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Evaluation exercise B

Read the following text critically and select at least five weaknesses. The text is adapted from material published in The Economist, a non-academic source.


‘Rule Britannia’

‘Rule Britannia’, Britain’s unofficial national anthem dating from 1740, celebrated not only Britain’s military might but its commercial prowess as well. A century later saw the high-water mark of its influence in the world, which coincided with the last great wave of globalisation. The first country to industrialise, Britain was soon turning out more than half the world’s coal, pig-iron and cotton textiles. In 1880 its exports of manufactured goods accounted for 40% of the global total, and by 1890 it owned more shipping tonnage than the rest of the world put together.

Less than a century on from those glory days Britain had become the “sick man of Europe”, infamous for wild swings in inflation and growth and for confrontational trade unions. Shorn of its empire and a late and reluctant arrival in the European Community, Britain was grappling with the prospect of irreversible decline.

Britain’s fortunes are looking up again. Steady economic expansion in the past 14 years has pushed its GDP per head above that of France and Germany. Its jobless figures are the second-lowest in the European Union. Inflation has been modest, and sterling is if anything too strong for Britain’s good.

Much of this transformation is due to a quarter-century of profound policy change at home. The Conservatives in government tamed the unions, freed financial markets, and unloaded a host of state-owned enterprises. A wrenching decade resulted in a more flexible and competitive economy, though also a more unequal and less cohesive society. A Labour government under Tony Blair sensibly built on its predecessors’ work but tried to combine free markets with social justice.

Yet globalisation too has played a big part in defining the Britain that is emerging now. Barriers to the free flow of goods and services, labour and capital are being pulled down around the world, aided by huge improvements in communications and transport. Most countries are embracing market capitalism, including titans in the developing world. It is not just their tennis shoes and computers that are conquering the globe but, increasingly, their software and services, and indeed their capital. Most important, perhaps, they have vast pools of relatively cheap and increasingly skilled workers who put pressure on jobs and wages in rich countries.

Allied with technology, globalisation increases competition and exposes inefficiency. It tends to lessen inequality among countries and increase it within them. In short, though the overall effect is positive, there are losers as well as winners. But Britain is successfully riding the current wave of globalisation.


Suggested Weaknesses

  1. Although presented as objective and factual, many of the statements in this text are in fact subjective and controversial, because it is written from a very narrow viewpoint based on assumptions that many readers will not necessarily share: the text is nationalistically Britain-centred, makes judgements based purely on limited economic criteria, and could well be considered to be too simplistic in its assessments.
  2. What is ‘the last great wave of globalisation? This paragraph gives a highly favourable and unbalanced sketch of what many would call ‘British Imperialism’: any negative aspects of Imperialism are ignored.
  3. Although Britain was indeed ‘the first country to industrialise’, this is again presented as an entirely positive phenomenon: no mention of huge inequalities in wealth, the abject poverty of many workers, environmental consequences etc.
  4. How soon was ‘soon’? There is a lack of precision here.
  5. Where is the figure ‘40%’ taken from? Is all the economic information given accurate? How do you know?
  6. ‘Those glory days’: is this an unbiased assessment? Similarly subjective words in this paragraph include ‘confrontational’ (were all trade unions ‘confrontational'? without any justification?), and ‘shorn of’ (suggesting ‘unjustly deprived of’).
  7. ‘Steady economic expansion in the past 14 years …’. The information here is imprecise and proper comparisons are not possible. For example, exactly how much bigger is Britain’s GDP per head than that of France?
  8. ‘Tamed the unions, freed financial markets, unloaded a host of state-owned enterprises’: it seems to be assumed that these are entirely positive developments, and little weight is given to the resulting ‘more unequal and less cohesive society’. Note too the subjective use of language: ‘tamed’, ‘freed’, ‘unloaded’.
  9. ‘A Labour government … sensibly built on its predecessors’ work’: the word ‘sensibly’ indicates a subjective value judgement here.
  10. The view of ‘globalisation’ and ‘market capitalism’ presented in the last two paragraphs is essentially affirmative. Potentially negative effects mentioned (for example, increased inequality within countries, ‘there are losers as well as winners’) are clearly assumed to be less important.
  11. ‘Barriers to the free flow of goods and services, labour and capital are being pulled down around the world’: are all countries benefiting from this, as the author seems to imply?
  12. ‘They have vast pools of relatively cheap and increasingly skilled workers who put pressure on jobs and wages in rich countries’: there is no mention here, for example, of the possible exploitation of workers, both in the UK and in other countries; of the unequal distribution of the benefits of globalisation; or of the effects of the loss of UK jobs by outsourcing to low-wage economies.
  13. ‘Britain is successfully riding the current wave of globalisation’. Is this a short-term or long-term situation? Are there no serious problems in Britain (for example, the increasing ownership and control of the economy and assets outside Britain; the social consequences of ‘a more unequal and less cohesive society’, and so on)?
  14. Finally, the author seems to be entirely happy with the existing state of world affairs: how will current trends be affected by such urgent questions as environmental damage/global warming?

Finally, it is suggested that once you have completed the questions below you look at the Academic Phrasebank, a general resource for academic writers. It aims to provide you with examples of some of the phraseological "nuts and bolts" of writing.