British perceptions of German post-war industrial relations

By Colin Chamberlain (University of Cambridge)

Some 10,000 steel workers participate in a demonstration to demand a 10 per...
A demonstration in Stuttgart, 11th January 1962.  Picture alliance/AP Images, available at <;

‘Almost idyllic’ – this was the view of one British commentator on the state of post-war industrial relations in West Germany. No one could say the same about British industrial relations. Here, industrial conflict grew inexorably from year to year, forcing governments to expend ever more effort on preserving industrial peace.

Deeply frustrated, successive governments alternated between appeasing trade unionists and threatening them with new legal sanctions in an effort to improve their behaviour, thereby avoiding tackling the fundamental issue of their institutional structure. If the British had only studied the German ‘model’ of industrial relations more closely, they would have understood better the reforms that needed to be made.

Britain’s poor state of industrial relations was a major, if not the major, factor holding back Britain’s economic growth, which was regularly less than half the rate in Germany, not to speak of the chronic inflation and balance of payments problems that only made matters worse. So, how come the British did not take a deeper look at the successful model of German industrial relations and learn any lessons?

Ironically, the British were in control of Germany at the time the trade union movement was re-establishing itself after the war. The Trades Union Congress and the British labour movement offered much goodwill and help to the Germans in their task.

But German trade unionists had very different ideas to the British trade unions on how to go about organising their industrial relations, ideas that the British were to ignore consistently over the post-war period. These included:

    • In Britain, there were hundreds of trade unions, but in Germany, there were only 16 re-established after the war, each representing one or more industries, thereby avoiding the demarcation disputes so common in Britain.
    • Terms and conditions were negotiated on this industry-basis by strong well-funded trade unions, which welcomed the fact that their two or three year long collective agreements were legally enforceable in Germany’s system of industrial courts.
    • Trade unions were not involved in workplace grievances and disputes. These were left to employees and managers meeting together in Germany’s highly successful works councils to resolve such issues informally along with engaging in consultative exercises on working practices and company reorganisations. As a result, German companies did not seek to lay-off staff as British companies did on any fall in demand, but rathet to retrain and reallocate them.

British trade unions pleaded that their very untidy institutional structure with hundreds of competing trade unions was what their members actually wanted and should therefore be outside any government interference. The trade unions jealously guarded their privileges and especially rejected any idea of industry-based unions, legally enforceable collective agreements and works councils.

A heavyweight Royal Commission was appointed, but after three years’ deliberation, it came up with little more than the status quo. It was reluctant to study any ideas emanating from Germany.

While the success of industrial relations in Germany was widely recognised in Britain, there was little understanding about why this was so or indeed much interest in it. The British were deeply conservative about the ‘institutional shape’ of industrial relations and had a fear of putting forward any radical German ideas. Britain was therefore at a big disadvantage as far as creating modern trade unions operating in a modern state.

So, what economic price the failure to sort out the institutional structure of the British trade unions?

Transatlantic Slavery and Abolition: a Pan-European Affair

By Felix Brahm (German Historical Institute London) and Eve Rosenhaft (University of Liverpool)

Slavery Hinterland. Transatlantic Slavery and Continental Europe, 1680–1850 is published by Boydell Press for the Economic History Society’s series ‘People, Markets, Goods: Economies and Societies in History’. SAVE 25% when you order direct from the publisher -offer ends on the 28th June 2018. See below for details.


coverThe history of transatlantic slavery is one of the most active and fruitful fields of international historical research, and an important lesson of the latest work on maritime countries like Britain and France is that there the profits of slavery and indeed abolition ‘trickled down’ to very wide sections of the population and to places well away from the principal slave-trading ports. Recently historians have started to look beyond the familiar Atlantic axis and to apply the same paradigm to the European hinterlands of the triangular trade. That is, they have sought its traces and impacts in territories that were not directly involved (or were relatively minor participants) in the traffic in Africans: the German-speaking countries, Scandinavia, Italy and Central Europe. And they are finding that the slave trade, the plantation economies that it fed, the consequences of its abolition, and not least the questions of moral and political principle that it threw up, were very much a part of the texture of society right across Europe.

