The British Industrial Decline

The British Industrial Decline

The British Industrial Decline

The British Industrial Decline


The British Industrial Decline collects together a rich spectrum of essays ranging from controversial cultural readings of industrial decline to sophisticated economic explorations. The book delineates the present state of the debate and introduces the new directions in which the debate is now proceeding.


It is a personal as well as an academic pleasure to contribute a prefatory note to this collection of essays on a topic of endless fascination-and endless significance. There has never been an epoch in Britain's history over the last 500 years when some jeremiad concerning the country's failure or regression has not been available for the gratification of pessimists.

This was so, however muted the anguish of a minority, even during the brief moment (whenever that might have been) of the economy's apotheosis. But it has been markedly, and very significantly, the case when Britain's relative economic performance has lagged. The resulting debate, whatever the validity of specific arguments, has an importance which transcends the 'truth' of claim and counter-claim, since it sheds light on the nature of British economic and social and political history, and on the ways in which that history is constructed by those who play a contemporary or retrospective part in it.

In the past, and even now among many popular and political commentators, the fact that Britain's lag is inevitable, unless the economy were to dominate the world for ever, appears to make little impact. However, scholarly study in recent years has woken up to the difference between lagging behind others and lagging behind an economy's intrinsic potential. Further, it has begun to consider anew the crucial question of convergence, and whether Britain is, after all, one unit in a global, or at least an international, system of economic development.

But these are complex and meta-historical issues. For economic historians the two critical questions are, first, whether (or in what sense) Britain actually declined in periods such as the late nineteenth century or the years since the Second World War; and, second, what have been the implications and consequences of the perennial perception of decline which has dogged political and journalistic (and often academic) debate. This collection addresses more the first than the second issue, but obviously is related to both. The pervasive conclusion that there is no evidence of decline until after the Great War might perhaps be tempered by the gloss that 'decline' has a special, and protean, meaning even then. But the precise focus of

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