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Why the English should celebrate the fact that England are rubbish at football

Last night Germany won the World Cup beating Argentina 1-0 in the final. They deserved to. They had consistently played the best football and done so in the right spirit.

It also marked the twelfth tournament in a row that Germany had outperformed England. That is right, Germany has done better than England in every single World Cup since 1966 (and they still argue about that one.)

In fact, if anything, this rather disguises how bad England’s performance has been. In the 48 years since England won the World Cup – in 1966 in case you didn’t know – they have not made a single final and only one semi-final. In the meantime Germany have appeared in five finals, and Brazil, Holland, Italy and Argentina four apiece. When it comes to semi-finals such giants as Uruguay, Portugal, Bulgaria, Belgium, Croatia, Sweden and South Korea have all made an appearance more recently than England.

This apparent underperformance is mirrored in the European Championship. In that tournament’s 54-year history England has managed a grand total of two semi-finals. They lost both times. In the same time Czechoslovakia, Denmark, the USSR and Greece have all been winners; Belgium, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Yugoslavia have all been finalists.

Is it the players? Emphatically, no. England has always been able to produce a reasonable crop. Between 2002 and 2010 that crop was exceptional and included the likes of Beckham, Gerrard, Rooney, Owen, Cole, Terry and Ferdinand. And the results were still risible. To see how risible one needs only to look at the England-Germany game in 2010. England had by far the better team – to the extent that not one German player would have got into the England team. The result (should you need any reminding) was 4-1 to Germany. And, no, England were not unlucky losers.

Why do England lose? In their book entitled, er, Why England Lose, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski attempted to answer this question. Their answer was that based on England’s population, actually, England do more or less as they are supposed to. I have always found this rather hard to take. You would expect that if it were true at some point England would have an over-performance to go with all the under-performances. But no. We have to look elsewhere.

The best explanation I have seen came from the unlikely source of the very same Michael Owen I mentioned earlier. His argument is that England play as individuals and English players are simply unwilling (and possibly unable) to play as a team.

The superiority of German football culture over ours can be summed up as an obligation to always put the greater good over any individual needs, a philosophy that applies not only within the 11 players on the pitch but across every level of their game.

This may well also explain why English managers are so bad. English managers are brought up in England’s individualistic culture and subconsciously apply its rules. Result: rubbish on the pitch.

And that’s a good thing. Our sporting ineptitude is a symbol of our love of freedom and is something to be cherished. In future we should take pride in every stray pass, long ball, defensive mix-up and lack-lustre performance. It shows that we alone amongst the footballing nations honouring freedom, liberty and the individual above all other things, are prepared to let the single, solitary individual have his say, do his own thing and show the world what he can do: to try, to fail, to try again, to dare to be different.

Except that it doesn’t. It does not explain why America (also highly individualistic by all accounts) has the better international side (ditto, arguably, Australia) or why English club teams have such a good record in European competitions.

Oh well, back to the drawing board. Silly game anyway.

48 comments to Why the English should celebrate the fact that England are rubbish at football

  • Nick (Blame FrenchMEN) Gray

    Well, I hate to think what the Germans would have done if they’d lost! Probably started WW3! For the sake of world peace, Argentina had to fail.
    As for the English and team sports, rampant individualism should mean that you win every individual athletics event, and every swimming event, but you don’t. Perhaps the climate keeps you indoors too much, whilst our weather here in Australia gives us lots more chances to practice.

  • Perhaps Americans can be team players when the need arises. There is still plenty of individualism but it is applied to the team goal. I’ve done it enough myself. “I agree with your goal but your method is sub-optimum.”

  • Nick (Blame FrenchMEN) Gray

    And, a one-time offer, for this day only, I will not automatically blame any French person!
    Happy Basteel Day!!!

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Funnily enough, I was thinking of writing an item mocking the attempts by commentators across the spectrum to draw some profound cultural/political/whatever meaning from the game. For example, one of the most successful countries since WW2 in football has been Brazil – until this World Cup. Brazil has had a massive gulf in wealth between an upper class and large group of poor, and small middle class. Its culture is individualistic in limited ways. Yet it won the WC five times. Argentina very nearly won last night (it should have done so really, having made the better chances but did not take them). Argentina is run by people with the emotional stability of drugged up teenagers. It is bankrupt, behaves like a brat on the international stage, and is generally in a bad way. But it produces great players, and its teamwork last night was pretty good.

