“Want to See a Modern Country Commit Suicide? Take a Hard Look at Britain”

The title above comes from a post by the consultant and writer Umair Haque, on post-Brexit Britain as a failing state. And as an aside, I miss the days of the old econoblogopshere, where a piece substantially about another writer’s post would often elicit friendly back-and-forth with the author and other interested bloggers, as well upon occasion, acrimonious jousts. But everyone wound up better informed from these exchanges.

Now before those of you on the other side of the pond get all riled up, this website has pointed often to the many indicators of America’s decline, such as decline across the board on social welfare indicators, such as lifespan, childhood poverty, percentage imprisoned, births out of wedlock, and our appalling brought-to-you-by-Big-Pharma opioid crisis. We’re slipped well down in global rankings of average height, a result of declining nutritions. And even our average educational attainment is illusory. We have very high levels among older age groups. It’s collapsed among the young…thanks to higher education price gouging.

But what is happening in the UK is instructive, and may be predictive for the US. The UK is further down the neoliberal path than we are in terms of the decay of its once-vaunted civil service, the privatization of government functions, and the hollowing out of industry.

We predicted that Brexit would result in a 10% reduction in UK standards of living, measured as real GDP per capita, in ten years. Brexit is eating slowly through already weak British institutions, like termites boring into an already-rotting foundation. And the damage is accelerating.

Brits are much tougher than Americans, but the underplaying of how bad things are getting is more likely due to many businesses having been cowed by the Government into quiet acquiescence. We wondered why more companies weren’t either complaining to the press and to their MPs about the destructive way Brexit was being implemented, such as Boris Johnson opting for the hardest of hard Brexit, and rejecting a one-year extension of the transition period, which would have allowed exporters and importers more time to prepare. We were told that word had gone out that anyone who nay-sayed the Government would be punished. Sounds awfully Mafia-like for Oxbridge twats, but still…

First to Haque, then some additional sightings. His entire piece is very much worth reading, but this is the guts of his argument:

Get this: Britain now has Potemkin supermarkets. Brits can’t get food…. so supermarkets have resorted to putting cardboard pictures of food on the shelves….

Why on earth can’t Britain get…food? I’m sure you’ve already guessed the answer: Brexit. Let’s keep going with what a breathtaking disaster Brexit has made of Britain.

If you think that pic’s bad, click this one. That’s a giant…sea…of raw sewage, aka sh*t. Why is it floating in the waterway? Because recently Britain’s conservative MPs decided to make it perfectly OK to dump raw sewage in rivers and creeks and lakes and the ocean. Why did they do that? Probably because they can’t get the chemicals needed to purify water anymore…because they come from (wait for it) Europe….

Shall we keep going. Doctors in Britain still can’t run blood tests properly. Why not? Because they can’t enough vials — the country’s run short. But what exactly can a doctor do without running blood tests? Not much. Why did Britain run out of blood vials? Because of Brexit, of course. Which has made importing things somewhere from incredibly difficult to practically impossible.

Let’s stop and take stock. Brits can’t get food. Raw sewage floats down rivers because the chemicals needed to treat water are in short supply. Doctors can’t run blood tests. I’ve chosen those three examples for a reason. Those are three of the most basic goods and services in society: food, water, healthcare.

Let me put that in more formal terms: Brits are living through a catastrophic plunge in living standards. It’s the kind of catastrophic plunge which has little modern parallel. Cardboard cutouts of food? Not being able to treat water? You’d have to go back to the Weimar Republic to encounter such levels of ruin. In modernity, the only remotely close parallel is the debt crises that Latin American and Asian countries used to suffer — which caused massive shutdowns in basic public services, and led to failed systems for basics, just like Britain’s experiencing now.

Admittedly, the raw sewage fiasco has produced a lot of public outrage, as well as a pretext for dark humor. Extracted from the Daily Mash:

FANCY a dip? Avoid Britain’s sewage-infested waters and fatal poisoning by swimming in these places instead:

Your bath

….why not stay at home and do some lengths in your bath? You’ll do 50 in no time.

A volcano

…Their lakes of boiling magma are nice and toasty so you won’t need to bring a wet suit, and because you’re technically swimming through molten rocks instead of water there’s no risk of getting Weil’s disease…

Sea of Japan

…Here you’ll get up close and personal with the rockets that North Korea repeatedly fires into the Sea of Japan, which is way better than swimming with dolphins…

Dangerous shark enclosures

Man-eating sharks are kept in captivity by aquariums, which means the water in these enclosures will be crystal clear and safe for humans to swim in….

The sewer

The Government is now trying to pretend it is Doing Something without actually doing much. From the Guardian:

The government has announced a partial U-turn over the sewage amendment after Tory rebels threatened to scupper an upcoming vote in the Commons.

Under new rules, there will be a duty on water companies to reduce the impact of sewage discharges from storm overflows. This means the organisations will be required by law to show a reduction in sewage overspills over the next five years.

Last week, 22 Conservative MPs rebelled against the government to vote in favour of an amendment to the environment bill that would have placed a legal duty on water companies not to pump waste into rivers.

The amendment was rejected in the Commons, and the negative reaction of constituents took some Tory MPs by surprise…..

There were 403,171 spills of sewage into England’s rivers and seas in 2020, according to the Environment Agency, adding up to more than 3.1m hours of spillages.

The government has blamed a variety of factors for the increasing sewage spills, including Victorian infrastructure and climate breakdown.

An environment minister said there had been a tussle against the government, as No 10 and the Treasury believe that putting this duty on water companies, which would have to massively upgrade infrastructure, would be too expensive.

“Victorian infrastructure”? Come on. Victoria died over 120 years ago. This is the worst “dog ate my homework” excuse I’ve ever seen. Tories have been in charge long enough since then to fully own this problem.

The UK is also not getting the marvelous benefits it claimed it would reap by being freed of those pesky EU trade restrictions and being able to cut deals on its own. Some tidbits from a Wall Street Journal story last week, Is Brexit Hurting the U.K. Economy? Trade Data Flash a Warning:

Leaving the EU has put the U.K. outside the EU’s vast internal market of 445 million consumers and a customs territory that is bigger still, stretching from the Atlantic to Turkey. It is hobbling trade just as its economy needs all its engines firing to power out of its worst downturn in a century.

For British businesses, the shift means reams of paperwork and ballooning costs. Trade with the EU accounts for about half of all British exports.

As a result, the U.K. is trailing the trading performance of its peers as the pandemic recedes and global commerce picks up. The U.K.’s split with the EU is also intensifying the disruption felt in Britain from the supply-chain bottlenecks bedeviling the global economy, including a shortage of truck drivers and gasoline.

“U.K. PLC has become harder, slower, more expensive, more difficult to deal with as a result of Brexit,” said Dale Harris, chief executive of ATL Turbine Services Ltd., which repairs turbine components for customers world-wide in Dundee, Scotland….

The U.K. stands out for the weakness of its recovery in trade. CPB’s gauge of U.K. export volumes at the end of July was 16% lower than it was at the end of 2019, while imports were flat. Over the same time frame, U.S. exports were only 4% lower and imports were 7% higher. Euro-area exports were flat compared with the end of 2019 and the currency zone’s imports had by July exceeded their pre-pandemic level by 2%.

And those trade deals? We warned that the UK would have less leverage on its own than it did through the EU. That is panning out as predicted. We also featured this tweetstorm in Links, so forgive the duplication, but it is worth reading in full:

On top of that, the Financial Times warned that trade frictions with the EU will get worse as a waiver on rules of origin expires at the end of this year, subjecting more goods to tariffs and additional documentation:

Under the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement that took effect in January, British exporters can send goods to the EU tariff-free, but only if they can prove their products are sufficiently “made in the UK” to qualify for preferential access to the bloc’s single market.

These certification requirements on local content also apply to EU exporters wanting to send goods to the UK without incurring tariffs.

The certification process, known as the “rules of origin”, is so complex that exporters on both sides were given a one-year grace period that reduced the required documentation, but this will expire in January 2022, leaving many companies facing a major new paperwork challenge.

