Thanks Tim. Thought provoking stuff. As one of the commentards who requested this piece, I feel duty-bound to reply. I posted some thoughts on this a while ago and have reproduced them below with a couple of extra comments.
"One significant piece of the puzzle when considering the economics of the post-war economy vs current fiscal performance is the role of the Nationalised Industries.
These are generally assumed to be "industrial dinosaurs" characterised by bureaucracy and inefficiency; both of which are, to a degree, deserved criticisms. But leaving aside the technological developments that have, and would have (in can be argued), benefitted all players, is BT really more efficient than the GPO?
These industries played an important part in maintaining the nation's infrastructure, addressing long-term strategic issues as well as the day-to-day supply of electricity/gas/telecoms etc. We are currently dangerously close to rolling power cuts from the privatised electricity supply industry, where the Government's only response is to bribe the private operators to keep plant open. Contrast that situation to the CEGB's role in operating and maintaining capacity and planning for and providing future power plant. Which is better?
An underreported aspect of the Nationalised Industry structure was the provision of hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs, putting money into local communities. Through an enlightened policy of the self-improvement of staff through apprenticeships and part-time education students were given the chance to reach their potential. This, I believe, was an important contributor to increased social mobility in the past.
I'm not advocating the establishment of a "command and control" economy, but I do think there is a valuable debate to be had on the benefits of a return to a mixed economy that includes modern state-owned and run industries. The argument against this is usually one invoking globalisation. I travel a fair bit for business and pleasure but I'm not a "Citizen of the World". I live in a village, my family and friends are generally within a few hours drive and I get provisions from local shops, eat in local restaurants and drink in local pubs. The benefits of globalisation to international capital are easy to see, but it's increasingly hard to see them for ordinary people. Unless you think the accumulation of landfill tat makes it all worthwhile.
We had the chance recently to compare the benefits of a private industry's operation of a utility with a modern state-owned alternative in the franchise award for the East Coast line operation. Directly Operated Railways, which had been doing a sterling job of running the operation, was not allowed to bid. Dogma dictated that the operation must return to the private sector. A great pity, I think."
There are many comments about the highly regulated and bureaucratic nature of the old nationalised industries. To be fair, there was scope for some sharpening up but these systems were put in place to prevent fraud. Accounting practices in the private sector (e.g. share swaps) seem set up to facilitate it.