Larry Elliott and economic statistics

Never the twain shall meet, eh?

Comparisons with the 1930s can be overdone. Britain\’s public finances were then in a much healthier state than they are today, while the country\’s industrial base was much larger.


while the country\’s industrial base was much larger

You serious?

That\’s from something called the Index of Production and it\’s a chart of the value of manufacturing output in the UK since just after WWII. It\’s an index and 100 is defined as the level of output in 2005. As you can see we produce some two and a half times what we did in the 40s, when absolutely everyone, to hear the stories told, was gainfully employed making whippet flanges. So at first glance it would seem to be untrue that we actually produce less than we used to.

Facts are, as the saying goes, sacred.

16 thoughts on “Larry Elliott and economic statistics”

  1. I think he means relatively larger, in that policies that might work then won’t necessarily work now (such as devaluation or import tariffs)

  2. If you look through the comments on El Reg you will see the collected stupidity of the national narrative writ large:

    “Tim Worstall is a moron because..”

    1. He’s lying with statistics: I paid 3p/gallon for petrol then, so relatively manufacturing must have shrunk.

    2. Mrs. Thatcher eviscerated industry between 1979 and 1982, your graph shows it.

    3. We used to make things and now we have to import them, so we’re poorer.

    4. He’s a UKIP press officer, so a Tory and therefore what he says are lies.

    5. I used to work in [factory] that employed [many] making [widget] and now that factory just employs [fewer] so those people [were all killed or something but I haven’t checked].

    6. This graph is a lie because there are far fewer people working in manufacturing nowadays.

    7. Yes, that graph shows we are making stuff, but we the workers aren’t getting richer because the factory owners aren’t sharing it with us.

    8. That graph shows that manufacturing output has stalled since 1997 and therefore growth in output is over and will decline.

    9. Those figures hide the fact we export guns and bombs and things but don’t make nice things like ships and locomotives and pig iron.

    10. All we export is oil. Look what Norway did with its half of the oil compared to us.

  3. Andrew Zalotocky

    Elliott probably means “much larger” in the sense of “many more people employed”.

  4. Why do people hark back to an era when most people were dirt poor and worked in horrible dirty unsafe conditions doing inefficient jobs? The average factory worked in the 1940s would look at all of us sedentary office-dwellers working 35-hour weeks and wondered what kind of Utopia we had found.

  5. “Why do people hark back to an era when most people were dirt poor and worked in horrible dirty unsafe conditions doing inefficient jobs? ”

    Because those harking back assume that they won’t be the ones doing those jobs

  6. That’s the (post-) Calvinist mindset at work. Since they perceive that the purpose of work is effort and following a “calling” rather than what is produced (“output”), they measure the size of a sector by its workforce rather than what it produces. There is always an implicit labour theory of value in play.

    As an aside, it’s from the triumph of the Calvinists that we get concepts like a “vocation” and a “career” rather than a “job”. The idea is, God has given you this work to do, a “calling”, rather than the liberal perception of work as an unfortunate thing that needs to be done to produce some end result.

    Under both liberal capitalism and paleomarxism, a tractor factory is there to produce tractors. Under post-calvinism, it’s there to produce “employment” and the tractors are an unfortunate by-product which are dangerous because they might put agricultural workers out of a job, produce more food and create dangerous levels of luxury. The ideal calvinist industry is one which employs millions and produce nothing. The civil service being the obvious example.

  7. I presume he means Britain’s industrial base as a proportion of our entire economy. In which case he is overwhelmingly correct and it is very important. Most of the rest of the economy is simply taking in each other’s washing. Actually most of the economy is government spending but most of the rest of the rest is taking in washing.

    For the sort of money we spend on parasitism Britain could settle & industrialise the entire solar system. We could probably even afford to settle Afghanistan.

  8. “Most of the rest of the economy is simply taking in each other’s washing.”

    And what do you do for a living, Mr. Craig?

  9. I remember reading some dunderheaded lefty on a forum not so long ago who was simultaneously complaining that nowadays we “live to work” whilst arguing for a return to the days of factory towns where one’s entire existence depended on, and was inextricably linked to, the local factory.

  10. This talk of taking in washing is embarrassingly stupid.

    We are all wealthy because 8 workers with 3 computers and a factory full of robots can produce immense amounts of hard goods.

    Leaving us free to “take in washing”. By which I mean doing stuff other than hours of useless stupid labor bulding TVs and cars and whatnot.

    I started reading this blog two years ago or so. Worstall’s clear exposition that jobs are a cost not a benefit floored me, and then floated through my cranium enlightening it. (Thanks Tim, though you are nutso on AGW).

    The goods are the thing and with increasing efficiency we will see “manufacturing” shrink down even more, letting us devote fewer and fewer resources for getting the goodies. That’s good, not bad, can’t you get that into your heads?

  11. I am sure when we invent the Universal Replicator and can have any product we like for free at the touch of a button there will still be old farts moaning about how we don’t make anything any more, it’s all computers, blah blah blah.

    The old farts should piss off down a coal mine to die in an industrial accident and leave the rest of alone to enjoy things.

  12. a bit confusing – you start talking of the way things were in the 30s and then use the 40s as a base line.
    You do know that the 40s was a rather unusual time. Making spitfires and hand grenades was big business then but still unusual . Full employment of sorts too.

    Tim adds: Sadly, that’s just when that particular set of statistics begin, the Index of Manufacturing. Post WWII (note, post, not during).

  13. when we invent the Universal Replicator it will not universally replicate. It will only create things it is technically capable of. I don’t see your desktop replicator producing diamonds or throat liners for spaceships or bio engineered plankton.

    On current trends neither will British industry. But Chinese industry will.

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