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“Nobody reads him now. No economist reads Galbraith now.”

Sorry to keep banging on about J K Galbraith, but I just had to drag a gem of a BBC Radio 4 radio interview out of this comment thread – thanks to commenter John K (not Galbraith, one assumes) for bringing it to light. The Radio 4 producers were no doubt expecting hushed reverence for a crusty Keynesian warrior like Galbraith – much beloved by most BBC types – so I think they received rather a rude shock when the interviewee, Meghnad Desai, got into his free marketeering stride. My favourite part :

“So Galbraith was very much a 1950s man. And he still has fans, because lots of people are still stuck in the 1950s. You know, quite a lot of them in the Labour Party.”

I also particularly enjoyed the shocked pause before the interviewer, Greg Wood, thanked the eminent Professor for his heresy.

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39 comments to “Nobody reads him now. No economist reads Galbraith now.”

  • Verity

    A BBC lefty interviewer can never be a match for a brilliant Indian. They get so destabilised. You can hear their little brains going into overdrive, ticking away while they try to think of something to say. I love it! Thank you, James Waterton.

  • David L Nilsson

    He might have been shocked at bad manners. De mortuis nil nisi bonum and all that.

  • Better to be stuck in the 1950s than in the 1850s like Milton Friedman and other neo-liberals.

  • I don’t agree. Our societies would be far more advanced if nineteenth century British liberalism triumphed over Prussian statism and planning, rather than the opposite. The statist victory resulted in two disastrous world wars, not to mention the rise of the ultimate expression of political techocracy with all its corresponding horrors – communism.

  • “Better to be stuck in the 1950s than in the 1850s like Milton Friedman and other neo-liberals.”

    You have to hand it to the moronic left: no ability to think rationally or sensibly at all, but damned good at producing slogans in an easily digestible form….

  • David L Nilsson

    Now I have listened to the interview, and as usual it doesn’t live up to its billing.

    Far from hagiographical, the BBC man begins by wondering if Galbraith is “obsolete or freshly relevant”, having mentioned that he “believed State intervention was necessary to bridge the gap between rich and poor”.

    Well, judging by GW Bush’s adherence to hugely expensive Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and No Child Left behind programs financed by an ever-growing Federal deficit, the Republican Party of the Eisenhower era has capitulated completely to Galbraith’s brand of poked and prodded capitalism. Not to mention the endless favouritism of the military industrial complex, the barrel-loads of pork for protected businesses such as steel and agriculture and– the other side of the coin– the targeting of “wicked” profiteers such as the biggest corporations, the oil conglomerates, and the loading of more and more compulsory compliance with social-responsibility desiderata on major business entities.

    Neither do central banks fetishise the money supply as much as they did in the 1980s: like the market, it is too easily rigged, with all those ever-shifting definitions of broad and narrow measures. Friedman’s contention that low inflation and sound government finances march together has been roundly disproved in Washington DC, so for that disease the monetarists no more possess the magic bullet than the post-Keynesians. I suspect that macroeconomics will always do what it has to do to make yesterday’s guru today’s schmuck.

    But in terms of public policy, Galbraith and his kind have won most of the battles. Rolling back the State’s frontiers looks a hell of a lot harder in today’s security-paranoid climate than in the mid-1980s, when it was just a question of flogging off nationalised industries and cutting consumer credit controls. Galbraith’s starry-eyed view of the old USSR sounds corny now, but the USA is more of a police state than it was in Reagan’s time.

    Desai makes an illogical leap from monetarism’s intellectual victories to ‘globalisation’, citing India and China. Neither have ever indulged in monetarist medicine and malarkey, and neither are particularly open to globalist influence. They are not economic miracles a la Chile but countries which have slowly reached the point of acceleration in a J curve of growth– aided by armies of educated and intelligent and (for now) cheap labour. Their economic and social policies still smell more Galbraithian than Friedmanite.

    Desai somewhat illogically compares Galbraith, a witty and graceful writer by the standards of academic economists, with Jeffrey Archer, a ham-handed and dull stylist in fiction. On readability alone I suspect some of Galbraith’s works, especially ‘The Great Crash’, will live a good deal longer than anything Desai or Friedman have written.

  • guy herbert

    Though most of your points are well made, DLN, I don’t know that the comparison with Archer is all that illogical. It isn’t about prose-style. Archer has massive sales and fame, but is not considered to be of any worth by literary types; Galbraith might be the most widely read economist ever, but that doesn’t give him credibility among economists.

