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on 22 September 2007
I've nothing to add to the excellent review by PhilosopherKing except to say that the economics can be quite tough going at times -- nothing worse than what you need for the business pages of a broadsheet, but challenging for those like me who don't have any economics training.

And nothing yet has happened under Brown to belie their gloomy assessment.
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on 3 July 2007
Larry Elliott, the Guardian's economics editor, and Dan Atkinson, the Mail on Sunday's economics editor, have written a scathing account of the capitalist class's future for Britain. We would have no manufacturing industry, so no services. They cynically note that our so-called growth areas are all talk - barristers (like Blair and Darling), management consultants, spin doctors, PR men, speculators, deal-makers and brokers.

Britain has become a giant offshore hedge fund churning speculators' money, a giant tax haven for the world's super-rich, with four million of us now working `in service', as many as under Victoria. This is no future for a self-respecting people.

The City of London does not work for Britain. It costs 5.3% to raise investment funds in Britain, result, 1% of world R&D in engineering and electronics. In Japan, the cost of borrowing to invest is 1.1%, and they have 47% of world R&D in engineering and electronics. Over half of Britain's R&D money is spent in pharmaceuticals and aerospace, which the government has funded for decades, through the NHS and the Ministry of Defence.

Elliott and Atkinson show how the Labour government has got transport wrong. Between 1997 and 2005, the cost of motoring fell by 6%, but bus fares rose by 16% and rail fares by 7%. No wonder that between 1980 and 2002 road traffic increased by 73%.

Net immigration was 248,300 in 2004-5. Yet unemployment is 4.5 million, so why do we need to import workers? Employers like immigrant labour because it helps to depress wages: as Brown's new Trade Minister, Sir Digby Jones, says, "We have a tight labour market in the UK and yet wage inflation has not been a problem. Immigrants are doing the work for less."

Elliott and Atkinson recommend, "Rebuilding the manufacturing base requires support for strategic industries and, whisper it quietly, the sort of selective protectionism that would be feasible only if our relationship with the European Union were to be radically recast - at present, such assistance would fall foul of EU rules."

They conclude that we must end our `obeisance to globalisation, free trade and unbridled market forces'. And we must ditch the fantasies which hold us back.
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on 11 July 2007
This book contains many interesting facts and arguments which will give the reader much to cogitate over on politics well before the Blair decade, as well as during it. The discussions of personal debt, the Private Finance Initiative and how Gordon Brown made successive redefinitions of the economic cycle in order to meet his `Golden Rule' are particularly educational and thought-provoking, and made me long for more serious coverage of such issues in the mainstream media.

However, journalists' desire to play Cassandra often compromises any serious message they are trying to convey, and at times the book lapses into a hysteria which reduces its credibility. For example, having pinpointed the origins of the 1973 oil crisis in the collapse of the Bretton Woods system and a resulting `vast upswing in inflation across all economies', the authors later describe this episode to have been an `environmental-economic catastrophe' simply to tie in with their closing arguments on limits to economic growth. If it was genuinely an `environmental-economic' catastrophe, this should have been mentioned in their earlier exposition. Such occasional sloppy thinking does make one wonder how much of the book's stronger arguments are well-founded.
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on 18 January 2009
Having read this book 18 months ago, I can't help but feel that the authors have a right to feel a little smug.
The unconstitutional change of Labour leadership has done nothing to change the premise of this book, and the global financial melt-down can be seen retrospectively as vindication for the final sentence of the book, sadly not heeded by Mr. Brown.
I can't pretend that I had a profound interest in economics prior to reading this book, but it has acted as a catalyst for further reading, which I should thank it for.
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on 28 September 2008
I found this quite an entertaining and reasonably informative read. Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson, both economic journalists with the Guardian newspaper, have a lively style, and they are mostly critical of the Blair years. I was impressed by their fairly balanced account, despite their left-leaning background, which I do broadly sympathise with.

They make clear that on many policy issues in the UK, choices can and have to be made. For example, either we continue to fight expensive wars overseas and increase defence spending, or we reduce spending and withdraw troops to some extent. We cannot fight these wars, while holding defence spending down, and Blair has pretended that we can, with the consequence that our soldiers are not well-equipped enough. He therefore has us living on 'Fantasy Island'. I won't go into the other fantasies, as I recommend that you read the book.

On two key issues, indebtedness and the environment, the authors contend that we (politicians and citizens) have no choice. We must save more, spend less, and the economy must grow more sustainably. If we do not do this, we apparently face disaster: a deep recession, while debt levels fall, which may already be happening, and significant climate change, which may also already be underway. Action on climate change clearly needs to be global, but we all need to change our behaviour.On these last two, I agree with the authors.

They do avoid much detail, perhaps to make the book easier for the layman. There are no technical economic discussions at all. This doesn't really detract from the content, which remains interesting and informative. It does weaken a few of the arguments, some of which remain simply assertions about particular policy choices.

The final chapter sets out the choices and imperatives for any UK government facing the problems they describe.

A good read overall then, but if you follow Larry Elliott's columns, you may be familiar with much of it.
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on 25 May 2007
Too often, economists say the blindingly obvious too late to save the ship -- like generals, they fight the last war.

