Thursday, 27 August 2015

We've never had it so good


One of the recurring themes discussed on this blog by our illustrious readers (welcome one, welcome all, but don't be offended if stupid comments are taken to task!) is whether life in the UK has improved in recent decades or not.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that most people would balk at the suggestion that life was better in the 1970s, and yet that is precisely what some people suggest.  I want to explore that, and what better time to do that than on the day that it has been announced that net migration to the UK is at its highest ever level?

By complete coincidence, I have been reading Niall Ferguson's Always Right, which is a wonderfully unequivocally favourable account of Mrs T's time in office, analysed with the benefit of twenty plus years' hindsight. Ferguson even manages to get Saint Margaret off the hook for the Poll Tax and the ERM. Hmm. Mild tint of rose aside, Always Right contains some interesting stats to help us answer whether our great nation is better now than it was forty years ago.

In 1975, the inflation rate reached 27%. Today it is 1% on the old measure, and basically zero on the consumer prices index.  We can argue about whether a particular index captures the actual cost of living for a real person or family, but there is no arguing that inflation has collapsed relative to its level in the 1970s; it hit eight point something as late as 1990. Returns on stocks and bonds were negative in the 1970s.  The mines were costing £1bn a year in subsidy. No wonder people were leaving in droves for sunnier, less-traumatic climes.

Unemployment reached 4% when the Tories launched their famous election poster. It is hard to compare old stats with current stats because the way unemployment is measured has changed a lot in the intervening 40 years; unemployment is probably a little bit worse now than it was then, but not by much. Employment is at its highest ever, pretty much right now.  Nobody would deny there were tough times in the 80s and 90s, but we really are enjoying a jobs boom here.  Let's not talk even about the strikes.

A topic frequently returned-to at C@W is the price of housing.  Nobody can deny that house prices have soared compared with income.  There are many causes: rent de-control, tax reforms, the general build-up of capital in the economy; and yet owner-occupation was only 54% in 1981.  Our heroic 1970s "average earner" was emphatically not racing up the property ladder. It has never been easy to buy a house, but outside the south-east doing so is now more affordable than it has been since John Major left office.

Foreign travel has blossomed - we spend four times as much abroad as we did in 1979, we have shiny gadgets coming out of our ears, a hugely wider choice of things to do in our spare time, and live generally much healthier lives. The UK's cultural industries are booming. Even the coffee is better.

State schools are some of the best in the country.  We have the best demographics in Europe. We have Europe's economic and cultural capital.  

Nobody talks about managed decline or the "brain drain" any more. So, hopefully you are now persuaded that we've never had it so good. No wonder so many people want to make this island their home, to make a go of it, to enjoy a life that would be impossible in many, many other parts of the world. Yes, we need more housing and infrastructure, of course. Nobody would argue that we don't have any problems. But give me 2015 over pretty much any earlier year.

39 comments:

Electro-Kevin said...

I'm glad you're happy, Blue.

But we don't talk about 'brain drain' because it alludes to another taboo subject.

Clearly one has definitely happened - otherwise we wouldn't be stealing medics from the third world and wouldn't have shortages of other skills. That ours have gone to selective countries tells us which has the better of the deal.

There is no excuse for unpointed immigration. There is no excuse for us not having a vote on whether or not we allow such drastic changes to our home land.

You may be happy with the situation but it is quite clear that the majority are not.

Only an eternally optimistic person could be satisfied having qualified as a lawyer being trapped in a flat built for a labourer.

Me ?

I preferred the '70s. My favourite decade was second half of the '80s merging into the early '90s. When I bought a lovely three bed house easily on a conductor's wage in a nice area within easy reach of Euston. We then had what seemed the right population levels and were still distinctively British. I do not believe that exists any more and I would feel at risk of breaching some law or another if I expressed any sort of unauthorised patriotism... even if I still felt it.

No one is against immigration if it is controlled. No one is against blacks or whatever if we all share a common humanity and sense of fair play.

Frankly though, I'm disappointed that you are so shallow. You seem to have been bought with a few baubles. To me my country is far more important than mere materialism.

And I'd sooner be poor and with some of our old values and institutions still intact than what I think is coming - soon.

Sell your crummy, overpriced flat (you would have had FAR better 20 years ago) for as much as you can rob someone for it and get your papers for Canada, Oz or anwywhere else that's sensible enough to value its own culture more than we do ours.

Electro-Kevin said...
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Steven_L said...

