I couldn’t agree more with Larry Elliott that we now have a chance to build a new economy for the country (What now for Britain’s economy – a new direction, or business as usual?, 3 September). However, I disagree with his declinist “potted modern economic history of Britain”. Historians like David Edgerton have shown that, far from Britain being on an inexorable downward trajectory from the second half of the 19th century, the UK over that period became a global economic power, outpacing many other modern industrialised nations, despite fighting two world wars. We then enjoyed the additional benefit, by the 1970s, of North Sea oil, which allowed us to become a net exporter.
It was when Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 and started selling off many flourishing state-owned industries that the economy was fatally weakened. Her beliefs – that “markets know best” and that the state should not interfere – still influence policymakers. Other countries – notably Germany and China, but even the US – have always put funding into industries deemed vital to the economy, or which promise future technological advantage. The UK does now have a chance to invest in our future, but does anyone really believe that this government, with its umbilical connection to Thatcherism and free markets, will get behind a radical overhaul of the economy?
• We are, as Larry Elliott points out, pretty well at the end of the road in terms of economic decline and decay. His crucial inference is that the challenges of progressive change will not be addressed because of the deep socioeconomic behavioural changes that are required at every level in society.
A major problem lies in the quality of British management and the cultural values they reflect. Britain has failed across a wide front in terms of investing in its human resources. See how Germany and France have in their different ways addressed these matters. Both are successful, dynamic and progressive economies. Britain is not.
It is worth remembering Margaret Thatcher’s reaction to the report prepared for her by Lord Young on German investment in training and development, and the role of the German chambers of commerce in delivering high-quality training and development. The palpable failure of British industry caused her to conclude that Britain could never generate that level and quality of institutional support. She was right then and nothing much has happened since. We are on a hiding to nothing with short-termism buttressed by defective corporate governance.
Centre for International Economics
• It is so refreshing to read the fizzing anger of your columnists’ articles recently. Thank you. If Larry Elliott misses a milestone in our history, it was the flourishing of creativity in music, fashion, theatre, writing and art in the 1960s under a Labour government. Not to mention strides forward in civilised attitudes to the death penalty, abortion and homosexuality. Plus a massive head-hunting exercise by the US from our top universities to fuel their Silicon Valley ambitions.
Elliott asks if we have the courage to build a new economy. It’s not courage that’s needed, it’s imagination. It is here, epitomised by your paper, trade unions and almost half of our citizens. If you could try to identify what motivates the rest, including our current government, we may be in a better position to do something positive.
• Join the conversation – email firstname.lastname@example.org
• Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters