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on 28 March 2017
Got bored flipping back and forth from one time period to the next from one subject to the next reads like a newspaper
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on 3 November 2012
The wheels came off the British economy in 2007, but that wasn't the beginning of the end for Britain, according to Elliott and Atkinson. The decline started a lot earlier than that - 1914 to be precise.

At the start of WW1 Britain was the world's only superpower, the world's leading exporter, and a major military power. A century later, we've experienced a relative decline as our national prestige has waned and other countries have caught up and overtaken us. We've had no particular strategy as a country, we have allowed a series of imbalances to develop, and there's no obvious way out of it. The economy is "slow-growing, unproductive, unequal, unbalanced and living beyond its means" say the authors. If we don't fix it, the future looks "shabbier, meaner and poorer".

This central premise is pretty much correct in my opinion, and a rather urgent message considering how complacent we appear to be. Unfortunately, the book itself leaves a lot to be desired.

Going South divides roughly into thirds, and only the middle third of it is actually any good. It begins by lamenting Britain's new `third world' status, a hundred pages of whining about how things aren't how they used to be. There are some good points here, but some of it is just downright silly.

The middle pages are the useful bit, where the authors look at the post-WW1 history of Britain's economy. This is a good overview, showing the strategies and government initiatives to stimulate the economy. Taking us up to the present, the book then looks at a series of problems that Britain faces in the coming years, and it is here that it is at its best. It includes the balance of trade, the pensions deficit, energy security, household debt and banking instability. It's convincing, and lives up to the chapter title of `the great reckoning'.

Then comes part three, where there is a tentative look at what we could do about it. The authors suggest Britain can go in one of two directions: a social democracy like Sweden, or a `freeport' capitalist model that would basically turn the whole country into an export processing zone. They then describe how Britain might look under each of these development paths. The former is a fairly attractive portrait, the latter a crass caricature that's more extreme than any other capitalist project yet conceived anywhere in the world. Why they think these are the only two options, I don't know. It's clear that they think Britain should pursue the Scandinavian model. They should just say so, rather than attempting to make the point with a false alternative.

My biggest problem however, comes back to the opening section and the argument that Britain is becoming a `third world country'. The authors recognise that the `third world' tag is used "routinely in pub and kitchen table conversation in response to railway strikes, political sleaze, to the council's failure to empty the rubbish bins." They insist that they "are not using the expression in that way", but then repeatedly do, referring to "Britain's banana republic transport system", or the police tactics of "third world Britain."

This just doesn't stand up to scrutiny, but once they've started they can't stop. Everything becomes evidence of Britain's new third world status. The list includes our politicians' search for a `big idea', bureaucracy, tax breaks for business, and an overcomplicated public service. Then it gets worse - the fact that we have a `tourist strategy', the National Lottery, or the desire to host the Olympic Games. Or consider this: "the large numbers of people employed to stand on pavements handing out leaflets, cheap telephone cards and free newspapers, or attempting to sign up customers for various services, is a sure sign of incipient third world status."

The Sky News subscription team in the mall make Britain a third world country? Seriously?

I know plenty of people like this sort of thing, but the tone of tabloid indignation undermines the very serious points made elsewhere the book. And that's a shame, because there's an important message amidst all the bluster.
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on 24 July 2012
Larry Elliott, the Guardian's economics editor, and Dan Atkinson, the Mail on Sunday's economics editor, have produced another fine book on Britain's economic ills. Their record is good: their 2007 book Fantasy Island warned that Brown's claim to have ended boom and bust was nonsense.

We have a chronic balance of payments deficit, a looming shortage of energy and food, a shrinking economy. We are a net importer of industrial products, food and energy. In 2010 our trade gap in goods was £98.46 billion. In finished manufactured goods, it was £59.8 billion, with deficits in everything from cars (£2.75 billion) to intermediate goods like components (£11.99 billion) to capital goods (£13.3 billion). In semi-finished goods, the deficit was £8.14 billion, in basic materials, £2.9 billion, in coal, gas and electricity, £5 billion, and in food, drink and tobacco, £17.36 billion.

Services had a £58.77 billion surplus, including financial services at £26.6 billion and insurance at £3.7 billion. The surplus on income earned abroad was £23.04 billion. The deficit in transfers was £20.08 billion, including £9.11 billion paid to the EU.

The authors point out, "The quick fixes with which we have sought to disguise our shrinking economic performance - imperial preference, European Community membership, North Sea oil, financial deregulation, asset stripping, and periodic property and house price bubbles - are all used up." They warn that our economy is in absolute decline.

Between 2009 and 2012 real incomes fell by 7 per cent. 6 million households have only five days' savings. Since 1979 the number of people of working age who are too sick to work has quadrupled to 2.1 million. The `self-employed', that is, those employed, if they are lucky, by a variety of employers, numbered 3.9 million in 2011, up from 2.7 million in 1985.

The workforce, `thanks to large-scale immigration', is too big for the economy's needs. 2.5 million non-UK nationals are now employed here.

Just 20 per cent of workers in Germany are low-skilled, 30 per cent in France and 60 per cent in Britain. In the OECD league table of education, we fell from 8th to 28th in maths, 7th to 25th in literacy and from 4th to 16th in science between 2000 and 2009.

The banks are still not investing, instead they are speculating in interest rates, property and commodities. In 2014 a huge wall of banking and commercial debt is due for refinancing, and the banks will be demanding more of our money to cover their gambling debts.

We need to protect our farmers, develop our energy sources and rebuild industry. To do this, we `need to break the power of the City over the economy, smashing up the big banks'.
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on 3 September 2012
There are quite a few books around at the moment about the financial crisis. This one is written by Larry Elliott of The Guardian, who has a done an excellent job in his newspaper columns of explaining the credit crunch etc to non financial experts like myself, and Dan Atkinson of The Mail on Sunday, which has the best financial pages in any of the uk's 'popular' press. A lot of the other books I've read (such as those by Vince Cable and John Lanchester) are 'how the hell did we get here' books, whereas 'Going South' is more of a 'where on earth are we going next' study.

So I was really expecting and hoping to enjoy this book, and it does make some very good points - such as that it is only in the last decade that average earnings in the uk haven't increased at the same average rate (about 1% a year) as the economy as a whole, and even explaining some of Enoch Powell's thinking - that Britain should stop pretending it could still be a major world power - that led to his notorious 'rivers of blood' speech.

However, the book goes off at annoying tangents too often, possibly as a result of the dual authorship, without really explaining the relevance to the main thesis. Too many of the side-tracks are of the 'why oh why oh why' variety that end up sounding like the sort of annoying people in pubs who get their opinions from the tabloids or bbc local radio, and insist on sharing them with you. Personally, I believe that smoking bans, health and safety regulations, and crackdowns on drink-driving are signs of a civilised first-world society rather than a third-world economy. Like a lot of 'ranty' books they twist any occurance to suit their opinions, even when they are mutually contradictory. For example, the authors claim that the prevalence of 'sandwich board' people on the streets of our cities are signs of a third-world economy, but if local councils brought in regulations to prevent these activities, they would no doubt claim that this interference in economic activity was also a sign of our third-world status. In the end, unfortunately, they end up undermining their own arguments.
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on 18 October 2014
It's quite a risky proposition to bring out a book in 2012 with the subtitle, `Why Britain Will Have A Third World Economy By 2014,' and the absurdity of this statement almost put me off reading it. Whatever the problems faced by Britain right now, and as the authors correctly point out, there are a great many, they do not make Britain a Third World economy. If this was purely a humorous exaggeration it might not matter, but although there is some humour in this book, the authors appear to be serious in this claim, and therefore I think they are wrong.
A Third World economy nearly always suffers from excessive corruption, poor infrastructure, low average incomes, a great deal of poverty and an inadequate welfare network/education system, plus a lack of development in home-grown financial markets and services in general. By making out, even half jokingly, that Britain fits these criteria, the book immediately loses credibility.

In reality, Britain is perhaps the most obvious example of an overdeveloped post-industrial society, one that has gone the way of extreme financialization, and is now paying the price of having too few wealth creators in the workforce. The UK is not alone in this - many European nations and also the US are suffering from similar problems associated mostly with high debt levels and an over-reliance on services. Britain, certainly, is an extreme example, especially as it was once, as the authors remind us several times, the global superpower and the workshop of the world (the two things go together, of course).

And while I'm pointing out the book's failings, it contains far too many errors; eg, £200 million when it should be £200 billion (page 71), Second World War instead of First World War (page 138), and this interesting fact: `The economy's net wealth by 1951 was lower in 1945 than it had been in 1913 ... (page 140) plus lots of other typos etc (note to publisher; you can pay me if you want the rest).

