Britannia Unchained – Welcome to your Future

Reader, I sucked it up so you don’t have to. After diligently searching the library for a copy of Britannia Unchained, the 2012 tract authored by Kwasi, our Dear Leader, Chris Skidmore and a couple of also-rans, I failed to find it. So I sucked up the Amazon price of £16. I don’t suggest you do the same 😉 I am tempted to list it as an investment expense. After all, you need to know what Liz Truss is thinking, and since she didn’t have to put any of it in a manifesto, this is as good as it gets.

I expected to hate it, but though I found it somewhat studenty and one-dimensional in places, I found much to agree with. My main philosophical charge against the tract was the strong tendency to infer the general from the particular, heavy on anecdote and light on tested principle. You could, however, level that charge against most of the dismal science of economics. What theoretical principles I have seen in economics often doesn’t come out well in the testing, or there is a replication issue where it works in some circumstances but not others. This is not terribly surprising for something attempting to make sense of a multivariate system rammed full of independent and resourceful actors with varying degrees of knowledge and emotion.

But I’ll run with it, because for better or worse, this philosophy is guiding the country for the next up to two years. So far, what’s appeared has been consistent with the book, but I can promise you, dear readers, you ain’t seen nuffink yet. About 90% of the idea hasn’t been voiced yet. So let’s set the scene from Britannia Unchained itself, in the intro.

All five authors grew up in a period where Britain was improving its performance relative to the rest of the world. The 1980s, contrary to the beliefs of many on the left, were a successful decade for Britain. They were a time when, after the industrial chaos of the 1970s, business and enterprise began to flourish once more.

I’m not really going to dispute that. I saw the 1970s and started work in the 1980s. I saw a gradually improving economy, such that it blinded me to the single worst financial mistake of my entire life to date, buying a house in 1988. Because I inferred the general from the particular. The only defence was I was in my twenties and a greenhorn, but it’s not like wiser heads, both my parents and colleagues in the office, hadn’t suggested prices were high and there might be value in not acting right now. It is the nature of the world that young folk and believe themselves all-wise and invincible. It is the job of the world to disabuse them of that belief.

These authors ascribe this successful decade to Margaret Thatcher. She had something to do with it, for sure, but I would say that North Sea oil might also have had something to do with it. Outcomes are not always due to a single cause. But Thatcher did seize the opportunity, and did fix some deep problems that did need fixing. Seeing Arthur Scargill, or any union baron in general, still makes me want to throw things at the telly, because Art and his flying pickets and secondary action was running the country in the 1970s. Where Thatcher failed was not in taking the miners down IMO, but in leaving the twisted wreckage of those communities to rot – you can still feel it passing through some of the Welsh valleys. However, in the round, I’ll give the point.

They observe that in 1950 the UK was still richer than France of Germany, but lost its mojo and did not benefit from les trente gloriouses in the same way. We know the litany of 1970s decline. The surprising difference in belief comes with

a comparison of social mobility puts Britain near the bottom in the Western world. Yet the suggested cures to this disease — abolishing grammar schools or redistributing wealth — have been, if anything, counterproductive. This is not just a problem of the left, however. Right-wing commentators are apt to argue about natural ability and talent, as if success is solely a result of destiny rather than persistence.

Much of the following discussion is about the decline in educational attainment of Brits relative to our developed world peers according to the OECD PISA scores. And I’m surprised by Kwasi, Liz et al.

All the experience I have had in my decades on Earth is that intellect is innate, slightly inherited, and broadly immutable. Some people are brighter than others. Intelligence isn’t necessarily an indicator of success, particularly in the past, because there are many other skills – intelligence is broadly reflected in academic prowess, but doesn’t make you a better human being. It wasn’t even particularly advantageous in times past.

I formed this viewpoint in primary school, . In 1960s London, they were short of teachers, and some of the kids who had mastered spelling and some aspects of arithmetic were set to try and teach the slower ones. I was one of the child tutors, not electively, and found the experience frustrating, because I could not see why others could not see what I had learned/derived. Although I am probably to the right of the bell curve I am not MENSA bright, but the range of pupils at this school was wide. In a later repeat performance I saw a quarter of the class lose the plot when they introduced fractions in arithmetic.  Many never really mastered spelling. I was not the brightest in the school, however, and even at that age could see that, though I was in the upper reaches. At secondary school O level maths, calculus1 in the form of differentiation did the same again.

But I could see that some people were slower, and no effort seemed to redeem the problem. My valedictory primary school report had the phrase doesn’t tolerate fools gladly, and the succeeding decades has still not shown me why this was such a bad thing, fools should be kept well away from things they are foolish in 😉 I am foolish at all sorts of things, that house purchase was something I should have been kept away from! I have never, ever, considered teaching as a profession – not as a child, not as a young adult and I wouldn’t entertain the idea now.

In my grammar school, about half the class cleared off at 16, to go to work. These were the less academic, but the employment world of the 1970s was not the same as the employment world today. They could start earning – some of them worked in garages fixing cars or apprenticed to trades. The world of work presented opportunities for a much wider range of aptitudes than it does now, where analytic skills are much more to the fore, particularly if you want to earn well, and that roughly correlates to academic ability, and often to STEM areas, due to some of the analysis being mathematical, or at least arithmetical. Th 1960s and 70s had good earning positions for people without academic qualifications who could learn a skilled trade.

A lot of Britannia Unchained laments the poor academic and specifically STEM aptitudes of the output of Britain’s schools, and the tendency to favour arts and humanities because it is easier to get decent grades in these.

Instead of hard choices, students apply for a degree in media or business, which will often allow for the study of easier A Levels. As with US college courses, science A Levels are more harshly marked than those in media and sociology, the difference being up to a grade. In a culture of equivalence, where all subjects are deemed equal, students make the seemingly rational choice of going for the easier option.

