The Full Employment Movement
from the 1940s
Much research work in international organizations during the 1940s focused on policies associated with full employment. The experience of worldwide depression in the 1930s and the rise of Keynesian macroeconomics played a significant part in research on the problem of transition from wartime in both developing economies and developed economies. The late 1930s and early 1940s were described as a “great transformation…in economic thought” at the ILO where “the economy was no longer regarded as being fundamentally self-directing” and “the possibility of an equilibrium at a low level of employment for an indefinite period of time had been recognised” (ILO 1950a:25). Research effort on the immediate policy problems associated with postwar transition drew upon earlier LON work on economic developments post-First World War. Major issues involved economic reconstruction, relaxation of price controls, and the containment of inflation, restoration of international trade, demobilization of labor, and the avoidance of mass unemployment. Employment policy continued to feature prominently in ILO and UN work throughout the decade due to recognition of the link between unemployment and social and political problems. The international community in the new postwar world order appeared to establish a consensus predicated on the belief that countries could exploit “the possibilities for concerted government action to attain global social objectives” (Lee 1994:474).
While the economic problems facing countries postwar were familiar to researchers, the international policy institutions that were born after the Second World War placed a new set of responsibilities on international organizations. The reincarnation of the League of Nations in the United Nations led to many key research secretariats being reformed in constituent bodies such as the International Monetary Fund, the World