The end of English Liberalism

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Let us never forget that the liberal experiment of market forces and small government were tried and found wanting for about half a century in the second half of the 19th century.

I doubt that the role of government was ever smaller than in about 1860. Britain enjoyed the gold standard, trades unions hardly existed, the British rigorously adhered to a policy of free trade, and there existed no nationalised enterprises besides the Post Office. By the lights of the neolibs, the British economy should have outstripped all the statist experiments on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yet this did not happen. What went wrong?

Needless to say, the British property owning classes weren’t prepared to wait to see whether liberalism would finally bring home the bacon. A little later than some of their neighbours, the British dipped their cautious toes into social democracy. For the first eight decades of the 20th century, the British immersed themselves deeper.

The British became leaders in the new natural order.

Thatcherism and Reaganism rolled back some of these developments, but very few. The old British liberals of the 19th century would not recognise either Reagan or Thatcher as familiar spirits.
Thus, Thatcher and Reagan fanboys are themselves blind to the degree to which they are children of the hegemony of social democracy.

Which makes their shallow triumphalism all the more amusing, and pathetic.

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AJP Taylor quote:

“Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. …
The Englishman paid taxes on a modest scale: nearly £200 million in 1913-14, or rather less than 8 per cent. of the national income. The state intervened to prevent the citizen from eating adulterated food or contracting certain infectious diseases. It imposed safety rules in factories, and prevented women, and adult males in some industries, from working excessive hours. The state saw to it that children received education up to the age of 13.
Since 1 January 1909, it provided a meagre pension for the needy over the age of 70. Since 1911, it helped to insure certain classes of workers against sickness and unemployment.
This tendency towards more state action was increasing. Expenditure on the social services had roughly doubled since the Liberals took office in 1905. Still, broadly speaking, the state acted only to help those who could not help themselves. It left the adult citizen alone.”

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