If British reports are to be believed, the Grenfell Tower inferno in central London might have been averted for a cost of a mere $6,000 — or a little more than $100 for each of the 58 unfortunates who, on the best estimate available this weekend, perished in the disaster.
According to the London Daily Mail, when the tower was recently renovated, builders opted for a cladding material so inappropriate that it is rated “flammable” in Germany and its use in tall buildings in even lightly regulated America is banned. The attraction was a saving of a mere 10 percent. On the Mail’s numbers that added up to a total saving compared to a safe material of £5,000 — equal to a little more than $6,000.
Such is the dystopia that deregulation, British-style, has wrought — a dystopia whose excesses are now finally coming to be widely recognized by voters and elected leaders alike. Indeed the Grenfell disaster may prove nothing short of a watershed in the history of deregulation. Certainly the implications are likely to go far beyond merely tightening fire safety laws.
As a young financial journalist in London in the 1970s, I witnessed the early days of the UK’s deregulation fashion. The British economy in those days was arguably much too heavily regulated and certainly something terrible was wrong. What focused minds particularly was huge trade deficits. In 1974, for instance, the current account deficit — the current account is the widest and most meaningful…