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…