George Walford: Katherine Whitehorn Again

It’s a strange thing that whenever Katharine Whitehorn is confirming what we say she writes better than when disagreeing. This happens even though to our knowledge she has never heard of IC or s.i. In the Observer of 26 April 1987 she writes of the way unrestricted competition tends to eliminate itself, producing monopoly instead.

She gives instances: The USA recently removed all regulation (except safety rules) from its airlines, and a few big airlines promptly put most of the smaller ones out of business. Every chain of shops seeks to buy up the competition or merge with it, and every newspaper tries to be the only one in its area. (We add that the Sunday Times of the same date announces a book claiming that IBM threatens to put its competitors out of business). Competition, Whitehorn suggests, may be good for the consumer, but each contestant seeks to end it, and when allowed a free hand they sometimes come close to success.

She presents the tendency of free competition to turn into monopoly as an empirical observation; we are able to take it further, integrating it into a coherent theory of social behaviour. In IC27 we discussed the anarchist conception of freedom and reached the conclusion that freedom cannot exist apart from restraint. Whitehorn’s observation confirms this. Competition is one form of economic freedom, but the attempt to establish it without limit leads towards its elimination; for competition to continue restraints must be imposed to prevent the winners squeezing out the losers. In this field, too, freedom is unable to survive in separation from restraint.

from Ideological Commentary 28, July 1987.