Today's prize for economic illiteracy goes to Aditya Chakrabortty


This is painful, even for The Guardian, even for the history graduate that writes their economic leaders:

This is what the Centre for Research in Socio-Cultural Change terms “social licensing” in its latest book, The End of the Experiment. The academics’ suggestions have been followed by one council in north London, Enfield. Officers and researchers sat down and worked out how much money its 300,000 residents sent the way of big businesses: 11 Tesco stores, for instance, provided the PLC with around £8m of its annual profit. And what did the area get back? Not very much, but the highlight included a community toilet scheme and some charitable giving from the supermarket’s corporate social responsibility department.

And so the council has started asking big businesses, such as utility firms, what they had done for Enfield recently. They’ve begun hassling banks to lend more to local businesses, the likes of British Gas to give more of their local work to local contractors with local staff – or run the risk of being named and shamed in the local press. It may sound small, but imagine if the same approach were taken by Holyrood or Cardiff – or by Westminster.


To take that example of Tesco, so what did Enfield get back in return for that £8 million of profit? Given supermarket profit margins it got a couple of hundred million pounds worth of groceries. Something that's rather more important that piddling around with the community lavvies you might think.

This idea that the value to us of what an organisation does is in what it does not produce is simply insane. The value to us of a producing organisation is in what it produces. The value of Google to us is that we get to Google, the value of Starbucks to us is bad coffee and the value of Tesco in Enfield is that people have somewhere to buy their loo roll and something to eat. And it's absolutely no use trying to insist that a supermarket isn't providing value: if it wasn't the good people of Enfield wouldn't be spending £200 million a year there, would they?

Try to think about this rationally for a moment. The NHS provides absolutely nothing towards local loos for local people, pays not a bean in taxation and yet most would agree that it does provide something of value. Perhaps not as much value as the same amount spent in another manner would but we do indeed value the fact that it occasionally manages to treat patients. The value to us of the NHS is in what the NHS produces: medical treatment. The value of Tesco to Enfield is in what Tesco produces. Why is this so difficult for people to understand?