Eighties The changes that have occurred in our society during the 1970s have not led me to modify the predictions I made v ten years ago regarding the medium (thirty years) to long-term future of this country, which were published in the last chapter of my book Can Britain Survive? published in 1971
To predict the exact time-scale of these developments however, and hence how far they will have progressed by the end of the next ten year period, is very much more difficult. Nevertheless this is how I see the 1980s:-
The changes that will most affect the direction of our society must be those that affect our attitudes. For i t is attitudes that determine how we behave and hence our attitude to life — within a given set of physical constraints — determines how we live.
During the 1980s there is likely to be a very substantial change in our attitudes to just about everything, in particular our more basic values.
A t the beginning of the 1970s most people still believed in the omnipotence of science and technology. I n the preceding decades we had seen the invention of antibiotics, synthetic fibres, DDT, the supersonic jet and, of course, man had caught up with science fiction by landing on the moon. Al l this lent additional credence to this myth.
But disillusionment is beginning to set in. I t is not that we have lost faith in the incredible ingenuity of our scientists, indeed living as we are at the dawn of the age of genetic engineering and of micro electronics, we know that our scientists are likely to continue to astound us with their seemingly limitless ingenuity. I f we are disillusioned i t is for a very different reason:- i t is that we are coming to realise just how totally irrelevant all these incredible achievements are to the solution of the real and desperately serious problems that confront our society today — problems such as unemployment, famine and malnutrition, the growing epidemic of cancer and heart disease and above all the soil erosion and desertification that in the next thirty years are likely to reduce the world's agricultural land by a quarter. "C'est magnifique", might be a suitable reaction to the achievements of our scientists, "mais ce n'est pas la guerre". 306
I n the eighties, this attitude can only harden, indeed as more of the undesirable side-effects of these achievements become ever better documented, a reaction will set in against science and indeed against scientists. As Dr Schumacher used to say, we must choose between science and wisdom and i t is wisdom that we shall be seeking in the next decade. This choice will affect everything we do because i t is science and the technology i t engenders that, more than anything else, including the decisions taken by our politicians, have determined the shape of our modern society.
A t the same time we shall see the gradual abandonment of our other closely associated values and beliefs. Thus a reaction has already set in against individualism which we are beginning to realise to be but a euphemism for the social isolation and anonymity of our mass society and instead people are frenziedly searching for their roots — trying desperately to establish for themselves some sort of social identity. Hence the present trend towards the accentuation of ethnic differences, a reversal of the previous trend towards social homogenization. On the positive side this must lead to the development of regionalism, indeed the recent set-backs encountered by the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists are certain to be reversed during the 1980s — a healthy trend towards a more decentralised society. On the negative side i t may well lead to worsening race relations.
We are also likely to see a strong reaction against the materialism of our modern world. I t has already begun to set in amongst middle class youth who are displaying growing concern for nature, aesthetics and the things of the spirit. During the industrial age we were told that all these things were of little account largely because our scientists could not quantify them; they were not seen by our economists as making any contribution towards Gross National Product nor were hey an obvious source of votes for our politicians.
As Weber and Tawney pointed out, an aspect of social behaviour whose nature is largely determined by attitudes, rather than by the more easily quantifiable variables that monopolize the attention of our economists, is economic behaviour. I t is probably the attitudes engendered by the welfare state that have above all reduced Britain's economic competitiveness and hence its material prosperity. Indeed a society cannot hope to compete economically i f its citizens have been taught to take prosperity for granted — and assured that, even i f they make no effort of any kind, the State will see that their standard of consumption remains relatively unaltered.
The new attitudes that will develop during the 1980s are not likely to be any more favourable to our economic competitiveness, because people will come to attach ever less importance to the benefits that a successful economy can provide.
Attitudes that are more favourable to economic competitiveness have, on the other hand, been developing very rapidly in other countries, in particular in those that are coming to be called the NICS or Newly Industrialised Countries such as Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea.
Competition from these and from other countries such as Japan, France and Italy for whom the industrial way of life is still a relative novelty is likely to lead to the steady decline of our manufacturing industries that were once the basis of or material prosperity.
