Opinion

Opinion

British also in dire economic straits

August 11, 2011

Advertisement

The chancellor of the exchequer has a dry, sly sense of humor. George Osborne, 40, says Britain escaped the sort of housing bubble and crash that staggered America because, whereas America recklessly expanded its housing stock, “We were saved by the fact that you can’t build anything in this country.”

He exaggerates, somewhat, Britain’s regulatory impediments to dynamism, just as he exaggerated, somewhat, his prediction, when he became chancellor 15 months ago, that in six months he would be Britain’s most unpopular man. His and Prime Minister David Cameron’s wager is one that should interest Americans — the bet that Britain can simultaneously shrink the state and stimulate the economy.

Since growth resumed here in 2010, it has been a tepid 2.2 percent. In 2011’s second quarter, it was 0.2 percent, worse than America’s dismal 0.8 percent in the first half of this year. Some say the royal wedding distracted British workers. Really. (Recent riots have incited dubious sociology, the theory that social-service reductions propel desperate mobs of young men to storm Nike shoe stores. But perhaps not everything is caused by politics.)

The shrinkage of government is supposed to be more severe here than in America, where the supposedly “savage,” “draconian,” etc., cuts recently agreed to mean that for a decade Washington must scrape by on $43.7 trillion rather than $46.1 trillion. Really.

The British state is morbidly obese. For a third consecutive year, government will spend more than half the gross domestic product — partly because half of all jobs created during the 13 years of Labour Party governance that ended in May 2010 were in the public sector.

Britain’s debt, now 62 percent of GDP, is scheduled to rise to 71 percent in 2013-14 before declining. Government devours 47 percent of national income.

The five-year goal of reducing it to 40 percent will be difficult because Cameron has a tepid mandate. In 2010, Conservatives almost suffered a fourth consecutive defeat, and failed to win a majority against an exhausted and unpopular Labour government.

This may be one reason Cameron has flinched from seriously reforming the established religion. No, not the Church of England, the National Health Service. It is sometimes adequate regarding medicine but is a sensational jobs program: It is the world’s sixth-largest employer (behind the Chinese army, Wal-Mart, China National Petroleum, China State Grid Corporation and Indian Railways).

Osborne says America’s welfare reform of 1996 “helped change the debate over here.” Perhaps, but almost 30 percent of public spending here is still for a welfare system under which an unemployed single mother with two children has more disposable income than a postal worker. There is, Osborne says, considerable resentment among people who “go to work at seven in the morning and the blinds are down next door.” Almost a fifth of British households have no wage earner, while immigrants are 13 percent of the work force.

Fortunately, in Britain, as in much of the U.S., labor unions are fading forces. British unions have only 7 million members, down from 13 million 30 years ago. When, in June, leaders of a large public employees union engineered a one-day strike, the members were not enthusiastic and the public was not inconvenienced.

Almost half the Conservative members of Parliament were first elected in 2010 and, like Republican members of the U.S. House first elected that year, these Conservatives have a tea party-like indifference to conventional pieties, the worst of which celebrate the European Union. Such has been the leakage of Britain’s sovereignty to Brussels, Cameron’s ability to deregulate his nation’s economy is significantly circumscribed. Only 22 percent of the British consider EU membership a “good thing,” now that the EU is busy transferring wealth to those who do not create it.

With a wary eye on Greece, and a possible contagion from it to Italy, Spain, Portugal and others, Osborne fears a “sovereign debt rerun” of the financial crisis triggered by the September 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers. He also worries that Britain might be unfairly tainted by Asian and other investors deciding that “Europe is a basket case.”

Well, yes. The Economist reports that three weeks ago, at an emergency meeting of eurozone leaders, Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, distributed a ranking of countries deemed by markets most likely to default: “Greece, Portugal and Ireland were at the top, riskier than Venezuela and Pakistan; Spain was less safe than revolutionary Egypt.”

Next year may be cheerier. London will host the Olympics and the nation will celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee — 60 years of her reign. This year, however, the refurbishing of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle has been deferred.



— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. His email is georgewill@washpost.com.

Comments

cato_the_elder 3 years, 8 months ago

During a recent trip to London I was told repeatedly by people with whom I was interacting how much they missed Margaret Thatcher, who for a time succeeded in rolling back the welfare state mentality in Britain. As Will states, 13 years of Labour Party governance produced huge growth in government employment in Britain, which is exactly what Obama and his cronies have been trying to do to America.