    As for England, part of the issue has always been that there is a crazy gap between expectation and performance. However, under the turgid rule of Roy Hodgson (even his surname is turgid) that gap no longer exists. We know we are crap, and there is a sort of mental release in that.

    Remember, people used to be in awe of the athletes of East Germany, and the Soviet Union. Well, enough said.

  • Barry Sheridan

    Creating a winning ethos in any English team sport is certainly hard, although it is worth noting that even in individual sports we tend to find success all too rare. Some of the difficulties can be detected in the demands heaped on the rare leaders of our teams who do achieve creditable outcomes, Michael Vaughan who led a successful England cricket team burnt out after a few years despite captaining a winning side.

    In general the reality is that English men and women are difficult people to work with, whether this really is reflection of a love of freedom, well perhaps, but one cannot exclude the fact that we are all too frequently contrary and difficult, knowing more about what we do not like that what we like. This is not criticism, just a reflection of what we are, sometimes it is a fine collection of qualities, especially when our backs are to the wall, at other times, especially when it comes to moving a sphere around a rectangle of grass, we do not blend well enough to succeed.

    All this is a great pity because we love success, British supporters, being noted for their knowledge and sense of fair play as well as a sense of loyalty despite seeing little winning.

  • Paul Marks

    No one dislikes the collectivist tradition in German thought more than I do – but voluntary cooperation in a team is NOT collectivism.

    Nor is “atomistic” individualism freedom – on the contrary VOLUNTARY cooperation is what Civil Society (the alternative to the state) is based upon.

    If the English really are no good at voluntary cooperation (at working together in association without the threat of force) then we are in more trouble than modern Germany it.

    Hobbesian isolated individuals are easy prey for the state.

  • Michael Taylor

    You don’t think the aggressive stupidity of all connected with the English game might have something to do with it. Anyone who watched the BBC’s production last night will have been struck by the almost punitive levels of stupidity and banality of the commentators. And let’s not forget, these people get paid, rewarded, just achieve such fantastic levels of dullness, stupidity, and positively celebrated lack of vision or acuteness. If these are the people who have achieved ‘success’ in the English game, it seems likely they themselves will foster the same levels of bovine stupidity in the young players they meet, whilst being quite likely to squash and deride any young player who doesn’t hide his natural curiosity, intelligence, vision etc. Frankly, I think it’s probably a class issue – one we should be ashamed of, and one for which we pay dearly.

  • lucklucky

    Very weak argument. Starts here:

    Calling Beckham, Gerrard, Rooney, Owen, Cole, Terry and Ferdinand, exceptional. Exceptional?!?

    The reason is that British players are median. I actually think Britsih football is getting better in recent years.

  • I agree with the first comment, about how, if individualism explains this, England (England perhaps more than Britain) ought to be winning tennis, golf, swimming etc., routinely.

    I think much depends on what a country (to use collective shorthand) just considers important, for several years rather than just for a few weeks. Like it or hate it (personally I hate it) Britain, definitely including England, put in a mighty effort (both individual and collective) to make a success (but damn the cost) of the 2012 Olympics, both as an event and by winning a ton of medals.

    But from what I hear from football fans, English football takes winning the Premier League, and then doing well in European club competition, more seriously than doing well in the World Cup. The feeling I get is that the winning England footballer is the one who makes the most money throughout his career. A former Spurs manager recently talked about how some of his players would fake injury, and wanted his help to do this, to avoid being picked for England. That would knacker them to no personal career purpose.

    Plus, there is this huge split between regular English fans who support their clubs week in week out, and people like me who watch the World Cup but not a lot else. That Germany Brazil game was the most memorable football game in years, for me. For a proper fan, it would be some obscure promotion battle or an amazing away draw against a European club that got their club to the last sixteen of the Champions League, or whatever. For a Man U supporter it would be that remarkable last ditch win against Bayern in the Champions League final.

