It's the economy, stupid.

Interesting to read and hear people's verdicts on Edward Heath.

The general view is that he'll be remembered as the Prime Minister who took Britain into the EEC, which I'd guess is true, but then there's talk of muddle and lacklustre economic management, which I think is a little unfair. He was, after all, the PM who had the Oil Shock detonate under him.

This was the event that really defined the seventies in economic terms. I've sometimes been known to argue partly on that basis that the sixties didn't actually end until 1973. In Britain, as far as I can tell, it was the most important economic factor affecting both Heath's government and the subsequent Wilson/Callaghan regime, making the trip to the IMF necessary and hobbling the economy until North Sea Oil started arriving right at the end of the decade. While the ongoing struggle between government and unions that had been going on since the sixties got far more publicity and generated more anger - particularly as it was emphasised by the press both at the time and in the years since - it wasn't as important economically as some would have us believe.

I've noticed that you can download figures on the economy going back to the fifties from the National Statistics site. At some point I must remember to investigate the conclusions of an article I read some years ago, which claimed that Thatcher's performance on management of the economy wasn't really up to much compared to other recent prime ministers, and that her first term of office was the only one since the second world war during which the economy contracted rather than grew. A very interesting contrast to the previaling point of view if so.

Following last week's poll result putting Karl Marx at the top of the current philosophy hit-parade, Francis Wheen has written another article on Marx's continuing importance in the modern world.

The billionaire speculator George Soros now warns that the herd instinct of capital-owners such as himself must be controlled before they trample everyone else underfoot. 'Marx and Engels gave a very good analysis of the capitalist system 150 years ago, better in some ways, I must say, than the equilibrium theory of classical economics,'

[ . . . ]

In October 1997 the business correspondent of the New Yorker, John Cassidy, reported a conversation with an investment banker. 'The longer I spend on Wall Street, the more convinced I am that Marx was right,' the financier said. 'I am absolutely convinced that Marx's approach is the best way to look at capitalism.'

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Interesting article. On a very side note I found out what the 1st, 2nd and 3rd estates were recently.

it was from the french convention where there where 3 parts to the ruling authority.

1st estate - king and nobles
2nd estate - minsters and the church
3rd estate - the rest, Robespierre was a member for the 3rd estate.

Sorry , just noticed the name of Francis Wheen's book and remember you commenting on the name years ago.
Glad to finally get that sorted :)

I was watching a programme on the french revolution on a history channel a couple of nights ago and they mentioned the other estates, and then I suddenly remebered walking up from stockbridge one time and you seeing a pub called the forth estate...
Yeah, that's were the conversation started, we had heard of the 4th estate but didn't know what the first 3 were. Some years later light dawns.
There was a play the Ane Pleasant Satyre of the Thrie Estaits by Sir David Lyndsay, performed at Linlithgow on Twelfth Night 1540. It is the most important surviving drama of early Scottish literature. Theatres were closed after the Reformation and the stage became a no-go area for almost 200 years. By putting false words into the mouths of men, playwrights were said to be mocking God's greatest creation.

August 1996 saw an updated version of the play with the fourth estate added.
(which I'm pretty sure was official Festival and called the Ane Pleasant Satyre of the Four Estaites)
I've sometimes been known to argue partly on that basis that the sixties didn't actually end until 1973.

Arguably, the sixties didn't start until about 1963...
Between the Lady Chatterley trial and the Beatles' first LP? Or am I thinking of something else?
That sort 'o thing, yeah. "The Sixties" as a cultural event, versus the sixties as marked off on the calendar.
Wheen's biography is nicely readable. It occurred to me a while back that Marx was right. Why are we still spending the best years of our lives paying the banks, scraping and saving just to get by, while the rich sit on their arses on yachts doing nothing? Marx exposed this con trick.
"Property is theft" was Proudhon. He wasn't referring to all property - he recognised that personal possessions are necessary and can help lead to good governance, but felt that wholesale inequity in society was equivalent to theft from those who had started with nothing by those who had started with everything. Roughly.

Many Marxists believe that allegedly Marxist states fell into exactly the traps Marx foresaw. Maybe that's just them being smart after the fact, though.
the supposed enrichment

I would think that the difference between the slump of the seventies and the return to normal longterm growth rates in the eighties was more to do with the contrast between the oil shock making things worse and then North Sea Oil improving them again, yes. At least as much so as more structural changes (while these were certainly necessary, I don't think they had the short-term effects their advocates believe, nor do I think they were done well).
I shouldn't think the US is entirely sanguine when it comes to oil prospecting off the Cuban coast, either.
I'd say the union disputes were disastrous for the economy.
The oil crisis was of course another major factor, but the use of the unions as a vehicle for the political careers of some union leaders (culminating in Scargill trying to take on Thatcher) and the abuse of the power which they had caused significant damage to the economy.
(for the record, I am pro-union in the fact that they should exist to protect the rights of their members and assist them in disputes, but they should use the strike as the last resort and not be the vehicle for political ambitions of leaders)

As for Marx. He does offer another analasys of capitalism which can be useful and should not be discounted (even though I feel its basis in Marx's materialist dialectic which stems from Hegel's dialectic is flawed). There is no economic model which can be claimed to be correct, although some seem to predict trends more accurately.
His predicitions and political theory have mostly been shown wrong by time, and I don't think his purely philosophical reasonings were particularly ground breaking, although he is probably the philosopher who had the greatest effect on people's lives...
As for Marx's prediction that money will end up in the hands of a few with everyone else having nothing: In some ways this is correct, in others its wrong... In general everyone in the west has a better standard of living and much more disposable income and we are richer. Given an unequal playing field however and this starts to fall down, but that's a prediction of classical economics as well (although those hard-core marketeers will say that it won't happen, I think they've ignored the fact that the playing field of life is not level and there is such a thing as bad luck...)

I suppose the problem with Marx is that he is a highly emotive subject and people aren't particularly objective when it comes to him (including myself and Francis Wheen...)

I don't consider him the greatest philosopher as I don't think his philosphy was that good, but he certainly had a greater affect tied to his name than others (despite the effects the likes of Locke had it has never been tied to them...)
I'd say the union disputes were disastrous for the economy.

By the time the disputes you mention happened the economy was already reeling from the oil shocks. The problems with the unions had been recognised since the sixties. They weren't new, and they didn't do the real damage. They didn't help, and I'm sure they made a bad situation worse, but they weren't severe enough to do the damage that soaring oil prices did.

Joining the EEC was probably a far better thing for the British economy than modernising the unions was. North sea oil certainly made a bigger difference. Necessary though it was, its economic significance was overstated by a government (and associated press) who remembered the unions bringing down Heath. Indeed, Nicholas Ridley's famous report (leaked to the Economist) pretty much admitted it openly.

That doesn't mean that there was no economic damage, but it wasn't as major a factor crippling the British economy as was claimed. Some of the reasons for change were non-economic, of course - freedom of assembly includes the right not to join a group as well as the right to join it.

I don't consider him the greatest philosopher

Well, there's no such thing, really. I thought he was a good choice compared to some others I could think of, but naming anyone "the greatest" will inevitably be an exaggeration.