I was reading an article yesterday by a Eurosceptic who had changed his view, and he cited amongst other reasons for this the “law of second best”. I looked this up and I can’t pretend to understand it, but I believe it’s a theory of economics which has been around since the fifties. It states that in a system governed by a number of variables producing a less than optimum outcome, removing one of the variables may produce a worse outcome, not a better one.
The example cited on Wikipedia is of a situation where a mining company which has a monopoly on mineral rights in a particular area is ruthlessly exploiting them and producing a great deal of spoil, causing serious pollution. Removing the monopoly will not remove the pollution, in fact it is likely to make it worse, since the introduction of competition will probably result in more mining and less money spent on pollution avoidance. In the context of the EU the writer cited it as being, despite all its myriad faults, a buffer against the rise of “petty nationalism” (his words describing the recent increased popularity of the far right in Europe) and protectionism.
This rang a bell with me largely because my fear about changing our current system is that without careful thought we may see exactly this law in operation and end up in a worse situation. (I guess the Law of Second Best probably shares a flat with the Law of Unintended Consequences). Take the idea of choice in education, for instance, which has been the flavour du jour for quite some time now. No longer shall the state impose upon you the requirement to send your children to a particular school. No, no, you may choose your children’s school and thereby have access to the best!