Anti big government people often make the assumption that life gets worse as government gets bigger. It is true that if government grows, in size and scope, things will not be as good as they could have been – but life can still, for a while anyway, get better for most people.
Take my home town of Kettering, Northamptonshire. Government started to grow here in 1875 (in other towns it was after 1870 – but we did not vote for an Education Board here), with the rise in national taxation and the increase in functions pushed on local government by the Disraeli Act of 1875. Yet life still got better here till at least 1960 – and government was big indeed by then.
I am not just talking about real wages – but general life also. For example Wicksteed Park (the first amusement park in the country) did not exist in the 19th century – but it was a national institution by 1960, although it has sadly declined in recent years. Also ordinary people were better dressed in 1960 than they were in the 19th century (when some children did not even have boots or shoes – even in a town famous for making them) – although, again, one could hardly call people in 2014 well dressed, or well behaved.
And the buildings were fine (or at least O.K.) – the destruction of so much of the “town that Gotch built” did not really begin till 1960. And the town was not too big with endless housing estates eating the fields and the bluebell woods. It was still the Northamptonshire of the writer H.E. Bates and others.
In 1964 there was full employment and historically high wages, no welfare class (of any size) unlike today. But people were also mostly well behaved, polite, well dressed and so on.
“That is trivial stuff Paul” – perhaps. although I do not think so, but there is rather a lot more.
I have already mentioned the lack of a welfare class in 1964 – there were people who could not take care of themselves, but there were not millions of healthy working age people who had never worked and never would. Is this not important?
Also non state institutions were vastly less unhealthy in 1964 than they are now. “Oh Paul is going to obsess about the Churches again” – actually I was thinking of the family.
In 1964 most people still lived in stable families – now we do not. Is this not an important change – and not for the better.
In 1964 the fertility rate was positive, we could replace ourselves as a nation – now it is negative, we can not. We have vast immigration instead of our own children.
In 1964 most shares were still owned by individuals (there was no Capital Gains Tax) and the City of London was matter of self employed stock brokers and stock “jobbers” (wholesalers). The brokers worked for individual clients who still owned most shares (the “Aunt Agathas”) and stock jobbers worked selling shares for the companies.
Now most shares are owned by institutions (hired manages in control of other hired managers – with real owners a thing of the past) and private investors are taken to the cleaners by faceless organisations in a post “Big Bang” GOVERNMENT DOMINATED City of London.
Even Ulster (Northern Ireland) was quiet before 1964 – the main news stories there were about lost cows and the latest attractions at Port Rush. Not how the IRA (Sinn Fein) was running the government and destroying education.
Indeed education was much better in England and Wales also – Grammar Schools were common, intelligent children could get a good education (at the expense of taxpayers). Qualifications meant something – not like now. And the universities were only just starting to over expand.
And the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was an independent nation in 1964 – not a slave of the European Union, we were are own masters.
Also the British armed forces were still a real force in 1964 – the Wilson-Healey gutting of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force (reducing Britain to a token power dependent on others) had not yet happened. Britain was not a joke – we still mattered. Yes in spite of Suez, and in spite of the pathetic “Super Mac” we still mattered. And there was no conscription – getting rid of conscription was about the only good thing that “Super Mac” ever did.
And there was still freedom of speech and freedom of association – the 1965 (and all the later Acts) had not yet been passed.
“We get it Paul – in 1964 everything was wonderful – everything now is awful”.
No I am NOT saying that.
The advance of technology in the last 50 years has been a good thing (yes I find the internet time consuming – but the advance of technology has been a good thing) – and that has enabled higher living standards, for most people.
And government in 1964, although much smaller than now (the Welfare State has exploded since 1964), was still vastly too big – unsustainable big in the long term, all the seeds of our present and future societal crises were already long planted before 1964. Government dominated health care and education and old age provision (at least for the poor) and none of these things is good – although the old traditions of the pre government dominated schools and hospitals (the grammar schools and hospitals were still private in the 1930s) still dominated the government services of 1964, teachers, nurses and doctors still acted like dedicated professionals (not dominated by endless government rules and union practices).
However, it was a good country in 1964 – it was a better place to live than Britain had been in (say) 1874, when government was vastly smaller.
I am not saying that if government had been kept to the level, size and scope, it had been in 1870 or 1874 that Britain in 1964 would not have been an even better place – of course it would have.
But Britain in 1964 was an O.K. ish place in 1964 – in ways we are not now, and this should not be forgotten.