“I cannot lead you into battle, I do not give you laws or administer justice but I can do something else, I can give you my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations.” Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, first televised address 1957

The Blues & Royals Mounted Regiment
Riding back in time. The Blues & Royals, a regiment with origins in 1661.

The Era of Global Super-growth

The UK and Commonwealth have just celebrated the Platinum Jubilee of “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith”, to give the Sovereign her more formal titles. An amazing achievement never before reached by any monarch of the British Isles, though their kingship has lasted a thousand years. A 70 year reign that started 1952 while the UK and Europe was still recovering from the travails and destruction of the Second World War (elements of rationing remained in place in the UK until 1958, more than a dozen years after the War had ended) to the current time with the advent of Web3, crypto, global connectivity and an app for just about everything.

A 70 year period that has seen changes to society, populations and the economy that have been as - if not more - radical than any other period of human history. In 1952 the human population of the world was 2.6 billion. Now it is nearly 8 billion.

The overwhelming economic drivers of the last 70 years have been (i) this population explosion and (ii) the introduction of technology in to every aspect of our working and personal lives. And although there have been small wars, recessions the global financial crisis, on a global basis during this period the economy has boomed, life expectancy has risen, child mortality has dropped, diseases have been bested by antibiotics and vaccines, literacy and access to information has grown and violence has reduced. Global GDP rose from circa $10 trillion at the end of the 1950’s to more than $80 trillion (on a constant currency basis) in 2020.

Graph of world GDP growth 1961 to 2020
Y axis in USD Trillions. Source: World Bank

The Elizabethan era genuinely has been one where the sacrifices of earlier generations - the wars against despotism, the investment in science, the creation of national health and social services - have given a better standard of living and longer life to their descendants.

Jubilees, Guards and Palace Coups

Although the UK remains generally supportive of its Monarchy as an institution (in a recent YouGov survey 62% approved of the constitutional monarchy and only 22% preferred the idea of an elected Head of State), the longer running trend is slowly declining approval, particularly among young adults, where the percentages are closer to 50/50.

This is perhaps not surprising: a combination of modern social and mainstream media coverage means that much more of the Royal Family’s actions are under constant scrutiny (and criticism), and for others the only apparent function of the institution of the Monarchy is opening new hospitals and encouraging tourism.

Watching the Jubilee celebrations on TV, with squadrons of armored cavalry, swords flashing and tack jingling, it could indeed all seem rather anachronistic; however, those mounted “Guards” have their regimental origins in the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, created as a bodyguard to the newly restored Charles II, after the Civil War of the 1640’s that saw his father, Charles I publicly tried and executed. Following the deposition of Charles I the British engaging in a short experiment with republicanism in the 1650’s. When the republic’s “president” the Lord High Protector Oliver Cromwell died in 1658 a period of political uncertainty followed and the British decided that Monarchy had its uses - even after a bloody Civil War that should have settled the issue - and brought the Monarchy back, albeit with more constraints, and have slowly adjusted down its powers ever since.

The British in fact staged another coup against Charles II successor and younger brother, the catholic-inclined James II in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, quietly replacing him with the protestant William of Orange and William’s wife, Mary who was James’ child from an earlier (protestant) marriage. Much of the pomp and circumstance of the Jubilee has its origins in the political tumult of Britain and Ireland in the 17th Century; the regiments, crown jewels (most of the medieval versions were destroyed by Cromwell), royal symbols, flags, and protocols; and so to does the core of the political apparatus of the modern UK; and also several of its most challenging political issues; Brexit, Northern Ireland, Scottish independence and the continuation of the Union.

Many institutions do not seem to have much relevance while the economy and life in general seem to be progressing well, or at least progressing, but can become much more relevant in times of crisis, war or insurrection.

The Forge of Institutions

The obvious recent example is Ukraine: before the Russian invasion the government of President Volodomir Zelensky was incredibly unpopular, with an approval rating of only 23%. Ukraine also had a reputation for being extremely corrupt: in the 2022 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index published in January (again before the invasion) Ukraine scored 32 out of a maximum 100 points, putting it in the same category as Gabon, Mexico, Niger and Papua New Guinea, and scoring worse than Sierra Leone, Bosnia and El Salvador. Near the top-end of the list the UK scores 78, and New Zealand, Denmark and Finland jointly-lead with scores of 88.

However, the conflict in Ukraine has made a local and international hero of Zelensky, and politicians everywhere now fly the Ukraine flag on their buildings and wear it proudly on their lapels. For Ukraine the current crisis — assuming Ukraine survives it - will be a nation defining event, and will solidify the institutions that have been perceived to be doing well in the crisis; the Presidency, the law courts that have already tried their first Russian war criminals and the central bank, finance, defense and foreign ministries that have raised billions from foreign donors. The idea of heroism and effectiveness of these institutions could in fact make Ukraine less corrupt.

The Queen’s War

Her Majesty the Queen is perhaps the only current Head of State on the planet who lived through the Second World War - serving in uniform herself - and therefore understands some of what Zelensky is going through. Her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, developed a successful working relationship with the Queen’s late father, King George VI, during darkest moments of the War: Churchill had political primacy of course, and a tough, bombastic personal style, but could not ignore the “soft power” influence of the Monarch. The King and indeed the young Princess Elizabeth provided calm reassurance to many, in public radio broadcasts, messages and visits to see troops (my grandfather, a doctor and then a Lt Col in the Royal Army Medical Corps, looked after the King when he visited British and Allied troops in North Africa in 1943). The King and Princess provided another form of leadership, separate from the politicians, when it was needed.

Churchill was promptly voted out of power at the end of the War in 1945, but the King was not, providing continuity for the new - and first ever - Labour administration (the new Prime Minister, Clement Atlee was famously surprised and impressed by the warm and positive reception he received from the King after his election win). Because of the great events they had seen out together, when King George VI died in 1952, Churchill said of him that “His conduct on the Throne may well be a model and a guide to constitutional sovereigns throughout the world today and also in future generations”. It is that guiding experience that makes the Queen’s approach to public service what it is: she is stoic, practical and disciplined, and has put her duty first in her life. Her Majesty understands that the role of the Monarch has been forged in crisis and is therefore much more important and bigger than the flesh and blood individual that occupies it.

The End of the Elizabethan Age

Now, towards the end of her reign (the Queen is 96, and still working, although visibly slowing down), the era of post-Second World War super-growth appears to be at an end. Population growth rates are slowing everywhere except Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the Middle East, and the increasing cost of money - and of things - is denting the high valuations of tech stocks that have been leading the growth in investor portfolios for the last two decades.

Technology businesses will still grow and be valuable, but we are entering a period when physical security, energy security, supply chain resilience and good old-fashioned cash generation are more important than they were. Central banks are raising interest rates to curb inflation - making borrowing more costly for companies and governments - inflation is on the rise, and the very low rates of unemployment we see in the G7 economies seem destined to rise again as those forces exert themselves on businesses everywhere resulting in job losses. Globalization has ended, and new economic drivers will replace the old.

At the same time the geopolitical world order is changing, as I have written before: https://the-perspective-pool.scriber.to/article/ukraine-democracy-and-the-most-dangerous-moment-in-human-history.

The Elizabethan era is near its end, and the Carolingian will follow it (let’s hope rather more successfully than the prior Kings Charles). We should all appreciate the golden era we have just lived through, for all its faults. As an optimist I still believe the future will be better, even if we have to traverse difficult times to get there. Whatever the future holds I will always be proud and think myself fortunate to have been an Elizabethan.

Further reading