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The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain
  • Volume 3: Structural Change and Growth, 1939–2000
  • Edited by Roderick Floud, London Metropolitan University , Paul Johnson, London School of Economics and Political Science

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Book description

The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain provides a readable and comprehensive survey of the economic history of Britain since industrialisation, based on the most up-to-date research into the subject. Roderick Floud and Paul Johnson have assembled a team of fifty leading scholars from around the world to produce a set of volumes which are both a lucid textbook for students and an authoritative guide to the subject. The text pays particular attention to the explanation of quantitative and theory-based enquiry, but all forms of historical research are used to provide a comprehensive account of the development of the British economy. Volume III covers the period 1939–2000, when Britain adjusted to a decline in manufacturing, an expansion of the service economy, and a repositioning of external economic activity towards Europe. It will be an invaluable guide for undergraduate and postgraduate students in history, economics and other social sciences.


'… these volumes are the best available economic history of modern Britain. They demonstrate not only the vitality of the subject but its fundamental importance and relevance.'

Source: History

'Teachers of economic history wishing to prepare an undergraduate lecture or a seminar can confidently use the chapters in … [this] book as basic references. Students will find the subjects covered with clarity of language, depth of information and critical analysis.'

Source: Journal of Urban History

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  • Chapter 1 - The war-time economy, 1939–1945
    pp 1-26
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    This chapter examines several issues related to the British war economy. Having discussed the war-time performance of the UK economy, it compares it to that of other combatant nations. Robinson identified five major constraints facing the British war economy: gold and foreign currency reserves, materials, manpower, shipping and capacity. The government was faced with two related problems in terms of its budgetary policy: how to pay for the war and how to dampen the inflationary pressures in the economy. The chapter considers some of the long-term consequences of the war. The war had demonstrated the much higher productivity of many American industries and the Anglo-American Council on Productivity was an attempt by the post-war Labour government to find out if American technology and methods could be transferred to British industry in order to raise its productivity levels.
  • Chapter 2 - Failure followed by success or success followed by failure? A re-examination of British economic growth since 1949
    pp 27-56
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    This chapter evaluates the evidence and analysis of the UK's growth performance. The issue of whether there are advantages or disadvantages to economic variability is subject to debate although the aim of the New Labour government is to reduce 'boom and bust' as it believes that such variability can harm the economy. The theoretical attempts to explain economic growth are vast and, increasingly, there are new insights from disciplines other than economics, including history, geography and sociology, these alternative lenses provide additional perspectives upon a complex phenomenon. In terms of growth, the focus of New Labour's policies is to enhance competitiveness, productivity and entrepreneurship through improvements in the supply side that will create a knowledge-based economy and improve employability. The theoretical case for a knowledge-based economy rests on the notion of endogenous growth, Brown has stressed the importance of post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has stated that his priorities are 'education, education, education'.
  • Chapter 3 - The performance of manufacturing
    pp 57-83
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    This chapter gives a balanced overview of Britain's manufacturing performance since the Second World War. During the period 1951-73 output, labour productivity and total factor productivity in manufacturing all grew rapidly by historical standards. The chapter tabulates the comparative productivity performance in manufacturing as a whole with information at a more disaggregated level for a number of benchmark years. This helps us to identify sectors where British performance has been above or below average. Data are provided for the six broad industry groups, covering three heavy sectors including chemicals and allied industries, metals and engineering, and three lighter sectors including textiles and clothing, food, drink and tobacco industries. In addition, information is provided on comparative productivity performance in more disaggregated product areas, which will be useful in the case histories discussed in the chapter. For most of the twentieth century, between 1907 and 1968, British productivity performance was better in the lighter industries, especially textiles and food, drink and tobacco.
  • Chapter 4 - A failed experiment: the state ownership of industry
    pp 84-111
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    In the twentieth century, a remarkable series of political experiments with nationalisation has given applied economists and historians an even richer variety of material for investigation and encouraged systematic empirical investigation of the record of different systems of ownership. This chapter focuses on the economic efficiency implications of state ownership and its alternatives. The account of productivity gains by the nationalised industries has focused on changes in managerial organisation and incentives, largely determined by the industries' changing relationship with the government. The chapter compares the performance of the industries that were entirely nationalised and then privatised in Britain with the same industries in other advanced industrial nations, where they could be state-owned but were also sometimes in the private sector, in whole or in part. The emphasis on productive efficiency and technological progress ignores the central concern of much economic analysis with allocative efficiency. Privatisation was seen as in itself sufficient to produce a cultural change that would improve performance.