The thing about 20%+ inflation BE is this - wages went up too. Now I'm not saying it wasn't bad for the economy or for a lot of people. I'm not saying the short-term hit was any fun for consumers. But if (like for instance my old man) you had taken on a big mortgage, it basically paid it off for you. He reckons those big bouts of inflation in the 70's and 80's inflation was the best things that ever happened to him.

On housing, in the 70's it wasn't as easy to get a mortgage as it was in the 90's/00's. People were still coming around to the idea of taking on a 25 year loan I know you wrote that nonsense about a build up of capital causing house price inflation (as opposed to a build up of debt) just to make folk bite, you're brighter than that, so I'll leave it at that.

Personally I'm not sure I'd want to take on a massive 25 year loan so I could own a pokey little apartment. But I quite fancy one of those new Cybershot cameras you can shoot 960fps video on. It'll be a right hoot to film some mickey mouse cricket next season in super-slo-mo and edit it up on my apple to look like professional coverage with scorecards, players averages etc. Sony are doing 0% tick too.

Electro-Kevin said...

Ditto Stephen on mortgages. Further:

"when better to discuss than with net migration to the UK is at its highest ever level?"

A) It's not over yet, Blue. This is just the beginning.

"...even manages to get Saint Margaret off the hook for the Poll Tax"

A) She was never on the hook for it. 50 odd million people DIDN'T riot over it.

"In 1975, the inflation rate reached 27%."

A) What Stephen said. Housing is not included in this figure.

"The mines were costing £1bn a year in subsidy. No wonder people were leaving in droves for sunnier, less-traumatic climes."

A) They still are being subsidised (in the form of estates without fathers) and people are emigrating to less-traumatic climes.

"Unemployment reached 4% when the Tories launched their famous election poster."

A) Are you including NEETS and students staying in 'day care' on useless degrees until 21 ?

"Nobody would deny there were tough times in the 80s and 90s, but we really are enjoying a jobs boom here. Let's not talk even about the strikes."

A) A job then meant full time work with pension and annual leave. No way would a trainee barista or office clerk have been classified as an apprentice.

"A topic frequently returned-to at C@W is the price of housing. Nobody can deny that house prices have soared compared with income. There are many causes: rent de-control, tax reforms, the general build-up of capital in the economy; and yet owner-occupation was only 54% in 1981. Our heroic 1970s "average earner" was emphatically not racing up the property ladder. It has never been easy to buy a house, but outside the south-east doing so is now more affordable than it has been since John Major left office."

A) No mention of immigration. A serious omission. More houses were council and were truly affordable and there was no obsession with owning then. We did not go around coveting each other's houses.

"Foreign travel has blossomed - we spend four times as much abroad as we did in 1979, we have shiny gadgets coming out of our ears, a hugely wider choice of things to do in our spare time, and live generally much healthier lives. The UK's cultural industries are booming. Even the coffee is better."

A) No one denies things aren't getting better too. Though obesity was not nearly so endemic as it is now. I am glad to see the back of cigarette smoke in transport.

"State schools are some of the best in the country."

A) Yet social mobility has stalled. Grammar schools were far more effective for this.

"We have the best demographics in Europe."

A) Then let's not spoil it with a further influx of mass immigration

"We have Europe's economic and cultural capital."

A) I prefered it when it was still British.

"Nobody talks about managed decline or the "brain drain" any more."

A) As previously answered. There is flight going on. Daytime TV shows are even dedicated to it.


"So, hopefully you are now persuaded that we've never had it so good."

A) Keep taking the pills. Unfortunately for me I'm on a strict D&A policy.

"No wonder so many people want to make this island their home, to make a go of it, to enjoy a life that would be impossible in many, many other parts of the world."

A) Get rid of welfare. You can either have open borders or you can have welfare. If you combine the both then you can never know the true motives of people coming here.

"Yes, we need more housing and infrastructure, of course. Nobody would argue that we don't have any problems. But give me 2015 over pretty much any earlier year."

A) I disagree. I'd go back to 1997 and emigrate. And if you had kids you might be thinking exactly the same way as I do.




That the country is run against the general will to satisfy a metropolitan minority sums up a lot that is wrong with it.

Blue Eyes said...

I knew you would like it, EK.

If everyone hates the way things are going, I wonder why they re-elected the incumbent party with an increased number of seats four months ago?

Dick the Prick said...

Well, that could have been because Labour were unelectable - not exactly voting Tory but voting against the other guy.

