The worst goods trade deficit in more than three centuries

Last year Britain recorded its biggest deficit in goods trade since records began.*

Those records technically go all the way back to 1697, though getting hold of the data is rather tricky. The ONS only has numbers going back to 1998, on a comparable basis, while HM Revenue & Customs supposedly has the 300-year series of data, but, when I spoke to them earlier today, weren’t exactly sure where one can lay one’s hands on it.

Anyway, I’ve taken a stab at a long-range estimate of UK trade, using recent data from the ONS (back to 1998), Bloomberg (from 1997 to 1965) and, before that, using a composite measure from the Bank of England spreadsheet you can find here [xls].  It “only” goes back to 1870 but you get the general idea:

A number of provisos are necessary: the data are a bit rough and ready and, most importantly, the numbers are not adjusted for inflation, which makes anything post-fiat money look enormous. Nonetheless, even when you look at Britain’s financial relationship with the rest of the world, it hardly looks particularly healthy. Below is the UK’s current account balance (largely made up of trade in goods and services, plus some other financial flows) since 1955.

As you can see, this, too, has never been lower.

If anyone manages to lay their hands on the full dataset going back to 1697, please do let me know.

* When you include services, the deficit was the biggest since 2010. As you’ll see from this blog, Britain exports a LOT of services, particularly financial services, which tend to make the balance considerably higher than if it were goods alone. Unfortunately the data on services is a bit less reliable than the stuff on goods, which isn’t super-reliable to begin with…

3 thoughts on “The worst goods trade deficit in more than three centuries”

  1. Great reporting!
    Here is a poem that tells the current US economy story:

    The War Is Here
    Michael La Crone

    Battles over there, nothing to fear;
    Iraq a sideshow, the war is here.
    1929, all over again;
    stock market fraud, now as then!

    Free stock, for Insider bosses;
    2008, 401k losses!
    Bonus gifts, by the millions;
    retirements ruined, by the $trillions

    Corrupt finance, bankers lied;
    war on workers, justice denied!
    Fraud the weapon, bankers deployed;
    public deceived, lives destroyed!

    Bankrupt Detroit, transfer of wealth;
    perfect storm, parasitic stealth!
    Wages earned, shovels digging;
    savings lost, financial rigging!

    Government captured, growing the costs!
    How to stop, the mounting loss?
    Insider claims, investors no voice;
    zero-sum games, rights without choice!

    Betrayed trust, workers’ debt;
    never forgive, never forget!
    Congress feeding, on insider loot;
    Bankers’ finance, fraud at the root!

    We are in a zero-sum financial war with big banks and no one seems to get it.

  2. Great little poem. What I’d like to know is though, when didn’t the UK have a trade deficit?

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