  • Jack Olson

    In “The New Industrial State”, Galbraith wrote, “The riskiness of modern corporate life is in fact the harmless conceit of the modern corporate executive” because “no large United States corporation, which is also large in its industry, has failed or been seriously in danger of insolvency in many years.”

    He wrote that before Chrysler begged the Treasury to rescue it from bankruptcy, before General Motors was reduced to junk-bond credit, before Delphi filed for bankruptcy, and before the bankruptcies of Braniff, Pan Am, and Eastern Airlines. He wrote it before American Motors sold out to Chrysler and before Chrysler sold out to Daimler, before the Penn Central railroad went belly-up, before Arthur Andersen closed its doors, when Life Magazine was still a weekly and Look was still in print. Therefore, one could say that his claim was accurate in history though poor in prophecy.

    Yet, he made his claim after the failure of Packard and Nash Motors. He made this claim after the failure of Indian motorcycles and after Volkswagen had begun exporting cars to the United States. He made his claim after American Broadcasting organized to challenge Columbia Broadcasting and NBC. He made this claim after the American Football League was organized to compete with the National Football League. Galbraith should have noticed that the largest maker of computers, Univac, had lost its market share to IBM.

    Galbraith had plenty of examples of competitive losers and winners among large U.S. corporations. His statement was not only disproven by subsequent history but also prior history.

    Then, if his theory not only failed to predict future events but failed to explain past events, why was he so popular among politicians? Because he told them what they wanted to hear, that they should have more power to coerce private citizens.

  • guy herbert

    Does that make Galbraith the grandfather of the junk bond?

  • Mike Lorrey

    It makes Galbraith the grandfather of the junk T-Bill. The idea that corporate failure and crash of corporate securities should be rescued by the issuance of government securities that have even less chance of ever being paid back, and that one should prefer the latter over the former, is as absurd as the idea that spending the future generations money before it is born is a way to keep an economy and government afloat.

    I was laughing throughout this interview. The BBC interviewer obviously thought going in that he had a good and pliant Indian willing to spout the familiar platitudes for state socialism, welfare democracy, resource rationing and constraint on the free market. Unfortunately, the interviewer couldn’t accuse the good professor emeritus of being one more member of the white male oppressor class once he got his wind up…

    Thanks for posting this, I love it when looter media gets it stuck to them.

  • The Last Toryboy

    Absolutely priceless. I was roaring with laughter listening to that.

    Thanks! :D

  • “Better to be stuck in the 1950s than in the 1850s like Milton Friedman and other neo-liberals.”

    If they are stuck in the 1850s, why call them “neo”?

  • Patrick

    DLN, you aren’t entirely right. In a way, (draw a very deep breath everyone, I know it does in so many ways, but in this one, bear with me) it doesn’t really matter who is spending the money. What is most important is who is choosing how to spend it.

    Galbraith, moral bankrupt that he was, supported those who wanted to spend for others – the thrust of Bush’s presidency, whatever its other merits or demerits, is that he does seem to have a consistent focus on letting people choose how the money to be spent on them is actually spent.

  • Deleted. Please keep your racist comments to yourself. By the way, that’s an interesting site you maintain, you vile piece of shit.

  • Gordon

    Galbraith is to economics as A J P Taylor is to history?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Neil Clark is a total doofus, no? In 1850, Britain was the world’s greatest industrial power; it had abolished most tariffs, had a tiny government, had a growing Friendly Society and mutualist welfare network, was becoming cross-crossed by railways and telegraphs, had a stirring national print press, and a growing attention on social ills, was creating a mass drainage system that would conquer cholera; medicine was advancing rapidly.

    In other words, I’ll take my age of Peel, Palmerston and Gladstone over the Attlees, Edens and Bevans any time, maytey.

  • JP – seconded. It was a hoot to hear the forthright statements.

    Many of you may have seen Raw Carrot’s (http://clients.voltuum.com/rawcarrot/ ) comparison between his home town of 1899 and now, showing how, back then, it got on very well without the State.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    BTW, the writer and economist David Henderson, writing in the Wall Street Journal, has a very fair and sharp piece on Galbraith, which acknowledges his failings but also his good side. Some of the criticisms of Galbraith have been harsh, so it is only fair to state that he got some stuff right, too.

    here it is.(Link)

  • John K

    It seems the Today programme really couldn’t accept what Lord Desai told them yesterday, so this morning they had Patrick Minford and Lord Skidelsky on to discuss the life and works of JKG. Guess what? They agreed with Lord Desai. The consensus view seems to be that Galbraith wrote fine English, but as an economist his theories hold no weight at all. Either the Today are going to have to accept this, or they will just go through every economist in Britain until they find one who rates him.