EU importers found to have brought in goods tariff-free that are later found not to have complied with the rules of origin must pay full duties, and vice versa.

British trade groups have expressed fears UK companies will become less attractive as suppliers to EU businesses if they repeatedly fall foul of investigations by the bloc’s customs authorities, making it more reliable for European groups to source goods from inside the single market…

The precise rules of origin and the way “originating content” is calculated vary from one product to another, but typically an item must be about 50 per cent British or EU made in order to qualify for zero-tariff access under the trade deal.

The pink paper goes on to explain that many traders don’t begin to understand the rules, and whether by accident or design, many are also flagrantly violating the standards, like taking an import from China, slapping a Union Jack label on it, and thinking that magically makes it UK originating content.

How bad things get for the UK depends on how strict the EU is in enforcing the rules. The Netherlands is already gearing up to be stringent.

And need we point out that the UK has decided to engage in EU eyepoking over Northern Ireland as the EU can quite legitimately start tightening this noose, and politely claim it’s just enforcing agreed-upon rules?

Haque is far from alone in decrying the sorry state of what passes for British government:

But there’s no reason to think that Boris Johnson’s freakish luck won’t continue. Labour is in such a shambles that it is unable to take advantage of this spectacular political opportunity.

Moreover, it may well be that Johnson and his allies among the Ultras are not discomfited by this visible breakdown of provision of services. Some believed that the Brexit extremists understood full well the implications of a sudden and radical rupture with the EU, that the disruption would deliver opportunities for a plutocratic land grab, just as in the post-Soviet phase in Russia. That period also featured a dramatic shortening of adult male life expectancy, on the order of four years.

The acceleration of deaths may not even be unwelcome. Lambert found a 2007 article by Johnson that made clear he was a long-standing fan of population reduction.

So sewage in the water? Just another route to the British elite’s distaste for unproductive eaters, like Scrooge’s exhortation that the poor should die so as to decrease the surplus population, a proto-formulation of Lambert’s principle of neoliberalism, “Die faster.”

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  1. paul

    I’m not sure it can be classed as suicide as the protagonists of this calamity will live long and prosperous lives.
    They simply have no interest in any sort of commonwealth, the great days of the real global britain got by without it after all.

    1. John

      Paul makes a good point. E.g. The investment firm co-founded by Jacob Rees-Moog promptly moved to Ireland “as Brexit negotiations would cause considerable uncertainty” and it didn’t want to be cut-off from investors.

      I lived in UK during the 90s and can say frankly there wasn’t a healthy business economy even then as a result of Conservative lack of understanding of modern business. E.g. the Thatcherite policy was to decouple university research (public funding used as enforcement tool) from business interests in innovation. The political solution was to join the EU–holding the aristocratic nose while doing so.

  2. .Tom

    I don’t understand the political consensus on not blaming brexit. Haque reports that the BBC is editing out mention of it. Why? And why would the opposition not blame brexit?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Um, the BBC is a government news agency and the Tories keep cutting its budget.

      The post fired early. See my comments near the close on Labour. They have been totally cowed, performed badly in the last election, Starmer is a shabby replay of Blair and advocated almost squat at the last Labour conference. Starmer and Labour generally have been too chicken-shit to take on the Tory-aligned tabloids on Brexit. They act as if they have to respect the referendum vote even though 1. Polling has moved very much against Brexit because 2. The Brexit actually delivered is a country mile from what was promised.

      1. Daniel LaRusso

        for me it’s delivered exaactly what it said. Even my brother in law has been offered a massive pay incentive to get back into lorry driving.

        The supermarkets have some empty spaces, but I’m unsure if that is brexit or Covid or both. But, people seem to be making do, even my mum knows she has to substitute some things on her weekly shop.

        Getting bananas seem to be the biggest problem for me. I’ve gone to a mainly vegetarian diet,not becasue I see meat in less quantities, but I was going to do that anyway because I find it keeps better.

        My lived experience is post brexit Britain is doing ok. I don’t see how anyne can differentiate economic consequences from brexit and covid – they ahppened at roughly the same time.

        We just seem to have some people who interpret all ramifications from Brexit as the worst thing ever. They just can bring themselves to admit it hasn’t been that bad for most.

        1. Michael Ismoe

          Personally, I prefer cardboard asparagus to real asparagus. Having dined in Britain, it appears most of the chefs do too.

          1. Malcolm Kew

            Says the man from the country that eats chicken from a can and cheese from a tube!! Ffs! I’ve been to the states twice and i can honestly say that I didn’t have one really tasty meal, oh, except in a Navajo restaurant in Arizona! The rest was pretty bad, even in smart city restaurants!

        2. Basil Pesto

          Did you vote for Brexit and do you think it might be blinkering your view? (“for me it’s delivered exactly what it said.”)

          My lived experience is post brexit Britain is doing ok.

          They just can bring themselves to admit it hasn’t been that bad for most.

          You seem to be extrapolating the latter from the former. Links below suggest that citizens are having trouble buying essential food items. “is that ‘that bad’”. It’s admittedly beyond my ability to analyse and distinguish what is covid impact and what is Brexit impact. But then let’s put your first line back in its context:

          My lived experience is post brexit Britain is doing ok. I don’t see how anyne can differentiate economic consequences from brexit and covid – they ahppened at roughly the same time.

          Well, post-Brexit Britain is more or less the same as Covid Britain as you point out. It would be a very brave person indeed to argue that Covid Britain is “doing ok”. So how can post-Brexit Britain be? It sounds like rather wishful thinking to imagine that Brexit isn’t contributing at all to the omnishambles (and it’s not as if there wasn’t ample reason in the first place to think that it wouldn’t; not because of leaving the EU per se, but because of Brexit as managed and negotiated by this government, as detailed on NC over the years). Do you know something (beyond your lived experience) that we don’t?

          1. Daniel larusso

            Well … my view is formed by speaking to many people. I can’t prove how people are living, neither can you. I’ll say it again … I know of no one starving due to Brexit food shortages. Maybe that doesn’t fit in here

            1. Basil Pesto

              but do you understand how

              Well … my view is formed by speaking to many people.

              is an evidentiary basis with some fairly significant limitations? It’s not necessarily invalid, but it’s not enough to make firm conclusions from. Do you talk to more people than ONS? Where do they live? What is their socioeconomic profile? etc. I mean, you yourself said below:

              Although I have noticed that sometimes nly the expensive variety is left (organic), so it could be expensive for the bottom x%.

              Yes, and if something is expensive for the bottom x%, they go without!

        3. Hayek's Heelbiter

          Been talking to my father-in-law about food during the war. Raise your own rabbits and chickens. Eggs every day. The threat of myxomatosis is pretty much over and your local butcher will slaughter them for a few choice cuts. No bananas? Easy boil up a bunch of parsnips until mushy. Dump in a bottle of banana flavouring and voila! Banana pudding.
          Providing this recipe as a just-in-case public service.

    2. Bijou

      To be more accurate, you indeed cannot “blame Brexit.” Trade deals can be negotiated to avoid all that sh*t. The Johnson government chose not to make it easy for trade. They are Tories who believe in privatizing it all, but apparently not in freer (less frictional) markets. Go figure. A half-Tory is a hazard to the human species.

      UK Labour is not much of an alternative because they also have the same neoliberal mindset. You could in good conscience vote for UK Labour only on the principle of doing least harm. Anyone who is nonpartisan care to disagree?

  3. PlutoniumKun

    Apart from dipping into the Guardian and FT and BBC, I don’t follow the general UK media so much these days, but it does seem that even in the diminishing sections of the media that are not owned by the Tories, there has been a deep reluctance to link ongoing problems with Brexit, despite all evidence. Obviously, its very hard to definitively know when a supply chain problem is related to Covid, the general break down we are seeing, or to Brexit, but there can be little doubt that most of the problems highlighted are very much Brexit related. And its also clear that the problems are not those of a transition, or are temporary teething issues, but are getting worse, and may well do so at an accelerating rate.

