The Corner

Currencies & Constitutions: a Query For The Derb

Derb, how did the British government do it? I mean, for the mere, half-humorous suggestion that we in the United States get rid of the penny that I posted this morning, I’ve found my inbox piled high with emails taking heated objection, and you can be sure that no politician of any standing will even touch the subject. But back in 1971 the British government simply blotted out pence, shillings, guineas, and crowns, replacing then ancient currency with a new-fangled, decimalized system that was (and is) essentially…French. (Come to think of it, the French themselves had to stage a revolution before they could replace their own ancient and idiosyncratic currency of livres with a new, decimalized system.) How did the Labour government of Harold Wilson (if I’m recalling the sequence of prime ministers correctly) get away with it? Why didn’t the nation rise up in protest? And–my underlying question–what does the currency coup of 1971 suggest about the willingness and ability of the current Labour government to jam the European constitution down the British throat one way or the other?

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