Review: Two Hundred Years of Muddling Through, Duncan Weldon

Rating: 4 out of 5

I thought the author did a pretty good job throughout of explaining things from first principles. Rather frequently, describing economics can go well beyond the casual reader into academic and very exact terms. This was not the case here, making it an eminently approachable book.

What I don’t think the author managed to do, however, was to make the case for his chosen title. Oh, sure, there’s not been a grand plan of British economy from the time of Pitt, but neither would this be a reasonable assumption in a democratic system. Instead, the question inevitably becomes whether most governments have done what should have been expected of them and there we get into the interesting aspects. Interesting in the sense of how various governments affected the future economy. I’m most cases, it looks like the general estimation is too strong and their real impact was much less. Here the author’s tendency to draw parallels between different governments and times was also very useful.

In the end, what stands out? Gladstone being much more successful than he could have imagined, the Liberals being too successful for their own good, early Labour being not successful at all (mostly thereby destroying the expectation that it would be socialism run rampant), and the very long periods of Tory government after this time, irrespective of them going against their own party principles. Only the Tories ever really change their colours; Labour slides on the scale of success while either taking up Tory policies (in New Labour) or failing to do so. Liberals were very successful until this meant that no one had a reason to vote for them any more.

This is of course where the author’s approach to analysis is particularly interesting – in some cases taking one person, noting that whether they made a stand on principles in one case which meant their position, the next time round, however, staying at the helm was more important. These analysis show why Baldwin, Chamberlain, and Macmillan should be much more familiar names to the modern voter than they are.

Overall a very good read and I do recommend.

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