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Friday, 28 April 2017

We Want Eight and We won't Wait

At the period when the imperial success of Britain seemed most assured, and Free Trade was an absolutely dominant mantra, in the nineteen-hundreds [1900-1910] there was a huge agitation demanding increased government spending. Alongside the tentative steps taken by the Liberal government to introduce the first scheme of social insurance [basic cover for sickness and unemployment, plus non-contributory old age pensions], which was eventually passed just in the next decade, the Navy League was demanding a massive expansion of the navy. Kaiser Wilhelm II was leading a campaign for Germany to achieve something close to parity with the British Fleet in terms of the number of vessels that could be maintained in European waters. The Royal Navy had responded by designing and building Dreadnought a revolutionary design of battleship with new-style armament, impressively high speed and a new level of armour-plate protection. Germany responded by ordering their first couple of similar ships, so a numbers game began.

It had been recognised for centuries that Britain's predominance in world trade depended on the navy, which in its turn depended on the availability of naval bases all round the world. Thus it was an implicit condition of British politics that - regardless of which party was in power - the necessary money be found to keep the navy in a position of unparalleled predominance over all others. The navy not only supplied protection for trade and traders, it was the originator of modern navigational systems, and Admiralty Charts provided the best maps of the oceans that had ever existed. Thus spending on the navy went far beyond the construction, manning and victualing of ships.

The introduction of HMS Dreadnought was followed by the Germans' attempt to improve on that innovation [and they were followed by the US, Russia, Japan, France and Italy], to which Britain responded with a 'super-Dreadnought', and to buy into innovations in wireless communication, the development of better ammunition and a plethora of related developments, which provided employment for more and better technicians in both the naval dockyards and the wide range of suppliers across all industrial sectors. George Bernard Shaw wrote Major Barbara, a morality play in which a Salvation Army officer learns that the workers in a town that was focused almost entirely on designing and making ever-more-lethal armaments are very much better paid, housed and provided with 'improving' art galleries and lecture classes [and the leisure time to enjoy them] than the workers in the rest of the country. While Shaw's play is clever fiction, it contains an essential truth. What President [ex-General] Eisenhower was to call the 'military-industrial complex' in the nineteen-fifties had provided innovations and high living standards for centuries. The emergence of the US 'rustbelt' in later decades is related to two principal factors: one is the decline in the amount of  steel and the number of basic ships, trucks and tanks that are needed by a modernised military, combined with the automation and robotisation of the material industries that are still needed to provide the new hardware

Military-industrial development and production are still vital to the USA, and the technology that spins off from defence spending - including the space programme - is a major component in the lead that the USA has in intellectual property worldwide. Britain has spent decades dismantling the plant and trying to ignore the lessons that were understood in the era when this country, too, managed a positive balance between military and civil science and technology. The decline of the UK will continue as long as the ancient lessons are ignored by an ignorant, ideologically driven Econocracy that has the ear of the government.

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