October 24, 2007


Tumultuous Britain: For more than a century, Americans have seen Britain as tired and broken. But some of them now think that the old dynamism and iconoclasm has returned. If Britain really is back, it will be another test for the special relationship (Walter Russell Mead, November 2007, Prospect)

The special relationship is based largely on the family firm, and as it happens the family business is spectacularly successful. For roughly three centuries now, the English-speaking peoples have been more or less continuously organising, managing, expanding and defending a global system of power, finance, culture and trade. Up until the second world war, the British branch of the family held the majority of shares and furnished the firm's leadership; since then, the American branch has taken the lead, but the firm, though periodically updating and revising its methods and objectives, still bears the imprint of the British founders. For better or worse, the family business is the dominant force in international life today, and is set to remain the foundation of world order for some time to come.

So it is not so much a matter of Britain having a special relationship with the US; rather, it has a special relationship with the international capitalist order. And the world system today preserves most of the features of the British system that existed before the second world war: a liberal, maritime international order that promotes the free flow of capital and goods and the development of liberal economic and political institutions and values. However much the British may object to particular US policies and priorities, the overall direction in which America seeks to lead the world is the direction in which most Britons more or less hope it will go. Both British and American leaders can and do make mistakes about how best to develop and defend this world system, but the health of that system has been the chief concern of British foreign policy since the 18th century.

The close similarity between the British and American world orders does not just influence the two countries towards international policies that are usually broadly compatible; it also gives Britain a unique role in the world order. This is most clearly seen in the close relations between London and New York, the twin financial centres of the world. The financial genius of Britain has been one of the driving forces that created the world we live in; Americans share that genius and, like the British, seek to make the world a safer and more profitable place in which increasingly sophisticated financial markets can operate on a progressively more global scale.

Acheson's crack about Britain's fallen empire and missing role was made at a time when Britain had, temporarily, lost sight of the sources of its own prosperity and power. The crash of the international system during the great depression and the second world war, combined with the forced liquidation of Britain's overseas investments during and after the war, left the world less hospitable to British enterprise. Combined with the unhappy results of Britain's flirtation with socialism and the profound disorientation which many Britons felt as the empire melted away, Britain seemed doomed to decline.

Today, led by a revived financial and service economy that is both connected to and dependent on the integrated global economy, Britain is back. Twenty-five years ago, smug French and German voices read Britain stern lectures; today they seek to match its success. Britain's voice counts for more today in Europe than at any time in the last half century; across Africa and the middle east, Britain, for better or worse, is seen once again as a significant and rising power.

Higher fertility, immigration and longer lives fuelling Britain's population rise (John Carvel, October 24, 2007, Guardian)

Britain's population is set to increase by more than 10 million over the next quarter century - about 4 million more than the previous official estimate published only two years ago, government statisticians said yesterday.

The Office for National Statistics advised politicians and civil servants to prepare for the fastest population growth since the postwar baby boom in the 1950s. They said an unprecedented combination of high fertility, rising life expectancy and increasing immigration would swell the population from 60 million this year to 65 million by 2016 and 71 million by 2031.

Guy Goodwin, the office's head of demography, said the impact on England would be equivalent to adding the entire population of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to the English total. It would require a massive reappraisal of long-term plans for housebuilding, transport, education and the health service.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 24, 2007 2:11 PM

We rule.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at October 25, 2007 9:36 AM