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4.0 out of 5 stars Reasons to be cheerful, part 4?, 26 Sep 2011
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This review is from: Made In Britain: How the Nation Earns Its Living (Hardcover)
Britain, the doomsayers would have you believe, is sinking in a dead-end economy in which manufacturing is reduced to an insignificant rump, replaced by burger-flipping and call centres. The common complaint, here as in the US and, no doubt, Japan, is "We used to make stuff..."

In this well-balanced assessment of the reality of post-modern British industry, Evan Davis tries to cheer up the Eeyores, first of all showing that, despite conceptions to the contrary, our European neighbours France and Germany also don't manufacture that much any more, and that although Americans are in aggregate better off at least we don't have to work their hours. More importantly, what we do manufacture is pretty damn good; world leading, in fact, when we look at UK companies like GlaxoSmithKline, ARM Holdings and Brompton, but also in foreign-owned factories such as that of Nissan near Sunderland.

That's less than half the story, though, (in fact, less than a quarter) because the majority of British industry is based on services, and there we really are good. We just need to ensure we understand how to stay ahead of the game in that respect, as emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil move up the value chain, and there the government has a crucial role to play in ensuring it not only encourages the right behaviours but also in ensuring it does not stifle the success stories. For example, in imposing increasingly restrictive conditions on student visas we not only deny ourselves the revenues from tuition fees from newly affluent citizens of the rising economies, we also deny ourselves access to overseas talent. Davis uses the example of post 9/11 US policy to demonstrate the potential effects.

Davis's writing is very accessible, and he has written for non-specialists, being very sparing with economic terminology, although he does explain the concepts of gross value added and comparative advantage well. His treatment of the 1960s "I'm backing Britain" campaign is hilarious, and he also deals with objections to working conditions in overseas joint venture firms: the living quarters of Chinese workers in a British-Chinese suit factory in Shandong Province are certainly sparse, but beat anything described in Orwell's Down And Out In Paris And London. Particularly user friendly is his use of an analogy from Wolfe's The Bonfire Of The Vanities to explain how the finance industry profits from the "crumbs" of its transactions.

There are without doubt some oversights. Strangely, in dealing with the benefits of overseas talent he overlooks one of the UK's biggest contributions to the new economy, fibreoptic technology, developed in the 1960s in Harlow by Sir Charles Kao, an overseas-born graduate of UCL, an internationally renowned institution. There's also no mention of the British fashion industry, worth twice as much to GDP as manufacturing, and he references JK Rowling and Harry Potter but not the potential for the British film industry.

The book is also shot through with an inordinate amount of bad editing, with many forms of the verb "to be" totally lost, numerous stray prepositions, a couple or three sentences which can only be understood through deep analysis, and typos such as "excised" for "exercised" and "economy" for "economic".

Overall, though, this is a good book, worthwhile reading and perhaps for buying for anyone wishing we could go back to the golden age of steam trains, coal mines and blast furnaces.
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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 19 Nov 2011 09:19:00 GMT
I find the review a little pompas and picky of the details. Better to care more about content - than any exact grammar rules being followed all of the time and three spelling mistakes. I remember him saying on the TV programme it was not his purpose to cover all industries but rather give an overall picture. Not sure about the book, did he not say that in there too?

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Nov 2011 16:18:01 GMT
Steve Keen says:
I think the word you are struggling for is pompous. And of course you are entitled to your opinion too, I suppose. Er, exactly what was it again?

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Nov 2011 22:30:21 GMT
Last edited by the author on 21 Nov 2011 23:08:37 GMT
Of course, all are entitled to an opinion. You were saying he missed some industries out and went on about the gammer mistakes. You seemed to do it with a superior air about you, that is what I felt. Maybe you do not realise you come over this way.

The way I see gammer, is that it is evolving all of the time. The whole English language evolves constantly, new words, new spelling etc. I quite like it when I hear a person's true voice, their true slang so to speak, rather than them trying to be posh and get the gammer correct. I do find it pompous when people pick at this.

This work was really great, it gave the big picture. This is an amazing contribution. Perfection sometimes does not need to be in the details if the overall message is spot on. Just like a person can make up for not being perfect in some areas of their personality, by being amazing in others. I can see perhaps you are trying to give an overview. But I am just pointing out you have focused too much on little points here, that mean next to nothing as I see it, and which can give the wrong impression about the book, put people off it maybe.

It's almost like someone giving a brilliant speech, and a snob in the crowd, someone like Pince Charles maybe? goes, "he got his gammer wrong here, and here." It is missing the point.