    Just to give one example I’m familiar with, UK construction industry suppliers are being gradually shut out of Irish and Western European markets. This isn’t a rapid process as there are still transitional arrangements in place, and it takes time for contracts and designs to change. But one thing seems apparent, is that Irish, Dutch and Belgian contractors are aware of this and are seeking alternative suppliers – but the UK suppliers seem to be genuinely unaware that there is a guillotine about to fall on them in 1 to 2 years time, and are doing little to nothing to address this. It’s possible that behind the scenes they are aware and are making contingency plans, but the whispers I’ve heard are that there is an assumption that ‘something will turn up’, and that there will be further agreements and…..well, something will happen to save them. After all, the calamitous predictions from Remainers didn’t really happen last year, so they must have been crying wolf. Of course, they forget that the wolf did eventually turn up.

    As to the broader thesis of the UK being a failed state. Well, its certainly a country in some decline, although for decades its been the cry somewhere or another (usually in the right wing press) that Britain (or France, or Germany….etc) are in chronic decline and can’t be saved. The UK is still a ‘rich’ country in terms of embedded wealth and has some very strong science and design and manufacturing sectors. When I visit the UK I’m surprised sometimes at how good some mid level cities such as Birmingham and Manchester look compared to how I remember then 20 or 30 years ago, so its not all doom and gloom. And it is still a popular place for Chinese/Russians/Arabs etc., to invest (in property and football anyway, if not in actual productive industry).

    But the key question I think is not whether it is a ‘failed state’, but whether decades of neoliberalism has undermined its basic structures to the point where even with a good, competent government at the helm it can be saved. My suspicion is that it has gone too far. The only real question if this is the case is if it settles into a sort of slow, managed decline like Japan, or whether it declines slowly until it suddenly finds its already walked off the cliff edge.

    1. Daniel LaRusso

      Sorry … how has the wolf eventually turned up ? I’m not seeing it in my part of the world.

      1. disillusionized

        Would that be Moscow?
        I digress, the boy who cried wolf is a story told to children – his point is that at the end, the wolf actually shows up.
        Like the introduction of RoO this January.

        1. Mikel

          “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” can be a tricky analogy if you think it through.
          While the wolf does appear, the story is told as cautionary tale about lying. The boy cried wolf for laughs, not because he heard or saw something moving in bushes or distance or was trying to be hyper aware.

          I wouldn’t call being alert to potential dangers and being ignored the same thing aa lying.

          1. d w

            well…it depends on what was said. i seem to recall that the story was that a boy cried wolf…multiple times…when there wasnt one….and when there was one….nobody believed them

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I had wanted to include that but it seemed a bit wide of the focus of the post. Glad it will now get some attention from the readers!

      Textbook case of Dunning Kruger effect.

  4. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    Just a little anecdote courtesy of my sister last night, to add to the above on Britannia sinking into a pool of sewage. The Gov in it’s efforts to recruit HGV drivers has led to at least where she lives to an exodus of bus drivers which has decimated the local services.

    Here in Bangor Northern Ireland Sainsbury’s has cardboard cutouts featuring pics of glassware, that appears to be gradually taking over the store. No basic unleaded petrol, only higher grade & diesel yesterday & the lad in the kiosk told me it was due to a problem with the pumps, which I assume must be infectious as the whole place is closed this morning.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think the big question – and its maybe the key reason why State/Tory media is not keen on reporting on this – is that if people knew how bad things were, panic buying would be an entirely rational response. Its been to the credit of people that they haven’t done it. But if a wave of hoarding starts pre-Christmas, it could have pretty devastating impacts.

      1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

        Yes I would agree with that & at least where I am people who I doubt for the most part are fooled by the excuses, are basically carrying on as normal or abnormal in relation to the majority still masking up. I don’t usually drive that much but typically I have to at the moment & will need to fill up at some stage to drive to Larne & then down from Cairnryan to the Midlands & back – I’m not flying if I can help it.

    2. Daniel LaRusso

      we had two days of the pumps being bsy about a month ago. Now we’ve petrol and diesel back on everywhere I go, fuel is not an issue around here. Now, the price has shot up to £1.40 per litre – I couldn’t say why.

  5. vidimi

    Brits are living through a catastrophic plunge in living standards. It’s the kind of catastrophic plunge which has little modern parallel. Cardboard cutouts of food? Not being able to treat water? You’d have to go back to the Weimar Republic to encounter such levels of ruin. In modernity, the only remotely close parallel is the debt crises that Latin American and Asian countries used to suffer — which caused massive shutdowns in basic public services, and led to failed systems for basics, just like Britain’s experiencing now.

    the fall of the soviet union comes to mind

    1. Daniel LaRusso

      where is this catastrophic plunge in living standards ? I’ve family all over the UK. No one is telling me that.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Did you read the post? You think shit in water and an inability to deliver critical medical services is OK? That is also part of a textbook definition of “fall in living standards”.

        Your comments are broken record, which is a violation of our written site Policies. All you offer is opinions you claim you’ve heard. ONS data contradicts you.

  6. Pavel

    As someone who spent half his life growing up and going to school and uni and working in Britain these stories are just so depressing. And I am thankful now that I no longer need to spend much time there. I knew the London of the 70s, 80s, 90s… apart from the effects of Brexit and Covid it is now just a second-rate Disney version of its former self. The towns and cities outside the capital aren’t much better, the high streets full of [now closed] chain shops instead of the fruit & veg and indie bookstores and yes, even fishmongers…!

    Not to mention the slow and steady decline of the Beeb and the Grauniad. I can’t bear to read the latter any more due to its neoliberalism and anti-Corbyn and anti-Assange “reporting”. I used to start every morning with Radio 4’s “Today” show but since James Naughtie’s forced departure and the new generation of announcers it is no longer the same.

    Sorry for the sad rant and for sounding like the grumpy old man I have become. Thankfully I have escaped to a small city where not only do fishmongers still thrive but I bought some mackerel this very morning for a saba donburi dinner tonight (^_^).

    Good luck to my friends and colleagues in the UK.

    1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

      Werner Herzog who gets around a bit has over the last few years, commented on how capital cities in particular have lost their mojo & i recall Stephen Fry stating that although it is now a lot safer & cleaner, he misses the old Time Square & it’s immediate area. 2004 the last time I visited the Big Smoke & it had by then changed massively from when I lived there for 9 months in 1979.

    2. TimH

      UK will end up as a pure vassal state to the US, forced very soon to accept food imports that are not allowed in the EU.

      Telling was the announcement that the UK’s intelligence services are to store their files in an AWS cloud, with the servers being in UK. Since the US CLOUD act allows law enforcement to compel US companies to turn over data regardless of data location, US will still get their hands on it… not exactly a post-Brexit show of rah rah Britain-is-great independence.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        The EU will have to make very sure those food imports are not somehow re-packaged and disguised and maybe hidden mixed into other things to infiltrate the EU with.

  7. R

    Sorry, Yves, this is Umair Haque hyper-ventilating. You need to take a step back from his “Brexit Bad” picture (like Orange Man Bad on your side of the pond) to see the real structural decline.

    The short-term points that can be ignored:

    – Yes, there are distribution issues affecting particular lines of goods but Britain is not short of food. Every week, Waitrose cannot supply something or other I have ordered but this is an inconvenience to consumer choice, not a calorie restriction. I could only get capers in brine, not in salt, the other week – well, I’ll live. The supermarkets are covering up the shelf gaps because appearance in everything in retail and for listed companies. It is hardly the ruin of the Weimar Republic!

    – Haque’s sewage discharge comment is conflating a long-term issue, how we deal with surface water, and a Brexit+pandemic issue, of the potential disruption to supplies of fine chemicals required for water treatment. Any fool can make aluminium sulphate but it needs to be food grade in purity for use in water treatment. There is a critical concentration of suppliers in the world and distribution (see above) is a problem. In contrast, the problem of combined sewers discharging to watercourses when overloaded by storm water is not new, it is structural, and it is a result of sewer design choices made by the Victorians and every age of UK government since until the 1990’s. It is no more Queen Victoria’s fault than Boris Johnson – blame Asquith, Churchill, Wilson and Blair if you like. New builds now require SUDS, sustainable urban drainage systems, with a hierarchy of discharges of surface water and discharge to a sewer is the last option acceptable. But existing city centres and suburbs and all their redevelopments cannot install separate surface water drainage except with huge cost and disruption and with permission from affected landowners / road owners.

