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Thursday, 9 November 2017

Declining Britain: Again!

On a BBC News programme yesterday, I heard the UK defined as 'the world's sixth-largest economy'.  I had been used to us being described as the fifth-largest, and had not seen any report of a new league table that relegated us; but that did not surprise me: I can't monitor everything, and we have become adept at burying bad news [as an unscrupulous civil servant suggested on 9/11].

It is no surprise to recognise that we will sometime be reduced to seventh, tenth and even  - ultimately - twentieth unless policy is radically changed. As the superb Anthony Hilton pointed out in last night's Evening Standard, Mrs May's speech on Monday to the CBI Conference took her [and her government] no further forward on important issues; The 'industrial strategy' is yet to be be unveiled: but it is expected to be much less radical than had been expected in the first year of the May regime. There is no indication of the potential shape of a Transitional Agreement with the European Union after March 2019; to the obvious consternation of managers of large and small businesses in all sectors of the economy. The headbanging advocates of Britain being set adrift to sink - alone, alongside only Ecuador - in the cold waters of the WTO Rules, remain powerful in the government - to the extent that the Brexiteers are demanding that Priti Patel [who includes hard opposition to EU membership, or even close co-operation within the European Economic Area, to the stupidities that made her departure from government inevitable] must be replaced by someone with similar views.

Hilton points out that even the triumphant new-technology companies that now dominate the US stock market - Microsoft, Google, Apple etc - benefit from hugely from research that was done in state-funded laboratories decades ago. This observation does not belittle the originality and drive of those who have carried these concept into intellectual property which can then be marketed to millions of enthusiastic customers: they have - and deserve - their billions of dollars. But it does lead to the painful admission that the UK has no comparable corporation under British ownership; even though the country continues to be hugely generative of both deep concepts and and innovative applications of the highest thought. I have rabbited-on endlessly about the small British firms that have been created to implement such ideas, that have been unable to accumulate the finances necessary to support their voracious needs as they pass through the stages of implementation to the ability to deliver a final product to the market, and thus succumb to foreign ownership. In a few conspicuous cases, opportunist buyers have agreed - for the time being - to keep the company HQ and laboratories in the UK, but they can renege on that at any time; and the intellectual property - the all-important ik - is free for them to exploit anywhere, anytime.

A serious Industrial Strategy would provide finance for such emergent companies - or divisions of existing companies - in sufficient quantity and on sufficiently loose terms to allow developments to reach the global market in good time: recognising that not all the guesses can be correct. There will be losers as well as winners [though history shows that losers often have attributes that can be developed in different directions and circumstances to become successful themselves]. Even the sixth-richest country must be able to afford the few billions that would be involved [which the government could borrow on extremely favourable terms, against all historical comparisons].

The UK is also being criticised, deservedly, for its constant reductions in the size, efficiency and capability of the armed forces. One of the regular themes of this blog has been the symbiosis - over many centuries - of money spent on research for defensive weaponry and dividends later gained from the civil exploitation of those technologies, This is precisely the time when the country should be searching for new, super-effective weapons systems, communications and defence capabilities: in which the UK has led for almost a millennium.

Behind all these thoughts lies the need for investment - especially by the state, in combination with people with ideas - to bring new concepts, new materials and new processes into being. They can only be objectified by manufacturing, and it is through innovation in manufacturing that the productivity of the economy can be increased. Factories that produce highly-desired output [regardless of whether the buyer is the armed forces or the mass market] can make significant profits because the customers are prepared to support the exclusivity of the producer firm's ik, part of the profit can be reinvested in new concepts and processes, thus the productiveness of the firm is increased, which means that the average output per employee - the productivity - of the enterprise can be raised and the economy can grow substantially.

This virtuous circle cannot be achieved without individual entrepreneurship [both inside and outside companies] and the active, continuous support of the government. The cretinous Economics that has stressed free-enterprise and free markets with minimum state input has fostered the disastrous decline into which the British economy has been locked for more than a generation.

I will carry on blogging as a small voice for reason.

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