    I suppose one can understand Today’s problem here. Galbraith was a famous economist, who wasn’t a nasty monetarist, and whom our dear Chancellor seems to rate highly. It has come as a tremendous shock to them to discover that modern economists do not rate him at all. Next, they may just have to accept that Gordon Brown is a rubbish Chancellor, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for that realisation to dawn on them.

  • nic

    I heard that this morning shortly before 9 if people are looking for it on Listen Again. Put me in a lovely mood for the rest of the day.

  • Kim du Toit

    “Galbraith is to economics as A J P Taylor is to history?”

    In a word, yes.

  • David L Nilsson

    In 1850, Britain was the world’s greatest industrial power; it had abolished most tariffs, had a tiny government, had a growing Friendly Society and mutualist welfare network, was becoming cross-crossed by railways and telegraphs, had a stirring national print press, and a growing attention on social ills, was creating a mass drainage system that would conquer cholera; medicine was advancing rapidly.

    OTOH, Britain had the Poor Law: embryonic, compulsorily tax-financed welfare. The railways were tightly regulated as to lines of route and tariffs, with mergers and working arrangements vetoed by Parliament (and Gladstone, no less, wanted to nationalise them, perceiving a natural monopoly). The laying of telegraph lines to America and India was heavily subsidised by the Government for defence reasons. Bazalgette’s drains– not begun till 1859 BTW– were paid for by London ratepayers via a non-elected quango, the Metropolitan Board of Works. The newspaper press of 1850 was not particularly diverse: the penny stamp duty per copy had not yet been repealed, and this was designed to privilege The Times over more radical dailies which needed to sell more cheaply.

    In short, the contrast between laisser-faire 1850 and socialist 1950 is not quite as vivid as the Smilesian legends suggest– especially considering the direction of travel. Britain in the second half of the 18th century would become more statist; a century later, less so, from the zenith of central direction in 1940-50.

  • Mike Lorrey

    Fair enough, DLN. Shall we also compare economic growth rates, rate of increase in stock indices, rate of public debt, per capita tax burden and unemployment vs today?

    While Britain came down under Maggie from its postwar heights of statism, it is headed back up under the “third way”ism of Blair and New Labour. What is most striking is that it is the left in Britain that seems most dedicated to stripping away the important social freedoms while leaving the most farcical and meaningless ones. Are they actually left anymore, and not just authoritarian?

  • Cato

    John K wrote:

    “t seems the Today programme really couldn’t accept what Lord Desai told them yesterday, so this morning they had Patrick Minford and Lord Skidelsky on to discuss the life and works of JKG. Guess what? They agreed with Lord Desai.”

    Anyone has a link on this please?

  • Paul Marks

    My comment seems to have gone missing.

    Anyway Lord Desai is hardly a free market man – but he does demand argument, and that was something that J.K. Galbraith was not interested in.

    Take the example of his 1958 text “The Affluent Society”. In spite of the fact that government spending on things like education was at all time high (however measured) J. K. Galbraith blamed the poor quality of government services on not enough money being spent on them.

    After 1958 there was a vast increase in government spending (especially on health, education and welfare) and yet Galbriath continued to blame all problems on insufficient government spending. He even wrote about the underclass (created by the Welfare State) as if yet more Welfare State spending would reduce or get rid of it.

    One would not expect an economist who followed Lord Keynes to be interested in the logic of the Austrian school – but Galbraith was not interested in empirical evidence either (as has been pointed out by a least one comment above – the one on on corporate failures).

    Far from being a great economist J.K. Galbraith was not an economist at all.

    His record in government is also instructive.

    During World War II he demanded that factories be built in “depressed areas” in the United States (rather like the “regional policy” that later did such harm to British industry) rather than where made the greates economic and military sense (thus not only increasing costs, but harming the war effort).

    Galbraith also demanded price controls on food at the very time that government was increasing the money supply (i.e. inflating) to help finance the war.

    Had Galbraith not been removed (and a more flexible policy followed) he might well have managed to create food shortages in the most important farming nation on Earth.

    As Ambassidor to India (where he was sent by President Kennedy) the economic advice he gave the Indian government (for example to introduce a wealth tax) was uniformly bad. And his suggestions had to be abandoned later.

    So J.K. Galbraith was not a good public servant either.

    On Britain in the 1850’s.

