The Tyranny of Nostalgia: Half a Century of British Economic Decline

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The Tyranny of Nostalgia: Half a Century of British Economic Decline

The Tyranny of Nostalgia: Half a Century of British Economic Decline

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Another helpful aspect of the overall approach is the artful integration of the economics and the politics – with electoral cycles clearly a major consideration for policy decisions throughout. Yet another is the emphasis not just upon aggregate demand developments but, also, upon supply-side developments (with Mrs Thatcher being accorded due credit for her achievements on this score).

Neither of these policies is likely to make a significant difference in the lives of Trump’s voters, but that’s not really the point,” Illing writes. “By pandering to fears and resentments, Trump both deepens the prejudices and satisfies his base.” No more! There is supply-chain chaos all over the land, although our prime minister recently gave the game away about the hole in his absurd championing of Brexit by admitting that Northern Ireland, as a member of the UK and the European single market, enjoys the best of both worlds. We human beings exist by being first in one moment, then in another, and then in another, until we reach our end. Time circumscribes the human phase of the atoms that make up our body. Our atoms once belonged to stars. Soon they will belong to the earth, or the seas, or the sky. We recognise that with time every human being will cease being, will only have been. And so we seek to resist time. We rebel against it. We are drawn like lovers to the unreachable past, to imagined memories, to nostalgia. The starting point of the narrative is the “golden age” of the 1950s and the 1960s, when the vicissitudes of the Great Depression and Second World War were becoming increasingly distant memories and were being succeeded by an economic environment in which there were no outright economic contractions, unemployment was low and real incomes were rising – a state of play so aptly encapsulated by Harold Macmillan’s famous “never had it so good” aphorism. From the foreword by Mark Blyth, William R. Rhodes ’57 Professor of International Economics at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University

Now, although the economy is in a bad way, and affected by the consequences of Brexit at almost every turn – a dramatic rise in import prices is a direct consequence of Brexit, and explains why our inflation rate is stubbornly higher than that of our European neighbours – I do not for one moment wish to overdo the valley of death analogy. Nevertheless, it came to mind because there is something ineffably stubborn and crass about the refusal of our two major parties to recognise the scale of the disaster and conduct – or, in Labour’s case, advocate – an about-turn. The importance of clan, family, history, honour and formality were a useful education to this California boy finding his way in Pakistan’ … The Lord of the Rings. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar Numbers like this cause people to lose faith in the system,” says Vox writer Sean Illing. “What you get is a spike in extremism and a retreat from the political center. That leads to declines in voter turnout and, consequently, more opportunities for fringe parties and candidates.”

Well, the understanding is less limited now. The only sympathy I have with most Brexiters is that, as Jones implies, they simply had no idea of what they were in for. Plainly, now, most people do, and rightly don’t like it. Much on TV is set in a past where characters can still plausibly be all white’ … Mad Men. Photograph: AMC/Lionsgate We should be glad for these opportunities. The future is too important to be left to professional politicians. And it is too important to be left to technologists either. Other imaginations from other human perspectives must stake competing claims. Radical, politically engaged fiction is required. This fiction need not focus on dystopias or utopias, though some of it probably will. Rather it needs to peer with all the madness and insight and unexpectedness and wisdom we can muster into where we might desirably go, as individuals, families, societies, cultures, nations, earthlings, organisms. This does not require setting fiction in the future. But it does require a radical political engagement with the future.

The result? The destruction of what Harvard politics professor Daniel Ziblatt calls two “master norms”—mutual toleration, whether we “accept the basic legitimacy of our opponents”; and institutional forbearance, whether politicians are responsibly wielding their power. We can see that happening every day. Stories helped me unite parts of my existence that might otherwise have seemed irrevocably split by geography and time. And stories helped me find a future in which I, such a mongrel, could be comfortable. I do not inhabit an island in the Indian Ocean with a population as diverse as that of London, nor a nation composed of bits of Pakistan and California. But I have over the last three decades lived first in America, then in Britain, then in Pakistan. And I do spend many weeks in America and Britain each year, and many weeks in other places, and correspond on most days with friends and colleagues on multiple continents. My life might be peculiar, but it suits me. It flows directly from those first worlds I imagined as a child. Without my stories, without the journey and direction implicit in them, I might never have found it. Perhaps I would not even have looked.

Why are we so strongly attracted to nostalgia today? In part, I think, because the pace of change is accelerating. Despite our close relationship with technology, at this point in our evolution human beings are still animals, and animals struggle to adapt to change that occurs too rapidly. Given enough time, polar bears might migrate off the Arctic ice, evolve darker coats, find a different diet and thrive in a new, warmer climate. But if the ice on which they depend disappears in a few decades, they are likely to die. Our adaptive capacity is far greater, but we too experience change as stress. The world my grandparents grew up in would not have been that strange to their grandparents. Yes, the few cars on the roads would have been striking, as would the few houses lit by electricity. But the world my children are growing up in is far more disconcerting to my parents: a world of wirelessly connected digital devices, roboticised factories, genetically modified crops and daily flights from Lahore to Rio de Janeiro, to Sydney. relentless decline. This is a point I have made before but cannot be repeated too often, given the UK economic No author, of course, can end a book of this sort without drawing out key lessons – the fruits of experience, as it were – from the UK’s macroeconomic experience of the past half-century. Jones proves no exception to this rule, pulling together in succinct form and number (confining himself to a round ten) “the morals of the story”. All of these “morals” seem eminently sensible, with the author remarking (and reflecting his description of himself as “a globe-trotting professional economist” in the preface) that “most, or perhaps all, of my ten lessons would apply to any economy, not just to that of the UK”. For anyone looking to mine evidence, Russell Jones provides an incredibly rich seam. One can start with the inflationary ‘barber boom’ of the early 1970s and move on to the false tilt at monetarism on the early 1980s. A consequence of the latter and the general shift to neo-liberal economics under Margaret Thatcher and her chancellors heralded the deindustrialisation of that period and paved the way toward unprecedented inequality. To that we can add squandering of the legacy of North Sea oil and the failure to channel revenues into a UK sovereign wealth fund – as the Norwegians have done so successfully.Russell’s brilliant book does us all a favour, … giving us an excellent economic history of Britain since the gloss peeled off the Keynesian welfare state in the 1970s. He shows us how each administration was effectively handed a set of problems to solve, how they each tried to solve them in the shadow of the prior administration’s failures, and how that process always produced the next set of problems.” For cost savings, you can change your plan at any time online in the “Settings & Account” section. If you’d like to retain your premium access and save 20%, you can opt to pay annually at the end of the trial. In the case of my Fiat, Proietti Brothers of Islington have had to wait three weeks: a relatively small, personal anecdote of the frustrations of Brexit. So why did a famous verse I learned at school come to mind? I’ll tell you why: because the worst government of most people’s lifetimes is ploughing on, pretending that it can make a success of a manifest disaster. And the Labour opposition refuses to challenge it on the biggest self-inflicted crisis of our time, tamely ruling out the obvious need to rejoin the single market and restore freedom of movement to businesses and citizens. This powerful and elegant account of the twists and turns in British macroeconomic policy should be essential reading for students and practitioners alike. Russell Jones’s analysis of the past half a century of British economic life – and particularly of the run-up to Brexit and of its subsequent implementation and its disastrous consequences – is absolutely stunning.”

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