It's not all bad, however. The writing style is mostly good and even amusing in places, plus there's a pleasant sense of nostalgia when going over past events. Much of what they say, if we ignore the exaggeration implicit in the title and the overall theme, is true enough, and on a kind of `let's all have a good moan about the state of Britain' level, this is quite an entertaining read.

But the fact remains that the main thrust of the authors' argument is too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Instead of trying to prove that Britain is turning into a third-world country, which it plainly isn't, they could have made a much better case by suggesting that the UK has gone too far along the development path, and is now suffering the consequences of trying to live off a combination of its past glory and, via the City, the wealth of other nations. Perhaps Britain, having been the first industrial economy, is now paying the price for becoming the first post-industrial economy. Industry, after all, is an essential ingredient of any society, modern or otherwise, but financial services are not industry. This is Britain's real problem.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 March 2013
This book's writers are famous for a previous book they wrote called "Fantasy Island" that predicted the double dip recession. So it would appear they have a better understanding of the English economy than most of our so called "experts".

The book states that England has been in decline since 1850 but has in the past had crutches to hold it up but now those crutches are gone and we are going to be in trouble very soon. After 1850 English manufacturing lost its competitive edge, selling to the captured market of the empire kept this country going. The post war booms (and destroyed competition) created another boom and in the 1970s North Sea oil, the housing bubble, lending bubble and selling off state assets created another boom, but now these things are gone and there are no new crutches to help us.

A big chunk of the book is a history lesson about the English economy going from industrialization to the present day. The government is heavily criticized with such examples as: having illusion of grandeur pumping money into high profile high tech projects like Concord so England can feel we are still a major player when in reality there is no market for the product and the use of North Sea oil to fund tax cuts and welfare when the money should have been invested in infrastructure.

Crappy education is blamed for England's falling down the OECD's Pisa world education league tables, England's lack of competitiveness and also immigrants getting jobs over locals. The fact that Blair increased spending on education but we are still falling behind is pointed out as well. ( I should note that the Pearson study puts us at a respectable sixth world wide)

Some nitpicking criticisms of the book would be the lack of mentioning of increasing house prices has caused increases in rent that have gobbled up the increase in wages so for the most poor there has not been any real improvement in a long time. The increase in corporate profits while wages have not kept up is only briefly mentioned as well.

The claim that England will become a third world nation is certainly a controversial one, the authors define the term "third world nation" to mean "it is weak, dependent on outsiders for finance, skilled workers and energy supplies". Some of the examples of third worldness such as large numbers of people selling things in the streets or our political groups wanting charismatic leadership don't seem right to me. I think the authors have a good point but are exaggerating for dramatic effect.

Only on the second to last page does the book actually fill in the details of the claim on the cover, saying that in 2014 there is a large amount of banking dept due for refinancing which combined with squeezes on supplies of energy, metal and food will cause the excrement to hit the fan. Are the authors correct? We will have to wait and see...
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on 31 July 2015
3 random, but telling, pieces of evidence:
1) First Great Western are commissioning Japanese trains to replace their 38 year old British-designed and built HST 125s.
2) We have to get EDF to design and build our power stations. We used to build them.
3) The MoD are thinking of buying a Japanese maritime patrol aircraft (the PI). We used to have the Nimrod. I wondered why the PI was on display at the RIAT (air tattoo) this year.
Some politicians and economists would say that's all fine: not building things we aren't much good at allows us to concentrate on what we are good at.
And what is that?
Financial services, so they say.
What did I read in the business section of the Sunday paper this week? Oh yes, Lloyds are setting aside even more money to pay for PPI mis-selling and Barclays, having got rid of the chief executive who was going to make them a sound bank, now want to sell mortgages more aggressively.
We aren't using the Nimrod because of the fuel leak problem that led to the loss of an aircraft. Let it be seen how little tolerance engineers are given for their mistakes compared with bankers, who seem to be allowed to make the same ones all over again.
Based on this I can't see which makers are on the march. And raising interest rates won't do the exchange rate any good.
At least I buy loads of books - most of them are printed in Britain, and eat quite a lot of British food, and food is the biggest single item in our budget, and go in holiday in Britain (yes, honest). Shame about the rest.
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on 3 July 2012
In this book, the authors argue that in a very short while, the British economy will resemble that of a developing nation rather than that of a developed nation. They then dedicate several thousands of words to cataloguing recent incident after recent incident of official, political and commercial behaviour that makes more sense if we already regard Britain as a developing nation. What they don't claim is that UK GDP will shrink by 15% in a couple of years or that the poor will be found frozen dead in the streets, though they do wave the "the lights are going out" flag - the one where too many of the UK's power stations are due for de-commissioning in a few years' and no-one's built replacements. (Silly billies - the power companies will just import from the French and Germans - after all, most of the power companies are owned by the French and Germans.)