In material terms, it is clear that the manufacture of trade goods – the wares with which Europeans paid African traders for the enslaved men, women and children whom they then shipped to the Americas – was an important element of many regional economies. Firearms, iron bars and ironware travelled from Denmark and the Baltic to Western Europe’s slaving ports. Glass beads were exported from Bohemia (the Czech lands), and the higher quality Venetian products attracted Liverpool merchants to set up branch offices in Italy to secure their supply. The Swiss family firm Burckhardt/Bourcard began by supplying cotton cloth for the slave trade and importing slave-produced luxury goods and moved into equipping its own slaving ships. Textile plants in the Wupper Valley in Western Germany and the hand looms of Eastern Prussia provided linens of varying quality for use on the slave plantations, though because they were shipped through English and Dutch ports their German origins have often been obscured. And the trading networks established in the context of the slave economy supported German exporting projects even after the trade was abolished, as German firms continued to trade into territories – Brazil and the Caribbean – where slavery persisted until the late 19th century.

Germans in particular were keen observers of the Atlantic slave economy, and they had their own perspective on international debates about the trade and its abolition. At the beginnings of the trade, the rulers of Brandenburg Prussia had some hopes of buying into it, establishing a slave fort on the Gold Coast between 1682 and 1720. One of the key documents of this episode is the diary of a ship’s barber, Johann Peter Oettinger, who sailed on slaving expeditions. He chose to make no comment about the brutalities that he witnessed and recorded. Characteristically, though, when the diaries were published for German readers 200 years later, they were given a moralising spin; by the 1880s, Germany was at the forefront of the Scramble for Africa, justifying colonisation in the name of suppressing the internal slave trade. Before that, and once the German states were no longer involved in the slave trade, German-speaking scientists and administrators placed themselves in the service of those states that were: Ernst Schimmelmann, whose family had one foot in Hamburg and one in Copenhagen, was a plantation owner and manager of the Swedish state slaving company, but also responsible for the abolition of the Danish slave trade in 1792. And initiatives for the post-abolition exploitation of tropical territories relied on the work of German scientists in service to the Danish state like the botanist Julius von Rohr.

Scholarly attention to the German case is also bringing the Atlantic plantation economies into dialogue with the practices of unfree labour that existed in Central Europe at the same time. Analysis of the conditions of linen production on eastern Prussia’s aristocratic estates indicates that their low production costs helped to keep down the costs of production on slave plantations. And when Germans confronted the moral and legal challenges to slavery that were crystallising into a political movement in Britain and France by the 1790s, they could not escape the implications of abolitionist arguments for the future of their own ‘peculiar institutions’ of serfdom and personal service. This was true of Theresa Huber, the author and journalist who stands for two generations of Germans who engaged in transnational abolitionist networks, and who was equally sharp in her critique of serfdom. And it was true of Prussian administrators who, when challenged by enslaved Africans on German soil to enforce the notion that ‘there are no slaves in Prussia’, could not help asking themselves what that might mean for the process towards reform of feudal institutions.

These issues have only begun to receive greater attention – more studies are needed to gain a clearer understanding of the various links through which continental Europe was connected to the Transatlantic slave business and its abolition.


SAVE 25% when you order direct from the publisher using the offer code BB500 in the box at the checkout. Discount applies to print and eBook editions. Alternatively call Boydell’s distributor, Wiley, on 01243 843 291, and quote the same code. Offer ends on the 28th June 2018. Any queries please email


To contact the authors:
Felix Brahm (;
Eve Rosenhaft (

From VoxEU – Wellbeing inequality in retrospect

Rising trends in GDP per capita are often interpreted as reflecting rising levels of general wellbeing. But GDP per capita is at best a crude proxy for wellbeing, neglecting important qualitative dimensions. 36 more words

via Wellbeing inequality in retrospect — Recent Articles

To elaborate further on the topic, Prof. Leandro de la Escosura has made available several databases on inequality, accessible here, as well as a book on long-term Spanish economic growth, available as open source here


Perpetuating the family name: female inheritance, in-marriage and gender norms

by Duman Bahrami-Rad (Simon Fraser University)

Tartanspartan: Muslim wedding, Lahore, Pakistan — Frank Horvat, 1952. Available on Pinterest <;

Why is it so common for Muslims to marry their cousins (more than 30% of all marriages in the Middle East)? Why, despite explicit injunctions in the Quran to include women in inheritance, do women in the Middle East generally face unequal gender relations, and their labour force participation remain the lowest in the world (less than 20%)?