    Sadly, I think politicians have a big influence on this. The kind of power and money they command doesn’t make successful countries out here in the real world (Brazil, Argentina, etc.), quite the reverse. But it can make national sporting effort more successful, if by that you mean more medals and trophies. Angela Merkel is a big fan of her now triumphant football team. I wonder what else she and Germany’s other politicians did to support them, other than her showing up for lots more of their games than she had to.

    Sport. War by other means. Discuss.

  • All this is a great pity because we love success, British supporters, being noted for their knowledge and sense of fair play as well as a sense of loyalty despite seeing little winning.

    The prototypical CUBs fan. I myself contacted the disease when I moved to Chicago circa 1975.

  • Gareth

    Imo it is little to do with some ill-defined ‘football culture’ versus a contrarian streak and more to do with respect. The England squad contains a number of sacred cows – very well paid and very skilled professionals at club level who view themselves as more important than the manager.

  • Mr Ed

    an obligation to always put the greater good over any individual needs

    Or in German, ‘Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz

    But seriously, one ought not to conflate a sense of personal freedom with an inability to work in a team in a contractual situation. The harmony of rightly understood interests is the essence of a market economy, and if one can put aside a fleeting but unrealistic hope of personal glory that comes from punting in hopeless shots at 40 yards rather than running and passing to a better-placed colleague, one might end up with the reality of a win rather than a dream and an ‘if only’. That to me is a question of self-discipline combined with realism.

    Perhaps time preference comes into it, and a slightly indisciplined selfishness that may come with the competitiveness required to be a high-performing athlete being a factor that leads too many to fail to mesh as a team.

  • SC

    >In general the reality is that English men and women are difficult people to work with, whether this really is reflection of a love of freedom, well perhaps, but one cannot exclude the fact that we are all too frequently contrary and difficult, knowing more about what we do not like that what we like.

    Being a foreigner myself who has worked in England for years I have to say that this just isn’t true. English people are amongst the easiest to work with.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I don’t buy the argument of the OP. The English are not especially individualist in the grand scheme of things. Individualism has been in decline in England for at least 100 years. There’s a whole world of English people who believe in Asian-style “society” where the whole matters more than the individual. Really such an idea has become increasingly dominant since Clement Atlee. How else could the NHS and the Town and Country Planning Acts have been passed? It’s hard to imagine more collectivist laws.

    The reason England (and Scotland for that matter) both suck at football is much simpler: we’ve closed all of the football academies that used to exist in the 60’s, while at the same time utterly denigrating any non-academic education path. Those with the potential to become great footballers don’t get the opportunity, and they’re told they shouldn’t seek it anyway because getting a 3rd class degree in Sociology and £30,000 worth of debt is much more respectable.

    There’s a reason why the only great athletes the UK produces in any sport all went to private schools – because only they often still provide advanced sports training as part of the curriculum.

  • I once asked a fanatical Chelsea supporter if he would get the most pleasure out of Chelsea winning the Premiership or England winning the world cup. He looked at me as if I were insane, and then asked me if I were joking, with the assumption that I must have been.

    In Australia, fans support particular clubs too, but victory by national teams is considered relatively more important. The answer might still be that you might prefer a win by your club, but it is not an insane question. This may well be the case for football in Germany, too. If so, I think this likely matters with respect to performance of the national team.

  • John B

    Suggested reasons:

    1. Germany, and other Countries, has/have ‘ONE national team; UK has four. That means, unlike Germany and others, we disperse talent and resources rather than pool and concentrate them.

    It often means that only part of UK talent is available later on in the competition given that some of the other Home Nation teams either do not qualify or are eliminated early: Germany does not send half its team home part way through the competition or not send some of it to start with.

    2. England football clubs have a greater number of foreign players, who are trained in England, then either transfer out of England or go home to play for their national teams during international events.

    The smart move would be to have a UK team and get rid of this idiotic faux Nationalism… it does not happen in the Olympics.

  • Rob

    If lack of success is due to an individualist spirit in the country, England should have performed significantly better over the past 15 years given the bovine herd-like stupidity of the population in meekly submitting to ever more absurd interference by their masters.