Kwasi and Liz are of the belief that perseverance, hard work and application can compensation of a lack of innate ability. That may be true in many areas, but academic ability I am not so sure, although I have not darkened the threshold of a school for 40 years. Perhaps it’s all different now. This matters, because if an increasing number of jobs require academic ability, then the flipside of that is that the proportion of the workforce who are employable for anything other than national minimum wage will fall – the polarisation into some lovely jobs and lots of lousy jobs2, which seems to be what we are seeing. I am one of those commentators that are apt to argue about natural ability and talent, as if success is solely a result of destiny rather than persistence.

Success in some areas of life may well involve persistence, but academic ability is more innate IMO than persistence. Sure, it needs teaching to focus it, I am not saying teaching is irrelevant, but it won’t improve the material. It’s the same as indeedably’s tale of the second-rate athlete.

For whatever reason, often through no fault of their own, they just don’t have what it takes

The difference is important, because of the implication that the academically challenged can raise their game by putting in a lot of hard work. In which case, Kwasi and Liz are of the view that the problem is a lack of grit and determination of Britons to raise their game.

In Britain, there has been a massive rise in welfare dependency. The generosity of income support has risen sharply since the war. In today’s money, the taxpayer now spends ten times more on social security than in 1950 — with a fivefold rise in the number of people claiming unemployment benefits. The number of people claiming sickness and disability benefits has increased thirteenfold.
[…] The British state has made it too easy for too many people to take the easy option.

We know what’s coming. Massive cuts in benefits. So far very little has been said about this, but the authors of Britannia Unchained do not stint in their admiration for the American model of unemployment benefits, which have a time limit of about half a year. I believe that there is also a 99 week lifetime restriction. We will see Hoovervilles in the UK 3 in the coming recession and destitution if Lasi Trussteng have their way, because trailer parks and people sleeping in cars is how the US solves this conundrum, although to be fair that US is large enough that is some areas the climate makes this more possible, and it has a much lower population density, so the strife with the settled population is probably lower.

Before you FI/RE sorts get all complacent here, Lasi Trussteng would like a word about all that early retirement, you lazy bastards.

Our baby boomer can look forward to a long retirement, based on estimates of life expectancy nearly a century out of date. Most of his universal benefits remain ringfenced by the government, while his defined benefit pension is unlikely to ever be experienced by his children.

One has the feeling that your State Pension is going to be means tested at some stage 😉 The clue is in universal benefits, although it is possible that their position has changed on this – the recent rolling back of the child benefit withdrawal for higher-rate taxpayers goes against the grain.
The move towards an insurance based NHS is also lauded, thankfully more admiration for the European (French and German) way of doing that than the obnoxious US model. Supporting evidence is the pulling of the health inequality white paper by Therese Coffey. Although once you’ve done the work I’d be in favour of publishing it, it is going to be a statement of the bleedin’ obvious.

The rich are bound to live longer in general because they have more control of their lives. As a child I used to get bronchitis, because it was cold and damp in 1960s London before central heating. I never had it after my mid 20s – because I didn’t live in exceptionally damp and cold houses.
If you are poor you will fill yourself and your kids up with cheap carbs. That won’t be that varied, it will be ultra processed foods with all the problems that go with that, and that will not do you any good in the long run. There are whole supermarket aisles that I don’t recognize as food – nobody needs family packs of crisps or tins of noodles in alphabet shapes. Michael Pollan was right – eat foods your grandmother would recognize. But it’s all more time and aggravation. There is very little that can be done about this unless we decide that poverty is not allowed to happen.

Redistribution is very much a no-no in the Truss-Kwasi-verse. It is at the root of what has gone wrong with Britain, arguably redistribution and the everyone’s a winner approach are the Chains that bind Britannia, and This. Will. Not. Do. Any. More.

You know what to do to get out of the firing line.
  • Be rich
  • don’t be disabled
  • don’t be stupid.
  • If you are young enough to have the option, study maths and science at school.
  • If you are shit for brains then simply Work Harder, you’ll get there in the end.
  • Best not have bought a house in the last couple of years, if you have a mortgage, that is. You may be in for some interesting times

Although it’s easy to satirise because of its simplistic approach, there is a lot of truth in Britannia Unchained. Some of their examples haven’t aged well – the admiration for Brazil would hopefully be muted, because while Jair Bolsonaro may well appeal as a strong leader, but de Gaulle’s epithet that Brazil is the country of the future and always will be is ringing more true in the second clause than the first.

I agree with Lasi Trussteng that thirty or forty years the work ethic was stronger in Britain – working class people disliked going on the dole, and there was some sense of pride in not doing so. But there were more jobs right across the ability range 30 or 40 years ago, and the culture was more homogeneous, there was more commonality of media consumption (no talking heads TV and social media thriving on fomenting outrage, for example). People’s expectations were much lower, and they tended to raise their children themselves, rather than going to work and paying others for large amounts of childcare. Everyone was poorer, and there was less wealth disparity. Britannia Unchained will struggle to recreate those times nowadays.

You could make a much better case in the past that work was the path out of poverty. I just don’t think that’s true any more, because a larger and larger proportion of the working-age workforce can’t really add enough value to raise themselves out of poverty.

There is some argument that if people didn’t have children they couldn’t feed 4 they might be better off, and it staggers me that so many people bring up children in poverty, but every technocratic solution to that vector of poverty has ended up creating serious evil if it is coercive, so either everyone else gets bailed in to pay for the fecundity or the progeny have to suffer as a lesser evil.

Even without the problem of children they can’t afford, a life on the minimum wage is probably not going to rich in experiences. The privately educated journalist Polly Toynbee wrote a book about that called Hard Work, and it really doesn’t sound like the greatest amount of fun you can have, and ISTR she got to take some time off, possibly weekends, in her leafy middle-class home.

