The Legacy of the Golden Age: The 1960s and Their Economic Consequences

The Legacy of the Golden Age: The 1960s and Their Economic Consequences

The Legacy of the Golden Age: The 1960s and Their Economic Consequences

The Legacy of the Golden Age: The 1960s and Their Economic Consequences


From the perspective of the 1990s, the 1960s seem to have been a golden age for economics. National income was growing even faster than in the 1950s, unemployment remained at about 2% of the labor force, and inflation was at 4% for most of the decade. The long boom that had begun at the end of World War II and was to continue until the oil crisis of 1973 was at its peak. Economic success was the backdrop to a number of economic and social experiments, including the founding of many new universities in the United Kingdom and the first attempts to join the European Community. In this study, a uniquely qualified team of economists and policy-makers examine the economic experience of the 1960s. They examine the conditions which enabled the boom to last for such a long time, and the factors which finally brought it to an end. The decade of the 1960s was rich in policy experiments--many that tried to curb inflation, and others that aimed to increase productivity. In retrospect, neither strategy proved tobe successful, and the late sixties were marked by the rising inflation and falling productivity that were to persist throughout the seventies. The economic problems that emerged are still on the agenda, and this book concludes by assessing the extent to which policy mistakes of the sixties were responsible for these conflicts.


This book is based on a conference held at Glasgow University early in April 1991 to celebrate the 80th birthday of my father, Sir Alec Cairncross, who was Economic Adviser to Her Majesty’s Government from 1961 to 1964 and Head of the Government Economic Service from 1964 to the end of 1968.

The aim of the conference was to review economic policy in the 1960s, and to ask whether errors in that decade contributed to the inflation that broke out in the 1970s. the participants included a number of the key actors who helped to shape economic policy in the 1960s either in a political or an official capacity. Among them were Lord O’Brien, Governor of the Bank of England from 1966 to 1973 and two former Chancellors of the Exchequer under whom Sir Alec served: Lord Callaghan, who acted as chairman of the conference and contributed greatly to its relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and Lord Jenkins, who took the chair in the second session and introduced the discussion of Sir Ralph Dahrendorf’s paper in the fifth session.

While discussions inevitably had a predominantly British flavour, an international perspective was added by a number of distinguished American and European participants. Unfortunately, two of those who had originally agreed to speak, Signor Carli, the Italian Finance Minister, and Alexandre Lamfalussy, Economic Adviser of the Bank for International Settlements, were unable to attend and their places were taken at short notice by John Williamson and Sir Alec Cairncross.

In some cases, those who delivered papers stuck closely to their draft when introducing them. in others, new points were brought in, which have been presented here as amplifications. the conference was planned, and the discussions transcribed and edited, mainly by my father himself.

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