  • Fraser Orr

    Interestingly the Wall Street Journal had a similar analysis of the Brazilian’s team:


    Of course in defense of English soccer’s secondary sport, nobody can beat them at soccer hooliganism. One has to admire the spontaneous order arising out of the misdirected rage, lubricated with alcohol that generates victory after victory in that particular battlefield. Really, somehow without sponsorship from the Minister of Sports or a national body, never mind a highly skilled coach, they still manage to excel in that manly of all sports.

    Hey, maybe the Argies are better at soccer than us, but we still kicked their butts at Goose Green.

  • Sam Duncan

    “Germany, and other Countries, has/have ‘ONE national team; UK has four. That means, unlike Germany and others, we disperse talent and resources rather than pool and concentrate them.”

    Exactly. It still amazes me that George Best never played in a World Cup simply because he happened to have been born in Northern Ireland. I find national representative teams a but silly anyway, to be honest (the last attempt to have anything like that in motorsport failed miserably, thank goodness). But if we had a British team, I’ll bet they could absolutely hammer Baden-Württemberg and Tucumán.

    “The smart move would be to have a UK team and get rid of this idiotic faux Nationalism… it does not happen in the Olympics.”

    It does happen in the Commonwealth Games, though. Why Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but not Queensland, British Columbia, or Andhra Pradesh?

  • George Tobin

    I blame the selection and coaching of the English national team. England need a coach with the autonomy and balls to limit the big name stars and take some guys who are more suited to melding. The Costa Rican backfield was the best in the Cup, the most cohesive and causing more offsides and fewer goals than almost all the rest. None of those guys would have made the English team.

    The pressure to use the biggest names is enormous. The result (especially when England is behind) is predictable–great stars trying to do too much on their own because it is what is usually expected of them but on an all-star they don’t have the same cohesive supporting cast.. You don’t need two or three Rooneys, you need one Rooney and one or two guys with the skill and discipline to set him up.

    I recall that Jackie Charleton’s Irish National Team outperformed England in two World Cups with a vastly smaller available player pool in 1990 and 1994. Better coaching? Ya think?

    I am an American and know less about football (non-American meaning) than the average British teenager but some things seem pretty obvious. To the entire world.

  • Patrick

    Is it a class thing? The sports we do really well in are dominated by ex-private school players – there’s a confidence / desire to win. Continental footballers tend to be reasonably well educated – at least as much as the national average – and can string a coherent sentence together (usually in English that’s alot better than Wayne’s). But English football is the preserve of the (ahem) riffraff. As pointed out, they seem pretty much idiots to a man. Maybe there’s a connection between mental and physical agility/ability to read a game?

    Teach them to read – might be a start. Or drum out of them the ‘destined to fail’ culture of low expectations that pervades our educational sytem.

  • Kevin B

    The reason there are four teams from the UK is that it gives us four votes in FIFA and UEFA and such, though whether Scotland, for instance, will vote with England on any particular issue is open to doubt.

    Oh, and Scotland think they can beat England at anything anytime. As do Wales and Ireland.

    The fact that there is a UK team at the Olympics is, of course, an anomaly… And I’m all in favour of anomalies as these so upset the tidy minded bureacrats and serial committee types of the sort who manage international sport with such stunning incompetence. (Although I suppose the incompetence is in the eye of the beholder… After all, the likes of Blatter make a great deal of money out of the racket.)

  • Regional

    Watching soccer is like watching paint dry.

  • Britain and Ireland’s representation at international sports is nothing but anomalies. Seemingly, no two sports do this the same way. There are sports where England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Northern Ireland have different teams. There are other sports where they don’t. There are sports where Wales counts as part of England. There are sports where Northern Ireland counts as part of Ireland. There are sports in which there are “United Kingdom” or “Great Britain” teams, that are defined in all sorts of ways. In the Olympics, Northern Ireland is considered *both* part of Great Britain *and* part of Ireland – people from Northern Ireland are eligible to compete for either nation. Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man interact with this in all sorts of odd ways, too.

  • Mr Ed

    Is this the time for the EU to suggest an EU football team? If not, why not?

    Didn’t the Soviets ensure that the Soviet republics did not play each other lest bourgeois nationalism rear its head? Let factory play factory, Dynamo – the KGB teams – so hard to beat, and they found beating so easy…

  • Snorri Godhi

    A few unconnected thoughts.

