Monday, 27 July 2020

Birmingham Post

A week or so ago we had some BTL exchanges on the relative, errr, merits & demerits of Liverpool and Manchester.  It so happened my attention was being drawn at that time to an interesting short account by one Ina Taylor** of how an individual poled up and subsequently thrived in Birmingham in the mid 19th C - at that time, not at all the Second City it was to become - his ability to succeed being attributed to the conducive conditions of Brum's dynamic nature at the time.  Her thesis is as follows:  
  • Brum was wholly a product of the Industrial Revolution; a 'new town', already a centre of manufacturing of many kinds:  as such, it was "free from the grip of the guilds and their rigid apprenticeships; success was open to anyone, irrespective of background, who had energy, foresight and capital"
  • at the time there were strict laws against Nonconformists (unitarians, quakers etc) from attending the universities; and so smart people from such backgrounds directed their talents towards industry and commerce
  • there was also legislation against Nonconformist clergymen from living within 5 miles of a Corporate Town: but Birmingham was not (yet) a Corporate Town!  It was thus a haven for dissenting clergy and their congregations; and there flourished such firms as Cadburys, Lloyds and GKN founded by such folk
That's the sort of social history that policy-makers need to know.  How do we encourage centres for dynamic new industries?  What are the 2020 parallels to guilds and dissenters; and what rules do we need to waive, in order to get the right people motoring?  (Is it freeports?)

Anyone got other good stories along these lines?  The best UK example of a genuinely deliberate attempt in such a direction was Canary Wharf and the London docklands in general.  I happened to know Geoffrey Howe quite well, and he had told me of his vision for Docklands even before the 1979 GE.  In many respects it was his greatest achievement.  These things can be done.

Surely, Australia ought to be carving out a prime chunk of its (immensely long) coastline for HongKong2 ...


** Introduction to The Edwardian Lady, by Ina Taylor


dearieme said...

About our recent discussion of the Fall of Rome:

Raedwald said...

Six hundred years before the ascendency of B'ham, guilds were the vehicle of rapid change and development - very different to what they would become. The 'guilds' of that mediaeval time of course was the feudal system, finally driven to its grave by the black death but in 1200 very much alive. Let me mention Dunwich, at one time one of England's largest ports, filled with wealth, a hotbed of capitalism (yes really).

Dunwich was a Charter town - a neat system by which a group of merchants could pay the King a wodge of cash to be free from their feudal lords and obligations, free to govern themselves, paying tax direct to the king. The feudal lords hated Charter towns and you can understand why - Dunwich's remarkable charter of 1215 survives, and includes the provision that "If moreover any bondman of anyone dwelling the aforesaid borough and hold land in the same and shall be in the aforesaid gil and hanse and at lot and scot with the same burgesses for a year and a day, henceforth he shall not be reclaimed by his lord but shall remain in the same borough as a free man". I bet there were a lot of nascent merchant venturers hiding out in that town - or maybe they were open, taunting their lords?

Women were not forgotten either - and this bit of the Charter is truly remarkable "And we have granted to the same burgesses that they may freely marry their daughters wherever they are able and may wish without the permission of anyone and that no one shall have any power to marry them without their consent neither during the lifetime of their fathers nor after their decease." Wow. Women's rights.

The Capitalism came with investment and risk sharing - the town grew rich on trade with the Hanse ports, Holland and France, but Cogs and their cargos were liable to seizure, piracy, caught up in war games, detained for debt against England. It was a risky business, and a merchant could lose his all in a single voyage - so they offset risk by investing in eachother's trade ventures. Spread the risk, enjoy the rewards. And this was where the guilds played a positive role - minimising the tax they paid direct to the King, keeping the hungry and increasingly poorer feudal lords at bay, dealing with pirates, imposts, forming foreign partnerships, clearing funds, primitive banking and so forth.

So what do Birmingham, Dunwich and the LDDC have in common? Well, there's a thread that links them all - freedom from the establishment, freedom from regulation, freedom to innovate, freedom to take risk, self-governing. And also - and I think this is important - Liberalism. Birmingham's dissenters, Dunwich's free women. You can no doubt think of many more.

And anyone looking for some summer reading, I heartily recommend Roland Parker's 'Men of Dunwich' - Abe books will find copies - a fantastic tale of the life and death of Dunwich, and a rich source of inspiration.

Raedwald said...

With apologies for a second bite, I think Parker also provides us with the earliest written evidence of capitalism - then, as now, merchants loved to play the law-game almost as much as kings loved to play the war-game, and records of these cases survive - including this one from 1233, as Parker recounts

"(he sued for) ‘six marks for a certain horse which he sold them; six marks which he paid to Robert de Cressy for a certain pledge; six marks which he invested for then as a share in a certain ship; and two marks which they owe him for the breakage of a certain ship, whereby he suffered loss to the extent of a hundred shillings. Evidently, then, merchants invested their money in other merchants‘ ventures. Whether the non- mercantile element of the population was also encouraged
or permitted by the rules of the Guild, to have a flutter I cannot say. A gamble was always a difficult thing to resist. But few gambles can have been more risky than to send a shipload of goods on a voyage of several hundred miles especially in winter. If one did win the prize was worth winning, but not dazzling. There is absolutely no comparison between these ventures of the Dunwich merchants and the glamorous - often over—glamourizcd - adventures of the merchants in the sixteenth century who sailed across the oceans in search of gold and silver.

These Dunwich men were 'comfortably well-off' but the work which earned them their substance was a humdrum ordinary work—a-day task, routine for the most part. The King and his advisers frequently behaved as though they thought the merchants were ‘made of money.’ Some merchants, in inland towns rather than in the ports, were very wealthy. Some merchants. even in Dunwich. were no doubt greedy, ruthless and arrogant, like many of the barons. Such evidence as there is however points to the existence in Dunwich at this date of a body of men as interested in the welfare (not social welfare as we understand it, mind you) of the town as in their own; recognising, of course, that the two were Complementary."