The textile industry is already dying, as is ship building and also machine tools. Import penetration is growing fast, indeed the market for shoes in this country has been largely taken over by the Italians; that for cutlery by the South Koreans; and even a seemingly peripheral market such as that for shrubs and ornamental trees is now firmly in the hands of the Dutch. Much more serious is the plight of our motor industry which is losing ground every year. If British Leyland is forced to close down most of its operations as seems probable, this enormous market will also largely be taken over by foreign companies. The fact that Japanese, Italian and German cars are better designed, better manufactured, better marketed and better serviced than ours is simply symptomatic of the fact that attitudes (both on the part of our management and of our workers) are no longer those of a successful industrial nation.
The notion that the micro-electronics revolution will be of benefit to us is sheer wishful thinking. To succeed in this field we would need above all the most ingenious engineers. British engineers are indeed among the world's most ingenious but i t is the Americans who are likely to benefit from their ingenuity for they will offer them much more exciting jobs at a very much higher salary. Also there is little reason to suppose that we can mass-produce high precision electronic devices better than can the Japanese. I f there is anything to go by i t must be our record in the manufacture of transistor radios. I t is a poor one.
We will be tempted to protect our declining industries by introducing more and more protectionist measures. Indeed the reaction against free trade is likely to be a radical one, for Free trade must favour the most efficient and the most competitive. Such measures can only encourage other countries to do the same, which must lead to a reduced level of world trade. This would only be tolerable i f our government took the necessary measures to encourage selfsufficiency and this i t is unlikely to do, though selfsufficiency is likely to become a key value among a large section of the population, but this I shall come back to later.
The level of international trade is likely to be reduced for another reason. I n the last thirty years every country in the world has sought desperately to 'develop' and 'industrialise'. We have encouraged them to do so and by doing this have signed our own economic death warrant. Material prosperity in this country was achieved by importing raw materials and selling finished products, a formula that was very effective so long as i t was applied by one or two countries only, but which cannot work once every country in the world is trying to do the same thing. ' The Ecologist Vol 9 No 10 Dec 1979
They cannot all import raw materials, for who will export them? Every country will now require the raw materials i t produces for use in its own manufacturing industries. Nor can they all export finished products for i f every country manufactures its own why should i t import other peoples'? What we are likely to see is a tremendous pressure on raw materials which will grow as the world's limited economic sources become depleted together with a massive world surplus of manufactured goods only the most competitive of which are likely to find a market.
World trade is likely to be affected in still another way. Our planet cannot support its present population of 4.5 billion people even in the short-term. Official forecasts of a world population of 6-7 billion by the end of the century are naive and irresponsible. During the 1980s world population would indeed increase by an extra five or six hundred million people i f i t proved possible to feed them, but i t will not be. There is practically no useful land left to bring under the plough and few farmers in the Third World can now afford the increasingly expensive chemical inputs required to increase yields any further.
A t the end of the 1980s the world population is unlikely to have increased above the present level, famine will have seen to that. Half a billion people are in fact likely to die of starvation or rather from the infectious diseases to which starving people tend to succumb.
The main causes of starvation are population growth, soil erosion, desertification and international trade, and i t is the latter which is the easiest to deal with. A t present a vast proportion of the agricultural land in Third World countries is used to produce food for export and the foreign currency earned in this way is spent on manufactured goods, increasingly high technological installations such as dams, and power stations and also armaments — none of which they have yet learnt to produce themselves. As famine becomes more widespread however, so will Third World countries have to spend more and more of their foreign currency to buy food and i t cannot be long before they realise that i t is to their advantage to produce the food themselves. To do this however would mean correspondingly reducing their exports of cash crops and would have the effect of depriving industrial countries of all sorts of commodities such as rubber, coffee, sugar, jute and much of the feed for our livestock. I t would also considerably reduce the market for our finished products, as Third World countries would no longer have the foreign currency with which to pay for them.
Inflation must also continue to soar. I t will increasingly be of the new type — that which is reconcilable with economic stagnation — and which is due to long-term rather than to short-term maladjustments between supply and demand.
This "structural inflation" as i t might be referred to (on a parallel with "structural unemployment") largely reflects ever less propitious conditions for the economic process (changing attitudes, increased competition, growing pressures on scarcer energy and mineral resources, water shortages, land shortages,