Magazine article Management Today

Ten Kindly Lights Amidst the Encircling Gloom

Magazine article Management Today

Ten Kindly Lights Amidst the Encircling Gloom

Article excerpt

Be positive, the editor told me. Let us hear something about the British economy's plus points for a change. You economics writers aren't really cheerful unless the rest of us are miserable. Ouch! So much for my careful, constructive criticism. But then I began to wonder. An endless diet of gloom can cause indigestion for those with the strongest stomachs.

So here goes. Armed with a sunny disposition, I offer the following: 10 reasons to be optimistic about Britain in 1992.

The first, plainly, is that what lies in prospect is a good deal better than what has gone immediately before. So 1992 will be a better year for growth and investment than 1991, on that the gloomiest (sorry) forecasters are agreed. That does not mean another boom, which brings me to my second reason for optimism.

The boom of the 1980s created some unhealthy attitudes, which the subsequent recession has, I hope, killed off. These included the widespread notion that, when it was so easy to make money without effort, through capital gains in the housing market or financial market deals, only suckers toiled hard for their living. Now, attitudes are more realistic. The image of the enterprise culture was of smart young wheeler-dealers with mobile phones. A real enterprise culture, is built on invention, innovation and hard work.

Thirdly, the importance of producing things is now recognised. Manufacturing, having been there before in the early 1980s, was better placed to cope with the 1990-91 recession than the greenhorns in many of the service industries. John Banham, director general of the CBI, has an ironic phrase for it: 'Genius is a rising market and a short memory.' True genius was to be found in the productivity performance of manufacturing industry in the recession. Government ministers used to give the impression that manufacturing did not matter. We will not hear that again for some time.

And straightaway, we have reason four. The recession in the service sector has destroyed the myth that some parts of the economy always escape the worst of any downturn. No longer can job security be cited as an argument for Britain's brightest and best to stay away from industry. And it was notable that, in a climate of retrenchment, industry generally maintained investment in skills and training.

Fifth, exports. As the chart shows, the idea that Britain's share of world trade is in decline has been obsolete since the mid-'80s. …

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