Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

Time will tell

Sir: Implicit in Francis Pike's article (`There's a smile on the face of the tigers', 15 March) is that the Asian example has something to teach Europe.

It has become tediously fashionable in conservative political circles in recent years to seize on `the Asian challenge' as a weapon to attempt to browbeat those in Europe who believe that the sort of liberal social democracy that constitutes, to one degree or another, the European model, is a useful and advanced political model. It is true that an investment banker would find plenty of support for his own disaffection with this notion from the ruling class of Asia who currently enjoy all the advantages of the European ruling class of the late 19th century (cheap servants, great wealth, dynastic succession). However, whether this carries lessons for European public policy must surely be questionable.

It must be obvious that high growth rates in Asia are the greatly-to-be-welcomed sign that these people are enjoying the benefits of the same industrial development that has had such positive results in the West (greater longevity, lower infant mortality, less disease, more leisure time). It seems likely, however, that, notwithstanding cultural differences, as they become richer they will encounter some of the same problems now faced by developed countries. Population growth will slow, the population will thereby age and women will gain economic power and probably choose to renegotiate their traditional role with all the attendant consequences. Political interest groups (unions, students, women) will gain in power and assert their interests and the current unchallenged legitimacy of the power structure will be called into question. Individualism (and probably its unattractive flip-side, selfishness) will grow, institutions (and institutional rigidities) will evolve and old buildings will no longer be torn down.

It is natural that the tycoons of Asia should be proud of their success and at the same time experience some schadenfreude at seeing their European ex-masters grappling with economic and social problems. It is not clear, however, that either Asia or the United States offer obvious lessons to Europe in its attempt to build a more just and prosperous society for the future.

David Harding 23 Elm Park Road, London SW3

Sir: Francis Pike pegs his claim that Europe lacks interest in Asia on a conversation which he believes he had with me in 1992 when I was economic adviser to Neil Kinnock. He alleges I said that I `had never looked at an Asian economy'.

Mr Pike's memory must be seriously defective. In a book published ten years earlier (Whatever Happened to Britain?, Duckworth, 1982), I present a detailed study of Japanese post-war economic policy. I paid particular attention to the ideas of vice-minister Ojimi, the moving force at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. The book itself derived from articles in scientific journals.

Contrary to Mr Pike's assertions, the Labour party has shown considerable interest in the economic successes of Asia, which contrast so sharply with the dismal cycles of boom and bust in the British economy over the past 18 years.

Eatwell House of Lords London SW1

Centres of culture

Sir: I'm sorry that Leanda de Lisle's Midland garden centres are so little to her taste (Country life, 8 March). Here in Dorset we have no muzak and wide aisles and helpful staff who speak both English and Latin.

Hannah Cranborne Cranborne Manor Garden Centre, Wimborne, Dorset

Brought to our attention

Sir: Sir Edward Heath's letter (IS March) defending his conduct over the royal yacht Britannia cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. Quite apart from the hilarious pomposity of sentences such as, 'I am so informing Her Majesty', Sir Edward's letter serves to substantiate more than refute Bruce Anderson's original accusations (Politics, 1 February).

Sir Edward emphasises that in February last year he had expressed support for a new royal yacht funded wholly at public expense. …

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