Wednesday, 3 March 2010

History lessons on the public debt

by Kathryn Hadley

20 senior economic historians in the History & Policy Network warned against immediate cuts in public spending in a letter published in The Guardian this morning.

They argue that Britain’s current level of public debt is not that high by the standards of the past 200 years and is also relatively low in the context of the developed world - only Germany and Canada’s public debts are lower among the larger industrialised powers. They urge policymakers to take advantage of the fact that Britain is home to four of the world’s top ten universities and to focus on developing the knowledge economy rather than continuing to rely on the financial sector.

The letter was initiated by Dr Glen O'Hara (Oxford Brookes University) and the co-founder of History & Policy Dr Simon Szreter (University of Cambridge). Signatories include Professors Martin Daunton (Trinity Hall, Cambridge), Jane Humphries (All Souls College, Oxford), Jim Tomlinson (University of Dundee), David Edgerton (Imperial College London) and Dr Hugh Pemberton and Dr Richard Sheldon from the University of Bristol.

In their words:
‘Economic growth enabled Britain to escape from crushing debt burdens in the
early 19th century and during the 1950s and 1960s. It could do so again, if the
public spending cuts that would endanger such knowledge-based growth are ruled
out in the short to medium term’.

History & Policy is an independent initiative, which works ‘for better policy through an understanding of history’ and was founded by historians Virginia Berridge, Pat Thane, Alastair Reid and Simon Szreter at the Universities of Cambridge and London.

In The Great Depression in Europe, 1929-39 Patricia Clavin examines the causes and effects of the Great Depression in Europe and in Labour Wasn't Working John Shepherd looks back to the Winter of Discontent which heralded the demise of the Labour government of the time.


Nurses were among the public sector workers who rejected a 5% pay offer (Getty / Popperfoto)

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