A very unpatriotic account of Britain’s economic supremacy.
Jerusalem turned up, crumpets on, tea in the pot and log fire blazing, here’s to ten minutes of outright patriarchy…. Well, not quite.
The UK is home to the seventh largest economy in the world packed into the 80th biggest country by area. 0.89 per cent of the world’s population calls Britain home, compared to the 40 per cent that live in India, China and the US combined. But regardless of the lack of economic fundamentals (population, size, natural resources), Britain remains today a world leader, and isn’t that something to be proud of?
Not in my mind.
Now I like crumpets as much as the next man, but patriotic I am not over our economic success. We may have a superior economy to most nations in the world, and given our size that is a noteworthy accomplishment, but the truth is that we wouldn’t have got by without a little help from our friends. Our Empire has fallen, but we’ve replaced power with money, and we’re still pulling the strings where it counts.
“England and America owe their liberty to commerce, which created a new species of power to undermine the feudal system. But let them beware of the consequences: the tyranny of wealth is still more galling and debasing than that of rank.”
Mary Wollstonecraft: Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
We don’t make things anymore
Margaret Thatcher went to war twice in her time as prime minister, the first in the Falklands and the second in our very own back garden, against industry. Manufacturing accounted for over 20 per cent of UK GDP in 1970, which had dropped to 17 per cent by 79 and has followed the same path since (ONS predicted it was down to 9.86 per cent in 2010).
So by and large, Britain doesn’t make anything anymore. Not to worry, because we are no longer a country that has to give anyway. Our trade ties, allegiances and (most importantly) money has allowed us to benefit from the growth of other nations so that we can sit back and enjoy our tea in a mug so ironically labelled ‘made in China’. The British Empire may have sacrificed its global jurisdiction, but what it has lost in taxes it has certainly made up in enterprise.
The BRIC countries (a term coined by British-born banker Jim O’Neil) and other breakout nations (a term coined by Morgan Stanley’s Ruchir Sharma) are the areas where British investors are being urged to plough their money. In doing so, they buy the roads and provide the cars for the burgeoning middle class to drive, as well as backing the banks which lend to buyers who purchase the houses that our money built. Some might say our capital is necessary for their development, but I would side with Ms Wollstonecraft in postulating that this is a new form of feudal system.
Euro doesn’t sound so great
Given that we were once a great nation built on naval supremacy and we are now a great nation based on our economy, the idea of becoming part of a collective union seems to somewhat undermine our ascendancy.
David Cameron’s delayed speech last week was a blessing in disguise. With Mr Obama in one ear warning that Britain without Europe is not such a ‘special’ Britain, and his own party in the other ear pushing for more freedoms, the speech will have been a more transparent attempt at clever rhetoric backed with little policy.
As things stand we have successfully taken from the eurozone without giving much back, having our cake and eating it too, if you like. But it won’t be long before the heavy hand of Angela Merkel or a discerning frown from Francois Hollande comes our way, advising us to get involved or get out. When this happens our position on the outer edge of two superpowers might not seem so superior, indeed, things might get a little lonely.
By Jack Peat