Using the economist Angus Maddison’s figures, the per annum (real GDP per capita) growth rate for the UK from 1947 – the post-war nadir – to 1976 when the wheels came off the model, was 2.9%. That is indeed better than the neoliberal years since of 2.3%. So, does that prove the conventional wisdom?
Well, not quite. The point here is that long-term growth rates are driven by advancing technology, which is closely allied but not exactly the same as advancing productivity. Growth from 1918 to 1947, by the same measure, was 0.7% a year. Case proven again we might think – except when we combine the two periods we get a proper long-term growth rate of 2.1%.
I’ve expressed this view before in Anglo-Saxon terms, but to do so more politely: some portion of that post-war growth was driven by the technological and productivity advances of the previous decades that were not, earlier, translated into actual economic growth.
It is indeed possible to argue that peace and the absence of a depression allowed that expression of the stored up growth, but it becomes a lot more difficult to argue that it was those golden years policies that were the cause. That 2.1% growth rate across the whole period is about what we think a mature economy is capable of over longish periods of time, after all. That it came as lean years and fat is interesting but not a proof of policy actions. That the neoliberalism since has matched or slightly beaten that long-run rate is another interesting point. Growth is more to do with technology and productivity than public policy perhaps.