editorial the sterling crisis The curious thing about most published comment on the economic crisis is the assumption that the crisis is new, transient and soluble, when in fact it is almost a generation old, quite chronic and, by all measures currently proposed, utterly insoluble. What is more, most of the supposed causes of the crisis are either wildly wrong, or aimed at particular aspects which, if righted, can only effect transient relief whilst leaving the deeper roots of the malaise unaffected. The pound is not slipping because Britain's ports and docks are out of date, because businessmen won't learn the metric equivalent of British weights and measures, because the British worker is lazy, because Trade Unions are obstructive or because the British Government is a spendthrift, even supposing any of these things to be true .
The fundamental fact of the British economy today is that almost alone among the nations of the world, Britain does not produce the bulk of its own food. Put another way, it depends on its trade with other countries to feed itself. At a pinch others can adjust their largely self-sufficient base to regulate their economic situation, so that they do not find themselves out on a limb when trade movements are adverse and their payments balances affected. In terms of its food requirements, Britain has only the narrowest base it can adjust, and in consequence it is finding itself increasingly out on a limb as a permanent part of its condition.
The reason for this is simple. Britain is a small island which is trying to maintain fifty million people, and clearly the disproportion between numbers and basic resources is not merely too large, it is dangerously so.
This situation arose when Britain was a major imperial power governing a quarter of the people of the world, and when it was leading the world in the technological revolution. These two factors were well able to take care of the problems posed by excess urban numbers, especially as the accumulation of capital then being made was accompanied by greatly depressed standards of consumption among the working masses.
Today, neither of these factors is operative; the British brand of imperialism (at least) has been virtually liquidated, and Britain no longer occupies first place in the gaderene race to more mechanisation .
There are two further factors which worsen our plight. Britain's political and industrial hey-day was a period when many nations which now import food, were themselves significant food exporters. India, China and Russia were all food exporters in the nineteenth century, today they all import large quantities, especially of grains. This emphasises the fact that the competition for available food surpluses is increasing sharply, (as indeed population trends might suggest). At the same time 'Britain has moved from a period of industrial pre-eminence to one of intense industrial competitiveness with countries which already have an adequate food base. Hence it is now under continuous pressure to pay higher prices for its food imports whilst being under a constant and increasing compulsion to lower the prices of its manufactured products. Is it any wonder that the pound can only be maintained at a given level by repeated emergency measures and by frequent recourse to the by no means disinterested nursing of the United States ?
The answer to this dilemma stares us in the face, and is nowhere given voice by any spokesman on the right or the left in the entire breadth of our political spectrum . It certainly does not lie in devaluing the pound, a step which would set in train answering pressures which in a few months would leave the pound back in its old position of beleagured helplessness, nor does it lie in any of the present proposed palliatives, such as the prices and incomes freeze, more import controls and export subsidies, and so forth. The real answer lies in grappling with the basic problem of achieving a workable relationship between our resources and our numbers. There are just too many people in Britain, and the first requirement is for a clamp down on any further residential immigration. (This need not include hardship cases where close family ties were involved, nor should it affect the traditional right of political asylum).
Coupled with this is the need for a vast programme of sponsored emmigration. It is possible that the empty areas of Australia, Canada and New Zealand present us with our last historical opportunity of correcting our unique and dangerous population disbalance before the full weight of the world population explosion makes itself felt. This should take another twenty years or so, by which time an overpopulated Britain could well find itself dependent on dollars from the U.S.A. for food doles to keep itself alive at all.
Britain possesses the astonishing fortune of a standing invitation from the three Commonwealth countries already mentioned, to send them its surplus numbers. It is the most elementary statecraft that this invitation should be grasped as a drowning man would seize a lifeline, and that a major programme of emmigration should become a fundamental aspect of the conduct of our affairs. To talk in such terms may not meet the ideal of a radical pacifist policy in normal times, but we are confronted here with an emergency for which no other answer to the threat of chronic economic distress for millions of people is discernable . The wages freeze and the clamp down on many forms of social spending is not a response to a transient condition of the pound, it represents a portent of what will become settled policy if our present numbers, as well as world trends beyond our control. continue. On the basis of these numbers Britain's golden age of welfare plenty is already past; what lies before is more government controls, material shortages of many kinds, and some form or other of permanent food rationing in a matter of a decade or so.
To export about thirty million people from these islands over a generation or so may sound nonsensical, until one reflects that Europe exported far more to the U .S.A. and elsewhere during the nineteenth