Blue Eyes said...

Yup. But what about this huge majority we keep hearing about, who are totally fed up with the country going to the dogs in a handcart? The party pandering to their views ought to have walked in. In fact they have the same number of MPs as the Greens... and the one MP they do have isn't particularly anti-immigration.

Sackerson said...

I think E-K is entirely correct. And the return of a "Conservative" government is no proof of anything, other than an electoral system so flawed and skewed that it is scarcely fit for purpose. We pay the PM and his chums to control situations, and for the benefit of those in this country: failure on both counts.

Blue Eyes said...

A flawed electoral system which people voted to keep by a factor of 2:1 five years ago in a national referendum. Yeah, the voice of the people is being suppressed, SUPPRESSED!

They are getting a vote on EU membership in 2017. Presumably this is further evidence that voters' wishes are ignored, IGNORED!

Sackerson said...

BE: hysteria, hectoring and sarcasm will not work. The two main parties colluded to propagandise for the status quo that suited them, and were assisted by most of the media. Electoral participation rates in recent years are telling their own story.

Electro-Kevin said...

Blue said "I knew you would like it, EK."

And "People voted Tory so they must be satisfied with Tory mass immigration policy" or to that effect.

I like very much that you confirm EXACTLY what I said over and over in the run up to the general election. "Don't vote Tory or they will take this as a mandate for more mass immigration"

And so they have. Thank you for confirming.

An issue you missed from the 1970s crises. Britain survived them as a nation. We had the strength and cohesiveness to get through it.

No rioting or looting in the blackouts. No cities on fire.

I doubt very much we could hold together as a civilsed nation in the next economic downturn. Not one that meant REAL '70s hardships and deprivation - so unlike the faux austerity of this decade.

In fact all that will be needed is to continue with record levels of uncontrolled immigration whilst going ahead with planned cut backs. Heaven forfend anything else strikes us in the meantime.

And you've put yourself at the centre of it all, Blue.

In an earlier thread I said I hoped you were right about all this. And I still hope you are. But hope is something I do when I'm very worried. And at this time I most definitely am.









Electro-Kevin said...
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Electro-Kevin said...

The vote on EU membership (in or out) is focussed on entirely the wrong thing.

It should be:

"Do we scrap the British government or do we leave the EU ?"

So long as we remain in the EU then the UK Parliament is a dishonest and entirely surplus construct. A facade to give the appearance of democratic continuity. Just as Radio 2 playing the soporiphic Queen day in day out is there to lull White Van Man in to a sense that all is well and nothing is changing beneath his feet.

We do not need a government if we are no longer a country. We are no a country if we have no border.

The Tories should understand these principles above all others when it comes to worker obsolescence and outsourcing - they are masters at saying to the little people 'On yer bikes !' on the grounds of false economics.

Sebastian Weetabix said...

We have the best demographics in Europe? Do we fuck. We have large numbers of hostile colonists who are out-breeding the locals.

In the 1970s we controlled our borders, we could defend ourselves, we built our own goods, you could buy a house, the standard of living was increasing, we had secure employment with good pensions, there was no drug resistant TB or AIDS, antibiotics still worked, hospitals were clean and there was not an atmosphere of incipient gang violence in the suburbs of big cities. Ok, on the negative side we had the National Front, the IRA and we didn't have iPads or as many good restaurants, but even the music was better. Now we are allowing deranged muslim mentalists, aided and abetted by left wing traitors, subverting our country.

Three decades of cheap credit have been a bankers ramp, and as successive governments have had no industrial policy and allowed our industries to be disembowelled we now live in a sharecropper economy.

Jer said...

One thing that was much better in the 80's at least.

Our foreign policy wasn't just to do whatever imbecility the US requested, and I don't see DC having the sainted Margaret's resolve over matters such as the Falklands.

Money isn't everything.

Bill Quango MP said...

I'm reading Andy McSmith's book on the 1980s.
No such thing as society.
Not bad .. for a lefty. But its not in Sandbrook's league. Which,at only 300 pages, it doesn't pretend to be. Each 'epoch event' only has about 15 pages dedicated to it.

The thing that really, really strikes me about the 1980s is it all seems so ...ANCIENT.
The attitudes. The ideas. The political ideology. The technology. The sectarian violence.Race riots. Country breaking strikes. The Media. Music. The financial sector. The NHS. Education. Celebrities .. all very old fashioned.