I think they are suggesting that since the UK economy started Going South, the behaviour of its businessmen, officials and politicians got worse. Except they argue that the process has been going on since at least 1918 - it was the First World War what did for the country. The next couple of years will be, they suggest, the final indignities that transform the UK into a developing country full of Chinese engineers building hospitals in return for... whatever it is Britain offers.

However, "working in a low-performance, lop-sided economy" is not an explanation for why the people behave the way they do. The politics, law, management and business culture, the attitude towards education and personal advancement, the discovery or loss of raw materials or value-adding ability - these things come first and the economic status follows. The question is why British officials choose to behave as they do, why so many people swipe in at work so they can treat their customers and clients with peremptory contempt, and why managers and politicians let this happen? The authors choose to stay away from the Dark Side of the British character, where the answers to these questions are to be found.

Their investment ideas are contradictory: they list things that are made by giant companies quoted on the same stock exchange they suggest you stay away from. Unless they are suggesting you go in for investing in private companies, which is a full-time game for wealthy people. And as for investing in pop-up restaurants? For real?

There's a lot of good, accurate anecdote here. I read Disraeli's Sybil, Or A Tale of Two Nations when I was a callow youth, and again later when I was old enough to understand it. Ever since, I have always regarded Britain not as a middle-class country with an inexplicably large underclass, but as an underclass country (of insolent petty officials, rogue plumbers, shoddy programmers, rioters, bullies, currency traders, tax dodgers, puking party girls and affraying lads on the town) with an inexplicably large middle-class. It's not the bad behaviour and incompetence that's the puzzle, but the moments of competence, grace and politeness.

Finally, can journalists talk about Britain without talking about football? The odd thing is that after cataloguing every failure of the England team since it bit, gouged and barged its way to 4-2 in 1966, the authors don't see the recurring hope for the England team as a systemic flaw in the British (or rather English) character: Brits have an endless capacity for delusion and denial, or at least for going through the motions of saying things that would be if they meant them evidence of delusion and denial. Which in itself demonstrates a love of futility and a preference for fantasy. And there's the problem: if the British can collude in deceive themselves about football, they are probably prepared to collude in deceiving themselves about why their children can't get decent jobs and why their own salaries are worth less and less every year.

If you are wondering if it really has been that bad since 2008, then read this book. It won't take long, and you will appreciate that, yes, it was actually worse than you thought.
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on 9 August 2013
This book was a fascinating read and offers a detailed and convincing analysis. It argues that Britain is now a developing economy in desperate need of serious introspection and honest self assessment if it is going to set itself on a course of genuine long term recovery and renewal. For too long the nation has papered over the cracks, tried to do and to be too many things at once, cared far too much about league tables and economic clubs, been unable to accept it s diminished status,and unable to follow a certain path and stick to it. Our society and our economy is a basket case and we must face our problems head on, choose an economic and societal model and stick to it in order to become strong again in the long term. Convincing argument, interesting analysis and very informative for readers who are not experts in economics.
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VINE VOICEon 26 June 2014
Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson's book is a really important contribution to an understanding of the unfolding demise of Britain.

Hitherto, authors have looked at many of Britain's woes - its massive debts, its borrowing-addicted economy, its widening inequalities of wealth and income, its increasingly unrepresentative quasi-democracy, its increasingly discredited institutions - and asked this question - "how has this happened to one of the world's first-rank economies?"

When you shift the question, as Elliott and Atkinson do, things suddenly make sense. All of the Britain's most distressing characteristics - debt, disorganisation, incompetence, graft, lack of accountability and so on - may not be consistent with an advanced economy, but they are all too familiar aspects of third world countries.
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