I try to make a habit of refraining from making judgment of tragic events until after some measure of investigation is done to look into the cause. There always seems to be a rush by some, whether activists or public officials, to try and characterize the circumstances of a tragedy (shooting, terrorist attack, natural disaster, etc.) right out the gate. In this case, such rumblings were done to project the idea that the Grenfell Tower fire occurred due to the evils of deregulation and markets, and that more regulation would have prevented it. Is such a thing the case?

On further reflection, such an assertion put forth by the rumblings doesn’t necessarily hold water. All manners of organizations outsource or contract work out to external organizations, whether government-based or not, at varying degrees. It is in such a decentralized manner at which the market works best, as competitive and experimental drives can aid in understanding how best to provide goods and services…not just in utility but also choice. In the case of the Grenfell Tower, the high-rise was set up by public officials and was controlled by the public council that ran the specific area in question. Considering the limitations that come in the public sector concerning accountability and competition, it is sadly not surprising that much failure took place in the administering of housing efficiency. Despite spending millions on a renovation project on the building, the high-rise had fire hazards. Tenants were routinely ignored despite their complaints about such management. Even with all the warning of potentially archaic and problematic fire regulations on the books, particularly those related to the Grenfell Tower, the government did not see fit to review them. However, even if regulations had been written to include sprinkler systems in the building and others (which very well might have prevented the tragedy), such a requirement might have also raised housing costs to the point where many tenants couldn’t have afforded it. Despite supposed regulations banning certain types of cladding from being used, such material still was used in the refurbishing of the building. Therefore, the idea that deregulation/austerity caused the tragedy seems spurious, or at the very least unsubstantiated.

As with many cases, general conclusions are not easy to find here. Whether publicly or privately run, housing will always face the intermittent threat of fire. What is perhaps most important is achieving a system that encourages an increased level of accountability and competitiveness in providing quality service for those involved. In this particular case, a rigid public sphere worked against that. Tenant council members and local government officials seemed slow and ineffectual in meeting the concerns of their patrons, and supposed standards were either flat out ignored…or left in place despite debatable utility. Here is hoping such things change for the better.

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