Aspects of British Political History, 1914-1995

By Stephen J. Lee | Go to book overview

8

THE ECONOMY, UNEMPLOYMENT AND GOVERNMENT POLICY BETWEEN THE WARS

Between the two world wars the British economy experienced unprecedented trauma, over which interpretations are still divided. The purpose of this chapter is to look at some of the explanations which have been provided. The first section will provide the initial perspective by outlining and explaining the main changes which occurred in the economy between the wars. The second will concentrate on the economic infrastructure, especially industry, transport and trade. The third will cover the social impact of changes within the economic infrastructure, particularly the growth, distribution and implications of unemployment in the 1920s and 1930s. The fourth will deal with the efforts made by governments to tackle the problems which arose and, in the process, look at the economic theories which they accepted and rejected. The 1930s have acquired a thoroughly negative reputation, to the extent of being known as 'the Devil's decade'; the final section will consider whether or not this description is deserved.


ECONOMIC CHANGES IN PERSPECTIVE 1919-39

The twenty-year record of uplift and downturn within the British economy began in 1919 with a post-war boom, considered by D.H. Aldcroft to have been both Violent and speculative'. 1 In retrospect, it is not really surprising that it should have occurred. The arrival of peace suddenly released those productive sectors of the economy which had been pinned down by the First World War. The end of economic controls interacted with the revived demand for consumer goods and the resumption of pre-war trade patterns to boost industrial production by 20 per cent between 1919 and 1921 2 and to keep unemployment

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