Thursday, July 21, 2011

Not so long ago

This describes the end of the Victorian Era and the pre-WWI 20th Century, the time when my parents were born - not so terribly long ago. Most of these aspects of British life  were true in the US, too — but our taxes were even lower. Via Daniel Pipes at NRO, quoting a passage from A.J.P. Taylor's English History, 1914-1945 [1970]:
Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. Unlike the countries of the European continent, the state did not require its citizens to perform military service. An Englishman could enlist, if he chose, in the regular army, the navy, or the territorials. He could also ignore, if he chose, the demands of national defence. Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so. The Englishman paid taxes on a modest scale: nearly £200 million in 1913-14, or rather less than 8 per cent. of the national income. … broadly speaking, the state acted only to help those who could not help themselves. It left the adult citizen alone.
And crime was low even though guns were ubiquitous.

Living Freely in England a Century Ago - By Daniel Pipes - The Corner - National Review Online