Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Declinism



An extended quote from Robert Tombs' The English and Their History: The First Thirteen Centuries. I hope he will not object, especially if it comes with a recommendation to buy and read the whole thing.

...declinism, ignoring the experience of other countries, focuses on a deeply pessimistic view of postwar England's weakness contrasted with a grossly overblown image of its earlier power. Victorian hegemony, real though it was, always had its limits - there was something in the complaint that Britain had been a third-rate power with a great empire... 

The fact is the the power of the empire, real when it could be mobilised, had been mostly taken up by defending itself...
If we take a longer view, distribution of power and wealth in the modern world has been remarkably stable. When Britain emerged as a significant force, after the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713, it was the smallest and yet most global of the world's half-dozen or so most powerful states, alongside China, India, Russia, Germany (the Holy Roman Empire) and France. It occupies a similar position three centuries later. The change in the world has not been the decline in Britain, but the post-1941 rise of America, which in wealth and military power outdistanced not only Britain, but every other state. 
Nor has England declined economically: by the late 1950s and 1960s it was of course richer than ever. The change has been that a few other countries have caught up. This is not a quibble, but a fundamental difference of analysis, as catching up with the pioneers is a normal feature of economic modernization, as developing countries attract foreign investment and import the latest technology. England remains, as in 1713, among the richest countries in the world - in 2008, among populous countries, the United Kingdom was second only to the United States in gross per capita income. 
Declinism has been our national narrative for several generations, a chorus of lamentation in a lucky country where life is safer, longer and more comfortable than ever in history. What would happen to our view of the past, and the present, if we abandoned this historical fit of the vapours? Surely it would permit a calmer, more rational analysis of our situation and our needs.

35 comments:

Electro-Kevin said...

"Surely it would permit a calmer, more rational analysis of our situation and our needs."

Well we have been calm and rational in our analysis.

We were patient and polite in a long and peaceful democratic process that eventually allowed us to officially declare that we think the best way to preserve our 'luck' is to leave the EU and secure our borders.

There is a clear decline in home ownership, GP registration and school placement. There is also a decline in earnings and the government have just had to impose a minimum wage to prevent a race to the bottom (this is not through good will but for the fact that the impact of mass immigration would become even more vote-losingly obvious without it.)

These are recent facts.

There is surprisingly little alarmism in our country but there is real decline and one feels as though one is aboard a top heavy luxury liner in roughening seas.

Bill Quango MP said...

I don't agree with decline in recent years EK. We have declined since 2010 all the way back to a maximum of 2005.
You could buy a house in 1973, if you could get a mortgage. But the possessions to fill it were very expensive. Tvs were rented, remember. owning one was a luxury for the rich. I remember people renting a TV {Rumbellows anyone?} well into the 1980s. Video recorders were the equivalent of thousands of pounds. A PC was £2,000.

I've cited it before, but, when I first worked in clothing in 1991, an average, everyday, pair of jeans was £30. £30 at 1990 prices.
You will recall mother EK yelling herself sick when you put your knee through your trousers. Because clothing was very expensive. Food was expensive. Fuel was expensive.

The discount clothing chains were just getting going.
but even then a basic pair of trousers couldn't be had for less than £10. That was a bargain price. Today, same stuff, in primark, is still £15/ £5 inflation in 25 years.

Paint, wood. Plants. Baths, sofas, kettles, are all far cheaper in real terms than they used to be, or have ever been. We are better off than even our parents, who were definitely raking it in in global terms.

A model T ford was £850. About £25,000 today. That was the cheapest car available going into WW1. if you don't like that then consider this.
The launderette of eastenders was there because only half of homes had a washing machine in the 1980s. There were 12500 launderettes in the mid 1980s. Less than 3000 today.
The USA has had electric washing machines and electric fridge as a standard 'modern item' since the 1950s.

Electro-Kevin said...

BQ - None of that matters.

