Wednesday 8 June 2011


I've been reading Niall Ferguson's compelling account of the British Empire; I'm continually fascinated by how society organises itself, or, of course, is organised according to the desires of one or more parties.  Amongst other things, the book reminds me that history does not recognise the concept of a status quo, and that no matter how permanent a paradigm may seem to us now, in 2011, in reality it is as transient as any of the ancient civilisations buried under centuries of sand.

I came across a wonderful paragraph:
...the costs of overseas expansion [of the nascent British Empire] - or to be precise of the interest on the National Debt - were met by the impoverished majority at home.  And who received that interest?  The answer was a tiny elite of mainly southern bondholders, somewhere around 200,000 families, who had invested a part of their wealth in 'the Funds'.
Sound familiar?  In his 1953 book The Go Between, L P Hartley famously wrote "The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there". Sometimes the past of Britain in the 1780s can seem startlingly similar to Britain in 2011 - less a foreign country and more a cracked and dirty mirror reflecting our modern world.  The plans to sell off our forests, the planned reforms to our health service and welfare state.  You have to ask yourself - who is paying and who is receiving the interest?

Quote from p46 of the Penguin paperback edition of Empire - How Britain Made the Modern World, by Niall Ferguson.

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