Managing Decline? 1870-1990

By Crafts, Nick | History Today, June 1994 | Go to article overview

Managing Decline? 1870-1990


Crafts, Nick, History Today


Mid-victorian Britain is commonly described as having passed through the |First Industrial Revolution' to have become the |workshop of the world'. Late twentieth-century Britain, of course, has no such pretensions. In the intervening years Britain has experienced a long period of relative economic decline marked by slower economic growth than in other countries and culminating in recent decades in a marked de-industrialisation of the economy. Some comparative statistics to illustrate this transformation are provided in Table 1.

Table 1: Britain's Industrial Prowess: Then and Now
                                         1870    1950   1989
Share of World Manufactured Exports (%)    45      26      9
Industrial Employment as % of Total
 Employment                                42      46     29
Output/Worker in Manufacturing
% of US Level                              49      38     56
% of German level                         100     104     95
GDP/Head: Rank Position among 16
 Advanced Countries                         2       5     12

Explanations abound for this disappointing performance. It is convenient to distinguish these into three categories. First, we can look at proximate sources of slow growth and relative industrial decline, namely low investment both in machinery and training of workers together with weak productivity growth. Second, we can take into account underlying reasons for the proximate sources. These are commonly held to include inadequate management, unfortunate industrial relations and mistaken government policy. Third, we can consider the fundamental factors which sustained these failings in place. Here we need to examine the incentive structures facing decision-makers in both business and government and seek to understand how the economy was unable to escape from a low growth equilibrium.

It is understandable for historians to look for the roots of the present position far back in the past. Certainly, there may be links between Britain's history as the pioneer of industrialisation and subsequent slow growth. No one has yet produced a fully convincing version of the |early start hypothesis', but that should not stop further exploration of the idea. At the same time, the economy in recent times is very different from its Victorian predecessor and over-emphasising elements of continuity in British growth performance is a temptation to be resisted.

Britain was the pioneer in industrialisation and the world technological leader of the first half of the nineteenth century. British industrial achievements in this era were unprecedented and are deservedly famous, while the celebrated engineers and inventors (Cort, Crompton, Maudslay, Stephenson, Watt etc.) of the period of the industrial Revolution are household names. The economy very rapidly became much the most urbanised and least agricultural in the world and held a massive share of world trade in manufactures.

The subsequent British fall from grace is much easier to understand if we recognise that, despite the greatness of this early triumph, the economic environment was very different from that of the second half of the twentieth century and so were the basic ingredients for industrial success. Moreover, the dimensions of British economic performance look less impressive when judged by standards achieved later on. This is reflected in the following observations:

(i) At no time in the nineteenth century did the economy grow very fast - the maximum for output per person was about 1.2 per cent which is well below the 2.1 per cent the UK in the 1980s, let alone the levels reached by Japan in the 1960s or China in the last fifteen years. Moreover, even in 1870 our industrial productivity level was much lower than that of the US notwithstanding our early technological superiority.

(ii) The relatively slow productivity growth of, the nineteenth century economy was accompanied by what from today's perspective were very low rates of investment in accumulating machinery, acquiring knowledge and educating people. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Managing Decline? 1870-1990
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.