The National Debt

A Short History

Martin Slater

Slater vividly recounts the story of our national debt and how attempts to manage it explain many key turning-points in British history.

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The National Debt Hardback
April 2018£20.00

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In today’s ‘austerity era’, the national debt is newsworthy once again. But while central to today’s politics, it can be a highly technical subject. Few people fully understand its implications.

Without the national debt, England would not have gained—or lost—two empires, nor prevailed in desperate wars against France and Germany. But it heavily constrained peacetime economic policies—Keynesian economics was born out of the post-war desire to break free from debt, and twenty-first-century ‘austerity’ likewise identifies national debt as an evil. Yet it was not always so: the debt was the cornerstone of Victorian financial rectitude.

This short book traces the history of the national debt for the general reader. Far from dry economic theory, it is a colourful tale encompassing many of the most dramatic incidents and personalities of Britain’s past—from clashes between King and Parliament, American independence and war in Europe, to the abolition of slavery, the development of the Union and the role of leading figures such as Pitt, Gladstone
and Adam Smith.

From medieval times to the 2008 crash and beyond, The National Debt explores the changing fortunes of the national debt, and of Great Britain.


Martin Slater was Economics Fellow at St Edmund Hall, Oxford for over thirty years before retiring in 2013. He has also served as Oxford’s Economics Sub-Faculty chair and as a managing editor of Oxford Economic Papers. Principally an industrial economist, recent years have stimulated his interest in the peculiarities of debt.

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