When a giant dies

August 14, 2012

Danny Boyle must be an happy fellow. The man who directed the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony made no mystery of his very critical view of the Industrial Revolution: that dark, unfair, flesh-eating process which brought an insignificant green island to the position of sole world power for almost two centuries. To Danny’s great relief, one of the last remaining monuments of this time has finally succumbed to poor timing, lack of credit and depressed prices.

Stephenson Clarke, the oldest shipping company in the UK, created in 1730, was put in liquidation last week (read article). The Germans and the Taiwanese have taken over. The Greeks too, these old friends of the British navy are among the rare beneficiaries of the dire times most of the industry is sailing through. After having been the main hub of the world’s shipping, Britain is now out of the competition. How does a country loses such a strong advance over its competitors? Rather than silly sabre-rattling about the success of the athletes of team GB, the British would be well-inspired to reflect upon this national catastrophe.

Unlike most of the industries inherited from the Industrial Revolution, shipping is still a viable sector. The problems faced by another grand old British company, Barclays, may shed some light on the causes of the debacle of British shipping. The bank is accused to have practiced what amounts to insider trading on the interbank market, this shows that the city has failed to engage in the financing of British industry. International finance may be more glamorous but it has little impact on the country at large. Boastful Cameron should bear in mind that local country banks, not the city, bankrolled the Industrial Revolution.

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