Margaret Thatcher said, "The problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people's money." She was right. One can only hope that Americans will cast their ballots with that in mind in November of 2012.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 8 months ago

What a surprise-- George taking the side of the oligarchs in the ongoing class wars.

Flap Doodle 3 years, 8 months ago

By oligarchs you mean the residents of London who weren't setting buildings on fire, committing felony assault and stealing DVD players?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 8 months ago

No. I mean the ones who say Britain is broke, so the poor and middle class must pay.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 8 months ago

Hey, I was watching FOX news yesterday. O'Reilly said the British had a nanny state, with high levels of social services including a national health care system. Yet the entitlement generation were still looting stores, getting their free clothes and electronics. Yesterday you said these rioters were responding to injustices in the system. O'Reilly said there were high levels of social services at a high cost to their economy. Who is correct? Of course my reference to everyone's favorite "news" network and everyone's favorite "news" anchor is made with a fair amount of lightheartedness. Let's keep any responses friendly, O.K.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 8 months ago

"Yet the entitlement generation were still looting stores, getting their free clothes and electronics."

You make an obviously ill-informed and inflammatory statement like this, and you want only friendly responses?

Sorry, not playing that game.

gl0ck0wn3r 3 years, 8 months ago

Inform us then. You seem to know who the rioters were and what they were stealing, so please enlighten us. The majority of the pictures I've seen don't seem to match up with your notion of proles taking down the system.

January202013 3 years, 8 months ago

Just to give the leftists another author to squeal about: here is Ann Coulter's take on the current leftist's dream world: Part One

THE SUN NEVER SETS ON THE BRITISH WELFARE SYSTEM August 10, 2011

Those of you following the barbaric rioting in Britain will not have failed to notice that a sizable proportion of the thugs are white, something not often seen in this country.

Not only that, but in a triumph of feminism, a lot of them are girls. Even the "disabled" (according to the British benefits system) seem to have miraculously overcome their infirmities to dash out and steal a few TVs.

Congratulations, Britain! You've barbarized your citizenry, without regard to race, gender or physical handicap!

With a welfare system far more advanced than the United States, the British have achieved the remarkable result of turning entire communities of ancestral British people into tattooed, drunken brutes.

I guess we now have the proof of what conservatives have been saying since forever: Looting is a result of liberal welfare policies. And Britain is in the end stages of the welfare state.

In 2008, a 9-year-old British girl, Shannon Matthews, disappeared on her way home from a school trip. The media leapt on the case -- only to discover that Shannon was one of seven children her mother, Karen, had produced with five different men.

The first of these serial sperm-donors explained: "Karen just goes from one bloke to the next, uses them to have a kid, grabs all the child benefits and moves on."

Poor little Shannon eventually turned up at the home of one of her many step-uncles -- whose ex-wife, by the way, was the mother of six children with three different fathers.

(Is Father's Day celebrated in England? If so, how?)

January202013 3 years, 8 months ago

Part 2. (Keep squealing bozo et al)

The Daily Mail (London) traced the family's proud Anglo ancestry of stable families back hundreds of years. The Nazi war machine couldn't break the British, but the modern welfare state has.

A year earlier, in 2007, another product of the new order, Fiona MacKeown, took seven of her eight children (by five different fathers) and her then-boyfriend, on a drug-fueled, six-month vacation to the Indian island of Goa. The trip was paid for -- like everything else in her life -- with government benefits.

(When was the last time you had a free, six-month vacation? I'm drawing a blank, too.)

While in Goa, Fiona took her entourage on a side-trip, leaving her 15-year-old daughter, Scarlett Keeling, in the capable hands of a 25-year-old local whom Scarlett had begun sleeping with, perhaps hoping to get a head-start on her own government benefits. A few weeks later, Scarlett turned up dead, full of drugs, raped and murdered.

Scarlett's estranged stepfather later drank himself to death, while her brother Silas announced on his social networking page: "My name is Si, n I spend most my life either out wit mates get drunk or at partys, playing rugby or going to da beach (pretty s**t really)."

It's a wonder that someone like Silas, who has never worked, and belongs to a family in which no one has ever worked, can afford a cellphone for social networking. No, actually, it's not.

