The great historian A. J. P. Taylor (the ideal historian in the opinion of Professor Niall Ferguson of Harvard/Stanford) shows us the “comfortableness” of the world for at least some people before “the guns of August” and WWI destroyed that social world:
“Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post-office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. he had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. Unlike the countries of the European continent, the state did not require its citizens to perform military service.
“An Englishman could enlist, if he chose, in the regular army, the navy, or the territorials. He could also ignore, if he chose, the demands of national defence.
“Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those who helped the state who wished to do so.
“The Englishman paid taxes on a modest scale: nearly 200 million pounds in 1913-14, or rather less than 8% of national income. The state intervened to prevent the citizen from eating adulterated food or contracting certain infectious diseases. It imposed safety rules in factories, and prevented women, and adult males in some industries, from working excessive hours. The state saw to it that children received education up to the age of 13.
“Since 1 January 1909, it provided a meagre pension for the needy over the age of 70. Since 1911, it helped to insure certain classes of workers against sickness and unemployment. This tendency to more state intervention was increasing. Expenditure on the social services had roughly doubled since the Liberals took office in 1905.
Still, broadly speaking, the state acted only to help those who could not help themselves. It left the adult citizen alone. All this was changed by the impact of the Great War.”
(A. J. P. Taylor, English History 1914-1945, Oxford, 1965, page 1)
It seems hard to argue that life has become more “charming” since then and this pre-WWI seems much more calm, sane and relaxed than the world of 2019. Thinking about “then and now” gives us a feel for the decay in some domains despite the cascade of technologies, gadgets, things.