Monday, September 24, 2012
EDF Invades Britain
The London Review of Books has a fascinating piece by James Meek about the privatization of the British electrical power system. It seems that the big winner is EDF, the French electrical power giant, which now supplies a large share of Britain's electricity. Meek's piece is relentlessly, mercilessly critical. He despises neoliberalism and sees nothing but harm coming from loss of local control over power generation by a host of antiquated plants. Any efficiency gains that may have resulted from privatization are not ignored precisely, but disparaged as cheese-paring economies by a Leviathan multinational bent only on fattening its own profits. But the story that Meek tells is fascinating in its detail, despite his biases. He shows how the single market has created opportunities for investors and even brought benefits to British labor: the CGT, which is EDF's union, insisted on unionizing workers at British plants the company acquired and created a sort of European Works Council at one of them. No doubt there are unintended and perverse consequences to the phenomenon but as far as I can see nothing to justify the dark tones in which the picture is painted here. But the piece is worth reading nonetheless for a glimpse behind the scenes of a major industry.