    The vote in the Commons was on a tightening of the current rules to improve water quality and prevent water companies discharging to watercourses because it is cheaper than investing in prevention and treating the fines as cost of business. Whereas Haque’s comment about loosening standards refers to a temporary derogation put in place to permit discharges in the event that Europe-wide supply problems of treatment chemicals escalate. They are not the same thing.

    The government U-turn on this vote is in the face of consistent public and backbencher pressure to improve the environment. One of the current ministers of DEFRA (Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs), where a family member works, is obsessed with river swimming! Wild swimming has become a huge thing in the pandemic when pools have been shut and many people have been shocked to discover that nearly all British rivers fail bathing water quality tests, unlike coastal waters, and there no officially designated river bathing waters (though I think there is a guerrilla proposal to list a river at Ilkley for bathing (?) to force the issue).

    – Blood phials, I don’t know about. I am aware of the problem but I also know, having run a blood-testing biotech company, that blood draws for lab tests are not simple: the phials look like simple plastic but they come coated with different reagents depending on the test required, e.g. heparinated phials, sodium EDTA-containing phials. Clinicians usually refer to the types by the colour of their tops! I don’t know how widespread the shortages are but I suspect the problem is with specific types because of reagent shortages / factory bottlenecks. This is potentially a critical supply chain problem but it is not societal collapse a la Weimar.

    What Haque does not address is the fact that the problems in the UK, of a hollowed out civil service and civic culture, have been generations in the making. If Brexit is giving the wormy post a final push that knocks it over, what of the forty years of bien pensant footling about free trade and Mr Market and meritocracy and ideological inside baseball and thought purity by Haque and the rest of the commentariat and paying no attention to what predictions or constraints from physics, operations research, organisational theory / criminology or listening to their cleaners and gardeners might have told them about the direction the country was heading?

    Exactly who should be taking back Britain with Dominic Minghella? The Establishment that has laid it low, to its current state of impotence over forty years? I don’t see him arguing for a proletarian revolution on scientific principles….

    Our political class has failed. Hence Johnson. Quite what comes next is not clear but it won’t be Keir Housebroken Starmer.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      See my comment below. Reporting in multiple news outlets based on ONS contradicts your personal experience at Waitrose and confirms food shortages. I suggest you get out of your blinkered ideas.

      And you admit you know squat about medical vials yet attempt a handwave.

      1. Daniel LaRusso

        no one I know is going without food. We’re substituting and there might not be the 27 varieties of mayonnaise that there was. Yes, it’s annoying but I wouldn’t call it dangerous.

        Like I said I’ve family all over the country, I talk daily to people at work who are living all over the country (MS teams) and NO ONE is telling me the shortages in supermarkets are a problem. Although I have noticed that sometimes nly the expensive variety is left (organic), so it could be expensive for the bottom x%.

        But … what most are talking about is the vaccine, if to get a booster, possibility of a lockdown because of rising cases and when they go abroad.

  8. Andrew

    The fake asparagus, well that’s not really a problem as it’s imported from far away all year round, i consider that’s more of an issue. What’s wrong with eating food when it’s in season (the asparagus you get imported isn’t great quality either)? Modern citizens have been conditioned to expect foods to be available all year round, rather than eating seasonally as the case used to be. There’d be nothing wrong with going back to that, although admittedly it would require planning and organisational capabilities far beyond this government.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Well except if you look the fake asparagus is taking up way way way way way more shelf space than I have ever seen allotted to asparagus in US grocers, which are generally enormous. And remember the US grows asparagus (although we also import from Mexico).

      So I see all asparagus pix in shelves that almost certainly would normally include other fresh fruit and veg too as meant to suggest ONLY imported and not really essential asparagus is out when that is not the case.

      And the Evening Standard confirms that there are actual food shortages in London:

      One in five Londoners ‘unable to access essential foods for two weeks’ amid shortages.

      A Sky News variant on the same underlying data:

      Supply crisis: Eight million Britons unable to buy essential food items in last fortnight, ONS survey suggests

      See this from the BBC in September:

      Food shortages could be permanent, warns industry body

      iNews this month:

      UK food shortages: Supermarkets may start rationing meat ahead of Christmas amid gas crisis

      Other tweets reporting missing food items in stores:



      1. oliverks

        One thing not mentioned is power providers are going bust left right and center. We just had ours go under. We still have power, which is good, but I have no idea what it costs, or who is providing it.

          1. oliverks

            As I understand it, many providers were buying on the spot market, even though they can’t raise prices if the spot market moves.

            I actually think running out of gas would be fatal for the current government. I bought a thick velvet smoking jacket to wear indoors just in case as I believe it could happen.

            Electricity probably won’t be too bad (famous last words) as we tend to get lots of consistent wind here in the winter.

          2. vlade

            TLDR version:

            The reasons why they are going bust is called (lack of) risk management, and bad regulatory oversight. I.e. you could provide energy, a critical need, with way less than banking (another critical need), more or less running the company from your bedroom.

            The smaller companies were effectively riding contango (front end of the curve below the long end), buying spot, selling fixed-long-term contracts. Not dissimilar to what the banks were doing with borrow short, lend long before 2007.

            Except the spot prices shot to stratosphere recently (like 10x more than even spring this year at one moment), and since the companies were taking no reserves (why to do so, when you can pay out all the profit?), they ended up with their customer contracts which they could not satisfy.

            1. larry

              Thank you, vlade. Right on. As a caveat, the government and the regulator made no effort in regard to gas storage so it is extremely low and could not deal with any substantial bottleneck.

              1. vlade

                it’s fascinating that you can have strategic oil reserves, but no strategic NG reserves. I guess the military doesn’t use NG..

        1. TimH

          A friend of mine has a fixed price gas contract. I warned her that the middleman will simply go bust to break the contract come winter. As oliverks mentions, gonna be interesting what happens then.

      2. Dave in Austin

        I only had time to dive deeply into the first link. Urbantz, the company listed as the source for “the Evening Standard confirms that there are actual food shortages in London:” in the article, is a Belgian company which makes software for “last mile” food delivery services (think Pizza and DoorDash). It has 7 million dollars revenue/year and the delivery services which are its customer will be in deep trouble with thier well-off, urban users if the order which included “1 kg of asparagus” for dinner tonight comes in without it.

        I’m always amazed at the English. A relative decline from the top of the industrial heap which began 170 years ago; grandparents who worked in the dark satanic mills, lived through the Depression then patiently followed an inspired maniac through WW II (while producing more war goods/economic unit than Germany, the USSR or the US). Then they got 20 years of coin-operated, 2-minute hot water showers, food rationing and “you can’t go on vacation with more than 50 Pounds”… and were even-tempered though the whole thing. It is sobering to think what the US would look like after five years of that.

        So with all the trails of Brexit (long term or short; we will find out), “Yea Britain!”

      3. Harry

        All very interesting. I’m fascinated by both the pushback against Yves post and the actual question. I think the pushback may explain the lack of political consequences.

        I am in the UK right now. Supermarket shelves are thin. They were also a little thinner in Mass where I live now but I think it’s clearly worse here. The delay in burials is quite long. At least 3 weeks now. Was 2 weeks 2 years ago. And I did not forget the petrol crisis while some commenters appear to have.

        But things will become clearer soon. I’m reserving judgement but also thinking through some consequences.

    2. Wukchumni

      Videos have supplanted pictures being worth a thousand words, but the latter have their place. The asparagus fills in nicely yet isn’t filling in a way similar to walling over stores in the mall with a nice floral pattern going on instead of commerce.