  • Chapter 5 - Employment, education and human capital
    pp 112-133
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    This chapter considers employment and human capital in post-war Britain. It begins with a look at trends in the labour force, employment and unemployment, taking account of the age distribution of the labour force, female participation, trends in participation in full-time education, part-time working, self-employment and the industrial composition of employment. The chapter considers human capital accumulation in Britain from the Second World War to 1979, examining data available from a range of sources. Professional qualifications were the major form of higher-level training prior to the development of mass higher education so that in the years immediately after the Second World War, members of the major professional bodies remained an important part of Britain's stock of employees with higher-level qualifications. The chapter also considers the implications of human capital accumulation for Britain's relative productivity position.
  • Chapter 6 - Money and monetary policy since 1945
    pp 134-166
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    In the years since the Second World War the role of money, and the use of monetary policy, has been peculiarly subject to the whims of intellectual fashion in economic thought, in Britain as elsewhere. The monetary history runs from the nationalisation of the Bank of England by the first majority Labour government in 1945-6 to the restoration, by another Labour government, of operational independence to the Bank in 1997-8. This chapter provides a simplified description of the changing theoretical views lying behind the conduct of British monetary policy since 1945. It first discusses the definition of the money supply and the methods of controlling it. Then, the chapter outlines the conduct of British monetary policy in the four periods: the immediate post-war policies of the 1945-51 Labour governments, the 1950s Conservative governments' revival of monetary policy, the 1970s and early 1980s, which saw new attempts at monetary control in competition and credit control, and inflation targeting.
  • Chapter 7 - The financial services sector since 1945
    pp 167-188
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    This chapter first outlines the key structural features of the Britain's financial services sector, indicating the changing scale and character of its business. It assesses the character and significance of changes within the financial services sector and considers the implications which these have had for Britain's economic development since 1945. Having established the basic characteristics of the sector, the chapter examines the context in which financial services have been operating in order to understand more clearly why the sector has developed in the ways that it has. It offers a brief indication of key changes in the international and macroeconomic environment. The chapter also highlights the most significant influences on the institutional framework operating within Britain. Whilst the chapter has offered a survey of financial services which emphasises dynamism, growth and success, the prospects for enhancing economic growth at a rate comparable to other major economies seems limited unless productivity is improved in this key sector.
  • Chapter 8 - Economic policy
    pp 189-212
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    This chapter gives an account of British post-war economic policy which attempts to move away from a narrative of failure to one which suggests qualified success in the pursuit of a multiplicity of aims in a highly constraining environment. Before discussing particular policy areas, it explains the international environment in which policy operated, this being the key context for Britain's pursuit of national economic management. In the 1940s the balance of payments was at the top of the policy agenda, the war having left an enormous current-account deficit, especially with the USA. The chapter explains the policy on the balance of payments, the exchange rate and inflation, and the degree of government responsibility for full employment in the golden age. By the late twentieth century it had become almost automatic amongst both policy makers and commentators to treat the rate of economic growth as the key measure of successful economic performance, and by extension the key judgement on economic policy.
  • Chapter 9 - The welfare state, income and living standards
    pp 213-237
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    The British welfare state has been consuming an ever greater share of national income in order to achieve an ever diminishing degree of equality of income and life chances. This chapter provides an evaluation of the divergent claims about the positive or negative impact of the post-war welfare state on economic growth and equality. It examines the impact of the welfare state on economic performance. The chapter also considers how the welfare state has affected the distribution of income and the overall pattern of equality in Britain since the Second World War. But before turning to these different ways of assessing welfare state outcomes, it considers why and how the welfare state has grown to its present size. Finally, the chapter examines two major areas of service provision which can have the greatest impact on life chances and equality of opportunity: education and health.
  • Chapter 10 - The rise of the service economy
    pp 238-266