    Sadly this is just when J.S. Mill’s “Principles of Political Economy” (1848) was taking over the study of politcal economy (works such as that of Richard Whately [spelling] were a couple of decades older but better).

    It was back to the Labour Theory of Value after 1848 (one absurdity that even Galbraith avoided), whereas British economists had almost all abandonded this doctine in the late 1820’s and 1830’s.

    In practical policy Mill’s “Principles” is also full of assumptions that government should get involved with X, Y, Z.

    As with his “logic” J.S. Mill’s influence on the study of economics was very great, but also very negative (a wrong turn).

    On the size of the state in the 1850’s.

    Government did have more functions than it had in the 1820’s (for example the education subsidies), but government spending as a proportion of national income was lower.

    The low point for central governement (local government is a different story) spending as a percentage of national income is in 1874 (a tiny percentage – about 5% I believe).

  • Johnathan Pearce

    DLN makes some perfectly fair points, which only goes to prove, in fact, that those like Neil Clark who claim that the 1850s was some sort of economic darwinian hell in contrast to the cozy 1950s of Ealing comedies and the Goons are frankly talking nonsense. Yes, one can also point to the harsh nature of life back in the middle of the 19th Century, but at least it was spared the mass collectivist horrors of the 20th.

    That said, I would take issue with DLN on the state involvement in the railways, at least in the early stages. There was huge speculative building in the 1840s, and a lot of folk lost money. Hardly the sort of nationalised situation we had after WW2.

  • veryretired

    On an OT note, I’m surprised noone has mentioned that a few years earlier than 1850, capitalist Britain found a way to abolish a little cultural institution that had an ancient and ubiquitous history—slavery.

    Perhaps their second finest hour.

  • David L Nilsson

    But Johnathan, the railroad speculation of the 1840s was based on getting stautory approval for your company’s line and shutting out another. This went so far as promoting bills for lines that were never meant to be built, just so that rivals would be unable to stake a claim in your territory. As a result, apart from the Anglo-Scottish services and to a lesser extent the Birmingham and South West traffic, there was little competition between members of the ‘railway interest’: Adam Smith would have recognised the syndrome.

    George Hudson became the leading light of the Railway Mania precisely because he was supposed to be unsurpassed as a manipulator of Parliamentarians during these shenanigans. It was more akin to a scramble for commercial TV or train operating company franchises than a genuine gold rush.

    Once the lines were built, Victorian Parliaments compelled the operators to be common carriers like the Post Office, charging every passenger and freight user the same per-mile amount, with little scope to adjust fares and tariffs to demand or give discounts for bulk and distance. The railways could be, and often were, commandeered for carrying troops and essential materiel, and the Acts under which they were authorised often contained other enterprise-cramping stipulations, such as making trains stop at some bigwig’s local station in return for his granting a right of way.

    It was never a free market, and when road competition began in earnest after World War One, the Big Four ‘grouped’ companies (which had been effectively nationalised under the Railway Executive during the war) soon began to suffer. For decades they had not been permitted to build up enough reserves, thanks to being over-regulated from the off.

    There are many kinds of Victorian enterprise which would have passed muster with Herbert Spencer, but the puffer– the great symbol of the Industrial Revolution’s maturity– was never one of them. Indeed Spencer wrote an early essay entitled ‘Railway Morals and Railway Policy’ arguing that the business’s tendencies to natural monopoly corrupted its directors.

  • Guy Herbert: “Galbraith might be the most widely read economist ever.”

    I don’t know about that: The Wealth of Nations is still considered the bible (if, by some, the old testament). and Samuelson’s Economics (now in its 18th edition) is STILL the standard text for Econ 101.

  • Paul Marks: “Far from being a great economist J.K. Galbraith was not an economist at all.”

    With that in mind, I might posit that Marx is also more widely read than Galbraith. Rand might also edge out JKG.

    I might also include that, while British liberty in the homeland was most certainly greater in 1850 than 1950, internationally, y’all were still wrapped up in mercantilism and state-sponsored monopoly.

    I also have seen several references to “Galbraith’s theories.” Did JKG actually have any seminal theories? It seems to me that his whole career was just one of very eloquent parroting of the work of others.

  • David L Nilsson

    On his 85th birthday Galbraith crowed over a poll of academic economists which showed that they considered him the third most influential economist of the 20C, after Keynes and Schumpeter.