This study presents a theory, supported by empirical evidence, concerning the historical origins of such marriage and gender norms. It argues that in patrilineal societies that nevertheless mandate female inheritance, cousin marriage becomes a way to preserve property in the male line and prevent fragmentation of land.

In these societies, female inheritance also leads to the seclusion and veiling of women as well as restrictions on their sexual freedom in order to encourage cousin marriages and avoid out-of-wedlock children as potential heirs. The incompatibility of such restrictions with female participation in agriculture has further influenced the historical gender division of labour.

Analyses of data on pre-industrial societies, Italian provinces, and women in Indonesia show that female inheritance, consistent with these hypotheses, is associated with lower female labour participation, greater stress on female virginity before marriage and higher rates of endogamy, consanguinity and arranged marriages.

The study also uses the recent reform of inheritance regulations in India – which greatly enhanced Indian women’s right to inherit property – to provide further evidence of the causal impact of female inheritance. The analysis shows that among women affected by the reform, the rate of cousin marriage is significantly higher, and that of premarital sex significantly lower.

The implications of these findings are important. It is believed that cousin marriage helps create and maintain kinship groups such as tribes and clans, which impair the development of an individualistic social psychology, undermine social trust, large-scale cooperation and democratic institutions, and encourage corruption and conflict.

This study contributes to this literature by highlighting a historical origin of clannish social organisation. It also sheds light on the origins of gender inequality as both a human rights issues and a development issue.

Winning the capital, winning the war: retail investors in the First World War

by Norma Cohen (Queen Mary University of London)


National War Savings CommitteeMcMaster University Libraries, Identifier: 00001792. Available at wikimedia commons

The First World War brought about an upheaval in British investment, forcing savers to repatriate billions of pounds held abroad and attracting new investors among those living far from London, this research finds. The study also points to declining inequality between Britain’s wealthiest classes and the middle class, and rising purchasing power among the lower middle classes.

The research is based on samples from ledgers of investors in successive War Loans. These are lodged in archives at the Bank of England and have been closed for a century. The research covers roughly 6,000 samples from three separate sets of ledgers of investors between 1914 and 1932.

While the First World War is recalled as a period of national sacrifice and suffering, the reality is that war boosted Britain’s output. Sampling from the ledgers points to the extent to which war unleashed the industrial and engineering innovations of British industry, creating and spreading wealth.

Britain needed capital to ensure it could outlast its enemies. As the world’s capital exporter by 1914, the nation imposed increasingly tight measures on investors to ensure capital was used exclusively for war.

While London was home to just over half the capital raised in the first War Loan in 1914, that had fallen to just under 10% of capital raised in the years after. In contrast, the North East, North West and Scotland – home to the mining, engineering and shipbuilding industries – provided 60% of the capital by 1932, up from a quarter of the total raised by the first War Loan.

The concentration of investor occupations also points to profound social changes fostered by war. Men describing themselves as ‘gentleman’ or ‘esquire’ – titles accorded those wealthy enough to live on investment returns – accounted for 55% of retail investors for the first issue of War Loan. By the post-war years, these were 37% of male investors.

In contrast, skilled labourers – blacksmiths, coal miners and railway signalmen among others– were 9.0% of male retail investors by the after-war years, up from 4.9% in the first sample.

Suppliers of war-related goods may not have been the main beneficiaries of newly-created wealth. The sample includes large investments by those supplying consumer goods sought by households made better off by higher wages, steady work and falling unemployment during the war.

During and after the war, these sectors were accused of ‘profiteering’, sparking national indignation. Nearly a quarter of investors in 5% War Loan listing their occupations as ‘manufacturer’ were producing boots and leather goods, a sector singled out during the war for excess profits. Manufacturers in the final sample produced mineral water, worsteds, jam and bread.

My findings show that War Loan was widely held by households likely to have had relatively modest wealth; while the largest concentration of capital remained in the hands of relatively few, larger numbers had a small stake in the fate of the War Loans.

In the post-war years, over half of male retail investors held £500 or less. This may help to explain why efforts to pay for war by taxing wealth as well as income – a debate that echoes today – proved so politically challenging. The rentier class on whom additional taxation would have been levied may have been more of a political construct by 1932 than an actual presence.



by Wessel Vermeulen (Newcastle University), Gunes Gokmen (New Economic School, Moscow), and Pierre-Louis Vézina (King’s College London)



The rise and fall of empires over the last 5,000 years – from the Afsharid Dynasty to the British Empire – still influences world trade patterns today.