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    This chapter analyses the rise of services in the second half of the twentieth century and assesses how far the British pattern was mirrored in what was happening in other economically advanced nations like France, Germany and the USA. It explores the rise of employment in services largely reflecting the expansion of sectors that were very labour-intensive, with low productivity growth. Studies of the rise of producer services suggest it was linked to rising income levels, and hence a phenomenon closely associated with the experience of the economically advanced nations in the last part of the twentieth century. Some of this may simply have been activity once classed within the manufacturing sector but which was outsourced to or splintered into specialist firms. The chapter also explains how successful was Britain in the growing international trade in services, and Britain's export performance. Finally, it explores what role did services play in the growth of British output and productivity.
  • Chapter 11 - Impact of Europe
    pp 267-298
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    To understand the continuing impact of Europe upon the British economy and its limits, this chapter explains the differences in the British and European roles in the Second World War. The first common shock to both Britain and Europe, of course, was the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 as Nazi forces invaded Poland. The impact of Europe on Britain then became a matter of military strategy. The special relationship forged between the USA and Britain during the war meant that Britain had a very different view of post-war economic reconstruction from that of the defeated European powers. Concern by British policy planners during the war about the implications of Europe's post-war recovery for Britain's economy had focused on avoiding a repeat of the problems that had arisen after the First World War.
  • Chapter 12 - Technology in post-war Britain
    pp 299-331
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    This chapter traces the evolution of technology in Britain, and assesses its economic and social impacts. By convention, indicators of technology are divided into those purporting to measure technological inputs and those directed at technological outputs. The former are normally assessed by figures on R&D expenditures or R&D employment, the latter by patents and publications. The growth performance of the British economy since the Second World War has been shaped strongly by performance in technology. The relative shift from physical investment to investment in intangibles, and especially knowledge, is critical to interpreting the contribution of technology to growth in the second half of the twentieth century. The commitment to spending on technology was strong in both private and public spheres, buoyed up by public support, even though much of the government spending may not have been well directed.
  • Chapter 13 - Regional development and policy
    pp 332-367
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    One of the most enduring features of Britain's post-war economic development has been the persistence of the north-south divide. This chapter examines the extent and persistence of UK regional disparities in employment and incomes. This is followed by a discussion of the policies pursued by successive governments since 1945 to combat the regional problem. The chapter examines the types of policy instruments used by government to address regional disparities, together with their effectiveness. Regional disparities have proved remarkably durable. This has been linked to the pattern of British post-war regional development, which, it is argued, regional policy has reinforced rather than countered. While neoclassical models have not proved successful in analysing the nature and persistence of uneven regional development, new economic geography theories have managed to capture many of its dynamic features. These take account of economies of scale, imperfect competition and the process of cumulative causation that characterises the path-dependent evolution of local and regional economies.
  • Chapter 14 - British fiscal policy since 1939
    pp 368-398
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    This chapter explains that the Second World War fundamentally altered the course of 'tax and spend' and macroeconomic fiscal policies. It first looks at 'tax and spend' fiscal policy, examining issues such as the proportion of the nation's output controlled by government, the evolution of the tax system and public expenditure trends over the period. Then, the chapter explains alternative measures of macroeconomic fiscal policy since the Second World War. It considers how these measures were influenced by the evolution of the policy making framework since 1939. Macroeconomic fiscal policy proceeded smoothly in the first half of the post-war period, being based on the view that discretion in setting the government's borrowing was invaluable in regulating economic demand. But it, too, changed course in the mid-1970s, and discretion was jettisoned in favour of a rules-based approach.
  • Chapter 15 - Industrial relations and the economy
    pp 399-423
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    This chapter first discusses the basic features of British industrial relations and an overview of how they changed. A fundamental influence on industrial relations over the 1939-99 period was the changing competitive context in different industries, imposing increasing constraints on both rents and access to them. Trade unions attempt to influence the employment contract by engaging with employers in what is generally called collective bargaining. This covers a spectrum of influence. The conduct of collective bargaining has strong macroeconomic as well as microeconomic implications. One aspect of this is the overall coverage of collective agreements, in terms of what proportion of employees have their wages and hours of work regulated by a collective agreement. No overview of the basic features of industrial relations would be complete without mention of the law. This has two aspects: collective labour law and individual labour law.

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