I wasn't one to ever say "The state of Britain today" until about ten years ago. Well, longer. The end of the Major era, I suppose.

I understand that things get better and worse at the same time.

We are clearly in decline and I list again:

Housing, schools, hospitals, doctors - and pay would be too were it not for the glass bottom of minimum wage, so that those jeans might feel just as expensive.

Sorry to be miserablist.

The decline is recent and to those affected it is dramatic.

My son (soon to be at medical school to train to be a doctor) will be unlikely to afford anything like the lifestyle our generation could unless he trains to be a consultant - even then...

He may have the shiny toys and the clothes (as do plenty of refugees) but he won't have the home.

Blue Eyes said...

So let's build some more houses.

Dick the Prick said...

@EK - well done to the lad, bravo. What's the other up to?

Nick Drew said...

Declinism - there are a couple of things going on here we might want to unpack**.

So**.

1. Relative national standing: OK, we are no longer Top Nation but not much change there since 1946. These things are not just a matter of population, so India (which really can't get its shit together - a product of the caste system or something) ain't overtaking anyone for a bit. But we will increasingly be jostling with the Brazils and the Nigerias. This takes decades, or longer.

Nor are we yet going the way of Denmark/Portugal/Spain/Holland - not while we have the UN veto and Trident and the Special Relationship (which really matters: trust an old soldier on this). Leaving the EU helps, whatever Obama said. But if GB becomes England ... the 'Spain' scenario must be more of a possibility, over time.

2. Economic & personal well-being: an endless debating point. Who can call the relative merits of having a smartphone at the age of 10 versus being a property owner at the age of 25? Of being kept alive through half a dozen previously fatal medical conditions so as to be shepherded into dementia at the age of 90? Hey, it's just change. Which leads onto ...

3. The Good Old Times: was there ever an age when (some) people didn't very loudly bemoan how shit life has become since, well, since when they were a kid, and everyone showed Proper Respect? I think we can read this stuff in every ancient text we have.

And finally:

4. Getting Older: once you tip over some particular point in your life, personally you are slowing up, and your days of (e.g.) being an active participant in exciting things like 'During The War' or the rugby club are more-or-less over. For a lot of people this hurts - and colours everything for them. Fair enough: but shouldn't really be extrapolated.

The end. (Or, as it happens, not the end ...)

**I am in full didactic mode here.

Electro-Kevin said...

Dick the Prick - The first twin did IB so his results came out early (a med school application takes years of strategic planning btw.) The second twin has done A levels and has three Russell Group offers (one only 3 Bs) to study Chemistry straight to MSc over 4 years. He wants to be a proper Doctor, so he says (sibling joshing.) He's nervy at the moment as he's a last minute merchant and thinks he may have flunked his first choice. I'd put money that he hasn't - the lad always turns up good, except on driving tests (x3 to date ! Vv 'spensive.)

Electro-Kevin said...

Blue - Yes. Build more houses - but the demand side has to be stemmed or the problem never gets solved.

Nick - I'm in dadactic mode. I look at how good my lads are going to have to be and it scares me stiff. The pressure on local resources was totally unecessary and I'd swap having an iphone at 10 for having a decent, affordable home (rented or owned) at 25 any day of the week.

Nor can my lads afford to run a car. The insurance is nearly £3000 a year. More than they could save in the jobs they're doing now. (Sailing instructor/Weatherspoons cook.)

No way was my life as hard as that. This decline is in one generation.

I keep my mouth shut but I'd advise them not to have kids.

I expect they won't need telling. Alas another reason for the decline to accelerate.

Electro-Kevin said...

Well - insurance not quite that high but well in excess of £2k. (My first insurance was 1 month's pay - not 2-3 as it is now.)

Dick the Prick said...

@EK - ha ha ha - if the driving test is the only fly in the ointment then that's fantastic. Well done to you two too for raising such wonderful lads. All the best with his results. So what - you'll be skint for another few years - we can come here and theorise about money we haven't got!! Nah, seriously - i'm ever so impressed :-)

Anonymous said...

