rsz_shops_-_derelict
Machynlleth, a small town in Wales, is under attack from a vicious superpower. The Guardian’s local correspondent reports first hand from the heart of the combat zone:

“it’s only now, when I’m caught in the middle of it, that the full force of this injustice hits me. Like everyone else here I feel powerless, unstrung as I watch disaster unfolding in slow motion.”

The “disaster” has a name: Tesco plans to open a store in Machynlleth. That, in itself, does not yet sound very spectacular. Tesco opens new stores every now and then, and we don’t usually hear about it. But Machynlleth is not just any small town. It is the hometown of George Monbiot. And he will not surrender without a fight:

“If this monster is built, everything that is special and precious and distinctive about this town – the quirky shops, the UK’s oldest farmers’ market, the busy community – falls under its shadow. Tesco will suck the marrow out of us.”

However, Monbiot’s war diary takes a strange turn when he begins portraying the locals’ resentment against the store. If nearly the whole town rejects Tesco anyway, one wonders, then why all the hassle? Surely this means that the new branch will be near-empty most of the time, so why not lean back, and wait until the head office has to close down the notorious loss maker? McDonald’s, for example, withdrew from Bolivia after realising that most locals would not accept them. Monbiot’s confidence in the “right” moral sense of his fellow townsmen cannot be all that strong. Trust is good. Control is better.

Monbiot’s rejects the branch opening for both cultural and economic reasons. He believes that Tesco stores destroy jobs, because “independent shops employ five times as many people per unit of turnover”. This is a vivid example of what Bryan Caplan calls the “make-work bias“, the confusion of work creation with wealth creation. If a high ratio of employees to turnover was a good thing per se, why not achieve an even higher ratio by prohibiting the use of scanners and electronic tills at the checkout counter? And if the use of lorries was prohibited so that each article had to be carried to the stores by foot, then virtually the whole town could be employed in retail. But, as Caplan explains,

“Every time we figure out how to accomplish a goal using fewer workers, it enriches society, because labor is a valuable resource.”

Admittedly, I know nothing about the local economy of Machynlleth. But I would be very surprised if there was no sensible work that could be done there. Outside the Garden of Eden, there has never been a place where nothing useful could be done. So maybe George Monbiot should simply be a bit less worried about where his neighbours do their shopping.

Kristian-Niemitz-2012_0.jpg

Head of Health and Welfare

Dr Kristian Niemietz joined the IEA in 2008 as Poverty Research Fellow, becoming its Senior Research Fellow in 2013 and Head of Health and Welfare in 2015. Kristian is also a Fellow of the Age Endeavour Fellowship. He studied Economics at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and the Universidad de Salamanca, graduating in 2007 as Diplom-Volkswirt (≈MSc in Economics). During his studies, he interned at the Central Bank of Bolivia (2004), the National Statistics Office of Paraguay (2005), and at the IEA (2006). In 2013, he completed a PhD in Political Economy at King’s College London. Kristian previously worked as a Research Fellow at the Berlin-based Institute for Free Enterprise (IUF), and at King's College London, where he taught Economics throughout his postgraduate studies. He is a regular contributor to various journals in the UK, Germany and Switzerland.

16 thoughts on “Enemy at the Gates: the lonely struggle of a Welsh Gaul”

  1. Posted 13/08/2009 at 10:32 | Permalink

    I don’t wish to be insulting, but George Monbiot sounds like a conservative. Is he content simply to resist change, or would he actually prefer to turn the clock, I wonder?

    I think I may be able to suggest a solution to his ‘injustice’. It depends on coercion, too, which should satisfy George. Why doesn’t the government nationalise the proposed Tesco store in Machynlleth and then run it as a government enterprise? I dare say that would soon produce a strong movement of local opinion against the new store.

    And in the end taxpayers should be pleased too, since closing down the failing government store will save them having to finance its continuing losses.

  2. Posted 13/08/2009 at 10:32 | Permalink

    I don’t wish to be insulting, but George Monbiot sounds like a conservative. Is he content simply to resist change, or would he actually prefer to turn the clock, I wonder?

    I think I may be able to suggest a solution to his ‘injustice’. It depends on coercion, too, which should satisfy George. Why doesn’t the government nationalise the proposed Tesco store in Machynlleth and then run it as a government enterprise? I dare say that would soon produce a strong movement of local opinion against the new store.

    And in the end taxpayers should be pleased too, since closing down the failing government store will save them having to finance its continuing losses.

  3. Posted 18/08/2009 at 13:00 | Permalink

    Having had a look at George Monbiot’s blog I am very impressed at his energy – strident opinions on so many things, and virtually all of them wrong….

  4. Posted 18/08/2009 at 13:00 | Permalink

    Having had a look at George Monbiot’s blog I am very impressed at his energy – strident opinions on so many things, and virtually all of them wrong….

