Monday 10 December 2012

Greed Is Good And Greed Was Good

On the documentary channels picked up a programme, yet again about King Henry VIII, but this time concentrating on his 55 palaces, all apparently fitted out in the latest fashion of the time and with the best money could buy.  For example large tapestries, a lot of them, made with gold and silver thread. 

Given the relative scarcity of gold at that time, the riches of America only recently were arriving in Spain; this meant huge sums of money.  They were not the only decorations; all these large buildings would have been covered in bright colour and festooned with remarkable works of art.

On this basis Tony Robinson, the presenter and normally a fervent Republican, bounced around marvelling at the wonder of it all and referring to Henry The Great.  But he is an entertainer and our entertainers are mostly all in favour of high government spending, notably on the “arts” and have a lot to say about it. 

Looking at it my thought was that rather than “The Great” Henry might well be called “The Greedy”.  If you have over 50 palaces then there are going to be a lot that will be rarely, if ever lived in.  One, that on the Field Of The Cloth Of Gold in France was only temporary and a prestige project for display.

Given a very rough estimate of the population of that time, there would be one for about every 80,000 people.  Given that you could expect to have a Bishop’s Palace as well, together with a major aristocratic residence as well as a handful of gentry locations this is a lot to support given typical incomes of the period.

To this should be added all the major ecclesiastical establishments with their extensive interests and needs.  No wonder Henry went broke and that when he did he raided, that is reformed and privatised much of The Church.  All this would have been the public sector of the period and given the limited real cash available there would not be a lot left for the actual private sector of the period.

What makes me wonder is what else might have been done with those resources.  What kind of effective road network with bridges could have been put in place?  How many real dockyards or trading facilities created? 

If the money had been left with the people might the industrial revolution began a lot earlier than it did?  There was certainly an awareness of the possibilities of technical and other development.  But capital was a problem just as much as the set ways and intransigence of the guilds. 

Another factor was the sale of monopolies in later reigns.  King James VI and I severely damaged the complex and critical wool trade by the sale of one.  The effect on the wider economy was such as to reduce his tax revenues.  With both him and his son King Charles I trying to rival King Henry VIII for display it is little wonder that we had the Civil war.

In the last two or three decades we have had a period when unstinting admiration have been given to the greedy with both the media and politicians fawning on them and hanging on their every word.  We still have governments fixated on big schemes needing big money that will never earn any real return and push greater losses and debts on the economy.

What a way to run a railway.

1 comment:

  1. One of the things I find oddest about the French revolution is that they had the English example in front of them yet the monarchy still made many of the same mistakes as James VI and I and Charles I.

    Oddly enough, the Spouse and I were discussing this week the unprecedented marketing of luxury goods that seems to saturate the media at present (part of the aggressive marketing you predicted a few weeks ago) and whether this opulent extravagance and conspicuous consumption might one day help to recruit support for modern-day revolutionaries in Britain.