I only vaguely remember in the late seventies people referring to Britain as the “Sick Man of Europe”

For some reason I found myself needing to lookup British Gross National Income just now, and it struck me just how far down what one might call “old Europe” we are. Of the nine members in the EEC when we joined in 1973, we ranked 8th in 1980, and guess what, we “languish” in 8th still today.  Of the “EU15” that were members in 1995, we ranked 10th in 1995 and we’ve dropped one, to 11th, today. Mind you, in 1980 we had lower GNI per capita than Greece!

Britain's mediocre performance in GNI Per Capita in Europe
Britain’s mediocre performance in GNI Per Capita in Europe

Overall, including Norway, Iceland and Switzerland as well as the EU members, in 1980 we ranked 15th of the 31 countries in the sample, in 1995 we had moved up to 13th. I compared also the year of the start of the main Central and Eastern Europe EU expansion, and there in 2004, we are up in 7th place overall before “crashing” back to 13th in 2012.

And as you do, I started adding other data to my set, and looking at measures of income and wealth inequality, on the GINI Index of income inequality we rank 10th across Europe, with a GINI Index of 34.0, a full ten points above Denmark and ahead even of Switzerland.

But talking of Denmark, which we often think of as quite an ideal egalitarian society generally as their income inequality rank shows (it’s the lowest in the world), when you look at their wealth inequality GINI coefficient they are the third most unequal country in the world, after only Namibia and Zimbabwe. I wonder if that figure is correct? Digging a little deeper, in the paper from which the list was derived, I see it says that indeed, in Denmark, the wealthiest 10% of the population own 76.4% of national wealth. That seems incredible. What accounts for that? Sweden is third highest in Europe after Denmark, and less surprisingly perhaps, Switzerland.

Anyway, so I just thought, I know poverty is not a sickness, but if we were the sick man of Europe back when we were 8th of 9 members, are we not still when we are 8th of the same 9 today? Our inequality is third highest of the nine for income (behind Italy and Ireland) and also third highest for wealth (behind Denmark and France). I guess that’s a kind of a double whammy of inequality for Britain then.


The Poor Man of Old Europe?
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