For almost the whole of the period since 1945 annual rates of economic growth in Britain ran at 2 to 3 per cent: 'growth was still faster than at any time in history,' as Professor Pollard reminds us, and 'led to a widespread rise in prosperity'. Cheers! However, averaged over the same period, the EEC countries managed 4 to 5 per cent per annum, the Americans, starting higher, 3 to 4 per cent, and the Japanese, starting much lower, 9 to 10 per cent. Thus, 'measured against what turned out to be possible for others in a competitive, intercommunicating world', Britain's record was 'disappointing to the point of being calamitous'. Groans! Nobody, it seems, writes any more about Britain's 'progressive social revolution...peaceful and silent' - as the great architect of French social security, Pierre La Rocque, described it in 1955. True, the Washington Post's Bernard Nossiter, writing as recently as 1978, spoke of Britain: A Future that Works, advancing the argument that having wisely preferred a leisurely pace and a high quality of life to the hectic stresses of working hard, Britain was the foremost nation in adapting herself contentedly to the realities of post-industrial civilisation. Good try, one might say, but not really fetching enough to stand against the assertion of his fellow-countryman, Martin J. Wiener, that the central issue for historians of contemporary Britain is that of poor economic performance.
LRB 3 June 1982 | PDF Download