      What if in lieu of potemkin asparagus, instead roughly a third of the store was under locked glass, where you needed a clerk with a key to open it up and then not allow you to take said merchandise in your cart, they would leave it at say counter #19, and you could pick it up there?

      I witnessed that at a high-desert ghetto Wal*Mart in Adelanto

      Or the Coleman tents in the sporting goods dept under lock and key @ the Wal*Mart in Whittier, to ward off homeless making off with them, or is it merely larcenous outdoorsmen?

      Anything such as that happening in merry olde?

    3. vidimi

      here in France, it’s pretty much unheard of to have asparagus in the supermarkets past the end of june, though occasionally you can find it in july. the point being, this time of the year you won’t find it. however, supermarket shelves are not empty and using potemkin carve outs of fruit and vegetable pictures to mask the deficiency. instead, we have other seasonal fruit and veg that take its place. the UK, meanwhile, has a veritable shortage of goods.

  9. David

    Ah yes, Haque.
    I used to read his site occasionally, but I gave up a couple of years ago because he only really had one theme: America was irredeemably awful, and it was all Trump’s fault. He gave the impression of someone born around 1995. Perhaps he was.
    The reality is a bit more complicated. As this useful article from Unherd points out, the problems we are seeing in the UK are for the most part the product of globalisation, and the hopeless cowardice of the Left in not resisting it. Brexit, together with the virus, has put an intolerable strain on a system that was running with virtually zero redundancy at the best of times. But it’s not just in the UK; Here in France we have many of the same problems: unexplained empty shelves in supermarkets, random shortages in all kinds of shops, and scarcely a new car to be had in the country. Furniture shops have effectively given up taking orders for things like tables, beds or sofas even when they are made in France: often the wood is imported. Someone in Ikea told me that some of the factories they use in China have closed down, and so random parts of a whole range of furniture are completely unavailable.

    So the idea that what’s going on in the UK is unique, and is all the fault of lower-class fascist mouth-breathers who voted for Brexit is just silly. In the UK it’s a combination of things. Forty years of liberalism which hollowed out state capacity is one thing, a corrupt and stupid political class is another, Brexit is, of course, a third, and the virus is a fourth. Any two of these could perhaps have been managed. A competent and honest political class would not have got itself into the ludicrous situation of 2016-19. A competent state would have handled Brexit and Covid much better. But everything together is simply unmanageable.

    Here, people are starting to worry about Christmas and toy shops are already doing a brisk business. I suspect it’s the same everywhere: modern populations have no memory of shortages, and governments are frightened of how they might react if the truth is admitted. Play it long, play it long, it may never happen.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Haque argues that the shortages of things in other advanced economies are mainly things like new furniture (as you mention) which people for the most part can survive without. And you can buy used furniture, unlike used food.

      And your comment about fascist mouth breathers is a fabrication. He says nothing of the kind. He goes on at length about the economic implications of Brexit versus, as he puts it, all the power centers in the UK being silent in the role of Brexit in the current mess. It’s disturbing to see you Make Shit Up and resort to ad hominem based on Haque’s reporting suffering from TDS. The US does happen to be in bad shape, as I made clear at the top, but like so many things, it’s not evenly distributed.

      1. David

        I agree that taken as a whole his piece is more nuanced than might appear from the title, and yes, he correctly identifies the main villains of the piece. But, whether consciously intended or not, his remark about “suicide” falls precisely within, and serves to strengthen, the argument that ignorant stupid people were in favour of Brexit, whilst the “sane” to use his word, were against it. And my own experience of shortages in France (and elsewhere) is that there’s much more commonality with the UK experience than is often admitted. Nor is the problem necessarily only with imports from Europe. I know people in the UK who have had enormous problems getting mundane items from Asia, for example.
        As I suggested, and as I think the article I linked to illustrates, it’s a lot more complicated than just Brexit: and I have been one of the fiercest critics of the UK handling of Brexit on this site for years, as you know. But in the end, the UK is not “committing suicide” and it’s silly of Haque to suggest it is, unless, as I suggested, he’s referring to those who voted for Brexit. The “UK” has no agency here. It’s the groups I mentioned before that are responsible, notably a corrupt and dysfunctional political class, a hollowed out and incapable public service, and not least, of course, a hopelessly decadent media. They aren’t committing suicide, they’re committing murder.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The headline states the UK is committing suicide. Even if deliberately or arguably ineptly provocative, he means the people who voted for it and the ones who went along and even now are as he clearly states self-censoring, either not mentioning Brexit as a major contributor to current problems or understating their role. The suicide comes in allowing critical structures to societal survival to become so weakened as to not function adequately. The suicide is in the crippling of essential institutions.

          And from the FT piece I cited, it’s gonna get worse in the new year, and how much worse depends solely on how nice the EU decides to be. The detail of the article makes clear that many UK traders are clueless about how out of compliance they are, which means no way can they get much/at all in line even if they wanted to.

          1. David

            I agree with all of that, especially the second paragraph. But I think, and I suspect we’ll have to differ on this, that he’s obscuring the argument he’s trying to make by bad expression. “Suicide” in my view gives the wrong impression, not least because suicide is usually (?) voluntary. If we are to avoid the demonisation of those who voted for Brexit (and as I say I think he’s encouraging that view, wittingly or not) than we have to re-construct the argument as follows: (1) years of (neo)liberal hollowing out of the state political corruption and utter divorce of the political leadership from reality produced (2) widespread anger and the desire to stick one on the establishment which was (3) exploited by extremists with a Brexit agenda who were (4) able to win only because the political system was such an incompetent shambles and (5) the same system bungled the negotiations and the transition in a way that few would have imagined possible whilst (6) at the same time businesses and others utterly failed to prepare for the consequences, with the perverse result that (7) the same political and media forces who screamed so loudly against Brexit are now denying the reality of what’s happened, because they’re afraid of the political consequences of so doing.

            1. Daniel LaRusso

              I voted for Brexit (well would have done but I lived abroad)

              I’m quite happy with post Brexit britain. Even my sister has a job now, she has only worked part time in 14 years

          2. Tom Bradford

            “Suicide” is always a choice. It is the outcome of a mental attitude that sees no other way out of an intolerable situation. This attitude can be the result of limited views – in Japan seppuku was the result when the alternative of living with dishonour or shame could not be imagined -; or a lived experience of repeated failure resulting in a ‘what’s the point of trying?” attitude, or a lack of reasons to resist and go on living.

            Brexit in itself was not ‘suicidal’. All the problems visited on societies by Covid should not result in suicidal despair. But I think Britain’s collective psyche has over the last one or two generations degenerated to the point where it has become suicidal. Its loss of confidence along with Empire. Its loss of status. Its repeated failures to compete, being left in the dust industrially by Asia and the degeneration of almost everything it once lead the world in, resulted in the ‘mental’ attitude that simply could not cope with the consequences of Brexit as they emerged into the light, hugely complicated by Covid. They were simply the rather large straw that broke the camel’s back. Unable to face them, unable to cope with them, unable to see a way out, or back, or up Britain – or too many in England, anyway – has taken the suicide’s road of giving up. Of passively accepting the blows, of taking the darkness as normality, of living day-to-day not letting the fact there’s no butter on the bread worry them as long as there’s bread.

            And I fear much the same could be said of the US.

            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              Or at least parts of the US. And maybe not other parts of the US. Those people who believe in Separate Survival should quietly see how many other Separate Survivors are living in their own region.

              There may be regions with a majority of People for Separate Survival. Some of those regions may be as large as respectable small European Countries. If the Separate Survival people of those regions can take over those regions, they can begin crafting their own Separate Survival political economic regions.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Looking at it from the other side of the Irish Sea, the incompetence is all too obvious. Its become an old joke in Ireland that our politicians absolutely love the Tories, because no matter how inept or corrupt they are, they look a model of propriety and integrity in comparison. Whether you look at Brexit, the supply chain issue, Covid, international relations, or any number of other things, no matter how badly the Irish government performs, the UK does worse. Literally, everything. And thats before you factor in things that can’t be compared, like the idiotic posturing in the Pacific.

