability and Growth Pact was intended to penalize nations with a debt-to-GDP ratio greater than 60%. Clearly, the intentions were correct, but the implementation or rather, the lack of demonstrates the incapability of euro-zone leaders to take decisive action.
The intentions of the SGP were understandable; any union that would amalgamate several contrasting economies needed a stringent fiscal framework in order for it to function appropriately. If we analyse the current euro-zone crisis, the authenticity of the SGP is in question because strict sanctions were to be imposed on any nation who did not adhere to the ‘strict’ conditions set by the EU. If this were the case then several nations including Germany, Italy and Greece in particular would have been punished appropriately for their fiscal mismanagement. Former UK Prime Minister John Major suggests that:
“Southern states over indulged on low interest-rates and racked up debts. When Germany and France over-stepped the criteria without any penalty by the commission, the criteria became toothless.”
It is fair to suggest with hindsight that sanctions on nations who had failed to abide by the framework set by the EMU would have almost minimalized the severe economic damage that has beset the euro-zone today. Had sanctions been imposed some ten years ago, or even five, then the severe problems that appear only to be appearing now could have been dealt with then.
With regards to the realization of the EMU, the SGP was implemented in 1997, two years before the data range in the graph. Despite a prerequisite of national debt being less than 60% of GDP levels, the graph above highlights the inability of euro-zone members failing to deal with nations not following the fiscal framework. This tacit failure to impose sanctions on members allowed certain members continue to let national debt to grow until it became an apparent and uncontrollable problem, hence, the systemic failure of the system itself. Clive Cook of Bloomberg is one of several commentators who have critical views on not only the SGP, but of EU governance in general.
“Remember the EU’s vaunted Stability and Growth Pact of 1997, which supposedly put limits on public borrowing — and which Germany, by the way, violated? The same syndrome is evident today. Write a new rule now, worry about enforcing it later. This has been the hallmark of EU governance.”
Moreover, this has been a consistent theme that has underpinned EU and euro-zone governance (or lack of). Despite apparent mechanisms being in place to prevent severe economic shocks, euro-zone nations appear to have repeated some of the same systemic errors, the only difference with the EMS crisis of 1992 and the current crisis is the severity, the current crisis however appears to be of a much greater proportion, with the lasting effects significantly greater.
Clearly, the current economic crisis that is crippling the euro-zone could have been prevented if decisive action was taken to punish nations who did not adhere to the ‘strict’ rules set out in the SGP. Retrospective analysis does little to compensate the fact that the damage as a result of this failure has been catastrophic. There is no easy remedy; the euro-zone must comply with the reform package set out by the ECB in order to have the fiscal harmonization so desperately required in order to achieve the goal of a single currency. Without both monetary and fiscal unity, this crisis will occur in the future, and the consequences far worse, something that seems too difficult to comprehend at this moment in time.
Joseph Stiglitz is a renowned Keynesian. Whilst several free marketers have suggested it was governments binging on fiscal polices in the first place that placed several economies in this mess that has not changed the stance of several economists such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz. There has always been the consensus that the eurozone project lacked the economic rationale to really succeed. Stiglitz shares his views…