    It’s possible that JKG’s influence has collapsed since 1994, but given the drift of the world under neoliberal economics and globalism, and the waning of Reagan and Thatcher as inspirations, I somehow doubt it. We now seem faced with a fresh round of beggar-my-neighbour protectionism, as the USA’s ability to intimidate foreigners into free trade and capital movements wanes. It’s not easy being an economic hegemon when the dollar has fallen from nearly one to nearly two to the pound in 20 years, and gold is roaring towards $700/oz.

    GW Bush is more of a Keynesian than the Gipper ever was, one-off cosmetic tax handbacks notwithstanding. Gordon Brown shows no relish for setting the people’s purses free. France has remained untouched by the anti-statist wave, as the latest fiasco showed. Germany is fairly dirigiste and Russia is returning to old command-economy habits. India and China (which are ousting the USA as exemplars for the Third World) I have already dealt with. Japan remains a top-down economy and society with entrepreneurial decorations.

    I think old Desai, who belongs to the brief Friedmanite counter-revoluton of the Eighties, was blustering to keep his spirits up in that obituary non-tribute.

  • Paul Marks

    I was not aware that Lord Desai was follower of Milton Friedman – what is the evidence for this?

    In the 19th century the best selling economics book in English was J.S. Mill’s “Principles of Political Economy” – nothing in this book was both true and original. What was true had been said many times before (and said better) and what was original (such as saying that there was no conflict on the theory of value) was false (indeed in the case of the value theory claim – a blatent lie). Mill’s work was major step backwards.

    The best selling book on logic was also by J.S. Mill – and it was a wrong turn.

    J.S. Mill also had vast influence in the Univeristies.

    So measuring some one by book sales or college influence is a mistake.

    Take Lord Keynes – the “General Theory” (1936) is a tissue of absurdities (see Henry Hazlitt’s line by line destruction of it in the “Failure of the New Economics” or W.H. Hutt’s job in his “Keynesianism: Retrospective or Prospective” – although a few lines by Miese and Hayek more than show the basic absurdity of Lord Keynes).

    Yet the work has had vast influence.

    As for railways.

    It was possible for land owners to block a railway line. For example, the landowners of Stamford blocked the East Coast Mainline going through the town (they blocked the compulsory sale bill in Parliament) – it went via Peterborough instead.

    If a landowner simply will not sell out (whatever price you offer him) then build round him.

    No need for government to get involved.

    One note of interest. Many of these rail projects that got government involved (for example for right of access against the will of landowners), went bust – and runied the shareholders who had invested in them.

    “Railway mania” is a well known topic.

    If a project makes economic sense it does not need the government. If it needs the government there is something wrong with the thinking the project is based on.

  • Paul Marks

    On the matter of Reagan and Bush.

    Well the money supply is a Federal Reserve Board matter – so expanding the money supply in the hope of improving the economy is something they have or had only and indirect influence on.

    On government spending.

    Whether in total or on the Welfare State schemes alone, George Walker Bush has a much worse record than Ronald Wilson Reagan.

    Reagan increased defense spending more (in real terms – at least if one exculdes the costs of war), and other spending (the entitlement programs and farm subsidies for example) also went up – but he did try and hold back some government spending.

    President Bush has just gone along with everything. It is the worst record since either President Nixon or President Johnson (depending on how one does the calculation).

    A follower of Lord Keynes? I would not say that it is anything as profound as that, President Bush is just not interested in fighting against spending increases.

    However, British people should not be smug.

    In Britian government spending, taxes and money supply growth are all higher.

    On Milton Friedman.

    He went from saying that the money supply should be increased in line with the “price level” (which means he would have supported the credit money boom of the late 1920’s which led to the bust). To saying that the montetary base (basically notes and coins) should be frozen (not increased).

    This would still mean that “broad money” (bank credit – money created by book keeping tricks) could still increase – so there would still be a boom-bust cycle.

    And people would still use every bust as an excuse to demand statism (just as President Hoover and then President Roosevelt prevented wages and prices adjusting to the bust of 1929 – as they had done to every previous bust from 1819 to 1921).

    So the gap between Lord Keynes and Milton Friedman is not as big as some people think it is.

  • cje

    Desai’s dismissive comments on Galbraith (that his thinking was outdated) are strikingly similar to those made of Hayek and other free-marketeers in the mid-twentieth century.

    Intellectual fashions change and as it slowly begins to dawn on Western societies (and those aping them) that the market fails to produce coherent or culturally rich societies, voices like Galbraith will regain prominence; as Hayek did in the Seventies.

  • Paul Marks

    “The market” is a name for the civil interaction of human beings. Just as “market forces” are really just millions of choices by human beings.

