Back in the Reagan Thatcher heyday, when it was still morning in America, a journalist friend of mine accompanied a party of Conservative politicians on a junket which included a chance to admire a glistening new infrastructure project. “How much of all this was paid for by the state?” “About 10%,” their guide replied. The MPs purred with satisfaction at this vindication of their free market principles.It was, of course, no such triumph, just further proof that Americans and Britons are divided by a common language. In the US “the state” means just where you happen to be such as Texas, Arkansas or Maine. The rest of the bill, or rather check, for the project had been picked up by the Federal US Government in Washington DC. But nobody disabused the British junketeers.

In the following decades this misapprehension bloomed on both sides of the Atlantic. Taxpayer investments were cutback, but there was no adequate substitution from private investment. As a result, the public realms in the US and UK are among the most rundown in the First World.