I have some friends who mention it, and correct me now and again. I've nothing against them as people, they are good. And nothing against you, I just felt the need to defend this from being judged in what I felt was the wrong way. If you have some examples of the bad gammer I will look at them and try to judge whether or not it really makes much of a difference. I am all ears to this, it's not impossible I may change my mind if I am wrong. But like I say I am entitled to express my opinion as you did re: this book. And just as we are entitled to our opinion and to state it, we also must listen. Over to you...

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Nov 2011 08:40:54 GMT
Last edited by the author on 22 Nov 2011 08:45:03 GMT
Steve Keen says:
The word is "grammar". And it wasn't grammar I was criticising, it was bad proofreading, which at times obscured the author's meaning. Getting the grammar, spelling, punctuation and so on right is important in order to ensure meaning is clear. English is marvellously omivorous, absorbing words from other languages far more easily than others, and allowing the constant creation of neologisms, but if you then go writing "emale" instead of "email" what do you mean? Sometimes the context will preserve the meaning you intended, sometimes not.

On the other point, I'm glad Davis's work wasn't fully comprehensive (impossible to achieve, too long to read), but it was my contention that he had missed an important exemplar to make his case. I didn't necessarily think he absolutely should have included it himself. I gave the example to illustrate a point and because a review should be more than "This is a good/bad book, buy/don't buy it".

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Nov 2011 09:03:29 GMT
Last edited by the author on 22 Nov 2011 09:04:17 GMT
I think we should write to the audience we intend to receive our work. I have no idea what omivorous, neologisms, or even exemplar means. Indeed according to my spelling checker when I typed in omnivorous, you missed out the 'n', got to admit I got you there! But no bad feelings. Context does often communicate meaning you are right, and when something is misspelt is it often just a single word, and a letter in that word, and is very easy to pick up. You may recall the recent study done by scientists from oxbridge where you can jumble the order of the letters up, apart from the first and the last, and "pepole" can still make sense of it.

I can see your point of good/bad don't buy. But if something is such a minor point, why bring it up? Sometimes if books generally are good, I think we should leave it at that, rather than trying to find something wrong with them. What got me was I heard the author himself say it was never his intension to cover all industries, just give a snapshot of the types of industries we are doing well at, giving some specific examples to show how diverse it is.

Thanks fo replying, it's interesting that we have two different viewpoints, but can still debate it in a civil manor :) I hope you have a good day.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Nov 2011 09:48:46 GMT
Last edited by the author on 22 Nov 2011 10:03:23 GMT
Steve Keen says:
Like Davis's proofreader, mine appears to be on a day off.

I write reviews that address the audience I assume a particular item does too. But whatever, I see no point in dumbing down to lowest common denominator sub-Sun reader level. The vocabulary of the review (and these additional posts) is, like Davis's, non-technical and features nothing I would consider the average A-level student incapable of understanding or at least finding in a dictionary (or is that dikshunerry? I can never remember).

But as for a civil manor. Unfortunately English suffers from a plethora of homophones. Try looking that, manor and manner up in your dic, er dik, er whatever.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Nov 2011 22:44:15 GMT
Last edited by the author on 23 Nov 2011 22:50:37 GMT
I must say it has shown me I cannot trust my spell checker. Why it let "Grammer" through I can only guess, I tried to look up what this meant, but the best bet so far seems to be someone's sir name!

Dikshunerry, you got me laughing!

Apologies for my previous overzealous comments.

Regards, Andrew.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Nov 2011 09:26:36 GMT
Steve Keen says:

In reply to an earlier post on 9 May 2012 18:56:28 BDT
F Henwood says:
Steve you are right to haul the book up on its spelling and grammar as this is a book written by a highly respected journalist and words are the tools of his trade. He should therefore practise his trade to the exemplary standards we come to expect of BBC journalists. On the other hand you do not dwell for undue length on this shortcoming, and you give a good idea of what the book is about. So I voted it helpful.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 May 2012 19:24:42 BDT
Yes you are technically correct, but much as as I hate to point this out, when you say "we" you really mean yourself, Steve, and a few others. I doubt Alan Sugar would read this and spot it, or even Richard Branson. Obvious typos perhaps, but not more complex points of grammar surely? Would they care when they are getting valuable information? To give an example, if I were to have a meal with the Queen (I doubt it but follow the flow) I would learn correct table manors, which fork to pick up first, which hands, and so on. If I was having a meal with a friend, I see no reason to do this. The book serves its purpose very well. If it makes no difference to the vast majority of readers then why I ask do we need these outdated laws of grammar? As I pointed out, even Steve himself made a mistake (even in in the above short review), but does it really matter? Do we think any less of him or his review?
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