    3. Marlin

      Just for another data point:
      – supermarket shelves in Karlsruhe, Germany, are completely ordinarily stocked
      – this wasn’t the case in spring 2020, where there clearly were large gaps and products unavailable

      The only people locally, who currently complain, of which I am aware, are people buying something with silicon chips inside.
      I recently bought toys made in China, a bike light, a book… I am unable to see any shortages currently.

      1. Tom Bradford

        Here in New Zealand at the extreme end of supply chains for practically anything that doesn’t come off a cow’s back, or udder, and with very little international clout, locked down and with the borders shut tight, the supermarket shelves are well-stocked with everything except photographs. Including asparagus, currently $3/250g bunch.

        1. MarkT

          Yes, funny that! I wonder how it would be spun by UK/US media? Last year we were told that New Zealand so easily beat the first covid wave because it is so far away and isolated.

  10. Steven B Kurtz

    From a friend who has lived in London (Kew Gardens) for decades:

    Fuel crisis is over. Shelves are pretty full. I think it was a mistake for Britain to leave the EU, but I don’t think all the shortages are entirely Brexit related…

    It is true that Britain’s economy hasn’t recovered from Covid as countries like Germany, but growth this year is predicted to be 6.5 percent and the highest of the G7 countries. Whether this will come true, I am not sure…

    The sewage issue is due more to the fact that Britain’s Victorian sewers can’t cope with the enormous growth in population and the much heavier rainstorms we seem to be getting these days. I am not sure why people think the sewage dumping is new! I think they have heard about it in the news and simply assumed it is a recent problem – they seem to be ignorant of the fact that it has been happening for years. I have been occasionally helping clean up the Thames foreshore with Thames21 for about 10 years and even back then, whenever there was a heavy rain, the sewers would overflow into the Thames (it is utterly revolting).

    I suspect those complaining about the Tories supposedly starting dumping sewage are the same people who are in very much in favour of immigration which is the reason we have a sewage overflow problem in the first place. Vast sums of money are being spent on upgrading the Victorian sewage system, such as the Thames Super Sewer. But even that can’t cope with London’s population these days. Note the mention of population growth in this article…

    1. PlutoniumKun

      The situation with the sewage has nothing to do with ‘Victorian infrastructure’. The problem is with existing (modern) treatment plants not being able to operate.

      6.5% growth looks impressive until you notice that the economy contracted by 9.9% in 2020, significantly more than most European countries – the EU average was a 6.1 % contraction.

      1. R

        Half a point. One solution to combined sewers discharging excess surface water to a watercourse is indeed to increase the treatment plant size so it is no longer in excess. But then you are processing massive peaks of foul water, with all the attendant chemical and energy usage, and the plant is underutilised 90% of the time. The UK has adopted requirements to separate surface water and foul water drainage but the replacement cycle for existing combined drainage infrastructure is measured in centuries! The problem is exacerbated by apparent shifts in rainfall, towards shorter, sharper showers – downpours rather than drizzle – and for longer periods of the year. Plus thirty years of reckless building on floodplains has not helped. The city I live in has extended its “industrial estate” (Europe’s largest concentration of car showrooms allegedly) on its river marshes and plans to build more houses between the train line and the river, right by the site of an infamous flood that swept the bridge away. The market town 15 minutes druveaway gas erected a whole syrburban retail park on its river meadow. All this in the past twenty years and still continuing. No excuses!

  11. Keith Newman

    I used to read Umair Haque’s blog posts quite regularly a few years ago until I realised how limited they were. When they fed into my biases (US decline) I enjoyed them. However as David notes above everything was apparently Trump’s fault. Right… I started to wonder if maybe the US was actually doing better than I thought and I shouldn’t read so much doom and gloom! Then Covid came along and reinforced my decline view. Surprisingly, conservative neighbours of mine don’t want to go to the US anymore due to its stench of decline (I live in Gatineau, Quebec.The US is only 100km or so away).

    With respect to UK decline, it’s all self-inflicted and due to decades of neo-liberalism, Tory austerity, quasi-Tories (Blair and company), the general acceptance of corruption, and massive propaganda in the media. Still UK-ites had the possibility twice of repairing the damage by electing an honest mildly social-democratic government under Corbyn. Instead they knowingly chose Johnson, a toff Tory buffoon. Predictably his government bungled Covid and Brexit due to a mix of incompetence, corruption and just not giving a damn. Let’s hope one day the Brits decide to change course.

    1. Count Zero

      I don’t disagree with any of that — apart from the notion that the British have brought it on themselves by their votes. I need to check before I can give precise figures but none of the governments you cite were elected by a majority of the population and rarely (I think) even by a majority of those who voted.

      It wasn’t ‘the Brits’ (an unpleasant term about equivalent to calling Americans “yanks” I suppose) who chose Johnson as Prime Minister but a section of the Conservative party with the massive support of global media corporations. Then a minority of the electorate voted for the local conservative candidate.

      It’s never a very intelligent politics to ascribe collective guilt to a whole nation.

      1. Count Zero

        As for the Brits deciding to change course. The systematic vilification of Jeremy Corbyn and the left of the Labour Party as anti-Semitic is the kind of thing that happens if there’s any attempt to threaten the status quo by electing the wrong government. That was “cancelling” using the dirtiest of weapons.

      2. Terry Flynn

        Yes – FWIW I once put figures for votes cast vs eligible voters into a spreadsheet to look at such questions for the postwar (1945 election) onwards – the only period of universal suffrage (minus some tweaks like older minimum age in 1950s). Was rushed so used Wikipedia (bad) but minor corrections don’t, I believe, change the conclusions.

        The 1950 and 1951 elections are the only ones where a party/parties obtained support from 40+% of all eligible voters and in 1951 Labour got the highest % ever recorded for a party, together with over 50% of all votes cast. Yet due to FPTP it lost after Churchill carefully played the system, learning from his narrow defeat in 1950. So the Tories reaped the benefits for 13 years – gradual return to “normal life” and an economic boom that should have been Labour’s.

        Recent elections are a joke. “Largest number of votes ever” is meaningless without reference to larger voting population etc.

        1. Keith Newman

          @Count Zero and Terry Flynn,
          I recognise I’m not being generous. But you are being far too generous. I believe the electorate bears a significant level of responsibility. Of course not everyone voted Tory or Liberal (essentially Tory) against Corbyn. And yes there was a media campaign of vilification using charges of antisemitism in Labour and Corbyn being some kind of Russian stooge and quasi- terrorist.
          BUT let’s be honest. First past the vote works both ways. It works for toff Tory buffoons but also for more appropriate politicians, e.g. Corbyn. Why is it the Tory-types always win? We have the same system in Canada and indeed retrograde know-nothings do get elected, but some fairly progressive governments also get elected. My question is a real question. In Canada when the backward types get into office there is massive push back by unions, popular groups, etc. Eventually there is a revulsion against backwardness and the backward are tossed out of office. Why doesn’t that happen in The UK?
          With respect to the vilification campaign, it was so over the top and manifestly absurd that it beggars belief that a significant portion of potential Cobyn voters could take it seriously beyond the first few months. I followed the issue quite closely and was never able to figure it out. Are British progressives that politically naive? Is there no political organising in the UK?
          Re “the Brits”: I stand corrected. I didn’t realise it had negative connotations. I’ll have to check further with my British friends.

          1. Terry Flynn

            Yes the electorate here “accepts” gross bad practice more readily than Canada (from my not-very-detailed but always interested take on that country). Non-Tories (primarily Labour) just “won’t do deals” (or “go softly when the 3rd party is main contender in a constiuency – at Westminster anyway) which leads to almost perpetual opposition.

            I’ll stress again the smallest tweak to FPTP which would solve this: Most-Least Voting (MLV). You only have to provide ONE additional piece of info in the ballot booth – the candidate you like LEAST. Least totals are subtracted from most totals. “Net approval score” determines winner so 45% most and everyone else saying you’re awful, mean to foreigners, the poor, the environment, etc, means you won’t win. Result? Tories get ousted in loads of seats where their support is less than 50% but the opposition is divided.

