Gladstonian Finance

The equation of sound money and balanced budgets with moral probity became difficult to maintain once the high point of 'laissez-faire' had been reached in Gladstone's mid-Victorian financial policies.

Anachronism is an awkward business for the historian. The search for 'relevance' when teaching encourages the discovery of continuity, but close study of a period usually leads to a stress on its distinctiveness. Nineteenth-century finance used not to be thought of much interest: in the philosophy of a welfare state it was merely a detail of a period left behind. Faced today with ministers who, on the one hand, claim to support minimal state intervention but, on the other, claim with respect to any particular area of state spending to have increased expenditure (i.e. overall government spending should decrease, but no sector should be acknowledged to be suffering), historians have begun to turn their attention to both the mechanics and the ethos of the Victorian 'minimal state' and its finances.

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