Commentators of the right often exhibit a profound nostalgia for the nineteen fifties, which they see as an age of order and stability. Their followers, in places like the Dog and Duck go back further to the nineteen forties. At this point we often long for a time machine (perhaps shaped like a Spitfire) to transport them back to their Golden Age, for we wonder what they would find.
Taxes were much, much higher- marginal rates in the US and UK were around 95% for high earners. State spending, paid for by borrowing, was on the rise. Trade Unions were a vital part of the national process, seen more as partners than enemies. Abroad, things like exchange controls and Bretton Woods regulated the world economy and made life hard for would be entrepreneurs, hedge funds and other adventurers on the wilder shores of capitalism. The results, contrary to all economic theory, were massive increases in prosperity. property ownership and general well being that are hard for anyone under fifty to now recall, except as old man’s tales.
Jonathan Hopkin of LSE writing in Aeon is another chronicler of our Decline and Fall. Following in the well-trod path of Will Hutton and Thomas Piketty, he sees the problem as the essential breakdown of the relationship between capital and democracy, starting with the oil crisis of 1973 as the root of our current angst. Older readers who remember that terrible winter, and gloomy spring which followed it, will recall that sense of something irretrievably broken and gone for good. Here in Thirty Glorious Years he charts the breakdown and speculates if anything better will ever come-unless there is another war.
Our only regret is that he pays little attention to the role of the media in shaping the Zeitgist. History is written by the winners. If you can pay the most journalists, create the best news stations and pump out the most messages, you will have written it before it has happened. Money can do all those things. Progressives take note.
Will Hutton The State We’re in Vintage 1996
Thomas Piketty Capital in the Twenty First Century Harvard University Press 2013
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