Britain has a far more redistributive welfare system than France, which is why France's crime problem is mostly a matter of Muslim immigrants, not French nationals. Meanwhile, England's welfare state is fast returning the native population to its violent 18th-century highwaymen roots.

Needless to say, Britain leads Europe in the proportion of single mothers and, as a consequence, also leads or co-leads the European Union in violent crime, alcohol and drug abuse, obesity and sexually transmitted diseases.

January202013 3 years, 8 months ago

(Part 3 The rest of the story.)

But liberal elites here and in Britain will blame anything but the welfare state they adore. They drone on about the strict British class system or the lack of jobs or the nation's history of racism.

None of that explains the sad lives of young Shannon Matthews and Scarlett Keeling, with their long English ancestry and perfect Anglo features.

Democrats would be delighted if violent mobs like those in Britain arose here -- perhaps in Wisconsin! That would allow them to introduce yet more government programs staffed by unionized public employees, as happened after the 1992 L.A. riots and the 1960s race riots, following the recommendations of the Kerner Commission.

MSNBC might even do the unthinkable and offer Al Sharpton his own TV show. (Excuse me -- someone's trying to get my attention ... WHAT?)

Inciting violent mobs is the essence of the left's agenda: Promote class warfare, illegitimate children and an utterly debased citizenry.

Like the British riot girls interviewed by the BBC, the Democrats tell us "all of this happened because of the rich people."

We're beginning to see the final result of that idea in Britain. The welfare state creates a society of beasts. Meanwhile, nonjudgmental elites don't dare condemn the animals their programs have created.

Rioters in England are burning century-old family businesses to the ground, stealing from injured children lying on the sidewalks and forcing Britons to strip to their underwear on the street.

I keep reading that it's because they don't have jobs -- which they're obviously anxious to hold. Or someone called them a "kaffir." Or their social services have been reduced. Or their Blackberries made them do it. Or they disapprove of a referee's call in a Manchester United game.

A few well-placed rifle rounds, and the rioting would end in an instant. A more sustained attack on the rampaging mob might save England from itself, finally removing shaved-head, drunken parasites from the benefits rolls that Britain can't find the will to abolish on moral or utilitarian grounds. We can be sure there's no danger of killing off the next Winston Churchill or Edmund Burke in these crowds.

But like Louis XVI, British authorities are paralyzed by their indifference to their own civilization. A half-century of berating themselves for the crime of being British has left them morally defenseless. They see nothing about England worth saving, certainly not worth fighting for -- which is fortunate since most of their cops don't have guns.

This is how civilizations die. It can happen overnight, as it did in Revolutionary France. If Britain of 1939 were composed of the current British population, the entirety of Europe would today be doing the "Heil Hitler" salute and singing the "Horst Wessel Song."

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 8 months ago

But what is Ann's final solution for the problems created by all of these inferior beings mucking things up for the super humans like Ann?

jafs 3 years, 8 months ago

She says it straight out - kill them.

It's remarkable that anybody pays any attention to her at all.

jafs 3 years, 8 months ago

From my read of the above Coulter material, she provided two sad stories.

I'm sure that we could find sad stories like that in any country, with any political system.

Her conclusions are vastly overstated and incorrect from that point on, as is often the case with her - the idea that the left wants to "promote illegitimate children and debased citizenry" is particularly absurd.

As is her suggestion that the correct response of the British government is to simply massacre all of these people.

Does anybody really take her seriously?

jafs 3 years, 8 months ago

See my post below.

These policies seem much more similar to Republican ones than Democratic ones to me.

So the best way to avoid winding up like Britain would be not to elect Republicans.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 8 months ago

You do the mindless thing pretty well all by yourself. What do you need a leader for?

jafs 3 years, 8 months ago

From a quick scan of a recent article about Britain:

High levels of unemployment and low levels of education and job training for the younger generation.

High levels of income inequality.

Austerity measures by the government passed in order to balance a budget that is in trouble because of bank bailouts.

A few reasons for this problem - of course, none of those match with any of Coulter's ideas.

It's not surprising that young people feel abandoned by their government, which is simultaneously bailing out big banks, and cutting programs that would improve their lives.

jafs 3 years, 8 months ago

Here's a way to not wind up like Britain:

Support education, job training, and other programs that help low income folks create better lives.

