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April 22, 2012

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BT

There has been quite a lot of broad-based social unhappiness with the economy.

Just look at the Occupy movement, or the London Riots, or the Student Fees protest, or the unhappiness of the media with austerity and stagnant growth.

What we do not have is unhappiness from big business. This is because - as you point out - corporate profits and the stock market have held up very well despite the stagnation. Plus inflation is very low compared to the 70s.

So the burden of stagnation is being felt by the newly unemployed and workers wages not rising with inflation. Inequality has actually worsened since 2008.

The big question is will zero GDP growth come home to roost and kill corporate profits and stocks? Or will big business escape problems by earning profits from asia?

In the latter case, will big business just stop caring about stagnation in the Western World and simply enjoy the rise of China and India as they progress all the way to superpowers.

Account Deleted

The 70s were perhaps the point at which we stopped seeing our economic health as a largely national matter, and thus something we could collectively control. This was a philosophical debate in respect of entry to the common market and a harsh, practical lesson in respect of the oil shock.

This seems to have led to a fatalistic belief that there are global forces that we can do little to influence, as well as a perennial hope that growth elsewhere (the US, China, Germany) will somehow float all our boats. Collectivism is weak in this environment because it does not extend beyond national boundaries.

Our concern now is not whether the working class is controllable in any one nation state, but whether capitalism is controllable globally.

Bill Quango MP

Inflation is low.

In the 70's it was out of control.
the 80% payrise demands of the union bosses don't look quite so silly if its accepted that 12.5% inflation was the average for the UK in the 1970's.

A two year pay freeze could easily impoverish a previous well off worker.

One of the big differences is the violence.
1970s was a very violent, anarchistic time.

Bomb warnings on the underground were common. Pub bombings. Shop bombings and so on. Gunmen shootings. The Olympic massacre. Hijackings. Tourist targeting.
And protest was violent. The vietnamisation of protest was still going on. Occupy the universities. Occupy the factories. Bring the government down.

And then there was a real movement for social change.

people with proper greivences.
Gay liberation
Women's lib
The ecology movement

Savings were becoming worthless, house prices unaffordable, wages lower and fuel beyond reach.Taxation reached new highs, plus the unions marching in the cities and students smashing things up and bombs on the trains and long haired eco-hippies and beatniks camping in public places singing protest songs on lutes ...
Hang on..you might be right.

Lib dem heaven of facefuzz, sandals, patched jeans, lentils and home made wine and tandeming to work is just around the corner.

Keith

It is amusing to see that sunny Jim Callaghan was a tremendous success in retrospect; so may be we should rehabilitate him from historical oblivion and get the TUC to give Dennis Healy a present of beer and sandwiches for good measure!

Is not the crisis feel of the seventies explained by the fact that a general quasi Utopian mindset had developed after the second world war with unrealistic expectations of economic and social transformation? The seventies saw a sudden collapse in this almost religious or superstitious faith. The often extreme and exaggerated reaction is the after shock of losing the faith. Something like this happened after the French revolution when faith in enlightenment ideas was challenged by conservative reactionaries and revolution was postponed until 1848?

Another feature of the seventies was structural economic change was accelerated. The growth in output and incomes was the result of changes that were threatening to established industry and social culture. So what looks good as maths does not feel positive when experienced subjectively. This is characteristic of periods of rapid change. Periods of calm are very boring for students of history and get forgotten. Luddites smashing machinery stick in the mind. Exam questions are set on it.

Post 2008 is just an intensification of trends long under way not an apparent watershed derailing an optimism building up since the thirties. There is no bubble to burst. No faith to lose as we lost it some time ago. If we had it to start with. That may explain the absence of a cultural response. No one is interested in culture only marketing. This is the age of Cameron. The rise of Thatcher was the logical result of exploded utopia: cynicism and private greed reborn as a theory of human nature to replace the preceding attitude of hope and social caring and cooperation.

On the bright side the achievements of social democracy were tremendous and most humans given the choice would much prefer the 1960s and seventies to any other previous period to live in. The objective achievements however must be regarded as linked to the utopian atmosphere to some degree. So however foolish it might seem in retrospect the optimism had a useful effect. Which the cynicism and individualism has dissolved.

Chris

I started work in 1966, but even for me the 70s are a distant nightmare. I can recall a feeling back then of being powerless and also vulnerable. It seemed like a precarious time.

Now, after 46 years of work the recent recession and its aftermath have far less 'precarious' for me. Partly this is because everything is now bought and paid for. Even as a self-employed engineer work has been kind, although this is probably because of the total lack of expertise around. (Too many media graduates and not enough engineering graduates.)

Where I have noticed a problem is with retirement. Annuity rates are so low, I can see I'll have to work on to at least 70 before I can stop by which time I'll have worked 54 years.

Looking at how our four children are faring, they have all managed to stay employed, and not had to cope with redundancy (which I have had to do twice in my life). But the recession has affected them mostly because of higher taxes and inflation. Their response has been to cut back on big things like cars and holidays.

