Friday, 20 December 2013

Death in the East End, death of the East End

This is what you call a proper East End funeral:

"Mr Redwood set off on foot, planting his elegant black cane down the middle of the road, forcing the traffic to slow down. Tall and broad-shouldered, he cut a regal figure (though that was not why the other lads at Cribb’s called him “the Queen”). The hearse followed, decorated with wreaths inside and out, spelling out in red roses and white carnations “MY DAD”, “GRANDAD” and “1, 2”, the traps Billy always bet on at the dogs. Tracey, Stacey and three other Bullard women walked behind, arm in arm, doubled up in grief for the 89-year-old patriarch.

At Mr Redwood’s stately pace, the cortege turned onto Barking Road. It was the route Billy had taken almost every day for half a century—ending at Coral, a bookmaker, where the hearse stopped. The manager of the betting-shop stepped onto the pavement and, in a gesture that seemed to encapsulate the florid theatricality of the East End funeral, where Victorian music hall meets Catholic high Mass, she handed Tracey a single white rose.

That is from the Economist, which, with well-chosen photographs, tells us the story of Cribb's, the entrepreneurial undertakers who helped reintroduce carriage horses to the Cockney funeral in the 1980s.

The article also tells the well-known story of the dying of the old East End. One doesn't have to be Rod Liddle to spot that there is a certain swathe of the bien pensant middle-classes who are more concerned about the feelings of the newer residents of the East End than the older ones.

Now let's talk about Paul Krugman's trade theory. Or rather, let me quote someone who knows more about it than me:

"In each country, consumers have a preference for variety but there is a tradeoff between variety and cost, consumers want variety but since there are economies of scale – a firm’s unit costs fall as it produces more – more variety means higher prices. Preferences for variety push in the direction of more variety, economies of scale push in the direction of less. So suppose that without trade country 1 produces varieties A,B,C and country two produces varieties X,Y,Z. In every other respect the countries are identical so there are no traditional comparative advantage reasons for trade. Nevertheless, if trade is possible it is welfare enhancing. With trade the scale of production can increase which reduces costs and prices. Notice, however, that something interesting happens. The number of world varieties will decrease even as the number of varieties available to each consumer increases. That is, with trade production will concentrate in say A,B,X,Y so each consumer has increased choice even as world variety declines."

It looks like a convincing theory. It's a good story anyway. The brave new world of global trade means that I can eat Indian, Chinese, French or Thai food (A, B, X, Y) - and so can someone in Beijing.  But Wimpey and the least popular Beijingese restaurants, the Cs and Zs, have a dim future ahead of them.

But it's not just a story about trade in goods. Surely the same thing is happening to people and cultures too. Let's spare a thought for some of the other Cs and Zs of this world, the jellied eels and pearly kings, the Cockney sparrers and barrer-boys. They were never that popular in the UK, never the fish-and-chips or crumble that live on and thrive even abroad. Still, that world was something there and, when it goes, something has been lost.

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