Looking back from this vantage point we can see it as the transition that it was. A 1960's style social transformation from the 19th century industrial past into the millennium era.

why would we want it back ?

hatfield girl said...

'Let's not talk even about the strikes.' A pity because one of the common problems both in the seventies and now is the use or threat of strikes. The UK continues to have a strike problem in that widespread policy decisions can be forced upon the public and their constitutional political representatives by small, self-selecting groups, often with objectives clearly outside the reasonable aims of workers' wages and conditions.

The spectacular example of this was the miners' strikes. The most recent has been the delay in introducing a night service on the London underground. In between we have suffered gross social disruption from school closures, health service withdrawals, etc. The unconstitutional use of the control of organised labour and the urgent reconstruction and re-regulation of employer/employee relations should be top of the agenda for any government.

Blue Eyes said...

Give me a Nissan Qashqai over and Austin Allegro any day of the week.

HG I did not mention strikes because I thought the improvement was self-evident. What is that phrase about making assumptions?

Strikes on the transport network are hugely disruptive, but we notice them now because strikes overall are so rare. The number of days lost to strikes is something like 1/1000 as many now as in the 70s.

Great comments all. BQ I'll get you a Babycham at the next C@W drinks...

Enemy of the Hero said...

Can I congratulate everyone posting on this subject - it is one of the best for some time? Well played, and thanks.

CityUnslicker said...

Interesting. So the hard point accept is that everything gets better and worse at exactly the same time; meaning we can only have a relative view of events and we need to look back from 20 years from now to determine if it was good.

Another issue is that we all have a bias to loving life when we were 18-30. Becuase we got laid, had fun, had friends and were not too scared of the world and had little responsibilty. Also our footie teams may have been good then.

It is also easy to always say this it the best of times and there is an apocalpyse due at 4.45 tomorrow. It rarely happens, but it does occasionally (those Syrian refugees used to have homes, with cars and kids at school not unlike the UK, economically it was a near developed country).

Personally, the housing and immigration thing skew it for me. The elder generation lived in houses and we live it shit next to it - I can't see what they did to out earn us, because it does not exist. Immigration is a key cause here as with the rapidly expanding population demand has outstripped supply for nearly 2 decades now - that is without NIMBY planning failure.

But now we have ipads and mobile phones, which are very cool things indeed. So some things are better, but others in decline. The sad thing is with more gumption we can fix the decline, but that is lacking in our politicians and voters alike.

dearieme said...

Many of the schools have gone to hell, and so have many of the universities. Since you can't measure that by using faked-up exam results many people would like to ignore it.

A decade ago an old friend, a Dean of Faculty at one of my old universities, urged me not to visit on the grounds that it might break my heart. When I suggested that he was in a position of authority, and asked why he didn't do something about it, he just groaned.

Electro-Kevin said...
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Electro-Kevin said...
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Electro-Kevin said...

Blue - The only problem with our Allegro was that IT WOULD NOT DIE.

Ditto many of the 50-year-old BR locos still in service today.

Electro-Kevin said...

Hatfield Girl - Hi. I can highly recommend the ASLEF blog called ASLEF Shrugged. This is the TFL driver's forum.

It gives some good detail as to what this dispute is about. Drivers and staff are already working nights. The walk outs were precipitated by management giving the unions only six hours to put an offer to the membership vote. Unions can't possibly work this fast on agreements and management knows it.

The belief is that it was management that didn't really want Night Tube and it was forced on them by Boris Johnson. Why wouldn't they want it ? Because it's when their rolling stock goes in for servicing and washing and when the tracks are blocked for engineering and inspection. It would be a real embuggerance for them to run services through the night. Hence the deliberately hamfisted negotiations to force the unions into stopping the project rather than them.

That aside. In think a fifty percent rule on strikes would be a good thing for the reasons you state as the vast majority of workers are not militant or political - certainly not in ASLEF.

Blue Eyes said...

Sorry, but those nationalised cars were shite. The Datsuns of the era were cheaper and better, even though they had to get over huge tariff walls and quotas at the time. We had an Allegro followed by a Morris Ital. They were crap. My school friends had Beemers, Mercs, even effing Renaults and they were better.

CU there is a lot in what you say about stages of life.

As people seem to want to bring my personal success or lack thereof into this discussion let me give you a little update. My mortgage interest (rent) is 20% of my net salary. I am in the process of halving that, hopefully. Is property expensive?

