How to bury the lede: Nick Crafts on the postwar British productivity failure

27 11 2017

Nick Crafts (born 1948), who is a very senior and respected economic historian at the University of Warwick, has published a new paper on the postwar British productivity failure. It examines why productive grew at a slower rate in the UK than in similar Western European countries in the three decades after 1945, which were, of course, a period when the UK remained, for various reasons, outside of the EEC.

Abstract: British productivity growth disappointed during the early postwar period. This reflected inadequate investment in equipment and skills but also entailed inefficient use of inputs. Weak management, dysfunctional industrial relations, and badly-designed economic policy were all implicated. The policy framework was partly the result of seeking low unemployment through wage restraint by appeasement of organized labour. A key aspect was weak competition. This exacerbated corporategovernance
and industrial-relations problems in the British ‘variety of capitalism’ which sustained
low effort bargains and managerial incompetence. Other varieties of capitalism were better placed to achieve fast growth but were infeasible for Britain given its history.
Keywords: competition; productivity; relative economic decline; varieties of capitalism

In my view, the most interesting and policy-relevant part of this paper appears at the very end. Prof. Crafts has effectively “buried the lede” by tucking this information down near the end, where he writes that the main features of the postwar period of British economic history were

 

ineffective competition policy, nationalization, and protectionism including remaining outside the EEC. This exacerbated problems of corporate governance and industrial relations inherent in the British ‘variety of capitalism’ as the economic rents that were generated helped to sustain low effort bargains and managerial incompetence.

(Bolding added by AS)

This paper builds on Craft’s earlier estimate (2016) that joining the EEC raised the level of UK GDP by about 8 to 10 per cent through increasing the volume of trade and strengthening competition. You can also read his short piece on what history says about Brexit here.

 

 

 

Advertisements




Returning to growth in the UK: Policy lessons from history

25 10 2012

 

That’s the title of a recent lecture and now blog post by Nick Crafts, an economic historian at the University of Warwick. There’s loads of good stuff about macroeconomic policy here, but I think his most important point relates to housing. The UK escaped from the Great Depression of the early 1930s by building massive numbers of houses. Maybe it can replicate this feat by scrapping some of the existing planning rules.
Abstract: A return to growth is urgently needed in the UK. Recovery from severe recessions was achieved in the 1930s and the 1980s in the presence of fiscal consolidation. This column examines the lessons from those experiences for today’s policymakers.
Bottom Line: If there is one area that could deliver short-term stimulus and long-term efficiency gains, as in the 1930s, it is surely private house building. The evidence suggests that draconian planning restrictions mean that the stock of houses is three million below and real prices are 35% above the long-run free market equilibrium (Hilber and Vermeulen 2012). The welfare gains from some relaxation of these planning rules are huge and the employment implications of steadily addressing the housing shortfall could be considerable – building 200,000 extra houses per year might employ 800,000. This would require addressing issues of housing finance and incentivising local communities to want development because they can benefit from it and builders to believe that delaying construction would not be profitable (Besley and Leunig 2012).