Liz and Kwasi haven’t gotten off to a good start with their attempt to implement the principles of Britannia Unchained, largely because the markets asked to fund the interim shortfall have taken one look at the project and thought to themselves ‘Nah, not gonna work, not a prayer, guys’ and raised the premium they want to lend against the collateral. The markets would have been a lot more convinced if Lasi Trussteng had first outlined the cost-cutting part of their project:

  • Massive cuts to benefits >10%
  • immiserate the poor in Hoovervilles. Much admiration for US tough love.
  • Public spending cuts – Think 10%. There is admiration for the Canadian cuts a few years before the 2012 publication of Britannia Unchained
  • Privatise the NHS (along the European model, in fairness to them)
  • Raise interest rates closer to the 5-7% long run average for the UK, crushing house prices, which would genuinely improve affordability for the young and transfer capital from the economically inactive oldies. How that will go down with the core Tory constituency remains to be seen
  • Make planning and zoning more like the US, pretty much build anything anywhere
  • Do something about the State Pension to reduce its cost – reduce eligibility, make it payable later, whatever.
  • A smaller State in general, as a matter of principle

Unfortunately they chose to major on the expensive revenue-losing aims first. It’s like going to the bank and talking all about the des res you want to buy on their dime or the flash car, without telling them about the promotion you are going for to be able to afford it. I’m not necessarily of the view that tax cuts are bad in and of themselves, but it would have been a lot better for the market’s ability to digest the great scheme if Lasi Trussteng had got off on the front foot with their savings first.

The problem is that the solutions outlined in Britannia Unchained are going to be unpopular with the voters or the funders. The unique talents of the Liz and Kwasi double act is that they’ve managed to make them unpopular with both. Well done them. Not only that, but they look decidedly shifty in telling the Office of Budget Responsibility to deliver their report six weeks after the October budget. That just looks shifty.

It is theoretically possible to improve the balance of payments by increasing growth, and undoubtedly some of the proposals in Britannia Unchained might increase growth. The trouble with increasing growth in developed economies is twofold. One is that economic growth means working harder, which is a decline in lifestyle for those of us who want to do something other than working with our allotted three-score years and ten. That includes you lot, dear readers, with your reckless FIRE fantasies, just as much as potential candidates for Benefits Street. Britannia Unchained shows a secular decline in working hours in nearly all economies, good luck with turning that round.

The second is represented by all those keen emerging economies and hard-working Asian students that are lauded in the book. There’s a hell of a lot more competition these days. It will be harder to shift the needle on the dial.
As the Torygraph fulminated, most of the self-inflicted wound Liz Truss and her sidekick made was because they didn’t have confidence in their working. There’s something studenty about the whole project, and particularly ill-suited to a crew who spend a fair part of their book spitting bricks about the lack of analytical skills and STEM smarts in the feckless British workers, students and school-leavers.

To get ahead in the new type of jobs you need to be able to reason and think logically.

[…]

While improving these skills helps growth, they can’t be restricted to the few. The biggest effect happens when on top of a large number of people with high-level skills almost everyone has the basic and mid-level skills. On the latter measure Britain needs radical measures.

Yup. I would say start with Dear Leader and Crazy Kwasi. Sticking “and then a miracle occurs” in the middle of your working has been disapproved of in the sciences for a very long time.

I saw a copy of this Sidney Harris cartoon, in Felix, the Imperial College student newspaper in the 1980s, and it’s still true forty years later

Show your working Kwasi, and having independent workers replicating it and getting roughly the same answer is even better. Independent workers like the OBR.

There’s a price to pay for unchaining Britain, which is deconstructing many of the things voters have been used to having. The NHS, benefits and pensions cost a hell of a lot of money, and that offer plenty of savings enough to make it all work. It’ll be a tough sell at election time, but if you have to borrow the money to make all the tax cuts eye candy work, you’re going to have to show your working to the bank manager, and show your plan to the voters.

I’ll leave you with what Liz and Kwasi of you, the voting public, as they open Chapter 4, Work Ethic

Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.

Just as well they didn’t have to sell this project at an election 😉


  1. I was shocked to learn that these days  calculus is deferred to A level maths these days, so perhaps this is a wider problem and Kwasi et all are right. 
  2. Lousy and Lovely Jobs: The Rising Polarization of Work in Britain, Goos and Manning, 2007. 
  3. For you metropolitan city mice that say you haven’t seen anything like that, I have seen unauthorised camping by the poor in some parts of Somerset. This isn’t wild camping or elective #vanlife 
  4. I’m perfectly aware of the social justice warrior argument that having a child is a 16-20 year project and a lot of ruin and misadventure can happen over two decades in a life, particularly with the increasing precarity of work. I have some sympathy for these unfortunates, but they aren’t the majority IMO. Contraception is free on the NHS. This one grates because I recall paying an awful lot of tax and NI towards New Labour’s largesse snowing parents with public money, to such an extent that there’s a hypothesis that Tony Blair was the daddy of the baby boom. At least Truss and Kwarteng approve of this baby boom for giving the bulge of young people now. They don’t give the daddy due credit for his redistributing ways, but they lambast New Labour for driving up public spending in the last couple of years of their tenure. You can’t have it both ways, guys 
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52 thoughts on “Britannia Unchained – Welcome to your Future”

  1. Thank you for taking a hit for the team, one book I can safely remove from my reading list.

    > Contraception is free on the NHS.

    The number of university educated friends who have had children because “something went wrong with the contraception” (many with the admission that a bottle of wine and resulting ‘forgetfulness’ was the cause) needs more than my fingers to count on. It seems to me that we need more than free contraception, like information campaigns about contraception for forgetful people. And if these people, with good incomes to lose have a child so casually, how much more people in less well paid jobs?

    Re footnote 1, I went to uni in the switch over year from A levels to AS and A levels, and the amount that had been removed from the Maths A level took our lecturers by surprise. Some thought us stupid, others badly taught. I am sure more has been removed in the last 20 years. Not that I can do any of the maths any longer, so some may reasonably ask what the point was.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. > forgetful people

      We have that covered. Some cases are perhaps one partner being whoopsed, in which case it’s elective but concealed 😉 Perhaps the ads should be a little bit like the smoking ones, more gritty about the reality of being a NMW parent

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    2. I hardly ever post on these blogs, but I just wanted to give some real life experience. Myself and wife are expected child number 3 – 1st was planned, 2nd was a contraception failure but we were probably going to have another one that year anyway, 3rd was unplanned despite someone with 2 masters degrees doing the contraception. Yes abortion was an option but theres potentially a horrendous amount of emotional distress there.

