Friday, 14 September 2012

Regulation and Organisation, compare and contrast

Our local town has an ‘antique’ market once a week. The last time I walked past a handful of desultory stalls were being picked over by a few bored town visitors, mostly the retired or out of work who have weekday mornings free but are hardly in the market for antique collectibles, plus a few workers who had escaped from the local shops and offices.  There are a few interesting items for sale, semi-antiques and collectibles of a type not usually found in the range of high street charity shops, but hardly enough to attract a crowd. The overall impression is of a rather sad affair.

It is of course run and regulated by the council, uses the council stalls, requires traders to be licensed by the council with fees, contracts and conditions and it uses the town market area, thus ensuring that the only inner town parking area is not available to visitors while the market runs, conveyances must be consigned to the rather (un)tender mercies of the pay and display multi-story car park. Basically it’s a waste of time.

A local cricket club holds a Sunday car boot sale. There were dozens of stalls and hundreds of people, complete families from granny down to the children, cheerfully and happily picking over the items for sale. Plenty of semi-antiques plus thousands of perfectly useable but outgrown toys, hobby items and unwanted ‘stuff’ cleared out from garages and cupboards selling for pocket money prices to other people who are just growing into a need for exactly those same items. Children finding exactly the toy they wanted for a few pence. Meanwhile the club hut served teas and bacon rolls and was surrounded by the older family members sitting outside enjoying a Sunday breakfast, resting their legs and chatting with friends.

The car boot sale is not run by the council. Sellers can decide at the last minute whether to turn up and sell, without advance contracts or red tape. Buyers can drive in, park free on a level adjacent field, and stay for as long or short a time as they wish. There are no (obvious) inspectors to ensure that trader X doesn’t infringe on the speciality of trader Y or try and sell some untested home produce without benefit of the food inspectorate, or make a profit on a job lot of Argos returns bought from EBAY without declaring the profit to HMRC. Yet that lack of regulation doesn’t mean it’s a free for all, just the opposite. The car boot sale is very well and highly organised, but organisation is by agreement because it’s done with a view to making minimal impact on people’s freedom but maximum effect at making the gathering run well. Ensuring everyone is able to do what they want to do with the minimum of difficulty, fuss and bother - thus everyone is perfectly happy to be organised. 

It is not regulated by the council – who I’m sure would love to close it down if they could find a pretext to do so.

This should tell us something, and highlights the key difference between organisation and regulation.


  1. So what you are, in effect, observing, is that free market is better than Statism - it regulates itself even better.

  2. Yes, exactly that, but sans jargon :-)

  3. I've seen the same - very popular car boot venue on a farmer's field while the local market organized and regulated by the council is virtually dead.