Support policies that strongly encourage businesses to stop outsourcing labor, so that we have more jobs.

Stop supporting policies that continue to increase the great disparity in wealth.

Don't expect the average citizen to suffer "austerity" measures due to massive bailouts of big banks.

That looks more like a Democratic combination of ideas than a Republican one to me.

jafs 3 years, 8 months ago

I'm not kidding at all.

Republican policies are to cut education, job training and social services, to continue "business friendly" policies that reward companies who outsource labor and income, and want to balance the budget with "austerity" measures that will hurt the poor and middle class.

All of which are what contributes to the mess in Britain.

If you analyze our financial problem, you find that we have a spending, revenue, and growth problem. Last time the budget was balanced (under Clinton - I believe he was a Democrat), both spending and tax revenue were about 18% of GDP. Currently spending is high at about 24%, and revenue is low, at about 14%. We need to both increase revenue and cut spending, which is in fact what Obama proposed. In addition, we need our economy to get healthier, and we need more jobs. Companies are maintaining record high profits by laying off employees, and they're sitting on large piles of cash.

A recent analysis I read concluded that this particular slump cannot be fixed at the governmental level - the government has pumped money into the economy, but private sector businesses are sitting on it.

I can't answer your question about a budget - I don't know anything about that.

jafs 3 years, 8 months ago

As I said, I don't know anything about it.

I don't know whether it's a fact or not that they have or haven't passed a budget, and I have no idea why they didn't if they didn't.

But it's entirely likely that politicians act in ways that are motivated by their desire for re-election, regardless of their political affiliation.

Centerville 3 years, 8 months ago

No one should "feel" or be dependent upon a government. That is much worse than feudal. And steal sneakers because the government doesn't seem to '"care"? That is insane and very sad.

jafs 3 years, 8 months ago

Read the rest of it.

The government is choosing to bail out big banks, and cut education, job training, and other programs that would help young folks become productive members of society.

In some sort of ideal world, nobody would need any help from the government.

But we don't live in that world - we live in a world in which people are born into different circumstances, with different parents, levels of education, wealth, etc.

If we want to wind up like Britain, we should keep following those policies that increase wealth disparity, cut education and job training, along with other social services, and continue to help the well off and politically connected.

Uh oh, that sounds like Brownback's policies to me.

Centerville 3 years, 8 months ago

Max Hastings at the UK Daily Mail sums it up.

jafs 3 years, 8 months ago

That's a nicely superficial analysis.

I suggest that people who are burning down their own neighborhoods are dealing with levels of despair that you can't even imagine, and aren't even trying to understand.

jafs 3 years, 8 months ago

The folks in Britain are burning down their own neighborhoods.

And, if you want to talk with me, you'll have to stop with the personal insults.

Steve Jacob 3 years, 8 months ago

"America’s welfare reform of 1996 “helped change the debate over here.”

I might add in 1996 we had a democrat as president and republicans leading congress working together.

We in the US don't riot, we do dumb things like try to recall people we elected into office.

Katara 3 years, 8 months ago

Do you seriously read these websites you pop up?

I guess if we are going to pop up random articles from whackadoodle websites, the one about China making stamina pills from dead babies is much more shocking since that seems to be the angle you are going for. http://www.theblaze.com/stories/is-china-making-stamina-pills-out-of-dead-babies/

Flap Doodle 3 years, 8 months ago

I'd count theblaze as more reliable than huffpo. In other revolution news: "Poverty, social exclusion, poor education - these are just some of the theories put forward to explain the recent rioting. Yet shockingly, among those in the dock accused of looting are a millionaire's grammar school daughter, a ballet student and an organic chef. A law student, university graduate, a musician and an opera steward also said to have taken part. They are just some of the youngsters from comfortable middle-class backgrounds who have been charged with criminality. Some of them were arrested at the scene, others handed themselves in after seeing their faces in photographs and on video. Whatever the reasons for their alleged trouble-making, it is clear that their future dreams could be crushed by their moments of madness.... Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2025068/UK-riots-Middle-class-rioters-revealed-including-Laura-Johnson-Natasha-Reid-Stefan-Hoyle.html#ixzz1UpY7Evju

jafs 3 years, 8 months ago

Yes, and it wasn't just black people who marched in favor of civil rights.

That doesn't mean the the civil rights movement wasn't about the struggle of blacks for equality.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.