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Rediscovering the Great British Republican Tradition


For a Civic and Constitutional Republic



Issue No 63 Friday 20 Aug 2010

Will Hutton The Observer, Sunday 22


The baby boomers and the price of personal freedom

As the postwar baby boomer generation begins to enter comfortable retirement, their children face a future of massive debt and uncertainty

Republican Party Comment on this article 22 Aug 2010, 10:37AM

Hutton presents a long catalogue but with no overall route map. We know the story

The baby boomers. Born between 1945 and 1955, they are busy ignoring the biblical calculus that a man's span is three score years and 10. Having enjoyed a life of free love, free school meals, free universities, defined benefit pensions, mainly full employment and a 40-year-long housing boom, they are bequeathing their children sky-high house prices, debts and shriveled pensions. A 60-year-old in 2010 is a very privileged and lucky human being

Hutton in the early nineties wrote a bestselling criticism of Neoliberalism The State We’re In. Since then he has more and more swallowed the political philosophy he attacked and this is blinding him to what is really different for the baby-boomers and those that followed: the application of Neoliberalism to as many aspect of our society as Thatcher and her followers could manage.
It is no good comparing different liberalisms as he compares the economic liberalism of eighties Thatcherism with the moral liberalism of the sixties citing the ineffectual apparatchik, Sir Howard Davies:

It was Howard Davies, when he ran the Financial Services Authority, who compared financiers to consenting adults; the inference was that he had no more business inquiring into their private business affairs than he would into what went on in their bedrooms. His liberalism has been proved wrong.

There is no connection between the two liberalisms

The period up to 1980 was hardly a golden age for the tendencies to run the economy for the benefit of a small elite who control multinational corporate finance was already well established and the consequent deterioration of productive industries (uniquely in the Kingdom) well advanced. But there were still significant restraints on the expansion of credit and capital movements that kept the lid on asset prices so that productive businesses and labour still had value and dignity. The financial jiggery-pokery of derivatives was unknown. Thatcherism unleashed the tsunami of liberalisation that has bloated asset prices and debt of all kinds and this is the real burden of post-boomers

It is above all house prices that stands out as the way in which the boomers benefited. The massive increase in house prices in the last fifty years is a decades long Ponzi scam and as in all such scams it is the early entrants that benefit. The later entrants get fleeced.

Hutton tries his hand at characterising culturally the fifties and early sixties

One reason is that the Britain of the late 50s and early 60s was a model for nothing you would want to fight for. At home, we watched the Black and White Minstrels together as a family without a trace of embarrassment – and then my father would roar out the lyrics as we did the washing-up together. It was suffocatingly dull. It needed to change

This was an era of great creativity in films, literature, fashion, rock, jazz, art, technology even TV. It was a great time to be alive. (The only cultural field that really failed us was architecture which has left us with a grim legacy.)

We still live in a creative era now. The difference is that ordinary people and businesses are indebted, overworked and insecure. It will not do to vaguely try to plot some kind of uncontrollable decline. The cause of our present difficulties is written large in the political economy of Neoliberalism that we still live under.

But it is worse than that. For the Cameron government is using the national debt as a lever to introduce another heavy dose of Thatcherite Neoliberalism. This time the Tories have secured the backing of the LibDems who have engaged in a Faustian pact with them, and so ironically they have more authority to do this than if they had won the election in May outright.

We should not forget (as Hutton seems to) that the boomers lived through turbulent years and only a relative minority accumulated the benefits ascribed to them. In the chaotic economy that we live under the differences between winners and losers can be vast and that applies within as well as across generations.



Why the American Right has high hopes for David Cameron

That the PM is even attempting to tackle the deficit makes him a hero to his US counterparts, says Anne Applebaum.

By Anne Applebaum Sunday Telegraph
Published: 5:01PM BST 20 Aug 2010



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……. …….until next time


Comment from Richard Middleton


Hi Peter

The title of my e-mail sounds like the name of a group from the era, which
Hutton so despises.

I agree with virtually everything you've said, although I'd have laid more
blame at the door of Globalists/ Free Traders. Globalism has devalued
labour more than anything else.