This book is looking at a process which is still happening.

The writing is clear and direct, as you'd expect from journalists trained to communicate rather than politicians practised at concealment.

What is being argued must be engaged with or we trash our future.

I am a colleague of Dan Atkinson.
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on 5 January 2014
This book correctly identifies a number of shortcomings to the Blair era of Government. The over dependence on service industry and banking, the addiction to cheap debt and the dodgy book keeping methods all ring true. Where the book starts to fall apart however, is when it analyses the root causes of the problems and the proposed solutions. At this point it begins to sound like the daily anti-markets anti- globalisation rants that occur in the Guardian on an almost daily basis. After criticising PFI initiatives and Blair's war like policies it goes on to blame everything on Free markets and globalisation. Sorry, but PFI and other innovations of the Blair Government are nothing whatsoever to do with free market economics and it was not capitalists who launched the war on Iraq but rather Blair's view that a strong state can solve all the worlds problems - even those it has no business interfering with.
Then we get on to climate change and bizarrely the authors think the cure for this will come by people in one country deciding in isolation to stop having foreign holidays and boiling the kettle so often while developing countries open power plants daily and start owning SUVs. Climate change is a global problem not a local one and only global solutions will be able to prevent it. This kind of hair shirt Guardian style morality will to work because nobody- not even the majority of Guardian readers will put it into practice- though that will not stop them being sanctimonious. The fact that Johnny Rotten is quoted and the year the Sex Pistols started is heralded as a golden era is one warning shot that some of the ideas in this book are half baked.
By the end of the book I understood better why Blairism had been so attractive at the time and that spinning fantasies was actually preferable to expecting people to embrace the idea that they have to settle for less.
Whether it's true or not it certainly won't inspire anyone or win votes.
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on 18 May 2007
Like Mark I have decided to buy this book on its title and summary alone. At last someone has noticed that we are living in cloud cuckoo land when it comes to assessing our status, economic viability and social stability as a small island nation. The extract in the Guardian contained many nuggets that make me want to read more like the fact that there are as many people in domestic service now proportionately as there were in 1860, and most graduates are doing jobs for which they are overqualified. I will report back when I have read the whole book.

I wrote the above in 2007 just before the crash and since then we have seen all or nearly all the book's predictions come to pass. We were living in a debt fuelled phantasy created for us by the exploitative greed of the bankers and the limitless naivety of the population and political classes. So now we are all paying for it. And what about the bankers? They are at it again and in pretty much the same way. Draw your own conclusions but mine is that we now firmly on the downward spiral that can only end in National defaults and sharply declining living standards for anyone who works and pays taxes. The super rich and the welfare dependant continue unscathed.
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Excellent book. They say Blair is worried about his legacy. Well he might be if the dire predictions in this book come to pass.

This book excellently punctures the protective shield of spin around this government. We are now underproductive and overborrowed. This is a dangerous combination, and when the crash comes Blair and Brown will not be popular.

This book illustrates the old truth that you can fool some of the people for some of the time. However you cannot fool them all, and eventually even the best bluff will fall apart. This book shows exactly how this government's bluff will fall apart, and just how dangerous this falling apart could be.
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on 26 November 2012
This is a good book which basically exposes ,what is today now obvious, the fact that the west and especially the UK is and has been living beyond its means for many years. This applies especially to government [ but also private individuals who are over borrowed with the connivance of government as regulator [ for example in the housing market , which has ceased to be a matter of people buying homes to live in but became a speculators paradise to make money for investors and of course the government].

Essentially the book points out that governments but especially New Labour have sought to tell us we can have it all , have our cake and eat it, despite the obvious impossibility of such a notion . The authors point out the inherent contradictions of the New labour spin: ie that massive public sector borrowing is without much cost or the need to worry how the debt will be paid back, we can more regulation[ indeed it is essential ] but there is no contradiction with having an open and competitive economy , high immigration will benefit the economy whilst at the same time suggesting that low or nil unemployment is achievable , we can eradicate poverty, increase benefits and public spending but at the same time keep taxes low etc etc. It also predicted the possibility of a financial crash [ which subsequently happened] and exposes the bankruptcy of our governments especially New Labour.

The authors have a right to feel smug about this prediction . However whilst the book offers some solutions eg re-prioritise social and economic policy , support manufacturing/exports, save more and consume and borrow less, the book is its own fantasy when it comes to climate change and environmental policy. Firstly it accepts the climate science unquestioningly - arguing that climate change will be an irreversible disaster which requires urgent and radical government action[ in effect a major rebalancing of the economy towards green energy and improved environmental policy despite the fact that such energy will prove to be highly expensive and render what is left of UK industry uncompetitive . The writers also fail to consider the fact that climatic evidence is now indicating that global warming may have ceased in 1999. Even if warming were to recommence hasn't and their argument is accepted any action to substantially reduce emissions in the UK would be futile since the authors fail to point out that the annual increase in emissions in Chia alone exceeds the total CO2 emissions from the UK so action would really like the UK being a turkey voting for Christmas.!... The book would be better if there were an update since it also has failed to predict or discuss the appalling economic crisis that is now engulfing Europe due to another fantasy - a currency this time - the Euro/ The book is well worth reading nevertheless.
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