tesco value beer

An unremarked-on aspect of the 1.5% interest rate cut last week. Namely, are we already living in a near-real time planned economy, as Stafford Beer foresaw? It sounds like I must be joking. But how else are we to interpret Sir Terry Leahy’s trip to see the Bank of England and the Treasury? Tesco boasts that one in every eight pounds spent in the UK passes through its tills; this bit is always in the papers. They rarely mention their huge management-information system, except to the trade.

If you wanted close to real-time information about the consumer economy, I can’t think of anything that would work better. After all, even at KwikSave you’d get a daily cycle of cashflow information. And Tesco runs a hell of a lot of deliveries; their visualisation dashboard must provide a fearsome amount of data on what flows where. Chuck in the Clubcard voluntary-surveillance stuff. The tills are, unlike Kwikkies, presumably networked.

Back at the start of the…well, at the start of the latest frantic wave of the world financial crisis, I messaged Dsquared to say that I had the impression his workplace was suddenly full of Bakelite consoles springing out of forgotten compartments. In fact, of course, the people going into manual reversion for the first time in 30 years were the good folk at HM Treasury. According to David Scott and Alexei Leonov’s memoir, there was during the launch of the Apollo spacecraft a T-handle in front of the pilot. If you turned it one-quarter of the way, the launcher’s computer and those of the capsule were locked out and the rocket’s control systems slaved to those of the capsule, so you could then fly the whole thing by hand.

Well, with the financial intermediaries choked up reprocessing all the stuff they shipped off the balance sheet – or rather, into the twilight zone – someone has to control these things. Ordnung muß sein. Now we’re well into T-handle country. What are we going to do with it?


  1. Raphael

    If it’s real-time or almost real-time, can you really call it “planned” then?




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