Was it normal for someone who works part time in a pub kitchen to run a car, say 20-25 years ago? Seems unlikely to me. Also, running cars has been deliberately made more expensive as the actual cars have become cheaper. It is not a sign of unmitigated disaster.

As for housing, was there ever really a genuine expectation of being a first time buyer at 25? For people with graduate careers? Maybe there was for "skilled" people who had already been in their middle-earning jobs for several years, but for most graduates these days by 25 they have been learning the ropes for a whopping three years.

When I feel like a good whinge about housing costs coming on my mum and her friends (older than you, EK, and therefore from an even more golden era) tell me to quit my moaning. When they moved to London they crammed into crappy bedsits, shared rooms in shared flats, had no space nor privacy, etc. etc.. Admittedly these flats were in areas we now regard as smart. But they would not have expected their own rooms.

My mum bought when she was in her early 30s, with help from her family. In the apparently blessed mid-70s. My dad bought because he had help from his mum. Have things really changed that much for the worse?

I read recently that the median age for a first time buyer has crept up to 33, from 31 ten years ago (general gist, may not be remembered totally accurately).

Younger people have far more opportunities than previous generations had. How many baby boomers took years off? I go on long haul holidays without even thinking about it.

It sounds to me as though your kids are doing very well indeed. Enjoy it. They will have good interesting careers and very pleasant lives whatever they choose to do.

Steven_L said...

So 'stuff' (not a monopoly, safety and standardisation regulation, but very little if any bureaucratic rationing or price controls) has gotten much better and cheaper ...

... where 'land' (a natural monopoly, supply by bureaucratic rationing, government price controls/manipulation on the means to purchase it - credit) has gotten much more expensive.

Well there's a surprise! Of course most people's houses are worth less now than in 2007 when you value them in US dollars, Euros, Yen or pretty much any other currency. It's a giant swiz, and your typical punter is only too happy to fall for it.

Basically, what is happening is that we are becoming more leveraged. Public sector credit has replaced private sector credit. Debt just keeps growing faster than GDP. If £debt creation came to £GDP growth levels there would be a recession. 'They' (despite wanting to) can't stop this or put it into reverse because there will be a depression (like in Greece). All they can do it keep managing interest rates lower and keep printing more money to ease the burden.

Eventually, to keep thing going they will have to submit to a deep depression, allow massive inflation/devaluation to take place or (if everyone agrees) forge an international agreement to fix exchange rates.

Electro-Kevin said...

Anon - Sorry, a cost of £2k car insurance would hit me hard - on my wages now ! I was calculating pro-rata on full time kitchen wages btw. Considered a good, steady job 'round 'ere.

I funded a car as a trainee quantity surveyor (glorified office clerk.) I didn't just say 'buying' a home but affording one as I could at 25.

As I see it wages have remained static for a good decade and costs have increased. Particularly housing.

Such a pity.

We seemed well on course to sustainable, realistic wealth - but then that didn't suit the Labour Party as it took its job away. So it re-stocked its client base with mass immigration.

My point (which seems to be missed) is not that things are any worse than our parents' or grandparents' era (of course not) but that they are worse than mine - that we had things right for a while and now they are in decline.

Am I a declinist just imagining this ? Or is it for real. Well let's consider this:

- the first house I bought (on a single wage 30% monthly salary) I could not afford now. It would now cost me 8x my salary (which many argue is overpaid) which is boosted by inflation maintaining wage rises and promotions from the grade when I bought the house. It is in a non-salubrious part just inside the M25.

Around this area I might just afford a similar house but my repayments would take up 60% of my London linked salary - in an area where Weatherspoons cook is considered a reasonable job.

We are in decline, there is not doubt. We are still in a fortunate position (for which I am truly grateful) but (and a big but) we have yet to see where it stops.

Electro-Kevin said...

