By W. D. Rubinstein
This unique and debatable contribution to the topical debate on Britain's financial decline provides a critique of the thesis made conventional lately via Martin J. Wiener, Anthony Sampson, Correlli Barnett and others.
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Extra info for Capitalism, culture, and decline in Britain, 1750-1990
40 Despite its limitations, it is possible to work from this document and other contemporary material to ascertain the number of male persons with an income of £100 or more, and hence liable to pay income tax in 1859–60, from business or professional sources, who lived or had business premises in any parliamentary borough in England and Wales, together with the percentage of adult males in each such borough who were liable to income tax. The statistics here relate to the period when, relatively speaking, middle-class incomes generated in Britain’s industrial north were very nearly at their peak, and just before the ‘swing back’ to London, which makes them especially significant.
Although the total population of these London boroughs exceeded those of Lancashire and the West Riding by less than 4 per cent, London’s taxpaying middle classes were three times as numerous as in the northern counties, a figure which may well understate rather than exaggerate the true position of London in the comparison. By 1860, a century of industrialisation may have transformed Britain into the ‘workshop of the world’, but the combined effects of urbanisation, the commercial revolution, and the industrial revolution upon Britain’s middle classes were, in effect, systematically to advantage the most conservative elements within the middle and upper classes—bankers, merchants, and financiers within the entrepreneurial middle classes, professional men like lawyers and physicians, and Britain’s landed aristocrats—rather than the newest and allegedly most ‘dynamic’ businessmen among factory capitalists who pioneered the use of the steam-engine, mechanised spinning and weaving, and modern engineering, which customarily form our mental image of the industrial revolution.
Once again we learn that: The new romantic ideal of Christian education went on from Rugby and other freshly reformed public schools to capture the universities of Oxford and Cambridge…. e. knowledge unrelated to what is ‘particular and practical’ and enshrined in such disciplines as the classics or mathematics, won a particular success which was to determine the character of the British state bureaucracy for the next century…. 24 Yet, whatever its undoubted insights and important research, The Audit of War is a book which is problematical and questionable, especially as a general indictment.