      Admittedly based on n=1 but as a society I think we have to plan on children happening despite economic circumstances, and also recognise the benefits it brings.

      PS Really enjoyed the clear-eyed review of Britannia Unchained

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yup, the maths doesn’t compute, their strategy is supposedly betting the country on getting growth to fire up to the maximum possible which will then pay for it all. This is why economics is a pseudoscience, not a laws-of-reality derived science, like the difference between astrology and astronomy. The massive flaw which renders the whole idea an infantile wish, is that our species has over-run the planet. We are in population overshoot to the extent that we have already caused irreversible destruction, (agricultural land and freshwater alone) so even just a sustainable or non-growth economy is no longer possible. The best option possible now is some managed decline.

    This is because our current civilisation is only viable as powered by all the concentrated hydrocarbon fuels we can access, and even then, always going at full pelt. But since our financial system of interest on invested capital by definition requires endless growth, it can only crash when growth is not possible, so energy is the key and we blew it partying like children over the last few decades.

    This short clip explains how energy is the basis of our current lifestyle and therefore why it’s over: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVjhb8Nu1Sk

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  3. @unwilling code monkey. Agreed. A job well done done. Saving us a lot of pain.

    As regards generalising from the particular. The quote about all South Asian students all working to be doctors was disproved not only by survivor bias but in a Goodness Gracious Me sketch where Sanjeev Baskar (in yoof mode) explains that he takes an easy “business studies” course so he can say he’s at uni, innit.

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  4. Umm yeah, but this still being a democracy you have to get people to vote for you and hey presto, voters like it like a cup of sick:

    Truss: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/survey-results/daily/2022/09/30/fee3a/1

    Kwarteng: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/survey-results/daily/2022/09/30/fee3a/2

    Priti Patel and Dominic Raab’s front bench careers have also already ended in humiliation.

    Kwarteng and Truss are not far behind.

    Given they have the support of only a small faction in the conservative party, I don’t see them being allowed to lead the party into some Jim Jones/Jonestown style murder-suicide pact.

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  5. I remember reading somewhere that the American Army always desperate for recruits still cannot handle anybody with an IQ below 82
    This is a large segment of the population-16%+?-therefore unemployable in our current technocratic society !
    Points to the scale of the problem you so ably describe in your post
    Not sure what the answer is but that top 10% of earners that provide 60% of the tax receipts better get increasingly successful-they have a heavy responsibility and hopefully a sense of duty to the rest of us less fortunates!
    xxd09

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    1. Jordan Peterson has spoken about the US army and low IQ. In basic army jobs I suppose people are told exactly what do do and if they can’t manage that it’s a problem.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Our council here maintains at least 2lorries with 6+ men apiece for ditch
        cleaning etc that obviously could be done with one man and a digger!
        Those lorry men however go home every day to their wives and families with a job done-self esteem intact
        Is this the way ahead if the country afford it?
        xxd09

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I do have an occasional soft spot for Jordan Peterson, but given this it is JP, I thought I would try and second-source his claim, because it struck me as quite remarkable. The claim seems good enough, and if it is true that this represents 10% of people ! who may struggle to function in a complex society even at the levels of handling money then it appears there’s nothing that can be done here. It squares with my experience that training can only take you so far. After all, it doesn’t mater if I spend 24hours on the track or in the gym, I am still going to trail Usain Bolt.

        It isn’t just jobs. A lot of things are tremendously more complex in society now than they used to be. Claiming unemployment benefit – even working. When I started my first pre university job you could take the open cheque into the bank across the road and exchange for cash, you didn’t need a bank account.

        Army training of grunts isn’t known for it’s academic sophistication, so if the conclusion is that even the army can’t train such, then training and upskilling is probably not the route out of poverty. I had no idea that the proportion is so high, I’d have guessed it at 1 or 2%!

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      3. @xxd09

        This used to be much more widespread. When I joined The Firm the cleaners were on the payroll. For another example, look at this old Tektronix induction programme “You are Tektronix”

        Tek makes high end electronics test gear. I suspect that fellow isn’t in the oscilloscope business these days.

        and indeed the soundtrack for your council workers, Deacon Blue’s Dignity, as featured by the Escape Artist

        Yes, outsourcing does make things cheaper for the employer. But it seems to spread much human misery, too.

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  6. Yep, calculus started being a A level only thing over 30 years ago now…I enjoyed some of it, but like your peers struggling with fractions, never managed to get my head around other aspects of it so that was the end of my enthusiasm for studying maths sadly.

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    1. I do recall it being like running headfirst into a brick wall. They started with the analogy of sneaking up on it setting lim x ->0 which already was an eh what? why? moment and then how the 2 of x^2 somehow migrated from the exponent to a multiplying prefix definitely fell into the ‘and then a miracle occurs’ territory. A lot of people fell at this hurdle.

      So maybe calculus is a push at 16 😉

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      1. My eldest has just started calculus in her last year of prep school. Age 12. Aged 10, she had to pass VR, NVR, English and Math papers to get into selective high school for age 13. The Math paper assumed being able to factorise algebraic equations and solve simultaenous equations in 2 unknowns. Typically GSCE stuff. In the UK’s state education system that wouldn’t happen because they give a shit about those with ability. She’d be left to rot, exactly as I was.

        Much of the problems exposed in Britannia Unchained are correct. The solutions are not. The essential problem is the we live in a increasingly complex technological society, where information is available to many, rather than just a few. The global playing field is levelling up and there are a heck of a lot more Asians, Africans etc than us. Competition is brutal.

        A millenia ago, your skill wielding a lance might have given you the edge. Now it’s about intelligence, ability to innovate, and how you can lever that (wealth helps). The returns of being able to do that well are increasingly non-linear.

