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In 'merrie olde England,' economic pallor page 2


Date published: 8/12/2011

continued

This may be one reason Cameron has flinched from seriously reforming the established religion. No, not the Church of England, the National Health Service. It is sometimes adequate regarding medicine, but is a sensational jobs program: It is the world's sixth-largest employer (behind the Chinese army, Wal-Mart, China National Petroleum, China State Grid Corporation, and Indian Railways).

Osborne says America's welfare reform of 1996 "helped change the debate over here." Perhaps, but almost 30 percent of public spending here is still for a welfare system under which an unemployed single mother with two children has more disposable income than a postal worker. There is, Osborne says, considerable resentment among people who "go to work at 7 in the morning and the blinds are down next door." Almost a fifth of British households have no wage earner, while immigrants are 13 percent of the workforce.

Fortunately, in Britain, as in much of the U.S., labor unions are fading forces. British unions have only 7 million members, down from 13 million 30 years ago. When, in June, leaders of a large public employees union engineered a one-day strike, the members were not enthusiastic and the public was not inconvenienced.

Almost half the Conservative members of Parliament were first elected in 2010 and, like Republican members of the U.S. House first elected that year, these Conservatives have a Tea Party-like indifference to conventional pieties, the worst of which celebrate the European Union. Such has been the leakage of Britain's sovereignty to Brussels, Cameron's ability to deregulate his nation's economy is significantly circumscribed. Only 22 percent of the British consider EU membership a "good thing," now that the EU is busy transferring wealth to those who do not create it.

With a wary eye on Greece, and a possible contagion from it to Italy, Spain, Portugal, and others, Osborne fears a "sovereign debt rerun" of the financial crisis triggered by the September 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers. He also worries that Britain might be unfairly tainted by Asian and other investors deciding that "Europe is a basket case."

Well, yes. The Economist reports that three weeks ago, at an emergency meeting of eurozone leaders, Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, distributed a ranking of countries deemed by markets most likely to default: "Greece, Portugal, and Ireland were at the top, riskier than Venezuela and Pakistan; Spain was less safe than revolutionary Egypt."

Next year may be cheerier. London will host the Olympics, and the nation will celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee--60 years of her reign. This year, however, the refurbishing of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle has been deferred.

George Will is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.


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