Sep

6

If you waste your time as I do, reading through academic journals on JSTOR, you already know that Great Britain had a "Great Depression" between 1873 and 1896.

Musson, A. E. "The Great Depression in Britain, 1873-1896: A Reappraisal." The Journal of Economic History, vol. 19, no. 2, 1959, pp. 199–228. JSTOR.

If, as I hope, you have more interesting and profitable things to do, this information will come as a complete surprise. How can Britain have had a two decade long depression at the same time it was the greatest financial power in the world, with the largest empire and a navy that literally ruled the seas?

The answer is that "Britain" did not have a depression; its owners of capital did. During the period "the standard of living improved. Prices certainly fell, but almost every other index of economic activity-output of coal and pig iron, tonnage of ships built, consumption of raw wool and cotton, import and export figures, shipping entries and clearances, railway freight and passenger traffic, bank deposits and clearances, joint-stock company formations, trading profits, consumption per head of wheat, meat, tea, beer, and tobacco - all these showed an upward trend." "(T)he wail of distress did not come from the mass of the people, who were for the most part better off, but mainly from industrialists, merchants, and financiers, who felt the pinch of falling prices, profits, or interest rates."

It could be that the developed world - the part of the planet that now has half of its outstanding bonds quoting negative rates of return to holders and prospective buyers - has just embarked on a similar historical journey. The parallel appeals to me because of all our past political figures Benjamin Disraeli seems the one closest in temperament and style and interest to Donald Trump. Disraeli's greatest tenure as Prime Minister was from February 1874 to April 1880 - the dates during which this Great Depression got underway.


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