Dick - Thanks. We surrounded them by the right peer groups and role models by choosing a great school and showed them nourishing things like outdoorsy stuff, reading and museums. I think Omega 3 helped too. The rest they do themselves - I could only put up the funds to support it as most things are beyond my intellect and ability.

We are seriously indebted to other people - especially teachers and youth leaders.

Wifey (a former executive PA and Systems Analyst) was really good at organising the extra curricular stuff that was needed to build CVs and garner good interview experiences - and kicking their arses when they needed it.

Bill Quango MP said...

Anon: slightly arguing against what I said earlier, but it was absolubtely the norm for 17/18 year olds to have their own transport.

We wrote about it a few years ago.

http://www.cityunslicker.co.uk/2014/10/teenage-kicks.html

I could, just, afford my weekly train fare, car, and shared bedsit room, on my lowly first job wage. But that did mean beans on toast and cheest sandwiches all week.

On the plus side for today, Interest rates have been half a percent for seven years.
On my first owned flat {at 25 years old- with the girlfriend} rates shot up to 17% for a while - Then fell back to the more normal 12%.
They didn't begin coming down to the 5/6% new normal until the late 1990s.

Nick Drew said...

I'd swap having an iphone at 10 for having a decent, affordable home (rented or owned) at 25

OK, Kev, but would a teenager?

Some would cheerfully trade the internet back for a return to National Service / closed shop in every factory / [insert your Golden Age fantasy of choice]

but I wouldn't

Barnacle Bill said...

@ EK Well done with your two lads, a credit to you & Mrs EK.

I fully agree with what you are saying, especially when I look at the lifestyle my two daughters (29 & 27yrs) can afford in compariosn to what I had about their ages.

I did own my own house at twenty-five, also I was running a SWB Land Rover and could afford to go out on a week-end. Nowadays my two daughters and their respective families are depended upon the Bank of Dad to help fund what to them are luxuries. Yet at their age I was taking those same things for granted.

As for my grandson's futures - I despair for them.

Dick the Prick said...

@EK - on the upside though - you get your house / lives back - what on earth are you gonna do with yourselves? I'm sure it'll be a bit more emotional than you expect but, seriously, knowing that they're both doing proper degrees at decent universities has been an amazing hope of parenting to which you've both succeeded and should give a source of great satisfaction. Also, knowing that they're on the cusp of the most wonderful few years of their lives may perhaps raise a smile. My university time was by far the most fun a man can have with friendships forged for a lifetime.

I've just turned 41 and have had pretty decent jobs since college and have been single now for a few years and yet this is the first time in my life I feel rich. I bought my house late - about 30 - and that was perhaps more out of compulsion due to house inflation than a specific desire.

I liked what Theresa had to say about inequalities - sure, we can scoff at Picketty and the York Uni Spirit Level chaps but there are significant metrics to support the notion that disparities have become entrenched and need revision. I'm not specifically talking fiscal rescheduling but decent industrial, housing, education etc strategies that aren't just point scoring, short termist policies to triangulate political point scoring. Our politicians have been so fucking weak, well - since Major I guess - that declinism has been a function of our expectations - we don't expect to have anything approaching decent or even good leadership. I dunno - i'm more optimistic than I have been for a while but i'm not sure I recognize it these days.

dearieme said...

"Thirteen centuries" my eye. England had only a fleeting and fragmentary existence until 1066. It was the Norman Yoke that made a sound and lasting England.

dearieme said...

"Tvs were rented, remember. owning one was a luxury for the rich."

Oh balls. My then gf, a penurious research student, bought a lovely little black-and-white Italian telly for precious little. It served very well for years.

Blue Eyes said...

Similarly to DTP, I am now feeling much more comfortable than a few years ago. My mortgage is easily affordable, I have money to save and spend. I enjoy my job. I have upgraded my flat and have a good chunk of equity in it.

Pace BQ, I think we should not forget that we are still in the shadow of the mother of all financial crises. Maybe it is unrealistic to expect that things should be as easy as they were in the run-up to it.