Their new data on the rise and fall of 140 empires across the world over the last 5,000 years reveals that present-day trade flows between countries that were once in a common empire are on average 70% larger than that between unrelated countries.

Empires facilitated trade within their controlled territories by building and securing trade and migration routes, and by imposing common languages, religions and legal systems. This led to the accumulation of ‘trading capital’, which outlives empires and shapes today’s trade patterns.

Throughout history, many empires were essentially created to facilitate trade; the Athenian Empire was established to secure food trade between Athens and Crimea.

Imperial formal and informal institutions as well as physical infrastructure might have played a role in the growth of trading capital and thus in shaping today’s trade patterns. For example:

  • Local institutions that emerged to support inter-ethnic medieval trade have resulted in a sustained legacy of ethnic tolerance in South Asian port towns.
  • Historical Habsburg-Empire regions have higher current trust and lower corruption than neighbouring regions, probably due to the empire’s well-respected administration, and countries of the empire trade significantly more with one another than with other neighbours.
  • Long-established commercial diasporas such as the Gujaratis in the British Empire still play an important role in world trade.

A novel dataset on countries’ imperial history going back 5,000 years makes it possible to measure this accumulated trading capital for all countries around the world and over the entire history of civilisations. In turn, it makes it possible to estimate its effect on trade today.

Imports from countries that were once in a common empire are on average 70% larger. The estimation in this study accounts for other important factors such as distance, shared borders, common legal systems, and genetic and linguistic distances. The effect of trading capital is related to but not entirely explained by these factors.

Some empires matter more than others. Trading capital builds up in times of common empire and depreciates slowly at other times. Hence, longer-lasting and recent empires matter most.

Trade is a major driver of economic growth without which isolated countries find it much harder to prosper. These results suggest that trading capital plays a role in reducing the trade costs that inhibit international trade.

While infrastructure such as roads or railways do promote trade, we know that transport costs do not account for most of the trade costs associated with borders and distance. Instead, cultural and informational frictions are the main culprits. Trading capital accumulated during empires could thus play an important role in making trade happen today.

An Economic History of Europe: Knowledge, Institutions and Growth, 600 to the Present – 2nd Edition Cambridge University Press, 2015

by Paul Sharp (University of Southern Denmark)

The purchase price of this book is discounted by 20 per cent until the 7th of June if bought online here

p5An Economic History of Europe by Karl Gunnar Persson and Paul Sharp is a textbook on European economic history, designed to be taught over one semester, and aimed mostly at economics undergraduates. The second edition is a substantial revision of the first from 2010 with updates to reflect changes since the global financial crisis as well as the latest research. Although it is primarily aimed at students, it is also accessible to wider audiences looking for an easy introduction to the story of European economic development.

Economic history is first defined as the study of how mankind has used resources to create goods and services to meet human needs over time. As the subtitle suggests, the efficiency with which this is done depends on knowledge, i.e. the ability to produce more efficiently based on education and experience and embodied in technology, and institutions, which can both promote and obstruct the efficient use of resources. Thirteen propositions are laid out in the introductory chapter, the first of which sets the scene, proposing that economies that are richly endowed with resources are not necessarily rich but that economies which use resources efficiently are almost always rich irrespective of their resource endowment. Persson and Sharp then give a definition of Europe, noting (as illustrated in maps 1.1-1.3) that there has been a surprising continuity of the economic region of Europe from Roman times, through the Carolingian Empire of the ninth century, and to the present day European Union. It is argued that this is due to trade.


The subsequent chapters argue that the slow record of economic growth which lasted for some centuries after the collapse of the Roman Empire and until the Industrial Revolution was based on a conflict between rival ‘Smithian’ and ‘Malthusian’ forces, as illustrated in figure 4.1. The latter describes the tendency of increases in economic productivity to be eaten away by population growth due to the constraints of an approximately fixed supply of land in a largely agricultural economy. However, as important institutions such as political order, money and markets re-established themselves in medieval Europe, increased population and urbanization led to division of labour, or specialization, promoting a slow growth of welfare based on skill perfection and learning by doing, giving slow technological progress. It was only with the birth of science that the pace of innovation speeded up sufficiently to allow for the demographic transition.


