Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Not another seventies tribute act

The history book on the shelf,
Is always repeating itself.
From Abba's Waterloo, of course (the UK's Number One hit single for two weeks from the end of April 1974).

The predictions of a too-close-to-call election in 2015 leads one blogger to speculate that we might end up with a re-run of 1974, in the form of a hung parliament and two elections. I don't know about that, but it got me thinking about 1974 as a point of comparison with today.

We may be in for another narrow margin and, who knows, maybe two elections if another coalition isn't stitched up pronto but in most other respects, 2015 Britain doesn't seem to have the makings of a 1974 tribute act.

Sorry, Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid, but the history book on the shelf just isn't repeating itself. The environment for voters (and the government they elect) has changed, mostly out of all recognition, although one issue, migration, (which I don't think is that big an issue, although most voters apparently disagree with me) still seems to get people inexplicably steamed up to about the same degree.

A few almost-random comparisons:

Then, 17.2% (a 34-year high), now 1% (a 12-year low).*

 National debt/GDP ratio
 Then, under 50% (and falling), now  predicted to peak at 81.1%. Try shrinking that with inflation running at 1%...

 Then, 3.7%,**  now 6.1%**
Real wages growth
Was  +2.9% on average throughout the 1970s and 80s, is predicted to be +2.5% (after six years of falling wages).

 The percentage of income taken by the 1% of top earners was about 7% then. It's 13% now.

Price of oil
It was four times more expensive in 1974 than before the previous year's oil crisis. It is
less than half as expensive in 2015 as it was at the start of 2014.

Balance of Payments

  • Around 1974, about 260,000 houses were being built (approximately 170,000 by the private sector, 80,000 by local authorities and the remainder by housing associations). 
  • These days, it's more like 110,000 for a larger population (80,000 by private enterprise, 30,000 by housing associations and approximately zilch by local authorities). The (slightly vague) figures are from the graph on this page 
Union membership

Around 12 million employees in the UK were union members in the mid '70s. It's more like 6.5 million these days. 

Fear and loathing of migrants and minorities
Looks like it's still too soon to tune in to programmes like It Was Alright in the 1970s and smugly congratulate ourselves on how much more tolerant and enlightened we've all become.

Bigotry aside, the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

*Year-on-year figure from November 2014

**ILO Unemployment rate: UK: All: Aged 16-64 - 2015 figure is actually from September 2014, but seems in line with forecasts for the coming year

***Inflation adjustment is only to 2009, but good enough for the ball park...