The History of England

from Celts through 20th century


Category: Economy

Within the system of contemporary capitalism Great Britain has lost its former position as the leading industrial nation of the world. A pioneer in the Industrial Revolution, the former ‘world workshop’, Britain today is fifth in size of its gross domestic product (GDP) and twenty-third in terms of GDP per head among the capitalist countries of the world. Characterizing the specific features of British imperialism V. I. Lenin singled out two most important peculiarities — the possession of a global colonial empire and its monopoly on the world market. As a result of World War I the country lost its monopoly in world trade. Today Britain accounts for only 5—6 per cent of world trade among capitalist countries.

After World War II Britain lost its colonial empire. In this respect British imperialism was deprived of its most important advantages — the profits and superprofits which it derived from its former colonial possessions. As regards the rate of development of state monopoly capitalism the country continued to lag behind its main capitalist rivals.

After World War II Britain experienced an accelerated growth of monopolies and their subsequent mergers. The export of capital abroad continues to be a major factor in its development. In terms of foreign investment Britain was second only to the United States. However, unlike the past the bulk of foreign investments is directed not to the extracting industries of her former colonies but mainly to the manufacturing industries of West European countries. The most significant change in Britain’s trading patterns took place after 1973 when the country joined the European Economic Community. Between 1972 and 1980 the proportion of Britain’s exports going to the Commonwealth countries (former possessions of Great Britain) fell from 18 per cent to 12 per cent while that going to other Community countries rose from 31 per cent to 43 per cent. Moreover, this tendency continues to grow.

The monopolies in the country lay special emphasis on the development of such branches of the manufacturing and chemical industries which require high-skilled labour. Manufacturing and other production industries, facing strong competition in overseas markets from newly industrialized as well as from other developed capitalist countries, have undergone considerable reorganization to improve competitiveness. A number of industries such as aerospace, chemicals, oil, gas, electronics, biotechnology have gained strength while textiles and some other traditional industries, including steel and shipbuilding, have contracted. As the development of the new industries does not compensate the decline of the traditional old industries there is a marked growth of mass unemployment in the country.

The British economy is primarily based on private enterprise. However, some industries were nationalized after World War II. This was typical nationalization carried out on capitalist lines. There are some nationalized industries, accounting for about 3.8 per cent of all employees, while the nationalized sector as a whole accounts for about 5.7 per cent of GDP. Part of public transport, the power industry, the coal mines, some steel, manufacturing plants are managed by the state. The atomic industry is also within the public sector.

The national economy of Great Britain is vitally dependent on foreign trade. Moreover, this dependence is growing in recent years. About a third of the industrial products of the country is exported. With the loss of the colonies the economy has become extremely vulnerable to balance-of-payments problems.

The typical pattern of Britain’s overseas trade has been a trade deficit (when imports of products exceed in value the exports of the country). This has a negative influence on the development of the country and especially on its finances. However, the trade deficit is often offset by a surplus on so-called invisible trade due to the earnings of the country from international travel, shipping, tourism and financial services. In the 1980s earnings from invisibles comprised about 35 per cent of Britain’s earnings. The contribution made by invisibles is largely a reflection of Britain’s position as a major financial centre of the capitalist world. The financial institutions of the City of London provide worldwide financial services.

Agriculture supplies nearly two-thirds of the country’s food and employs about 2.5 per cent of Britain’s employed labour force. More than two-thirds of the arable land and pastures belong to the landlords. Middle and small-scale holdings give the bulk of the agricultural produce. These holders rent the land and employ agricultural workers. Technological progress in agriculture has enhanced class differentiation in agriculture as a result of which more than half of the holders of small-scale farming units were ruined in the last two-three decades.

The structure of the economy has experienced serious changes which are quite common for all developed capitalist countries: there has been a decline in the relative importance of manufacturing and a rise in that of services. The share of industry in the GDP is 11 times more than that of agriculture.

The general location of industry has changed little in recent years. As before, four-fifths of industrial and agricultural production is concentrated in England. Simultaneously, in the national outlying regions of Wales, Scotland and Northem Ireland the rate and level of the development of industry, as well as the average earnings of the population are obviously lower than in England. In the postwar years this gap between England and the outlying regions has increased, because of the decline of the traditional industries such as coal-mining, ferrous metallurgy, textiles, which are heavily concentrated ia Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Special regional development programmes were formulated for the so-called ‘depressed’ regions, however, these plans were implemented tat a very slow pace. Despite government policies there has been a marked growth of concentration of industry in the traditional industrial regions, especially in South-East England, because the South has the advantages for the location of modern industry. The coastal areas have also experienced a growth of industry, as well as the small towns. In planning the new towns the aim is to relieve the over-populated areas and to spread the people and industry more evenly. Thus the pattern, especially in the South-East, is characterized by the growth of so-called satellite towns which are closely connected with the main city of the region or the metropolis. Eventually, as a result of this development the conurbations also grow in size.

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