The ""British disease,"" which predates the new malady of Thatcherism, has already had a lot of play. British political...


BRITAIN IN DECLINE: Economic Policy, Political Strategy and the British State

The ""British disease,"" which predates the new malady of Thatcherism, has already had a lot of play. British political scientist Gamble, though, is up to something different from the usual ""does Britain work?"" sort of thing--and considerably more interesting. In a long review of British economic and political history, he shows that Britain's economic leadership in the 18th and 19th centuries was based on industrial precociousness followed by a free-trade policy that allowed it to make the most of its industrial headstart. At the same time, this headstart proved to be disastrous later, when other countries were able to catch up--and because they were catching up with new technology, to do so with a more modern industrial base. Thereafter, the British free-trade policy meant that Britain was competing on the world market at a disadvantage. The effort to circumvent this outcome by relying on colonies and former colonies to achieve a kind of self-sufficiency floundered, in turn, on Third World nationalism. The overall result was a version of economic backwardness with an uncompetitive industrial sector and a highly active financial sector channeling money abroad. Gamble sees two ways out of this bind. One is the method of the Thatcher government: to extend the policy of free trade to the domestic economy by breaking down the accumulations of the welfare state and establishing free-market relations throughout the economy. This method requires, among other things, destroying Britain's trade unions in an effort to modernize through market mechanisms. The second path is via the ""alternate economic strategy"" advanced by the Cambridge Political Economy Group and adopted by a large portion of the Labour Party left wing. This strategy envisions the establishment of trade quotas and restrictions on capital flow to protect the domestic economy, combined with traditional Keynesianism to create employment. If that entails letting Britain's ""inefficient"" industries off the hook, so be it. Gamble recounts the past of the so-called national economy school, associated inauspiciously with Mosley's British brand of fascism; but he argues that with the support of the trade unions, and with the heritage of social welfare of the past 40 years, this combination of tactics could work for Britain. He doesn't expect it to be tried soon, however; the Thatcherites, he predicts, will have to create more havoc first. Gamble's presentation of the economic policy options is concise; and its merits aside, his summary is the best one available of the effort to divorce progressive politics from free trade.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1981

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