Yes, I am continuing to read David Edgerton’s The Rise and Fall of the British Nation: A Twentieth Century History, and it is one of the must-read non-fiction books of this year. Here are a few points I gleaned from my time spent with the book on the plane last evening:
1. During WWII, British imports kept to their pre-war levels, with imports of munitions picking up the slack. The book stresses how much the British empire did in fact pay off, as Britain through a variety of mechanisms forced or induced its colonies to lend it resources during this critical time. Along some dimensions, the British economy became more global due to the conflict.
2. In 1942, exports from Malaya (mostly rubber) to the U.S. were higher than UK exports to the U.S. at that time.
3. Early in the 20th century, wheat in Great Britain was about ten times more expensive than coal. Britain was the largest importer of food, and in essence sold coal for foodstuffs.
4. British coal was centered in rural areas, and this kept British country life economically vital. Furthermore this mining was largely horse-powered.
5. From the end of WWII to the 1980s, more people left Britain than migrated to it.
6. Goods trade as a percentage of gdp was about 32% for Britain around 1920, and then lower at about 20% in 2000.
I hope to write about this book more, but I’ll tell you two of the overall messages right now. One is that the history of British economic globalization is more lurching and back and forth than you might think. Another is that British industry was more successful, innovative, and scientific during periods of supposed decline than you might think.
And by the way, while we are on the topic of must-read books, here is another rave review for Varlam Shalamov.