MPs' expenses: a study in supply and demand

April 09, 2009 11:35 AM

It strikes me that the rumours doing the rounds that someone, somewhere has somehow got their hands on a full copy of every MP's expenses claims and is touting it around the market for £300,000 are a perfect opportunity to teach our politicians about the principles of supply and demand.


For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about the probable illegality of pilfering these details from the House of Commons Fees Office, it is in fact MPs who have created this situation and it is in the power of MPs to dispel it. 


It's simple: by keeping their expenses secret for so long, they have restricted supply of the commodity in question - their expenses details. By insisting on secrecy they have also excited the demand by the public for the information to fever pitch. Prohibit supply, increase demand and suddenly you have a commodity that people are willing to pay generously for - and even break laws for. They haven't just created a market for this information, they have now kept things secret for so long that they've created a black market for the data. This expenses Al Capone is of their own making.


There is a simple way for Parliament to ensure that the cuprit gets no money at all, of course. They should release the details immediately, for free, for all the public to see. Flood the market, sate the demand, and solve this problem straight away. The Government is still apparently trying its approach of prohibition on things it doesn't like, and Jacqui Smith is suffering because prohibition doesn't work. Perhaps now they have personal experience of the laws of the market, they might start to understand.

It strikes me that the rumours doing the rounds that someone, somewhere has somehow got their hands on a full copy of every MP's expenses claims and is touting it around the market for £300,000 are a perfect opportunity to teach our politicians about the principles of supply and demand.


For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about the probable illegality of pilfering these details from the House of Commons Fees Office, it is in fact MPs who have created this situation and it is in the power of MPs to dispel it. 


It's simple: by keeping their expenses secret for so long, they have restricted supply of the commodity in question - their expenses details. By insisting on secrecy they have also excited the demand by the public for the information to fever pitch. Prohibit supply, increase demand and suddenly you have a commodity that people are willing to pay generously for - and even break laws for. They haven't just created a market for this information, they have now kept things secret for so long that they've created a black market for the data. This expenses Al Capone is of their own making.


There is a simple way for Parliament to ensure that the cuprit gets no money at all, of course. They should release the details immediately, for free, for all the public to see. Flood the market, sate the demand, and solve this problem straight away. The Government is still apparently trying its approach of prohibition on things it doesn't like, and Jacqui Smith is suffering because prohibition doesn't work. Perhaps now they have personal experience of the laws of the market, they might start to understand.

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