    British bosses have a bad reputation in general (deservedly, in my experience); not only in football but also in business.
    Not long ago, however, the English team had a Swedish coach and that didn’t seem to help.

    In any case, when making an argument like this, one ought to look more broadly at all team sports: not just real football, but also American football, as well as rugby, cricket, baseball, basketball, hockey, etc. None of which i watch.

    I agree with the points made by Paul (and Mr Ed) about individualism being fully compatible with cooperation; and Brian (and others) about the lack of success in tennis, and other individualist sports which i don’t care about.

    Strange that Brian should single out the final as “the most memorable football game in years”: compared to the Germany/Brazil semifinal, the final was little better than watching paint dry.
    (On a side note, Germany seems to be in an amazing match regularly every 22 years: in 1992, it was the Denmark/Germany Euro final; in 1970, it was the Italy/Germany semifinal.)

    About English football being too working class, i note that football seems to be lower class in every country except the US (and Canada?). It’s just that, on the continent, the lower classes have better reading comprehension.

  • 1. Germany, and other Countries, has/have ‘ONE national team; UK has four. That means, unlike Germany and others, we disperse talent and resources rather than pool and concentrate them.

    Spain and, I believe, Argentina, have smaller populations than England. The Netherlands definitely has a smaller population than England. Sorry, but I think that’s a bit lazy of an excuse.

  • Mr Ed

    Football associations in the UK are not (yet) government controlled, and they have evolved (backwards?) with the nations they represent, not States, for which we should rejoice. It just happens that in other nations, the State and country were identical, although I haven’t checked Trinidad and Tobago 🙂

    No true Scotsman (to borrow a phrase) would play for England at football, and the term ‘UK’ is very statist, used for things like government trade statistics.

    Anyway, let’s blame Comprehensive education for England’s failure and abolish Comprehensive schools (the default Government school for 11-18 in Britain) , as a prelude to freeing education from the State.

  • Kevin B

    Not long ago, however, the English team had a Swedish coach and that didn’t seem to help.

    Ah yes Snorri, but he was appointed and controlled by the Englishmen who run our game so well.

    I would also like to point out that a bit of the blame for England’s lack of sporting success must be laid at the door of Fleet Street. The media in this country like nothing more than overhyping our averagely talented sportspersons except tearing them down, usually just before a big competition. I blame the fact that the media is full of scotsmen.

  • Mr Ed

    he was appointed and controlled by the Englishmen

    IIRC the control panel was below his waist.

  • Endivio Roquefort I

    Not individualism so much as lack of patriotism, or what used to be called (still is in some places) “national pride”.

    Or maybe I’m just talking about myself.

    If I was an England footballer (given my age and state of health, about as realistic a prospect as my being a Miss World contestant) I would play conscientiously but not passionately. It wouldn’t matter to me that much whether my team won or not, provided we avoided total humiliation. At the back of my mind would be the realization that most people living in my country couldn’t care less one way or t’other.

    Other countries win World Cups because seeing their flag up there means something to them.

    The “greater good” that permits effective teamwork has to do with caring about your country’s standing in the world, and identifying with a flag. Brits have lost that to a large extent. Personally, I don’t see that as a problem. The older I get, the less able I find myself to care about flags, anthems, league tables and the like. (Though I sometimes envy those who do.)

  • Snorri Godhi

    You accuse me of having found the Germany/Argentina Final more memorable than the Germany Brazil semi, which would indeed have been very strange. But what I said was: “That Germany Brazil game was the most memorable football game in years.”

    It is very rare, in these comment threads, that one can answer a criticism so easily.

  • Paul Marks

    Lots of good comments – but I think J.P.s comment (the government of Argentina being like drugged up teenagers – and so on) wins the prize.

    It made me smile – and not much does that these days.

  • Libertarian

    “Our sporting ineptitude is a symbol of our love of freedom”

    That’s a terrible statement for a libertarian website! Where’s the invisible hand?

  • Snorri Godhi

    Brian: indeed. I guess i have not yet recovered from the stress of moving to another town.
    Still, this misunderstanding gave me a chance to point out that, for me, it was not a matter of years, but of decades.

  • Surellin

    Ah well, cheer up. As Margaret Thatcher said, The English beat the Germans twice in the last century at THEIR national game.

