Security firm G4S fell drastically short of its contractual commitments to staff the Games with 10,000 security personnel, requiring the military to step in with 3,500 troops to make up the shortfall. British newspaper reports noted that the firm's CEO, Nick Buckles, was initially unsure when asked if all of the temporary security staffers for the Games spoke English, and the Daily Mail sent a reporter undercover to illustrate just how low the hiring bar had been set. "During my day's training I witnessed the absolute administrative chaos and the poor calibre of candidates who could hardly fill out basic forms, let alone stay awake during the day," wrote Daily Mail reporter Ryan Kisiel.
Anyone following the gory details and the subsequent parliamentary grilling of Buckles -- who agreed that it was a "humiliating shambles" -- could easily be left with the impression that, given the low wages offered and the lax scrutiny of new hires, G4S's Olympic "security" squad was designed, at best, for providing merely the first layer of cushioning in the event that, heaven forbid, a bomb were to go off.
Private-sector capitalism is now once again in the firing line. But it was, as usual, precisely the opposite of the free market that created the problem. Somehow, G4S was awarded a sole-source contract by the organizing committee, chaired by a former Goldman Sachs executive, in a process where little transparency exists.
Clint Elliott, chief executive of the U.K.'s National Association of Retired Police Officers, provided some insight into the culture of opacity surrounding these matters, telling the BBC, "G4S claim they contacted us but they never did. What G4S tend to do is rely on the old boys' network and word of mouth to recruit people from our organization ..."
That phrase, "old boys' network," comes up again and again in various permutations in supposedly free-market situations -- and almost always in the context of some kind of massive foul-up. It's difficult not to wonder if perhaps there's a causative link. (If I'm wrong about this, it's yet to be proven.)