I wanted to get out my football rattle, when you said that decline has not
been steady. Only last week, I was listening to a programme about
Thatcher, which revealed that manufacturing output fell by about 30%
between 1978 and 1983. That suggests that the economy didn't slide
gradually into oblivion: it occasionally nose dived.

You are also bang on target, with regard to the cultural achievements of
the 1950s and 1960s. People may have had b&w TV sets but the quality of
the content was often much higher than that of today's output. It was a
similar story in the music business: most "children of the Sixties" had
only transistor radios and portable record players but the songs they
played on them were usually much better and the artists performing them
generally more talented. Britain was also producing some great films. What
is there today? At any given time, the level of technology available seems
to be in inverse proportion to artistic standards. Perhaps, if no physical
effort is required to produce a work of art, creativity will also be

You make an interesting point about architecture. Obviously, you know a
great deal more about it than I do, but I think that things didn't really
start to go badly wrong, until the late 1950s. Earlier post-war
redevelopment schemes notwithstanding [eg in Bristol and Exeter], there
seemed to be a very sudden (stylistic) break with the past, in the
Macmillan era.

It's very often the case that changes in fashion occur, when
social/political/economic reform comes to a halt. By the late 1950s, there
were already signs that the Conservative Party wanted to undo some of the
reforms, which the wartime coalition and the Atlee Government had
introduced. [However, it was another twenty years, before the rightwingers
took control of the party.] Could it be that a love of everything new was
encouraged by political and social establishments, which were keen to hide
their reactionary tendencies?

I recall Macmillan's insistence that Euston station, with its "Grade I"
arch and great hall, be obliterated. At the same time, many railway lines
were closed. The remaining ones were run on a shoestring- for decades.
[The Minister of Transport, Marples, just happened to own a company, which
built motorways. It was a complete coincidence.]

New Labour was an echo of that era: Blair had a huge majority in the
Commons, a booming economy and lots of money to play with. Yet, he really
achieved nothing and tried to disguise his inertia and lack of ideas by
publicising Mussolini-style "prestige" projects like the Dome (which had
originally been dreamt up by the Major Government) and coming up with
meaningless slogans, such as "New Labour, New Britain". [Was he suggesting
that we should be towed to the coast of Papua New Guinea?] It was a
"gimmickocracy"; a philosophy-free zone.

A more prosaic explanation for the new architecture was the different kind
of education that architects were starting to receive. Before the war,
many were still trained on the job and sat their RIBA exams, stage by
stage. Architecture was seen primarily as a craft; a form of fine art, at
its best.

After the war, training in the engineering faculties of universities
became the norm. A few institutions held out against this but the general
consensus in the new "meritocracy" was that students offering maths and
physics would obviously produce better buildings than those, who started
long apprenticeships at the age of 15 or 16 and learned through
experience. Er, well, possibly not.

Today, the wheel has turned full circle and several universities (usually
those with strong art-and-design or town-planning faculties) are trying to
recapture the spirit of the old-style training. Let's not forget that a
lot rests on the personalities and motivation of individuals. That's true
in almost every profession.

To be fair to the "Little Corbusiers" and "Mini-Mieses" of the 1960s, I
have to say that not all of their buildings were terrible- as stand-alone
buildings. The real trouble was planning.

First of all, everything was being designed around the car. The scale of
towns was destroyed and planning blight left huge rings of wasteland,
almost like the zones of devastation after a nuclear explosion. The
report, "Traffic in Towns", saw urban design principles reach their nadir.
Thankfully, some of the damage was repaired during the 1980s and 1990s but
there are signs that the egotistical new generation [those currently in
their thirties and forties, "Thatcher's Children", if you like] want to
repeat many of the mistakes, which were made forty or fifty years ago.

Another problem is still with us. Architects seldom took account of the
context of a building, as they might have done in Italy, for example
[where, ironically, architects have to train as structural engineers,
before they get anywhere near a studio]. I think I'm right in saying that
the UWE is the only institution in the UK, at which all architecture
students are also trained as town planners. Liverpool had a (half-hearted)
go at the same sort of thing but its course wasn't integrated. Students
were allowed to drop either subject, so the whole project became unviable
within two years.