Solving Unemployment 1930’s Style


I come from a family of hoarders. Well that’s what my parents always told me anyway. When we cleared my grandparents’ house in the 1980s it was a treasure trove of interesting, yet mostly useless, items. Everything in the attic was covered in a layer of soot, reminiscent of a chimney incident decades earlier. Underneath the grime were antique dolls in their cots, asbestos ridden war time gas masks in their boxes and magazines. Piles and piles of them, dating from between the start of the twentieth century right up until my grandad’s death in the 1960s.

In 1931 my grandad was a manufacturer and seller of bicycles. With the motor car still being considered rather dangerous and far too expensive for any normal family, the bike was the transport of choice. Like many business men of the time, I imagine, he subscribed to The Efficiency Magazine. Perhaps the hoarders’ gene has been passed down to me, along with a couple of these magazines, but I was fascinated when I picked one up the other day to find an article titled, “How to Solve the Un-Employment Problem”.

This was the age before television or the Internet. Sound films (or “talkies”) had only appeared in the last few years and were just beginning to replace silent movies. It was the start of the Golden Age of radio, as sets became smaller and more affordable. Yet magazines, alongside newspapers and books, were still extremely popular. Marketers had started pouring money into advertising via the written media at the turn of the century, yet it was still the case in the 1930s that you published a magazine because you had something to say, not to make money. Think of it as the bloggers’ medium of the day.

It’s against this backdrop that I imagine Herbert N. Casson, nearly 100 years ago now, in his small smoky office at 87 Regent Street London preparing the type for his next publication. Here are Casson’s suggestions for solving unemployment, printed in the November 1931 issue of The Efficiency Magazine:

I would suggest that jobs can be found for the unemployed by such a policy as this:
(1) The “Dole” should be reduced to a point where it compels people to look for work and to accept jobs.
(2) Taxation should be reduced to a point where it permits enterprise and the piling up of private capital.
(3) The Government should give large tracts of land, at a low price, to private Development Companies.
(4) Australia, Canada and South Africa should be persuaded to start such Development Companies and to accept British people as settlers. We need their land and they need our people.
(5) As every country must look after itself, we should levy a tariff on foreign goods. Our policy must be to make more goods at home and buy less from abroad.
(6) As we are burdened with debt, we must have cheaper money. We must have rising prices. This one thing would set a million people to work in a Great Britain.
(7) We must have legislation that favours employers. To penalise and restrict employers means throwing people out of work. The only people who can give jobs that make a profit are EMPLOYERS.
(8) We should have Private Employment Offices, instead of the present useless and incompetent Labour Exchanges.
(9) We should start schemes of national development that would add to our assets, such as the building of roads, the draining of swamp land and the improvement of harbours.
(10) We should abolish the Department of Overseas Trade and put in it’s place an efficient “Sales Promotion Office” financed and managed by British Manufacturers.
So, there is the CASSON POLICY for what it is worth. It would in two years make jobs for all the employable people.”

No doubt Casson, who passed away in 1951, would also be fascinated to look back at his predictions today. There is little on the list that hasn’t been tried to date and even some suggestions still currently being implemented. Whether we could say any of these individual initiatives has been a particular success is a different matter.

Yet Casson was certainly an optimist – the first article in this particular magazine is entitled “The Pessimists Are Always Wrong”– and maybe this wasn’t entirely misplaced. He would perhaps then be most interested to learn that unemployment has reduced in real terms by approximately 13% since his list was published. They say hindsight is a wonderful thing. Maybe we’ve been doing something right after all.

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