Sackerson said...

"At the time there were strict laws against Nonconformists (unitarians, quakers etc) from attending the universities; and so smart people from such backgrounds directed their talents towards industry and commerce": I think we may have a clue there as to how to proceed. Waste three years virtue-signalling and getting into debt, or build a business? Or is that too, too Philistine, my dear?

Elby the Beserk said...

dearieme said...
About our recent discussion of the Fall of Rome:

Yup. Everything aspect of the climate we witness we have witnessed before. Climate "science" long ago left science behind. There is ample evidence from all over the world that even during the Holocene it has been warmer than now (and we thrived - when the planet cooled, everything went to shit).

Great starter read for those actually interested in the science and not the politics is Rupert Darwall's "The Age of Global Warming: A History"

Anonymous said...

Australia/Hong Kong +1

E-K said...

Birmingham was perfect as a freight hub.

I've always feared the loss of corporations that took centuries to build up.

People like to be busy doing what they've been trained to do. Sadly many are trained in social sciences and are getting busy in social revolution.

A) It would be better to train people to do useful things, apprenticeships rather than soft degrees.

B) It would be better to incentivise productive people rather than to tax them

C) God knows who would want to start a business now knowing that the Government can shut in on a whim or impose the most inconsistent and illogical standards... face coverings or face masks ? It may seem petty but the difference is between a sincerely introduced policy or one that is bullshit, to satisfy shouty people. Either way it will impact small retail outlets negatively.

E-K said...

I doubt you will find many STEM grads, plumbers or electricians in a BLM demonstration.

andrew said...

One thing.

Cannot cite source but there was a study comparing different sizes of cities and average incomes in the cities ~18 months ago.
Compared Brimingham and Lyon (about same size people count and area)
Lyon had ~25% higher avg income
Turned out that the public transport system in Lyon is good and in Birmingham is less good to an extent that you cannot commute from one side of the city to the other. i.e. birmingham is not a 'usable' city.


For all cities, put in a reasonable public transport system

This has not damaged London.

Unknown said...

" apprenticeships rather than soft degrees."

Or a science, engineering or design degree with a major component of lab or workshop skills. This kind of course is very expensive to run, so has to be subsidised by the cheap chalk-and-talk subjects. You need excellent lab/workshop technicians as well as good lecturers and good students.

It's interesting to read in Rolt's biography of Isambard Brunel about his education, which strikes me as ideal. Note particularly the importance of drawing, which seems to be hardly taught at all in British schools. But Brunel was lucky in having a father who was a first class engineer.

Don Cox

YDG said...

RE: Don Cox @ 1:08 pm

"This kind of course is very expensive to run, so has to be subsidised by the cheap chalk-and-talk subjects."

But it's not really a subsidy is it? The cost of running sociology, media studies, puppetry and assorted grievance studies subjects is better described with words like "tribute", "danegeld" or "protection money". STEM courses more than pay for themselves in productivity and progress - real, actual, not-starving-to-death-in-the-winter, progress. At best, those "cheap" courses turn into tax-payer subsidised "jobs" diverting resources into "social justice". At worst they become BLM / antifa / SJW mobs burning down central Minneapolis.

E-K said...

Fewer soft subjects get repaid at all

Nick Drew said...

As Martin Lewis keeps insisting, student finance is a graduate tax, NOT a loan

i.e. exactly as in several other countries

(but Tony Blair refused to have it acknowledged openly as such)

Bill Quango MP said...

Docklands. On the cusp.
How I remember it.

Raedwald said...

In the early 1990s the Graduate Premium, i.e. the value at NPV that a graduate would earn over a lifetime in excess of a non-graduate, was about £250k. This wasn't because grads earned more than plasterers, but essentially because their economic usefulness was longer.

A chippie can hang up to 8 doors a day at peak fitness and skill in their 20s; by the time they're 50 they're down to 4.

Unknown said...

A college that tried to run with only STEM courses would soon go bust.

Colleges and universities are supposed to be run as independent businesses, rather than as branches of local government as was once the case. As such, they have to offer the courses that lose the least money, and they have to rely partly on money from students (or from Student Loans).

Don Cox

Elby the Beserk said...

Nick Drew said...
As Martin Lewis keeps insisting, student finance is a graduate tax, NOT a loan

Maybe. Regardless a high %age of students never pay this tax.

Rather, we do on their behalf.

E-K said...

So will we be locking down in the second wave that's coming ? And if not why did we do it the first time ?

Anonymous said...

ND - a graduate tax wasn't needed in the days when only 5% went to uni, now that 45-50% do the raison d'etre aka justification has vanished, along with the "graduate premium".

"Surely, Australia ought to be carving out a prime chunk of its (immensely long) coastline for HongKong2"

Perhaps they should build the major port facilities, plus nearby runways capable of taking the heaviest military jets, too?

It's already moot as to whether Oz and NZ are inevitably destined to become nothing but a vast extraction/food colony (Oz) and tourist attraction for China.

Perhaps the UK and Oz should hold an auction, each spending the future tax revenues furiously bidding for these people?

(I might just forgive Boris if he puts them all in Wester Ross or Sutherland - Loch Ewe is a perfect deep water port. Almost be worth it just to see Wee Nicola Krankie's head explode, she's always saying how open Scotland is to immigration, unlike England where oddly they all end up)

Nick Drew said...

anon @ 2:28 - lateral thinking, I like it!

a man / girl after my own heart