            Usual declaration of “non-interest”: I had NOTHING to do with development with MLV but it is a “slimmed down” version of a wider method of human preference elicitation (Best-Worst Scaling – BWS), which I co-wrote the textbook on. I just like the sound of MLV and certain Baltic States use/have used it in real life in certain elections after independence.

  12. LowellHighlander

    I think Mr. Haque did a splendid job in calling out the hardships brought about by Brexit. (And it’s a veritable public service for you to have posted this article, Ms. Smith.)

    But I really have to ask whether Britain is a modern state: while the country is committing itself, through “its” government (their government is as much a plutocracy as ours) to suicide, it continues to fund, somewhat lavishly, welfare queens (see https://people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/genealogy/firm-vs-royal-family.htm and https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2018/06/royal-family-costs ). Meanwhile, Mr. Haque lays out what’s happening for hoi polloi on that island:

    “It has to spend more on the things it once took for granted — the very same ones. Inflation means that Brits have to pay more basics, since they’re now in dramatically shorter supply, thanks to Brexit. But that very same inflation means that Brits now have less left over, as a society, with which to fund public goods, like the NHS and BBC and so forth.”

    I guess the English who wanted Brexit can always hold their heads high because the “royal” family looks so elegant. But it makes me feel even more indebted to the farmers of Massachusetts who took on the King and his army. [Now if we could only show people in America how we’ve effectively created a class of “royalty” via economic institutions and policies.]

    1. larry

      “Brits now have less left over, as a society, with which to fund public goods, like the NHS and BBC and so forth” — this statement is completely false. The government has absolutely no problem financing public services as they have an unlimited supply of currency because they are the monopoly ussuers of the national currency. They may have fewer resources to deal with public services, such as fewer care workers, nurses, &c, but that is another matter and does not affect the government’s ability to spend other than to restrict what they can spend it on. So, no matter how much money they may wish to spend on doctors, for example, if there are no doctors available, the funds can do nothing other than sit in Treasury coffers.

  13. Mikel

    Looking at the hits to nutritrion and hygiene and immediately think of all the blame for the worst effects and outcomes of the pandemic (and every other disease that is endemic) being attributed to unvaccinated individuals. Always the avoidance to point to the institutions that pollute or contaminate…it’s always turned into an “individual choice”.

  14. John

    My take on it is that the UK is just getting Jackpot ready ahead of the crowd.
    As Glasgow will show soon, the humans/planet are committing suicide. Why not start early and get used to it?
    That Seneca cliff is waiting.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That is the key point…I did allude to it but should have said that more forcefully.

      Iit looks as if the UK is first out of the box in the advanced economy decline category due to going full bore neoliberal early and not being as rich or as much of an autarky as the US, its fellow early neoliberal adopter.

      1. WobblyTelomeres

        Would argue the UK is second (out of the gate). To Brazil. Anyone remember the … dedication… displayed by the open water swimmers at the Rio Olympics?

  15. vlade

    Well, one thing the UK seems to be way ahead of the US is that Tories are ok to shove yet more money into economy (as evidenced by the budget today, which I think surprised many people, Labour including), which neither Democrats nor Republicans are willing to.

    Now imagine, if Tories were NOT shoveling the money left right and centre, as if they stole Labour’s money tree…

    Re UK situation, I believe it’s very hard to disentangle Covid and Brexit impacts, which of course is a great help to the UK government, as it can pick and choose.

    1. David

      I think people may be looking at the “what’s responsible?” problem from the wrong end. Both Covid and Brexit could have been handled better thirty or forty years ago before the current world economy started to be put into place, and before the crapification of government and administration. But it can be argued that the situation is now so desperate that any serious shock to the system will bring it down. There are obviously some problems that relate to Brexit and others that don’t, and some that are ambiguous, but the common link is that they are more than the system can now cope with. If you go to (say) certain parts of West Africa, eat and drink everything without precautions and don’t get yourself vaccinated, precisely what you actually die of may be a bit academic.

      1. vlade

        I agree that for all the Tory bluster, the (overall) situation is not getting better and we’ll see what the winter brings. I suspect that it will bring the EU as “the Enemy”, probably placing Mt. Doom somewhere in Brussels?

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I think if Sunak gets his way, they will lose even that benefit. The sole good thing the UK government did during Covid was ensure an adequate supply of cash into the economy. But Sunak is clearly an austerian by nature (Boris very obviously is not). So if they go ahead with the rapid run down of the budget deficit, then there could be a lot of trouble ahead.

      1. vlade

        See that’s the thing – Sunak’s yesterday’s budget was way less austere than most expected. I wonder whether it’s Boris, or whether Sunak realised that whatever his private beliefs, the way to power now leads through spending..

    3. Susan the other

      That is very interesting. I’m thinking Boris is just that sly. A Tory maybe, but they know the power of money. The British are far more sophisticated than the rest of the world in their monetary maneuvering. Maybe that’s not a nice thing to say (apologies), but they have maintained a neoliberal banking system that ruled the world for centuries. If they cannot comprehend that money is only made valuable by what it achieves, then they might be fearful of spending it. But, clearly, they are not. It’s so ironic that the “liberal side”, the former Left, is just that fearful. My god, can’t all of us Lefties get a spine? Hello, US Democrats. And amusing because they are afraid because they have been so brow beaten by the Tories… Courage, and maybe even arrogance, is a good thing when it achieves good, even if it comes from aristocratic supremacists. And just watch what happens next, the Tories will high-grade Labor with relish. Maybe.

  16. Grayce

    Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, retired to heaven (maybe) so smug about sharing “other people’s money” with no one, forgetting infrastructure, common causes, shared responsibility and taking Conservatism to Rand Paulish extremes.

  17. PlutoniumKun

    Dublin Port today stated that trade with the UK is down by 20%

    Freight traffic from Great Britain to Dublin Port has dropped by a fifth since Brexit while business with the EU has leapt by more than a third, a report shows.

    More details from RTE

    What neither report stays is that there is a lot of evidence of trade being re-routed via NI – Britain to Ireland exports going via Belfast and possibly EU imports going in to Britain via NI.

    However, its pretty clear that there has been a permanent shift in trade between Ireland and Europe, its overwhelmingly now direct rather than through the UK. Its hard to know what the real long term implications of this are, but it certainly makes it far more likely that Irish shops and manufacturers will opt for EU sources for products. This is pretty significant, as Ireland is the UK’s third biggest market for exports.

      1. Susan the other

        So Irish exports should be subject to Country of Origin rules but since NI isn’t Irish nor British it’s pretty hard to apply a black/white rule. No? So does that demolish the EU’s insistence that the ECJ deliberate all trade disputes between “countries”. Looks like it leaves it open to compromise.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        The problem for the UK is that it needs Irish goods (mostly food). It also needs Irish food processing (the UK is deficient in dairy processing capacity). The integration of NI and Irish food/manufacturing/construction makes it unlikely there would be any significant reduction even if they wanted to. They even have to add Irish products in their own export deals – for example, they seek protected status for Irish Whiskey as well as Scotch in their deals with Japan because a lot of Irish whiskey is made in NI.

      3. vlade

        What matters is whether the Irish/UK can replace the export markets. So far, Ireland seems to be more successful in doing that.

  18. Rodger Mitchell

    Take a look at how close Trump and his Trumpers came to destroying American democracy. Take a look at the threat that lies ahead of us.

    The great American experiment is teetering on the edge of ignorant MAGA. Ignorance has its penalties.

    1. lordkoos

      Better get accustomed to the fact that it is an oligarchy, not a democracy. Which party has little to do with it.

