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The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain provides a readable and comprehensive survey of the economic history of Britain since industrialisation, based on the most up-to-date research into the subject. Roderick Floud and Paul Johnson have assembled a team of fifty leading scholars from around the world to produce a set of volumes which are both a lucid textbook for undergraduate and postgraduate students and an authoritative guide to the subject. The text pays particular attention to the explanation of quantitative and theory-based enquiry, but all forms of historical research are used to provide a comprehensive account of the development of the British economy. Volume I covers the period 1700–1860; Volume II examines the period 1860–1939; the focus of volume III is 1939–2000. The books provide an invaluable guide for undergraduate and postgraduate students in history, economics and other social sciences.
Posted March 27, 2009
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Roderick Floud is Vice-Chancellor of London Metropolitan University, and Paul Johnson is Professor of Economic History at the London School of Economics, so it is no surprise that this is a very safe book. There are 14 contributors from Britain and one each from Canada, Japan and the USA.
The first chapter is on the wartime economy. Each of the other 14 looks at an aspect of the economy from 1945 to 2000 - growth, manufacturing, state ownership of industry, education, monetary policy, financial services, economic policy, living standards, services, the EU's impact, technology, regional policy, fiscal policy and industrial relations.
It is clear, even from this conventional set of readings, how destructive Thatcherism has been. Between 1949 and 1973, the economy grew by 3% a year; between 1973 and 2000, by only 2.3% a year. Britain has had the biggest deindustrialisation of any advanced industrial nation, because the ruling class has refused to invest in manufacturing. Thatcher's liberalisation of finance capital forced firms to maximise their financial returns at the expense of industrial investment.
Thatcher cut government R&D, supposedly to boost private R&D and investment, but actually to cut them both. Britain has for decades underinvested in education and training. By contrast, Germany has comprehensive post-16 vocational training and extended its industrial apprenticeship system into services. Thatcher embraced the EU in order to promote the free market, and the EU duly gave us low growth and high unemployment. Her attack on trade unions caused income inequalities to grow: the richest 1%'s share of total income went from 5% in 1980 to 10% in 1998.
The book ignores what a far more gifted writer noted over a century ago: "increasing concentration of wealth, rapid elimination of small and medium-sized enterprises, progressive limitation of competition, incessant technological progress accompanied by an ever-growing importance of fixed capital, and last but not least the undiminishing amplitude of recurrent business cycles."