The long-running debate on Britain's apparent economic decline in the last 120 years (not exactly noticeable in the living standards of ordinary people, which have risen enormously in that time) has generated a large economic and statistical literature and a great deal of heat in rival social and cultural explanations. The 'decline' has been confidently attributed to the permeation of the business elite by the anti-industrial and anti-commercial attitudes communicated by public schools and the old universities through their propagation of aristocratic and gentry values; and the readiness of the buiness elite to be thus permeated has been ascribed to the persistent tendency of new men of wealth to transform themselves into landed gentlemen. There have been equally confident claims to have overturned this traditional view that wealthy merchants and industrialists sought to acquire landed estates and country houses, and to have established that 'gentlemanly values' were in fact economically advantageous to Britain because she never was a primarily industrial economy.
In this book, Professor Thompson subjects these interpretations to the test of the actual evidence, and firmly re-establishes the conventional wisdom on the characteristic desire of new money to acquire land and a place in the country, an aspiration which continues to be manifest today. At the same time, he shows that aristocratic and gentry cultures have not by any means been consistently anti-industrial or anti-business, and that many of the businessmen-turned-landowners have in fact not turned their backs on industry, but have founded business dynasties. Gentrification has indeed occurred ona large scale over the last two hundred years, but has had no discernible effects one way or the other on Britain' economic performance.
`Thompson reserves his most withering fire for all cultural explanations of economic change.'
`Offers interesting and colourful reading'
Scandinavian Economic History Review, Vol.XLIX, No.3
`The publication of Thompson's lectures under the title of Gentrification and the Enterprise Culture will be seen as perhaps the standard discussion on the subject ... The result is among the most intelligent and sensible series of historical essays to have been published in rcent years, devoid of verbiage but animated by Thompson's wit and dry humour ... These outstanding essays represent a life-time's reflection on some of the key questions of
twentieth-century British social history by one of it's great exponents, a man who has had a wholly beneficial influence on the discipline, both in an academic and personal sense. Britain's upper classes may well have changed so markedly that no gentleman therein remains, but one notes with satisfaction that at
least one may still be found in British academic life.'
William D. Rubinstein, Times Literary Supplement
1: Posing the Problem
2: Aristocrats as Entrepreneurs
3: Entrepreneurs as Aristocrats
4: Entrepreneurial Culture and the Culture of Entrepreneurs
5: Consumption, Culture, and the 'Unenterprising' Businessman
6: Gentlemanly Values, Education, and the Industrial Spirit
7: Conclusion: The Rise and Fall of Cultural Explanations of Economic Performance