    2. Susan the other

      The questions that MAGA must answer is, In what ways do we make America great again? By more intensive exploitation of the environment? By neoliberal finance which crushes the poorest deeper into poverty? By more extreme inequality? Does MAGA entertain any, any at all, provisions for meeting environmental safeguards, CO2 limits; consumption reduction; better education; guaranteed employment? What will MAGA do to provide housing to the houseless? Medical guarantees for everyone? They are such nitwits. They might as well all go out and shit in a big pile and then sell inter tubes to go out and tube down it. They don’t even realize what they are applauding. Except bringing the jobs back – which is a reasonable platform.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        What we need is MAOKA. Make America O K Again. Put it on a red visor cap in white MAGA-style letters and watch TrumpCo Incorporated sue. When they do, tell them to please, go ahead and sue. We need the publicity.

        MAOKA hats! The headwear of choice for the discerning American Okayness Ordinarian.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      Oh, if Trump was such a horror, why did Biden say “nothing fundamental will change” and as we have documented, continue Trump policies?

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Perhaps he meant that “nothing fundamental will change” from policy all through the Clintobama Administrations.

        Some things he has changed are restoration of some pro-conservation policies and actions on some of America’s public lands. Cancelling Trump’s decision to log off all the worthwhile trees in Tongass National Forest, restoring the two National Monuments in Utah to their pre-Trump size, restoring the rule ( if the relevant Department really has done so) that accidental native bird kill at sites of business like water-covered oil-well lagoons) shall be fine-worthy again . . . the Biden Administration has reduced some of the anti-conservation gothic horror of the Trump Administration in some regards.

      2. Hepativore

        Also, did everybody suddenly forget about the W. Bush presidency? His administration basically used the Constitution as toilet paper, took the AUMF as an excuse to destabilize the Middle East and that is to say nothing of his assault on civil liberties and starting the torture program.

        Trump merely picked up from where Dubya and Obama left off, and Trump is an amateur compared to the damage that the W. Bush presidency has done which we are still suffering from. Biden is little more than a senile figurehead who serves as a sort of night watchman to keep the US ship on neoliberal autopilot.

  19. caloba

    Over the last few days I’ve driven 500 miles across the UK on a family catch-up run. This featured three major food shopping expeditions to three different supermarket chains, beginning in Wiltshire and ending in Northumberland. I can’t recall looking for anything, in any location, that wasn’t available. So let’s not get over-excited in our search for political ammunition. Of course, with long-distance just-in-time supply chains, all it takes to produce a large gap on a supermarket shelf is a single 44-tonner skidding into a ditch…

  20. Hayek's Heelbiter

    The media keeps hammering the theme that Brits who voted for Brexit are ignorant, short-sighted etc.
    Most of the people I know who voted for Brexit were not really all that concerned about EU intrusiveness and were actually somewhat in favour of it.
    What did upset them was that the neighbourhoods in London where they grew up for generations were no longer affordable, as so many homes had been converted to HMOs (“Housing Multiple Occupancy”), where five strangers, mostly cheap foreign labour, lived in a formerly three-bedroom house (the box room and living room being converted into bedrooms).
    Similarly, so many entry level/working class jobs were then taken by again, cheap foreign labour.
    Meanwhile, as usual, those in the C-Suites pocketed the wages formerly paid to British employees as reward for their brilliant management skills.
    People have very short memories, and have already forgotten that that EEC (“European Economic Community”) worked just fine as trading bloc.
    The fault for Brexit needs to be laid squarely at the feet of Tony Blair, who opened the floodgates for a magnitude of cheap labour, to which British industry became addicted, never realizing that someday it would be forced to go cold turkey.

  21. lordkoos

    Could someone explain to me why the British pound is still worth $1.40? I realize the dollar isn’t worth what it was even compared to last year, but still…

    1. Susan the other

      It’s value is based on a baseless concept. Sort of like a rehypothecation without the original collateral.

  22. VietnamVet

    Those who know that everything is hunky-dory must blame the others who do not share their beliefs. This brings on denial and scapegoating. But the number of those who are not being affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic, Brexit, and shortages of goods and services are getting smaller and smaller by the day. Generally, the unaffected are only those who are wealthy or managing members of the corporate/state (a.k.a. The Western Empire). The decline in life expectancy in the USA started in 2014. It is only accelerating. The cause is the same; the pathological corrupt and incompetent global aristocracy who exploit the underclasses and the earth to get super rich. They were the young Harvard Boys who cut their teeth on Russia in the 1990s. Now they rule the West. The destruction — “The Shock Doctrine” is intentional.

    Who in their right mind sent Victoria Nuland this month to Moscow to negotiate peace settlement in Ukraine? The malignancy has spread through Europe and North America. If unchecked, it will lead to nuclear wars over resources, a superhot radioactive world, and ultimately a human extinction event.

  23. Mickey Hickey

    I would hesitate to say Britain has commited suicide, to me it looks like teenage self harm not likely to become grievous. The upper levels of the Conservative party have more than their fair share of the production of Eton, Harrow, Cambridge and Oxford. These are people noted for playing games with the working class. The Conservatives sold to the working class and the elderly a new Britain, no more chasing after minimum wage low productivity jobs. The new Britain will send back all the poorly paid Eastern European labourers to their countries of origin. This was largely in response to public opinion polls indicating that most voters were concerned about being crowded out by foreigners. The new Britain will only need people to fill the highly skilled jobs that the Conservatives enlightened management of the new British economy will create. If you are a voter you cannot lose, fewer foreigners depressing wages and more highly paid jobs becoming available. Underlying the stoic exterior of a lot of British people lies the realisation that the country is only 60% food self sufficient. A German once told me that the Hitler regime had studied how Britain exploited Ireland and their plan based on their studies was to export all Polish factory machinery to Germany and put the Poles to work on producing cabbage, potatoes, carrots, parsnips. European labour was costing too much so the real plan is to replace them with lower paid people who also have lower expectations wrt working conditions. I will not touch on who they might be. The needs of the Square Mile (London Financial District) is uppermost in Conservative party priorities. They have suffered severe body blows from the EU already and indications are that there is no improvement in sight. Financialisation as saviour is under threat which is now resulting in drowning man clutching straws behaviour. Things will get worse but it is always darkest before the dawn. Neither Johnson and his crew or Starmer and his have the brains to improve matters. A lowering standard of living and higher unemployment will clean out the Westminster stables by the next election. Even the Irish do not believe that the British working class can be misled by dunderheads for very long. Granted the class system is deeply embedded but I expect that Queen Elizabeth will be the last Royal and the British 1% are in for a rough ride.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      If it is not actually slow suicide, then Britain ( especially the England part) will not decline into the disease and famine of 19th century Europe, and there will not be any mass emigration of disease-and-famine refugees.

      Over the next 10-15 years we will get to see if Umar Haque was right or wrong.

  24. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    UK drug shortages – I posted this on the Cooler just before going to bed in reply to IM Doc – a bit more detail:

    ” Ninety per cent of the UK’s medicines are imported, meaning that disruptions make the UK vulnerable to shortages. Leaked Department of Health and Social Care documents, also marked “commercial-sensitive,” revealed that throughout 2019, 209 medicines had supply “issues”: over half of which extended beyond three months and 95 had problems during the Brexit/election month of December. Ten products, including hepatitis vaccines and anti-epileptic drugs, faced “extended” problems.

    An October 2020 unredacted/unclassified document published by the NHS Nottinghamshire Shared Medicines Management Team listed local COVID-related shortages/disruptions. Media do not appear to have noticed the document. It confirmed that five products had long-term manufacturing issues: AstraZeneca’s Zyban (bupropion, anti-smoking drug), Par’s Questran (colestyramine, a bile acid sequestrant), diamorphine (a painkiller, frequently used for cancer patients), metoprolol (for high blood pressure), and co-careldopa (for Parkinson’s disease). More than 30 had short-term manufacturing problems and 13 had “shortages” due to increased demand, particularly end of life medicines, including morphine and the anti-vomiting drug levomepromazine.

    In July 2019, the government’s “Alert and recalls for drugs and medical devices” listed 644 products. As of October 14th this year, post-Brexit and with COVID cases rising, the number was 877 “.

    England would not disclose their info describing it as sensitive, Northern Ireland does not have the info Wales gave theirs as did Scotland which lists 32 shortages with 7 being UK only as not a problem elsewhere & most of them are generic.


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