And inevitably, there has been criticism of "the market". One particularly hurtful phrase was "there has been a race to the bottom". "The free market has failed us yet again."
I did wonder how competition could lead to this, surely any competition is good, right?
Well, yes it is, but it really does matter who the customer is.
Why, if competition is so good, are the train companies so expensive and so utterly useless? Why, if competition is so good, are examination boards in a race to the bottom? Why is the NHS generally such an unpleasant, bureaucratic experience when you're sick?
In all the cases above, you are not the customer. You are the stock in trade.
Train companies are effectively granted a monopoly over a line, so there is no real competition. Their objective is maximise revenue from a government-decreed monopoly.
Examination boards are there to make the government look good, to make education look successful, to tick government boxes. If we were the customers, they wouldn't be interested in any of those things, they'd be trading on their brand like Oxford or Cambridge, they'd have no interest whatsoever in being in a race to the bottom, because nobody would want to take their exams.
And of course, in the saintly (monopoly) NHS, the patient is the last thing on the mind of those who are in charge, who have to juggle arbitrary government funding with the infinite demand that comes with a "free" service. I suspect that the Lansley reforms (if they ever get enacted, of course!) will lead to a similar disaster where trusts compete with each other for government money by fucking over the long-suffering taxpayer and patient.
Competition only helps the customer. In none of these cases are we the customer, we're just the people who pay for stuff.
There's a big difference between the two.