  • Allen Farrington

    “England had by far the better team – to the extent that not one German player would have got into the England team.”

    I am sorry, but this is complete nonsense. It is such absurd, ridiculous nonsense that I distinctly remember thinking just how absurd and ridiculous it was when the BBC pundits spouted this exact piece of nonsense before that game. The line-ups may have given that impression to anglocentric viewers who thought (and probably still think) that the Premier League is the best in the world, but the fact is that when measured on technical ability and form at the time of the tournament, as opposed to name recognition among British viewers, very few England players would have made it into the Germany team. In fact, four, exactly, would have. Cole, Terry, Gerrard and Rooney. Denying this on the basis of never having heard of the German players is asinine. It is not their fault that you don’t know who they are, or how much better they are than their English counterparts, but yours.

  • Dale Amon

    I cannot speak much about that strange version of football which does not allow the use of hands, but I can say I disagree that individualism is counter to cooperative effort. American’s are a herd of cat’s unless they decide there is something that ‘must be done’. Whether it was the old time barn raising, or the modern US military, we are very good at it when we put our minds to it. This is also why the individual warrior culture of the Middle East gets stomped whenever they run up against someone from outside. Iraq and Iran could fight it out for years; but America wiped the floor with Iraq in weeks. On the other hand, their warrior culture works very well for ‘terrorist’ and suicidal activities. One could not call them individualist though: they are tribal.

    So I do not see that trait as an excuse for England.

  • Nick (Blame FrenchMEN) Gray

    Dale, it is called ‘Foot-ball’ because of the use of the feet! (Yes, it should be called feetball! I will write the memo myself!) This should be something that a rocket scientist can easily work out, or have rocket scientist standards been slipping recently?

  • Schrodinger's Dog

    I’m going to be a lot less charitable.

    I would characterise the British – of whom I am one – as complacent, which often leads to laziness and incompetence. We don’t do detail – and it shows, whether we’re playing football or building cars.

    British industrial pre-eminence was largely built on being first. When faced with serious foreign competition, whole sectors crumpled like wet paper bags, as exemplified by the sorry story of the domestic British car industry. The first Japanese cars were a joke and were dismissed as such by just about everyone. But the Japanese do do detail, so they thought about what they’d done wrong and came up with progressively better ones. It was the Japanese who taught millions of British motorists that cars don’t have to break down. Faced with this onslaught, the managers of the British car companies said, in effect, they couldn’t match Japanese standards of quality and reliability with British workers. The Japanese proved them wrong when they opened their transplant factories in the UK: British workers could achieve Japanese standards of productivity and quality. At one time I believe the British-built Honda Accord was the most reliable car in the world.

    The Germans also seem to do detail. Not only did the German car companies survive the Japanese onslaught, they prospered; today they build highly-profitable premium cars people the world over want to buy.

    And they also win World Cups.

  • Laird

    Nick, I think you’ve (albeit inadvertently) solved the nomenclature problem. In American football, where the ball is in fact kicked frequently (punts, field goals and extra points), it is kicked with only one foot (the kicker’s dominant foot); hence it is “football”. However, in the non-American game which we call “soccer” (a name non-Americans apparently don’t like, since they refuse to use it), players kick the ball at various times with either foot; hence we shall hereafter refer to it as “feetball”. Problem solved!

  • Nick (Blame FrenchMEN) Gray

    Australia also uses the term ‘Soccer’, though Rugby League is the main sport. Let’s hope that feetball catches on!

  • Mr Ed

    I suspect that Schrodinger’s Dog has Basil Fawlty’s car in mind. I had a Ford Orion with similar traits, specialising in breaking down at key moments, such as when overtaking a tractor in Belgium; en route to a friend’s wedding; and my University finals – but at that time Ford seemed a thoroughly Essex and therefore British manufacturer.

    Friends from my grandfather’s old industry, British shipbuilding, have talked about the culture of petty thieving that was rife in the shipyards, this was prior to nationalisation. Is it any wonder that foreign shipbuilders outperformed workers with such a culture? It is, at root, the entitlement culture that underpins the Labour Party and its satellites.