        The bulk of the population feel they are increasingly being left behind, because they are. Hence they blame ‘others’: immigrants, elites etc. Essentially they are a generation of Luddites. They want the old, simpler world back. The problem is the old, simpler world was utter shit. Working in a steel mill was not better than working in an air-con call centre. They have much better lives now but, in relative terms, they feel worse. Relative always matter more when you have first world problems.

        People need to rejoice in the complexity of our civilization. We should never want a simpler world. If Putin really loses it, those few of us who survive, might find ourselves scrabbling around in the radioactive dust to eat a few roaches or a rat. A simpler life but I’m not convinced many of us would like it.

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      2. @ZX The probelm is the left behind will at some point stage a revolution. This has historically kept the balance just ahead of the revolution in England, but it isn’t a given.

        I would also reorient the school system towards favouring those with talent, though it comes both from benefiting from a grammar school, which I did, and also the assumption that academic abiltity is nature, not nurture. You can bugger it up, but you can’t put in what’s not there. That’s not permitted thinking now. I do not have the pedagogic experince to really know if it’s true, but my life experience so far does not support the mutability of ability hypothesis.

        But I do recall clearly losing the argument about the value of grammar schools in a discussion with DxGFs dad. Not because this didn’t give the gifted working class kids a leg up, but because they rubbished others chances – I have met enough fifty years olds still with steam coming out their ears about the 11 plus that they failed.

        Now arguably the world is different now and perhaps we ought to return to that. But what story do we tell the 80% that aren’t part of the 20% making the running?

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  7. Thanks for the interesting summary. I was aware of the book but had not read. I suspect the electorate and MP’s are unlikely to countenance such swinging changes myself.

    Even Thatcher struggled to make much headway with public spending which never declined much as a % of GDP notwithstanding her reputation.

    I have a sneaking admiration for their approach, granted the market’s reaction gives an undeniable response to their execution but at least they are recognising there is a problem and ‘having a go’.
    Alternative govts of all political sides are simply in the business of managed decline whilst promoting fairness whereas actually the electoral needs (but doesn’t want) some honesty.

    We’ve been spending more than we earned for decades and the chickens are slowly coming home to roost in the form of the interest bill.

    I do fundamentally have an issue with the premise that people are poor because they are lazy. As you say some people don’t have the minerals. Minimum wage jobs in the economy need to be done – I’ve often thought the most important people in our office are the ones cleaning the loo’s. The difficult fact to compute for the population is that that type of job is increasingly going to lead to a reduction in standard of living as the UK becomes relatively poorer.

    Unless something turns up such as low cost energy.

    Things have the potential to get really tough in the UK for a while particularly if the situation in Russia continues.

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    1. I was only just ahead of the curve flying the kite of incoming benefit cuts ahoy. It’s being trailed by Simon Clarke. To wit:

      My big concern in politics is that western Europe is just living in a fool’s paradise whereby we can be ever less productive relative to our peers, and yet still enjoy a very large welfare state and persist in thinking that the two are somehow compatible over the medium to long term.

      They’re not. We need to address that precisely because in the end, if we want those strong public services then we are going to have to pay for them. I think it is important that we look at a state which is extremely large, and look at how we can make sure that it is in full alignment with a lower tax economy.

      Simon Clarke is the levelling up minister. How’s that work, then? I guess a steamroller does level things, in a way 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  8. David Willetts’ book The Pinch provides an interesting demographic take on the Thatcher ‘glory’ years: the large boomer generation was at peak earning potential, so high tax receipts, even if rates lowered, and in those middle years where their need for healthcare, benefits etc were lowest. Meanwhile, the smaller cohorts either side required less overall spending on health and education, hence the apparent ability to make cuts.

    Now it’s the reverse, the smaller cohort is working to provide the free retirement benefits the large boomer generation have ‘paid for’.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I seem to recall you have had the calculus in Maths O Level discussion before. After being challenged by various commenters, I thought you conceded that you may have misremembered and that it was in your Additional Mathematics O level that calculus was introduced. I did my main maths O level a year early in 1968. O&C board, which my school used at the time, quaintly called this Elementary Mathematics. This certainly contained no calculus. By the time of my 5th form main O level year in 1969, the school had switched exam boards to London. I did my Additional Mathematics O level with them and this did include a large amount of calculus. London board called the regular maths O Level Mathematics (rather than Elementary Mathematics like O&C) but their syllabus also did not include calculus. In the late sixties calculus seemed to be exclusive to Additional Mathematics O level whichever board you used (okay from a sample of two).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I took regular maths early (so I am guessing 15) and did the AO in the next year I think (15-16) as I took my main O levels at 16, which was the normal age for that. My O level certificates were from the London board, and I think the additional maths is on the O level paper. But yes, fair enough. I will row back from the wassup wit’ da yoof of today, and leave that to our Britannia Unchained authors as I don’t have a dog in this fight. I was the dog, many many years ago 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  10. My experience accords with DavidV.

    I did Maths O Level a year early in 1984 – no calculus. The following year, I did Additional Maths O Level (actually it was AO Level – Alternative Ordinary) in which differentiation was introduced. And then the next year (lower 6th), I started A Level Maths which threw integration into the mix.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Curiously I found integration conceptually easier, though perhaps I had been softened up with the introduction to differentiation the year before. It was nowhere near the brick wall of differentiation for me.

      Like

      1. I graduated in 1975 (also from IC – Elec Eng) and entered my career in time for the high inflation of the late 1970’s. I remember that there were eventually news reports such as the rate of increase in inflation is declining. I and my colleagues had much jovial discussion whether this was the second or third differential that they were talking about.

        As for the relative difficulty of differentiation vs integration, I think the concept of area under a curve is easier to understand than rate of change. However, I always found the mechanics of performing differentiation much easier than for integration.

        Like

    2. I have had no reason to even look at calculus for forty-five years. I was playing around with an old slide – rule when I just wondered if I could understand it. One Ebay purchase on an old text book later I found that a) I could understand a bit more than I thought. b) The print was too small for my eyes.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. > For you metropolitan city mice that say you haven’t seen anything like that, I have seen unauthorised camping by the poor in some parts of Somerset.

    https://report.westminster.gov.uk/report/2304258
    Unlawful Tents on Park Lane, W1, September 2020
    Unlawful tents on central reservation grass between Park Lane North and Park Lane South near Marble Arch. A licence from Westminster City Council is required

    (How does he know so much about City ordinances? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnlIWpZSPXU )

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Thanks for taking the silver bullet for us all, Ermine.