Okay, a survey of 'one', but a survey of someone who has worked and lived through both periods. Conclusions?1.) Those who lived through the 70s can't remember clearly but are now in a fairly good place. Those who didn't live through the 70s, if in work, are far better off and simply cut their cloth - three holidays instead of four per annum, and don't change their car as regularly.

Koenfucius

Everything is relative, I think: on the whole (as you already say) we're better off now than people were in 1972, so we can more easily deal with a reduction in income. Perhaps more importantly our aspirations, relative to our current standard of living, are more modest - I was shocked to be reminded of the fact that quite a few dwellings didn't have central heating or indeed an indoor toilet. And finally, as Bill Quango says, inflation was much more significant then than it is now.
Seeing the early 1970s again (I was only 13 then) does put things in perspective, though.

theartteacher

Superb post, crystallises a strangeness of this time you don't hear talked about enough.

You answer your own question perfectly - we are trapped in a individualism that maintains a static "neoliberalism", or (to be less problematic) economic consensus, and that, especially in the UK, there does not seem to be a countervailing power or idea or alternative arrangement. That a response hasn't emerged shows how embedded this type of narrow liberalism has become. Liberal ideas are wonderful but realistically you can't frame everything as individual rights or liberties, because there are simply freedoms that do not exist and cannot be upheld in isolation.

You could write a book on it, but, simplified, I reckon that....


1. this economic consensus has lasted 30 odd years. In the seventies they were rather getting over the failure of the left, and of a progressive movement so there was cynicism and disappointment but still a vision of another possible political arrangement, another economic arrangement etc. unlike now where....

2. Most people can't even remember a politics built on collective concerns, and view not only themselves in a vacuum but also the present time. There's a broad abstractism, a feeling of no history in our culture, in geopolitics, and especially in economics, which relates to....

3. I think the axiomatic technical basis of neoliberalism (rhetorically at least) aligns to a increasing "technified" Western culture, built on an artificial hyper-rationality (like Weber identifies basically) as well as some faulty underlying axioms like....

4. People are selfish and can't be trusted. We're a much more fearful society (unjustifiably so), which is deeply isolating (that's a kind of reflexive thing, since the beginning of human societies, but we're historically at something of a peak). We've lost faith in people, and their ability to represent others - all the elites seems to have lets us down - MP's, the media, big finance, corporations.....cynicism about these groups (and therein humans) is isolating and leads people to just look after themselves....

5. Things haven't been that bad for most people with any power in the current political or social system. The telly and the lights ain't gone off for most people yet, riots are limited so far, still foods in the shops....basically most people are still living at a fantastic level of personal affluence, historically speaking. And unfortunately people don't quite see outside this very privileged life, in terms of the conditions others have to live in, or in terms of wider history, or ideas of justice, notions of shared sympathies or "solidarity", or even in terms of where power lies and where it might take us - and how it might jeopardise our comfort.

Matthew Goodwin

Rich/establishment: "What are you complaining about?"

Poor/subject: "The pain of uncertainty and poverty."

Rich/establishment: "What pain, I don't feel anything."

guthrie

I disagree with your last few sentences:
"Although our objective economic condition brings neoliberalism into question, the political and cultural response to it shows that the individualistic rejection of collectivism is still thriving."

To which I reply, nonsense. It is partly atomisation as you note, but also a general lack of apparent alternatives and lack of alternatives to vote for. Enough people voted for new labour because they thought that the tories were bastards who hated the poor and didn't do much good for anyone else. Last election the tories signally failed to get a majority.
That hardly seems like an embracing of individuality to me. Instead the issue is that new labour is no real alternative.

The tories will run you over with the vehicle of capitalist development. New labour at least would pause to call 999, whereas the tories would stop to nick your wallet.
But that difference isn't enough to give us voters real choice.
And as for culture, what culture are you thinking of? That of the meeja, dominated by establishment thinkers, big business and those who suck up to them? Or that of the normal person? But as noted, if the bad things have happened to the most vulnerable, i.e. the young, the ill, old or marginalised, what chance is there of us even hearing about their culture?
Plus it usually takes a while for counter cultures and ocunter movements to develop, see for instance the forming of the labour party, unions, etc.

guthrie

Also, come to think of it, weren't the 70's, with punk etc, a bit like the 60's in terms of % of population being young? I.e. the more youngsters you have the more chance of loud brash counter cultural stuff getting started. Add to that the more fragmented cultural hegemony by big corporations and greater opportunities of one sort or another, and you have the basis for a lot of change.
But now, to be perhaps a little extreme, the youth are dumped and ignored, with fewer of them around and wall to wall braindead entertainment available to keep most of the pacified.

Ali

I think that in reason people feel that the 1970's were worse that the present day is because Britain did less well relatively compared to our European neighbours as well as America, Japan etc.

The Eurozone crisis has lead to even worse conditions in Spain, Greece, Italy, Ireland. Japan has had a lost decade (well more like 20 years) and America is having what they are calling the great recession. Where as in the 1970's Britain was the sick man of Europe and a bit of a laughing stock.

If everybody else is suffering too you don't feel so bad

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