  • Paul Marks

    Actually S.D. the British economy was sabotaged – taxes started to rise from 1875 onwards (in some areas from 1870 onwards) also unions were put (partly) above the normal law in 1875 – and totally above the normal law by the Act of 1906 (the efforts to push this legal situation back a bit in the 1920s and 1930s were swept away after 1945). There were also special regulations that (for example) crippled the railway industry over time.

    In spite of all this British output per man was twice that of Germany in the 1930s. There was nothing wrong with British “culture” – it managed to resist large scale folly in government policy for 60 years.

    Of course after World War II policy became totally insane. Not just during the Atlee Regime (which went around doing as much damage to the economy as it possibly could – via regulation, taxation, wild government spending and outright nationalisation), but later also.

    For example, for two years in the late 1960s taxes on investment were actually higher than 100% (the special “investment surcharge”). Think about that.

    In the late 1970s income tax was 83% and on “unearned” income (i.e. INVESTMENT income) it was over 90% – and these rates were not just widow dressing, Mr Denis Healey (the same “moderate” who undermined the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force in the late 1960s) tried to enforce them.

    There was also massive inflation in Britain compared to Germany after World War II – nothing to do with “culture” and everything to do with GOVERNMENT POLICY (monetary expansion).

    Indeed if one compares government policy in Britain what that of Germany since 1945 (on inflation, taxes on investment and INHERITANCE, family firms, regulation and so on) the wonder is that the British economy did not totally collapse – real collapse (starvation).

    If anything British “culture” was a GOOD thing.

    For example under the Act of 1906 unions had almost total power – yet many union bosses did not use this power as much as they could have (although some did).

    Had the powers given to unions under the 1906 Act (reinforcing the 1875 Act) been fully used (by all unions at all times) it is hard to see how any business enterprise could have survived in Britain and all. Although there was some effort in the 1920s to reform the law – these reforms were swept away by the Atlee government after 1945.

    Although it is true that British culture changed-over-time.

    The legal situation was the same in the 1970s as it was in the 1950s – but the behaviour of union thugs such as “Red Robbo” in the 1970s would have astonished people in the 1950s.

    Although the 1950s were not some golden age – it was (after all) already the age of “I am alright Jack” – union power was quiet (but very real).

    The United States Steel industry sent over people to find out why British Steel had no strikes in the 1950s.

    The people came back horrified – the reason there were so few strikes in the British steel industry was that management always gave in.

    They had to give in – with the legal situation after 1945 victory against union sabotage became impossible.

    An interesting case study is Birmingham.

    Before World War II (in spite of everything) Birmingham was holding its own – it really was.

    After World War II if someone wanted to invest in building a factory in the Birmingham area (in spite of the taxes and unions and so on) they were often FORBIDDEN TO DO SO by the government – “regional policy”.

    It is naught to do with “culture” S.D. – and everything to do with government policy.

  • Mr Ed

    There was nothing wrong with British “culture” – it managed to resist large scale folly in government policy for 60 years.

    Tax or no tax, if you make cars that break down, and persist in doing so, and someone else makes cars that are better, if your customers notice, you are in trouble.

  • PeterT

    One could not call them individualist though: they are tribal.

    At the risk of being found an armchair sociologist, I always considered it interesting that despite the collectivism of the arabs they cannot get sufficiently organised to get streets cleaned etc. In Amman people plant trees on the sidewalks outside their houses – a pretty blatant appropriation of public property. I suppose one of the downsides of collectivism is that people lose a sense of individual responsibility towards their fellow men.

    British industrial pre-eminence was largely built on being first.

    This might also be said of Britain’s role as ‘inventor of liberty’, which in truth is the product of a few handfuls of individuals (Smith, Locke, etc). The Britain of today certainly does not appear to value this legacy.

  • Tax or no tax, if you make cars that break down

    Tax, being a negative incentive, can often be a reason for making cars that break down.

  • Maimonides

    The discussion appears to have shifted from feetball but to go back to it Mr Tobin supra is bang on in my opinion. You don’t pick a bunch of famous people and then try to cobble together a system they can all fit into. You have a system, and then you pick the people who can deliver it. At least then you get something that can be called a team. That’s the lesson of this World Cup, admirably demonstrated by Chile, Columbia, Holland and Germany of course.