The Rathouse
Bill Hutt on Trade Unions,
Wage Fixing & the Rule of Law
Rafe Champion
This appendix to the paper on Hutt and the mythology of the trade unions takes its name from an essay by Arthur Koestler which he contributed to a series titled "Suicide of a Nation?". The essay described how the class structure of England and the mentality of the workers and the "toffs" made Britain the sick nation of Europe after World War 2. This is a remarkable achievement because Britain in the Victorian era was described as the workshop of the world, ruler of the ocean waves and arguably the premier world power.

The purpose of this appendix is to explain that the ideological battles of the last two centuries have involved at least three quite different clusters of ideas. The conventional notions of left vs right or capitalism vs socialism or labour vs capital are confusing rather than illuminating because they do not describe all the options that are available. In economic policy the free traders or economic rationalists represent a third party, quite distinct from socialists and conservatives who support very similar kinds of interference with markets, for much the same reasons, based on misreading of the lessons of the industrial revolution. Free traders have had to fight on two fronts and this accounts for much of the bad press and the seriously distorted picture of the free trade agenda that emanates from both the left and from many conservatives.

Koestler reported that in the period 1950-55 British exports increased by 6 per cent while those of the Common Market grew by 76 per cent. The comparative figures for the following five years were 13 per cent and 63 per cent. Through the 1950s no industrial nation had a lower growth of per capita output than Britain and the growth of the national income of the Common Market countries doubled that of Britain.

The British decline was the result of a long process and it has been suggested that England was the wrong place to lead the industrial revolution because the upper classes  were hopelessly biased against manual work (indeed against paid work of any kind - recall the segregation of the professional cricketers), against wealth (unless acquired by inheritance) and against trade, industry and enterprise generally. Many of the new magnates bought country estates and blended into the old aristocracy, hoping that their past would be forgotten, quite unlike the US where self-made men were proud of their achievements and were happy to celebrate them in public.


Jacques Barzun & Others

The Lion and the Ostrich.