Reader Alex writes: "So, is there any big economic news shortly after Anson's return and paying-off? You probably want a top-down identification of a signature to go with your bottom-up analysis."
Excellent question! But so as not to inflict you with an eye-glazing wall of words (that's for below the cut!) and images over the sidebar, let's go root through Youtube for a version of "Hearts of Oak" that's not completely awful!
That was educational. I really didn't want to go to all Last Night of the Prom here, but that's what I ended up with. There are no versions of "Hearts of Oak" that aren't, well... . You'd think that if "Leaving of Liverpool" could get all those reinterpretations, someone would have produced a version of "Hearts of Oak." But, well, no. "Leaving of Liverpool" turns out to not be a good indicator. Maybe it's the connection with California, even if it's repurposed from a years-long haul around the Horn for wheat at Astoria and gold at San Francisco into narcissistic voyages into the heart of celebrity? Oh, sorry. I think I'm supposed to take the authenticity of the Pogues at face value. Well, fuck it. (As the Pogues would say.) My niece used to love the Shamrocks, and that's where I prefer to go.
Though I'll at least acknowledge that Ted Leo and the Pharmacists and Knights One are trying to do something different with the, uhm, intellectual property. I will def bear you guys in mind the next time I'm 17 and dropping Molly.
So that's "Hearts of Oak," for the relevance of which I do not have to make strained arguments, although I will. After all, Alex's question starts with a navy thing, then takes us to that weirdest branch of early modern history, financial history. In 1967, Peter George Muir Dickson wrote The Financial Revolution in England: A Study of the Development of Public Credit in England, 1688--1756 . So that's the book that I was hunting up and placing in context at the University of British Columbia Library. by placing in context, I meant that I want to pair it with two "natural" companions, Robert Albion's Forests and Sea Power,
and D. W. Jones' War and Economy in the Age of William III and Marlborough. Dickson is the book the reader will probably recognise. Jones is obscure, but a natural companion. Forests and Sea Power, on its face, not so much.
So that's the strained argument. We can't leave oak at the docks as we climb up to the Treasury and matters financial. It will stick with us, but, for the moment at least, on to Dickson. We know him as the great source, much to be gestured at, and, perhaps, cautiously lifted and cracked open, even read, for a page or three before left to sit. In that he's like Albion, on about forestry, and Jones, worried about the price of silver in Amsterdam. Which is to say, we have a vague idea that these things are important, are overwhelmed by their reality, and in the end would much rather wave at them than read them. Also, they're all three of them about the last decade of the Seventeenth and the Eighteenth Century, and they are implicitly about the Greater London Area. So they do have a lot in common right there.
A tangent here that's not really a tangent. It's hard to buy a non-burger-related lunch on UBC's Point Grey campus on a Sunday afternoon right now. I ended up walking a bit further than I expected, right through the corner of West Mall and Chancellor Boulevard, which I remember as being dominated by the student union building, War Memorial Gym, and the swimming pool, with lots of room left over for a bus loop, a grassy knoll, and the gigantic grassy sward of Back Campus. Now it's the site of four new buildings going up more-or-less-simultaneously.
|It's got uglier since.|
Of course I am going to complain about it. That's what old people do. I don't think my case is without merit, though. When I enrolled at UBC, way back in 1982, total enrollment was 34,000. Enrollment peaked at 68,000, including an Interior campus at Kelowna, and has since fallen to 49,000, which, subtract the Kelowna campus, is 41,000, a 20% increase since 1982. Meanwhile, if I type "albion forests seapower" into the keyword search block, I will come up with a "no hits" return, because the title gives it as "sea power." Then, once I fix that, I have to pull the book out of the compact storage, because when they rebuilt Main Library on its old footprint, they had no room for book stacks, the space being instead given over to acres of, well, I guess they must be class rooms, even if I am not seeing the need.
The not-tangent part of this isn't so much that the libraries have not exactly kept pace with the growth of the physical infrastructure, but rather the reverse, that something deeper is going on. In physical terms, since Dickson and Albion, though not Jones, turned out to be compact storage in another building, I did a quick shelf scan of the spot where Dickson should be. And there, in the midst of a column of book shelves groaning with titles like Debt Crisis in the Third World, I find one wafer-thin book, Henry Roseveare, The Financial Revolution, 1660—1760 (London: Longman, 1991), a "Dickson for dummies," which can be even further shortened to something like this: the government of the United Kingdom borrowed every penny offered it in the course of its endless Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century wars, eventually ending up with a public debt vastly larger than its GDP. In spite of this, the British economy proceeded to grow very quickly, for very many years. Roseveare states the key facts much more succinctly and forcefully than Dickson does, and thanks for that, but there's a sense in which just the placement of his book tells us more than we need to know.
The very big, very serious books that frame Roseveare on the open shelves probably do not disagree with him very much. There is nothing like a scholarly consensus that public debt is a bad thing that should be always and everywhere avoided. The thing is that people don't read books like Dickson. They wave at them. That shelf, full of big, serious books with serious, black bindings and DEBT on the spine, is as scary as a graveyard.
We live in a world of contracting public debt --at least in Canada. We also live in a world in which there is a campus full of shiny new buildings in progress, and where library function is in full retreat. It is getting harder and harder to put your hands to actual books to read, which would be a great deal less frightening if it were getting easier to put your hands on electronic books instead. But it's not. It is almost as though falling public debt is a bad thing, in the same way that rising public debt turned out to be a good thing. That can't be a bald statement, though. We need to find out what kind of debt, and when.
Before I hit the jump, a last apology for getting a bit eccentric here, but the title of the blog announces it. A post on Bench Grass --even one about public debt in the Eighteenth Century-- wants to start with the upland pasture country south of London.
The Weald of Sussex, ladies and gentlemen.
|Source: National Trust Prints available|