Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Which, with baroque variations, is the story from the UK domestic energy market.
As we’ve reported before, the market is suffering from the unfortunate conjunction of soaring input prices and a populist price cap. As suppliers collapse into the consumer-funded government safety net, the regulator is thrashing around trying to cobble together a fix which might avoid prices rising to their true level too fast, without offending voters or damaging long-term supply.
One of the less destructive ideas being mooted would be to allow the price cap to be adjusted more frequently in response to ‘exceptional events’.
But the Guardian can be tenacious in support of muddled thinking.
Having cheered the imposition of government controls over most aspects of the UK’s energy market, it might not be a surprise that it thinks the problem is – not enough controls.
Or to be more precise, getting rid of the wrong sort of controls and, with the benefit of hindsight, bringing in the obviously right ones. (In this case, requiring energy suppliers to have more financial backing in case prices go up. Good idea but … what might that do to the cost base?)
There is much to be said for constructive criticism and learning from experience.
But the right experience in this case might be our understanding of markets and controls.
Which tells us that prices give signals to move resources around. That governments need to think about security of supply. And that the vulnerability of some of our people to high or unpredictable energy prices is part of a bigger issue of social welfare. One that can rarely – if ever – be addressed through direct price controls.
Britain’s price cap debacle is just one aspect of a UK energy policy driven largely by inconsistent and inefficient climate policies.
But it’s a stand-out reminder to right-of-centre politicians who think they can buy short term political relief by letting their clever advisors do a little market tweak.
Because when it fails, you’re in more trouble than before and the Guardian won’t be there for you.