My main aim with this strain of thinking is to try and persuade people that not everything is utterly awful, which is how some people seem to see the world when they visit this site and others. You see it all the time on comments sections: people believing they are experiencing the end of days.

Overall, Britain is an amaxing place to live, work, bring up kids. There are few places better. And it is difficult to argue that there were better places in the past.

Yes, we have a significant problem with housing but we can solve it with a bit of thought and a lot less moaning.

Blue Eyes said...

Dearime, really it is a very good book.

Electro-Kevin said...

Thanks Dick 'n' Bill.

Nick & BQ - Starting from scratch (no benefit of hindsight) would you swap a young self of yesterday for a new self starting over today and bet on being as well off by the end of it all ? I know I wouldn't.

Anonymous said...

Back to the subject and a possible new slogan for our Olympics sports stars and football team.

Yes we came last but when looked at in terms of "declinism" we are looking pretty good.

Trebles all round and bonuses for all.

Blue Eyes said...

Hmm, did you miss the London Games? Team GB did rather well. Oh, and it was regarded as the best games in recent decades.

Off with your negative head!

Nick Drew said...

would you swap a young self of yesterday for a new self starting over today

that's an interesting one Kev, I haven't ever given it thought. I know I would have loved to have www access as a student (for plagiarism! haha) because I go trawling on 'academic' subjects whenever I get a block of free time and it's just wunnerful what's freely available there

on the other side of that coin, I maintain strong links with my university and know for a fact today's students have less fun than we did in the overall social sense: they all say it whenever we get to swapping stories and it really seems to be true (they are really oppressed by the 'generation wuss' PC crap - esp. the ones who are free spirits)

the army seems a bit different these days - mostly because (a) smaller and (b) very different enemy: but as far as I can tell it's substantially the same (and has been since Kipling's time!) (+/- women)

in terms of 'as well off', if you mean £££ I really don't know. Personally I benefitted greatly from a good stint at a large company to learn about business at someone else's expense, before heading off into entrepreneurial activity - because I'm a slow learner. The opportunities for that approach may be somewhat less these days (though not zero: I know a great lad who did 5 years @ google before setting up on his own, and is doing good stuff). But for anyone who can grasp quickly how to make a go of the entrepreneurialist thing, the opportunities are much greater now

Plus, the starting salaries in the City (which, incidentally, I've never worked in) are now mind-blowing, and I might well have done that: I know loads of kids who are doing just that, and they ain't short for a bob or two

just a few off-the-top-of-the-head musings: like I said, I've never thought about it before

anyhow, I like to think I'd give it a good hack, in whatever era

Bill Quango MP said...

Don'tknow EK - I never really got going until I was 23.
Had had poverty and riches both before that age. But it was then that I bought 1st house and got a 'sensible' job.
I much preferred the 1990s to the 1980s. Teen years the 1980s for me.

Electro-Kevin said...

http://www.zoopla.co.uk/for-sale/details/40656427?weekly_featured=1&utm_content=featured_listing#k3t8qVecmxQ525w8.97

I've read that the starting salaries in the city can be 50k and this is what 5x that gets you in Croydon for that.

A good start - but a horrible finish.

But what of those who can only dream of 50k in London (and that's the majority) ?

I view the situation through my own prism - the types of job I did, copper, surveyor, train driver and deem that I'd be a lot worse off starting out now in any of those paths.

Steven_L said...

I read that the Financial Ombudsman Service pays £50k for adjudicators. Had I known that I'd have applied many moons ago before local government made me terminally lazy and cynical.

Easy job that.

Thud said...

Being brought up in Liverpool money was pretty thin on the ground but with effort a good living was possible,I'd swop now for then though.

Dick the Prick said...

I'd defo swap Now for Then. I've done shed loads of interviews with Labourites and they haven't a clue about aspiration. It has taken me months to work out but I can understand why the PLP hates Corbyn.

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