  5. Posted 19/08/2009 at 10:17 | Permalink

    Initially I hypothesised George Monbiot was a fictional character made up by some free-marketeers. Everything he writes is just too ‘too’; as if someone tried to confirm each and every cliche. Along the lines of: “Let’s make up a column writer who produces concentrates of leftie buzzwords. Let’s give him an English-sounding forename and a French-sounding surname; James Lacroix or so.”

  6. Posted 19/08/2009 at 10:17 | Permalink

    Initially I hypothesised George Monbiot was a fictional character made up by some free-marketeers. Everything he writes is just too ‘too’; as if someone tried to confirm each and every cliche. Along the lines of: “Let’s make up a column writer who produces concentrates of leftie buzzwords. Let’s give him an English-sounding forename and a French-sounding surname; James Lacroix or so.”

  7. Posted 20/08/2009 at 19:31 | Permalink

    ‘Locally-based environmental campaigner and journalist George Monbiot has said that the development will “wreck Machynlleth”. However, local resident of 60 years Kay Jones said she was furious over [MP Lembit] Öpik’s petition [against the siting of the new Tesco in the town]. “What has this got to do with him? “The majority of the town are for this supermarket, as it will bring jobs to the area. Machynlleth is going to be left behind and it will be left as some quiet backwater place.” The Mayor of Machynlleth, Cllr Sylvia Rowlands, said she had been inundated with comments from the public over the Tesco plans. “The response I’ve had is that more people are for it than against,” she said ‘

    Aberaeron Today, 6 August 2009

    http://www.aberaeron-today.co.uk/tn/News.cfm?id=30845&headline=Store%20Wars%20break%20out%20in%20Machynlleth!

    Here is the ‘We want Tesco’ Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=122381426973&ref=search&sid=756513153.2328930730..1

    And here is the ‘Stop Tesco Invading Machynlleth’

    http://www.facebook.com/search/?q=Stop+Tesco+Invading+Machynlleth&init=quick#/group.php?gid=218414910390&ref=search&sid=756513153.3835246413..1

    Membership currently running three to one in favour of Tesco

  8. Posted 20/08/2009 at 19:31 | Permalink

    ‘Locally-based environmental campaigner and journalist George Monbiot has said that the development will “wreck Machynlleth”. However, local resident of 60 years Kay Jones said she was furious over [MP Lembit] Öpik’s petition [against the siting of the new Tesco in the town]. “What has this got to do with him? “The majority of the town are for this supermarket, as it will bring jobs to the area. Machynlleth is going to be left behind and it will be left as some quiet backwater place.” The Mayor of Machynlleth, Cllr Sylvia Rowlands, said she had been inundated with comments from the public over the Tesco plans. “The response I’ve had is that more people are for it than against,” she said ‘

    Aberaeron Today, 6 August 2009

    http://www.aberaeron-today.co.uk/tn/News.cfm?id=30845&headline=Store%20Wars%20break%20out%20in%20Machynlleth!

    Here is the ‘We want Tesco’ Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=122381426973&ref=search&sid=756513153.2328930730..1

    And here is the ‘Stop Tesco Invading Machynlleth’

    http://www.facebook.com/search/?q=Stop+Tesco+Invading+Machynlleth&init=quick#/group.php?gid=218414910390&ref=search&sid=756513153.3835246413..1

    Membership currently running three to one in favour of Tesco

  9. Posted 21/08/2009 at 17:41 | Permalink

    I am a native of Machynlleth and I can assure everyone that 90% of residents of Machynlleth are totally in favour of the Tesco application. In fact the sooner it’s built the better. There has only been one meaningful vote in respect of the application and the overwhelming majority of residents were in favour.

  10. Posted 21/08/2009 at 17:41 | Permalink

    I am a native of Machynlleth and I can assure everyone that 90% of residents of Machynlleth are totally in favour of the Tesco application. In fact the sooner it’s built the better. There has only been one meaningful vote in respect of the application and the overwhelming majority of residents were in favour.

  11. Posted 21/08/2009 at 19:20 | Permalink

    Just wondering why my above post was edited so brutally!!!!

  12. Posted 21/08/2009 at 19:20 | Permalink

    Just wondering why my above post was edited so brutally!!!!

  13. Posted 21/08/2009 at 19:22 | Permalink

    I would urge everyone to read Gareth’s letter in the County Times which gives an honest and accurate picture of the situation regarding the Tesco application.

  14. Posted 21/08/2009 at 19:22 | Permalink

    I would urge everyone to read Gareth’s letter in the County Times which gives an honest and accurate picture of the situation regarding the Tesco application.

  15. Posted 21/08/2009 at 23:00 | Permalink

    C. Vaughan – For legal reasons, we have to be very careful about publishing statements about individuals on the blog – thus the first part of your first comment could not be published.

  16. Posted 21/08/2009 at 23:00 | Permalink

    C. Vaughan – For legal reasons, we have to be very careful about publishing statements about individuals on the blog – thus the first part of your first comment could not be published.

Comments are closed.