    Trying (for once) to take their aims at face value, what I still don’t understand from them or from your analysis is how this is meant to benefit us all in the long term?

    As I understand it the price we pay is to have less social safety net, less public expenditure on healthcare, less protection of the green belt, less state pension. Broady speaking – less.

    That’s a big price to pay, so what’s the prize? As I understand it, economic growth? Which isn’t something you can take home and enjoy by itself, so what that really boils down to I suppose is money – ? More money for those who aren’t stupid, disabled or unfortunate? i.e. More money for those who probably already have money?

    If it’s that, how can they feel that’s a laudable aim? Transitioning to a country where you’re even more screwed if you’re just born into unfortunate circumstance or if a poor fate befalls you, but where if you aren’t any of those things then you’ll probably be a bit richer than before. Maybe a “Mercedes instead of a VW” sort of richer. That sounds a pretty dreadful aim to me.

    If it’s not that, what have I misunderstood?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. > how this is meant to benefit us all in the long term?

      First out the gate, it’s clearly not meant to benefit us all, If you are part of the litany of folk under the “firing line subhead” then I would say, in the round, you will be poorer under Trussnomics than you would otherwise be. Period.

      I believe that the principle of supply-side economics is that they are trying to grow the overall pie. Government spending does have an opportunity cost, this is capital that can’t be allocated elsewhere in the productive economy. They are also big on the Laffer curve.

      So it’s not intellectually incoherent per se, though one could see it as unkind. At a high level it says that probably less than 50% of the working population makes more than 50% of the economic pie, from which growth comes. Reducing the taxes that hypothetically disincentivise these economic agents to produce more would mean that they work harder and do produce more, increasing the overall size of the pie, by increasing growth.

      That is true, in theory. What has never been shown is that this makes most people in the society better off. It was tried by Reagan, who had the advantage of a world reserve currency, and by Thatcher to a much smaller extent, and she had the advantage of North Sea oil revenues. It is possible both had the advantages of the Baby Boomers in their peak earning years and productive years, as Martin T’s comment suggests. In a world running up against the limits of peak oil and other resources, the assumptions of 40 years ago may not hold. Also in Reagan and Thatcher’s time the workplace was much less cognitively demanding, manual work paid acceptably well, because it added more value than it does now

      > More money for those who aren’t stupid, disabled or unfortunate? i.e. More money for those who probably already have money?

      Yes. This extract from the book shows the thinking – the last sentence is about the social justice thing that they very much don’t like, because it chains the engines of wealth creation in their view. Note that the book was written in 2012 for five years after the GFC. The endless grousing that it was all New Labour’s fault may have been convincing then, but it hasn’t aged well – after all, it’s been twelve years of Tory rule since 2010.

      Gordon Brown came of age in the 1960s when Anthony Crosland’s The Future of Socialism was the dominant intellectual force in British politics. In particular, Crosland believed that private enterprise could be used for social ends by controlling management. There was no need for nationalisation when the state could get its way through other means. This was a precursor to Gordon Brown’s ‘prawn cocktail corporatism’ where big business, especially in the City, operated under license from the state in exchange for large slugs of cash which could then be poured into public services and wealth redistribution. Rather than making the difficult decisions to improve the capability of the individual, this view simply assumed a growing pie in which the only policy decision was how to cut shares in it.

      (from BU, chapter A Tale of Two Nations, a little way after the subhead the Prudent Chancellor)

      My main disagreement with them is that I disagree that you can improve the capability of the individual in the case of many individuals at the bottom end, arguably because I am one of those “apt to argue about natural ability and talent”. If the United States Army can’t do it, I don’t see how Liz and Kwasi are going to manage to make a substantive difference.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. yes, ZXSpectrum48k’s observation that the diagnosis is stronger than the solution is about it.

      What we are getting is the solution, which is facile and it stinks. They seem unable to deal with a world which has dependent variables rather than independent ones, which is a bugger in the field of economics, and in the social sciences more generally.

      Like

      1. Economics cannot cope with path dependency, non-linearity feedback loops. Macroeconomics and modern portfolio theory assume ergodicity. It’s a world of tractable toy models. Better than nothing but still useless.

        Like

  13. Ermine. Regarding your reply to my comment above (oddly I can’t reply to it there). “But what story do we tell the 80% that aren’t part of the 20% making the running?

    If only it was 80:20. It’s more like 99:1. Unless we go back to a hunter-gather society, inequality is baked in and it only seems to get more extreme as complexity rises. Hence we need aggressive redistribution. We also need people to feel that they had a decent chance to be in the 1%, their kids have as good chance as any, and the 1%er kids are unlikely to be in the next 1%. It can’t feel like a rigged game. Plus we need to make sure those in the 1% are doing the right things for society.

    I’m a good example. Working class, crappy inner cit comp, but luckily I’m austistic so got 6 As at A level. Top in the Tripos. PhD in quantum field theory. And what I am doing? Trading swap yield curves and swaption vol surfaces. Did I want to be a hedge fund manager? No. Got zero interest in economics, finance, business but a post-doc salary of £10-12k at Cambridge wasn’t liveable. So I end up in finance. Society has to take some blame for me ending up doing this crap.

    This week I bought some UKTI 0.125% 2068 at a real yield of 2% for myself. Price around 44. Sold Friday at 124. £1.6mm gain. Will I pay tax on that? No it’s CGT free. Will I spend it? No, don’t need anything. Will it change my life at all? No since £1.6mm isn’t even 5% of my net worth. Who did I buy them off? It’s seems it was a Vanguard tracker who was a forced seller. So I’ve probably taken £1.6mm off some retail investors.

