Good post JB. If instead the Victorians had decided to nationalise and subsidise dying industries, rather than forge ahead and develop new ones, I wonder what the legacy would have been then. Income tax rates back then were generally between 1 and 5% (it had been set at a shockingly high 10% during the Napoleonic wars). Trade restrictions were swept away, and many of the products of the resulting prosperity are still with us today. Even Liverpool thrived.
Anyway, it's a Tory stereotype that we look back on the Victorian age through rose tinted glasses, and I wasn't around at the time so let's pick another era when I was. Sadly this is more of a dystopian portrait.
In contrast to the prosperity wreaked by evil Victorian capitalists, by the 1970s, right-thinking and fair people had realised that it's far better when politicians and trade unions run businesses for us. Pretty much everything had therefore been nationalised, well except for food, as when people start to starve they tend to get really pissed off. No nasty profit motive any more. Public subsidy was the name of the game. The unions pretty much dictated what got made, when (answer, not much, British productivity was dire and our products were crap). The cost of funding the losses of crap businesses making crap products, inefficiently (Austin Allegro anyone?) was a huge strain on the public purse. Tax rates peaked at 95%; remember George Harrison's 'Tax Man': "Let me tell you how it will be, There's one for you, nineteen for me, " Of course the Beatles, Stones and the Who had all wisely fecked off elsewhere to avoid this, taking their money with them. So had many entrepreneurs and investors. Callaghan ran out of things to tax and had to go to the IMF for a bail-out.
The miners switched the electricity off at will, putting industry on a three day week. Fortunately this mattered less than it should as the factories would have probably been on strike in any event, and anyway, who wanted their crappy output? The GPO ran the telephone network. It could take two years on a wait list before you got a phone. Even then some of us had to share a 'party line' with neighbours rather than have a line of our own. Foreigners understandably didn't want our products, which meant little foreign exchange revenue, and exchange control was used to prevent capital flight. Special permission was needed to take more than £50 out of the country, even for a family holiday (passports had a section for banks to stamp to show you'd been issued with the money). Oh and of course Lunn Poly and Thomas Cook had been nationalised along with just about everything else (essential industry and all that).
Still, I am sure this was all very 'fair' in the eyes of the lefties amongst us, and of course as well as our Victorian spleandour, we still have one or two examples of 1970s architecture to remind us of those days of glory.
'Drive-by insult merchant'