    Such civil interaction can be “for [money] profit”, but it may not be.

    Such things as families, clubs, and churches are examples of civil interaction.

    And millions of people (such as traditional wives and mothers) work very hard without being paid.

    The choice is not between “for profit” and “not for profit” – the choice is between voluntary (civil) cooperation and state force.

    And the idea that the state can produce “coherant and culturally rich societies” is absurd.

    Galbraith was not just what he presented himself as (i.e. a cultured man who despised the money obsessed rabble), he was a dedicated socialist (he supported the socialist candidate for President of the United States before he was even a citizen – way back in 1932 when only two percent of the population supported the socialists).

    Later J.K. Galbraith tried to pretend their was no great difference between the American mixed economy and the Marxist states.

    He supported friendship with some of the most disgusting regimes in the history of mankind – such as Soviet Russia and Red China. Regimes that between them murdered more than one hundred million people (look it up).

    Had Galbraith and his kind achieved power in the United States he would not have hesitated to exterminate anyone who might oppose the “culturally rich” project of collectivism.

    I will be blunt – J.K. Galbraith was an evil man. Just because he is dead does not mean that should not be said – and the fact that people like “cje” are already appearing means that it should be said (and said clearly).

    However, I agree with the idea of his “influence”.

    Only last week the “Economist” reported that newcommers to Virginia were relaxed about higher taxes because they were “well informed” and “college educated” and, therefore, regarded government spending as “public investment”.

    Well informed has come to mean someone who believes the establishment media (such as the New York Times – which did its best to cover up the vast crimes of socialism in Soviet Russia in the 1930’s and still does its best to work for collectivism to this day). College educated has come to mean someone who has been exposed to the collectivist propaganda taught in most Universities.

    I do not pretend that that such people would support the sort of “society” of which J.K. Galbriath dreamed (i.e. a state of affairs where civil society had been destroyed and replaced by an all powerful collectivist state).

    But by supporting every bit of extra “public investment” or “useful new laws” they undermine what is left of civil society, bit by bit.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    David, where did I state that the railways were models of laissez faire? We seem to be arguing past each other. I just would point out that much of the initial drive behind railway construction was from private enterprise, not of a centrally directed state sort.

  • Paul Marks

    Johnathan Pearce is correct. Railways were very rarely (if ever) subsidized in Britian in the 19th century and the Acts of Parliament giving railways rights of way (i.e. compelling people to sell them land to them), had the negative effect of stimulating speculative railway ventures – which tended to go bust.

    Very many people had their savings wiped out in periods of “railway mania” which would not have occured if the railways had been allowed to develop in a more gradual way (as they would have done without the rights of way Acts of Parliament).

    As I said in a previous comment, if local landowners really do not want a mainline railway to go on there land there is no real problem – one goes to an alternative route. One example that springs to mind is the blocking of the East Coast Mainline from going via Stamford (the local landowners had enough influence to block the Act of Paliament that would have compelled them to sell).

    This did not mean that there was no east coast mainline – it just went via Peterborough instead.

    I am fairly sure that I have written this all before.

    As for the American case.

    Companies that relied on government supsidies (such as the Union Pacific) went bust, and companies that did not (such as J.J. Hill’s Great Northern) did not.

    This is not to say that all subsidised railroad companies were equally bad.

    For example, the Central Pacific depended on “paying off” Indian tribes that might have given trouble (some Indians were getting free transport on the railroad years after it finished). The Union Pacific went for the option of bringing the government to kill people.

    In the great race to cross America with rails the Central Pacific won. It did not help the Union Pacific that rain showed that much of the line it had built (with taxpayer loans) had been been badly built (it was swept away).

    A later incarnation of the Union Pacific (after its bankruptcy in the late 19th century) faught a violent “railroad war” against J.J. Hill – trying to destroy the Great Northern by armed violence.

    Due to the political influence of the Union Pacific, J.J. Hill and his people were forced to meet violence with their own violence (as the government would not protect them).

    The forces of the Union Pacific were defeated.

    However, later “anti trust” and other regulations were used to undermine J.J. Hill (and the farmers he served – a major market was setting up American farm exports to Asia). Mr Hill and his people could defend themselves against the armed thugs of the Union Pacific – but against the armed thugs of the government they were powerless.

    The principle family behind the Union Pacific at this time were the Harriamans (spelling alert) – later noted supporters of F.D.R.

  • Mark T

    I did catch a programme on Radio 4 where they had Roy Hattersley praising JK, but that doesn’t really count I guess