Memo to the EU: markets work, capisce?


We've another of those stunning misunderstandings from Brussels about how this economy thing works. It's not so much the European Union itself, it's the mindset of the people that actually make the rules within it that matters. They've not got the idea that markets really do actually work. They've decided to set the fees that debit and credit cards can charge:

Consumers face cuts to the air miles, cash bonuses and other rewards they collect from credit cards because of a law passed in Brussels last month.

Capital One, one of Britain's biggest card providers, has become the first firm to scrap the perks following new EU restrictions on the profits it can make.

In a statement the company said its cards, which paid customers up to 5p for every £1 spent, were "no longer sustainable".

If you look at the fees in isolation then you might well think, hey, they're making a lot, stop them! But to look at the fees in isolation is to be more than a bit of an idiot because markets really do work.

So, there's those fees. And then those consumers who think they're a bit high and would like to claw back some of that money get to do so. Because competition to gain those high fees means that card issuers start to offer cash back, air miles, discounts, freebies and other goodies. And what selection of freebies, discounts and other goodies people value most will influence their choice of card. Thus consumers get what they value most.

And now we fix the fees, to what in isolation might be regarded as "fair" and all those consumers then lose all of those compensating benefits. Because the people making these rules have looked at this in isolation, without noting that markets really do work and that card holders are already being compensated, in the manner they value most, for those seemingly high fees.

As we say, to look at such things in isolation is to be more than just a bit of an idiot.

Note that the profits that a card company can make are not being regulated. What is being regulated is the revenues one can have: and limiting the revenues that can be made also, inevitably, reduces the revenue that is rebated, leaving profits quite possibly unchanged. No overall benefit to consumers therefore but the tax leeches regulators feel they've achieved something.

This isn't, despite the well known views of at least one of us here, a complaint about the European Union. It's a complaint about the tax leeches regulators failing to understand that markets already achieve, without intervention, the things that the tax leeches regulators think that only they can bring about. The answer to which is, of course, more markets and fewer tax leeches.