    Trickle-down economics? Don’t make me laugh.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. ZX48K,

      so from almost pennyless to UHNWI. Serious, well-meant congrats.
      And a job you don`t like, kids at an age that still values parental input, so why are you still working ?
      You are smart enough to entertain yourselves !

      PS want ro relive that youth misspend behind a ZX Spectrum ? google ZX Harlequin…

      Like

  14. When I graduated from secondary school in the mid 1960s calculus was not taught formally. The closest I got was using limits to work out the area of an ellipse.
    In first year university we got vector algebra and calculus in spades. I learned most of the techniques but I never really appreciated the theory until I had to explain it to a colleague when I worked as a summer student in a lab after my 3rd year. What twigged for me was that a derivative is really just another function like y=x^2. You don’t have to worry about 0/0, just take the limit and use that value in your function.
    This book really helped me a lot:

    I find it interesting that my grandson is studying sequences and algebraic expressions like 2n+1 in the eighth grade now.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Well…. I came from a poor family, I passed my 12+ (As it was in my era) and went to a grammar school. Due to free grants I was able to study for a degree in a stem subject and had a good job in technology/engineering.
    I then hit my ‘top’ on the career ladder and after being made redundant, my lack of network, opportunity and bank of mum and dad, has resulted in my decline into a doom spiral. I have been cast out of the working world and cannot find a way back in. The doors are firmly closed.

    I fear the future and dread to think what my final pension status and funds will be. I have another 10yrs until I can claim it. At the moment the news is so depressing I just try to survive on my savings (I do not qualify for benefits … so not a lazy scrounger) and when they run out, I should just wander into the countryside, curl up and die somewhere. I cannot expect to have any support or help from the Government or the NHS.

    I have seen people living in their cars in market town car parks so the homeless and outcasts are already here we just cannot see them that clearly yet. The local council keeps moving them on. We are getting more like the US every day. Why is the US held up as the role model to aspire to?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am not a health professional but I have experienced depression and there seem parallels. It makes it harder to find ways forward and it can feel the world is closing it. Certainly before taking the countryside option please seek help 116 123.

      There are a lot of engineers retiring now, it may be worth looking in places where there is a cluster. I was surprised, after Suffolk, where openings seemed far and few between, which was part of the reason I chose to retire early rather than look for work. Fast forward 10 years in time and westwards in space and there seems a lot of vacanices posted in the field. Bristol is one cluster, but Brmingham/W Midlands seems to also have a fair cluster.

      Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. The news is indeed.. bad. It might be worth taking a break from it, friend. Like alcohol, it affects people differently. Some can shake it off, some even respond positively too it, and for others it takes hold like a disease. Particularly during covid, we need to be conscious of our own response and manage intake.

      From one engineer to another, if you’re still interested in the work then you will find something satisfying. Networking isn’t all it’s made out to be, if you have some skills, someone will value them – income is good! Godspeed.

      Like

    1. I don’t find a huge aount to disagree with. Possibly riffing on small details, I think London finace will survive better and I am not so sure the EU will do that much better in the short term, though for entirely different reasons. But the Dean Acheson problem ofBritain losing an empire and never finding a role is always there, The imperial spirit runs deep in the private shools that the political elites are drawn from, so they always struggle with the absence of Imperial power IRL. I was still at scool when I heard on the radio the last dregs of this imperial outpost or that gaining independence as the centre released its hold.

      So the English political class struggles to comprehend the reality of being a small peripheral island off continental Europe. The map in theeir heads does not properly match the territory of the modern world

      Like

  16. Take solace, young Ermine, there were a lot of us young fools out there in the late eighties projecting what was a brief financial nova years into the future. I too bought a house in 1988, compounding the error by doing so while I was working in a faraway foreign land. Barclays saw the potential for milking me even further and, god bless ‘em, declared an additional risk premium of 3% on top of already high interest rates. I think at one point during the Major / Lamont debacle I was forking out 18%. Add to that falling house prices, renting it out via an almost criminally neglectful letting agent and I am amazed in retrospect that I didn’t just pay a local thug to firebomb the place and claim what I could on the insurance. I never had the heart to compute where I’d have been ten years down the track if I hadn’t been so dumb.

    I suspect – and there are already clear signs – that Truss’s crusade will turn into a highly predictable ideology-meets-reality car smash, achieving nothing and doing a lot of damage in the process. In one way this is already starting to unfold because they will neither acknowledge the Brexit elephant, nor be honest about what it has done / is doing to the economy, nor how in its current hard form it will shackle any future attempts to improve economic performance in the UK. 52% of voters elected to chuck a large handful of sand into the engine of UK Inc. in 2016, the damage is done and there is no way back any time soon. Maybe I was one of the luckier ones, but things looked to be going fairly well before the referendum and the future inside the EU looked quite bright. Looking at the country and its people now as I travel around there is an unmistakeable air of decline and decay. Maybe on a deeper level this is what the Brits really wanted? To sink to an irrelevant small second-world country, indulging in their favourite pastime of ‘mental and moral masturbation’ (Mark Twain’s definition of nostalgia). The Brits aren’t Americans or Singaporeans, and no amount of flogging from Truss’s ideological HQ will make them so. I’m afraid all I can see ahead if Truss and her fellow unchainees aren’t defenestrated soon is increasing chaos and pain.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I wish that there had been more of a focus on education as a way to raise the quality of life of the country. It won’t be a quick term fix but would generate improvements gradually and then gathering steam.
    We don’t need to turn everyone, or even many, into geniuses. Just a general increase of ability, and extra 10%, 20%. That could translate into slightly better earning potential in life, slightly better revenues for the country.
    Unfortunately we seem to given up on that over the last 12 years. There was a time of rebuilding the broken schools. But now they seem given up on that, less and less funding. The grammar system coming back suggests that those who don’t make that would be abandoned.
    The story of the athlete was interesting. Those who aspire to the very top will often run the risk of missing. I wonder how much they would regret trying for it. I hope that they don’t.
    Not every professional footballer makes the Premier League, but does that mean they should have settled for a career in accountancy or IT. I hope not. Equally those that make the Premier League, chances are they won’t win it, or make an international callup. Does that mean that because they didn’t reach the very top it wasn’t worth it? Again I hope not.
    Footballers can still earn a decent (or amazing) amount so that cushions the blow somewhat but the achievement levels are true in other sports. I’d still like to think that trying your best and coming up short is it’s own reward. To know that you gave it your all, or all you were prepared to.
    Given ZX’s comment I wonder whether Autism will be a superpower in the coming generations 🙂

    Like

    1. > We don’t need to turn everyone, or even many, into geniuses. Just a general increase of ability, and extra 10%, 20%. That could translate into slightly better earning potential in life, slightly better revenues for the country.

