Thursday, March 09, 2006

The OFT investigates supermarkets

The BBC reports that the Office of Fair Trading is set to launch a probe into the dominance of the UK market by a limited number of supermarkets. The problem is that it appears to be struggling to find a harm. There is the question of monopsony power allowing supermarkets to drive down prices but, as supermarket margins remain low, this operates as a transfer of wealth from producers to consumers which is not a suitable candidate for OFT action.

All the evidence is that the supermarkets have been an unambiguous good thing for the consumer with prices falling and increased choice thanks to the supermarket's expansion into non-food items. An anti-trust case could exist to block a merger between any of the top players but beyond that the watchdog should clearly be stepping back and letting the supermarkets tear each other to pieces.

The move towards increased shopping in supermarkets instead of small shops surely has its origins in the same trend that is leading to reduced fertility. With the decline of discrimination against women in the workplace there are increasing opportunity costs to time spent not earning. When women could not work the value of the time they spent travelling between different shops is of far less concern than when that time could be spent earning or in scarce leisure time.

"Shoot to kill"

Reuters reports that an initial review has suggested that the Met's "shoot to kill" policy is appropriate and should remain. This has led to another chorus from various quarters that such a policy is both wrong and undemocratic as it was introduced in secret.

I honestly fail to see the secrecy. I would have always expected that if a police officer saw a suicide bomber and thought the only way they could stop them killing others was to shoot them then they should do so. As suicide bombing does not require great physical exertion it seems entirely credible that killing is the only way of stopping them and that it must often be done quickly. If this has been formalised recently then I don't think a police cover up is to blame for that formalisation not making the front page; it doesn't sound much like news.

The problem in the de Menezes case was that the police shot someone who was not a suicide bomber. This may raise questions about whether the police have poor mechanisms for identifying suicide bombers but it says little about how they should behave towards bombers once they identify them.