What’s Happening to Our British Friends in the Current World Crisis?
The old saying about the British economy is that when the United States gets an economic and/or financial cold, Britain gets the same but it becomes pneumonia. Over recent years, that old saying has been mostly wrong. Britain didn’t get a cold when the dot com collapse set off a recession in the United States at the turn of the century. In fact the British economy went through nearly a dozen years after 1997 without a serious turndown. It was their best and longest economic prosperity for more than a century!!
But the good times are no longer rolling. In fact, the British economy today seems to be following its old ways, and indeed may well be on its way to a pneumonia—as is the United States? Whatever, both economies seem to be tracking downward at a rapid pace and both are now in recession and gathering more trouble by the day. Furthermore, the reasons and patterns for the trouble, which have become global, includes a very similar collapse of the banking and investing sectors that Americans hear and talk about everyday.
There are, however, a couple of distinctly British reactions to this crisis that are noteworthy. First, the British feel themselves very much a victim of imported problems from the United States. For many British this is just the “other shoe” to drop as a consequence of the George W.Bush years. Ever since former Prime Minister Tony Blair took Britain into the Iraq War, the great majority in Britain has been angry that Blair succumbed to Bush’s pressure to join as a junior partner ( Blair is still called “Bush’s poodle”) in the Iraq invasion. Now comes the economic and financial crisis, and the overwhelming British impression is that this is just another example of how American policy spills over into Britain without its participation in the decision making leading to the troubles—in this case a kind of Boston Tea Party in reverse.
It needs to be added quickly however, that none of this should be taken as indicative of the rise of anti-Americanism in Britian. Quite the contrary, the British sense of kinship, and alliance with the United States remains as strong as ever. In fact, the election of Obama has renewed British enthusiasm for their American connection. But the events of recent years have added a sense of being the junior partner, and certain wariness about automatically saying “yes” to any kind of American policies especially in the area of foreign affairs.
The other noteworthy consequence of the recent economic and financial crisis is that British policymakers are again showing that Britain’s different (from the United States) economic history over the last century produces today a somewhat different policy response and a very different view of government responsibility.
It has been widely accepted for some years now that the Thatcher Revolution for the most part displaced the Keynesian Social Democratic approach of the post World War II in Britain. The current crisis has reawakened the earlier debate on both sides of the Atlantic on that question but even more so in Britain. The general public reaction in Britain has been to look firmly to government for protection against the recession and to be more willing than in the United States to endorse government intervention including even government ownership of the banking sector as well. How government ultimately fares in its stewardship of its renewed intervention to deal with the current crisis will largely determine whether Britain is moving on to a post Thatcher Revolution period in policy terms featuring a much more engaged government than in the recent years .In short, is this a watershed moment? Of course the same kinds of questions are being raised in the United States as well, but the British have shown a far greater interest in collectivism and social democracy than was ever the case in the United States. We live in interesting times.