When your streaming service is called “Fetch” and you drop the ball during the World Cup, there’s probably only one appropriate response by management. Put the CEO’s basket in the back of the car, for the trip to the vet, and then chuck the basket out the window on the way back. Fetch, fetch, one last time.
Most likely no one will suffer for it, a kludge that is simultaneously minor and major; no tragedy, it is nevertheless a basic failure in an arrangement that millions were relying on — and an arrangement of the sort once ruled out precisely because of the risk of that failure. Sport and major events were assigned to public broadcasters, because they were the only ones with the capacity to run multiple fail-safe broadcast systems. The anti-siphoning laws in part recognised the same.
Now, with the purported benefits of competition, maybe Arrivederci Phone Home Phone Cards will get the footy, and run it on Telecom Niue spare capacity. Except it won’t of course. The fiction of privatised competition was simply so diverse functions could be handed over to cartelised oligopolies. When they screw up, there is no disabling penalty; the PM rings up — as does the generalissimo in any banana republic to tell the radio station to keep playing his favourite song. What was purported to be a rule-governed small government framework becomes one where state action is ad-hoc and executive, to keep things going.
You can see this everywhere, in Australia and the world. Look at the train and light-rail debacle in Sydney. Not once but twice, a failure of integration — one track system not matching another, ordered rolling stock not matching the track — has occurred. Governments should resign for billion-dollar screw-ups like this, ministers resign. Not one, five, but 10, 15 senior public servants should be sacked. Nothing like that will happen. The only thing that will roll on is the system.
In the UK, rail again: the prime East Coast (London-Edinburgh) line has now failed under private management for a third time. It was run, competently and well, as a standalone public corporation for years after the last collapse. Then the Cameron government handed it, and a pile of subsidies and tax breaks to Virgin Rail. Now after years of more subsidies, they’ve handed it back.
Simultaneously, Carillion, the UK’s second-largest construction form, and the largest contractor to government, went into liquidation at the start of the year, a billion pounds in debt, half of it owed to 30,000 subcontractors working on major hospitals, roads, the HS2 rail system — and the corporation’s services arm, which runs schools and prisons. The firm was Ponzi-ing — underbidding on major contracts, and using new contracts to back pay on underbid old ones.
The UK government kept giving them contracts because it was Ponzi-ing too, as all western governments are: desperate to plug the hole in demand with anything that hums, and unfussed about the ever-higher proportions of it raked off to dividends, ever lower amounts going to wages. For the most part they know, or hope, that people won’t notice that in major projects. Cost blow out? Who can count in billions, really? Sudden collapse of progress? Who knows why things stop and start?
That hits the buffers when this process — the slow collapse of the decades-long Ponzi of post-Keynesian capitalism — starts to hit things like being able to watch the footy at the pub. When the front of the house is falling off, as the back verandah is collapsing, people start to notice, and they’re able to put it together in some sort of systemic explanation. The world game, indeed.