      I don’t have a dog in this race, but firstly – we have limited resources. Previous generations selected by ability to focus resources. This was deemed elitist, so it seems we now try to spread the resources evenly. Which may be egalitarian, but probably doesn’t get the best out of the most able. The shift in the requirements of the workplace means a focus on greater excellence is likely to add more value than a little bit more average. As the book said, average is over.

      BU did moan about the mediocre level of skills achieved by education now. But I guess they can’t face the keening from the many who would have failed the 11+ so it’s not going to happen, and teaching is absolutely against the idea of selection.

      Like

    2. I’m not sure autism is a superpower. It has big pros and cons. Society still sees it fundamentally as a form of mental disability that needs to be “corrected”.

      The problem is the lack of norm referencing in education. In 2011, 16% of undergrads got a first, a total of 34,000. In 2021, just ten years later, 36% got a first, a total of 101,000. Surrey Uni, a third rate uni in global terms, gives 40%+ of it’s students a first. That’s obscene.

      So you’ve increased the supply of firsts by a factor of 3 in a decade. Over the last 30 years or so, the supply has increased around 10 fold. Do you think demand has increased 10 fold? Of course not. But all those people think they did well. They expect a good job since they got a first.

      Not even the Great British Peso (GBP) has devalued as fast as a first class degree.

      Like

      1. I’m autistic. Have a Masters degree, middle class family. I have been burned out most of my life and officially I am full time self employed, unofficially I have been mostly unemployed and unable to work for most of my life, due to stuff that has been covered on Monevator and here. In an different era I would have been absolutely fine. In the one I was born into, I am the pioneer of a new era of screwed – the hidden ones who are capable, very capable, but cannot function or be hired or work in the society we have now. Thank eff I’ve had help from random strangers along the way or else my multiple periods of homelessness would have been on the streets instead of put up by strangers. I’m not an isolated case either. One of my personal rants in the RE discussions is how people assume they can pick up work if they want it – HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Or qualify for state support, or can get health care, or insurance. I have had so many basic things barred to me. I have always had to cross my fingers and take risks people would blanch at – no other choice. I take heart from ZX, well done. It’s good that some of us are wiping the floor with the system.

        Like

  18. Dear ?Mr ZXSpectrum48k,

    Big fan of your posts. If possible I would be very grateful for your thoughts on buying bonds at present.

    Excluding developing countries I’ve only seen bonds with low yields during my working life (early 30s). The generic advice I’ve seen is buy a diversified stock index e.g. Vanguard global ftse all cap with a small serving of bonds being optional to reduce volatility. Volatility is not a big concern at present (youngish + public sector worker that I doubt we’ll ever have enough off). Bond yields are going up significantly- do you see a benefit in buying bonds at approx a 4% nominal yield (e.g. Vanguard UK government bond index fund) to hold long term at present or would I be better just sticking to stocks?

    Many thanks!

    Like

  19. Thanks for taking the time to read so that we don’t have to.

    I suspect that like many, I would be a net beneficiary of these policies – being more or less FI and more or less young and more or less a tax payer.
    But I am not and I don’t like the fact that these super smarties in government now who are frothing at the mouth in favour of their “growth” policies are deluded and think that their superior brains have given them better solutions than everyone else.
    There does need to be big reforms in the UK. My biggest bugbear is the intergenerational gap between old and young – I’m old enough to have dodged the bullet of being an assetless renter at 40 – but if I was 10 years younger I’d be at least twice as rich – but I don’t think that the reorganization of British politics is complete by Truss et al – it will end up being a cankerous node on the dying stump of the Tory party.
    Will Labour do any better? I doubt it.

    Like

  20. One more clown down, one to go, another round, roll the dice again, move to the pounding of your heart and watch through your fingers which numbers come up for your mortgage rates and pension.
    Welcome to the wild, wild ride of Trussian roulette, the new game taking the UK by storm, play like your life depends on it Baby. Is Sir enjoying Sovereign T with his Unicorn cake, or is it too heady?

    An older friend just told me that having bought his first home shortly before the Tories last tasered the £ (in ’92?) he couldn’t take his eyes off the news as he watched in horror when the interest rate on his mortgage bounced upwards faster than his calculations on whether he still owned a home.

    The Mad ship Britanic sails blindly on into the iceberg field with no fear, since the captain doesn’t believe in icebergs and went to Oxford, so knows this to be true. This is what Britania unchained means, living free from your fears, feel the fear and gamble with the sheeple’s lives anyway.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, the Immovable (“I ain’t going anywhere“) object of Crazy Kwasi has just met the Irresistible Force of the limits of Sovereignty. Brexiters may have Taken Back Control but that control only reaches as far as your ability to borrow money to fund the hot mess of your wet Taxpayers’ Alliance dreams.

      If you reduce your economy by 5% then your sovereignty shrinks by 5% with it. Simples, boys and girls. That’s the trouble with first order thinking in a multivariate system with independent actors, not all of which buy into your student politics 😉

      He who pays the piper gets to call the tune. Seems that Eton failed to teach Kwasi that lesson. They could have implemented Britannia Unchained if they had started with matching the public spending cuts with the tax giveaways… After all, it’s one of the mantras of these TPA numbnuts that governments don’t have any money of their own, schoolboy error La Truss and Kwasi… Wonder if she will still be in post come Monday

      Liked by 1 person

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