I could easily afford to buy a nice house outside the SE. I could easily get a job with the same as my London salary in York or Manchester or some miserable Midlands shitehole, and live like an effing king. I could commute from Zone 4 from a perfectly pleasant four-bed semi. Is property expensive?

The thing is, I don't want to live in Greater Bumblefuck. I don't need a four-bed house. So you can keep belittling my choices all you like. Maybe my flat *was* designed for "labourers" or whatever passé class-descriptor you want. It is a generously-sized flat witha spars bedroom within walking distance of the middle of one of the world's great cities. Please excuse me if I don't feel sad or loserish at living here.

As for the generational thing, yes, people who bought in the 70s, 80s and 90s did very well. But it was by no means guaranteed. Up until the mid 1980s houses in London were worth less than their reconstruction cost. London was deemed to be in terminal decline. It has turned around beyond all reasonable expectation.

We don't build anything any more? Sorry if you grew up dreaming of mining coal or smelting steel. If you are prepared to educate yourself and work hard the career opportunities for a youngster now are miles better than 30-40 years ago.

So bollocks to all this miserablism. I think some of you actually enjoy being fed up.

Bill Quango MP said...

It was a sad day when my sisters 1884 Toyota starlet was so reliable she didn't need a works manual. Twice the economy. Thrice the space. Three times the comfort and only two thirds the price new of my third hand MGB.
The MGB looked better of course. And no one wants a Toyota starlet these days. But the Toyota was a way way better car.

andrew said...


I think many people mix up the feeling that "things could be better now" with "things were better then".

My teenage years were 75-85 in east london.
In the late 70s casual racism was not just accepted, but expected. My friends used to beat up the brother of someone who was gay for just that reason. The lights really did go out sometimes. Holidays were to great yarmouth or my aunts in mersea. Everything was grubby and dirty and broken. Women were second class citizens.
These were also the years of widescale police corruption, 'fitting up' anyone who looked 'dodgy'. Football violence was widespread as was street fighting - particulary between different schools.
There was political and institutional corruption that is coming out now (saville). Mentally ill people were locked up in bad conditions pretty much for ever.

Life may be relatively less privileged now if you are white and male (me), but I would never want to go back to how things were.

Electro-Kevin said...

I didn't say the Allegro wasn't crap, Blue.

It just wouldn't die !

And I could fix whatever went wrong with it by the road side. Ditto for my Skoda Estelle which I was given. Brilliant car ! I once ran it for 30 miles without water in it. There was no need to take the engine out as the whole back stripped off it.

Charlie said...

London really isn't the centre of the universe. I should know, I was brought up in Islington and now live in Muswell Hill. My parents were teachers. They own a ridiculously large Victorian semi with a back garden the size of a football pitch. In Islington. They're TEACHERS! I'm in my mid-30s and earn well into six figures in the city. Even I couldn't even hope to ever live in a property like my parents, let alone pay off the mortgage.

Yes, there is shiny-shiny and the supermarkets are open 24/7. But someone was stabbed in the face on the high street last weekend, a youth kicked my dog in the head in the park yesterday and threatened to kill me when I remonstrated with him and his chum, and the car was keyed in the street last month.

So not, it's not all brilliant right now.

And anyone who thinks London is the best city in the world needs to do some more travelling with all that disposable income.

Electro-Kevin said...

Keep in with Ma 'n' Pa, Charlie.

Downgrade to a Skoda Estelle and a pitbull - neither pretty but both indestructable.

lilith said...

Even I could fix my Allegro. And no it wouldn't die. Drove it for a year without a radiator cap. (Stopped the headgasket blowing). Finally written off when wiper motor gave up.

Electro-Kevin said...

Datsuns were better, according to Blue, Lilith.

All I remember of those was rust and filler. Nothing like being told how things were by someone who was obviously too young to remember, eh ?

Electro-Kevin said...

... and BR.

As a Tory voting BR veteran I'll tell you this. I was working 13 in 14 days to make a living wage. I also covered a wider range of routes and tractions. We were the most productive and least subsidised network in the EU.

Privatisation was brilliant for my wages though. Richard Branson caused our pay to double over night by setting the pace with Virgin Trains.

Counting down to pension now...

I'd give it all up to have my country back.

lilith said...

Datsuns returned to the earth really fast. When I first met Elby he was driving a brick coloured one that was originally blue before the rust took over. Never see them at classic car rallies do you 😊

adham said...



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adham said...



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adham said...



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نقل العفش والتخزين

adham said...


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