Niall Gooch tweets that even by Peter Hitchens’s standards, this review of a new economic book about Britain’s decline is “remarkably pessimistic.” Naturally, a miserabilist like me could not resist … and was not disappointed. For example:
Of course the USSR was very different in many ways from 2012 Britain. But it had these similarities. It had sustained itself for years on a myth of greatness, rooted on World War Two, which was not truly justified. It had committed itself to enormous social provision which was already failing badly (people feared the Soviet hospitals with reason) before the collapse. But, as nobody had the nerve to reform it or challenge the social ills that it assuaged, it continued to creak along. It nurtured a large, comfortable middle class largely separated from the crises in crime, housing and education. The value of its currency bore no real link to reality.
And the thing that snapped was the currency. As the old Soviet rouble shrivelled and vanished away like a perished balloon, so did the way of life that it had supported. Some people did very well out what followed. Most actually did not. Some came out about even. But in many cases life after the change was actually grimmer than it had been in the Soviet era ( and for some, especially the old, I suspect it may still be so). It is from those who were dumped on the slushy roadside by the new era that Vladimir Putin gets his support. He picked them up and made sure they were looked after, as Yeltsin had failed to do – and those who can’t grasp this will never begin to understand the base of Putin’s power. Mind you, Putin has oil, and we shall soon have none, and be compelled to buy it from him.
An alarming era is beginning, of power shortages, of unaffordable imports, of higher prices and stationary wages, of a vast welfare system which simply cannot function any more because inflation has wiped out the value of the money used to pay for it. I cannot see how the reckoning can be put off much longer.
The other thing I remember from Moscow is that catastrophes are not the stuff of fantasy or disaster movies. They can and do actually happen in real life. People survive them, chastened and gaunt, it is true, but they survive them. The idea that they are unimaginable in our safe island is itself a fantasy. Could we have done anything about it? My guess is that, yes, if we hadn’t embarked on our cultural revolution, and our various crack-brained experiments with fatherless families, foreign rule, huge numbers of welfare-dependent households, millions of public-sector sinecures, penal, confiscatory taxation and content-free education, we might well be a lot more curable than we are. Can we do anything about it now? Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.