Some countries moved to modern economic growth faster than others, however, and much of the reason for this is attributed to differences between institutions. Among copious examples of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ institutions, it is emphasized that the length of time an institution has been present is not necessarily related to its benefits for economic performance more generally: bad institutions can linger due to the interests of a small, powerful minority. Money and banks get a chapter of their own. Their importance for a well-functioning economy is explored, although the risk involved with the use of fractional reserves (by which banks only have in reserve a fraction of their liabilities in terms of deposits) is also acknowledged, with periodic banking crises, such as during the recent Global Financial Crisis thus somewhat inevitable.

A major theme, with considerable relevance given the climate of today, is the importance of openness. This might be in terms of trade or ideas, although the two are often interrelated. It was fast technology transfer with the opening of world economies after 1850 that led to a process of economic convergence between countries which continues until today, although with setbacks during periods of protectionism and ‘globalization backlash’ in the 1930s in particular. The possibility of such catch up relies, however, on having an appropriate educational and institutional infrastructure. Moreover, it is also acknowledged that although trade will bring net gains, there will be winners and losers, and often during bad times, small groups lobby successfully for protectionist policies.

The remainder of the book examines such diverse themes as the choice of monetary policy regime (fixed versus flexible exchange rates) from the nineteenth century until today, arguing that widespread democracy seems to be difficult to reconcile with a fixed exchange rate policy because such a policy constrains domestic economic policy options. There is a discussion of the recent troubles within the Eurozone. The emergence and working of the Welfare State and the ultimate failure of the Eastern European planned economies are also touched on in the context of the death of the nineteenth century liberal economy after the Great Depression. It is speculated that world income inequality has probably peaked, and (with the rise of large developing countries such as China and India) will most likely now begin to decline, as more nations get the institutional infrastructure needed for technology transfer. Finally, the challenges of globalization are taken up.


Karl Gunnar Persson sadly passed away in 2016, but his former PhD student Paul Sharp is working on a third edition of the textbook.

To contact the author:

The Deindustrialized World

by Andrew Perchard (University of Stirling), Lachlan MacKinnon (St Mary’s University – Nova Scotia), and Steven High (Concordia University – Montreal)


9780774834957fc-71269-800x600Deindustrialisation has ruptured the lives of tens of millions of working class lives in the latter half of the twentieth century and into the twenty first from the Rustbelt of North America to the coal and steel towns of north eastern China. Between 1969 and 1976, an estimated 22.3m jobs were lost in the US alone, with some 100,000 manufacturing plants closed between 1963 and 1982 (Bluestone and Harrison, 1982: 7; High, 2003: 93). In the 1990s, an estimated 30m workers were left unemployed by the collapse of industry in north eastern China, with the country’s steel province, Hebei, expected to lose 60 per cent of its steel companies by 2020 (Financial Times, 28 March 2016). These job losses represent a significant disruption in the lives of workers and in the fabric of communities from which capital vacates, but they are not the whole story. Industrial work, the social relationships to which it has contributed, and the cultures that emerge alongside are profoundly world-making. Plant closures, and the associated lost jobs, shatter all of these types of connections – not simply the economical.

These, arguably more intangible legacies of industrial closures, are often lost in layoff numbers or within a literature that talks about the transformation of economies or Schumpeterian waves of creative destruction. In the globalized world, with corporations shifting production to non-union, low-paying areas of the global South, displaced workers are sometimes framed as greedy or uncompetitive. What right do workers in Canada, the United States, or Western Europe have to these jobs or their spin-offs, especially when they contribute to the development of deeply impoverished areas goes the neoliberal line. In this progressive economic narrative, these casualities are a necessary corollary of growth; as the authors of an International Monetary Fund paper put in 1997 (Rowthorn and Ramaswamy): “Deindustrialization is not a negative phenomenon, but a natural consequence of further growth in advanced economies.” It is commonly supported by reified figures on employment transitions.  Besides, industries are polluting and dehumanizing and so have no place in our post-industrial and gentrifying cities. Those areas that have failed to make the transition have frequently been  peripherialised, with residents then demonised in the media and subjected to further punitive policy measures.

Most recently this anger, after decades of neglect, has been manipulated and misrepresented in debates around the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency and the Brexit vote, with the irony that both movements have been dominated by elite populists. In all of this, complacency to the plight of post-industrial working class communities has been marked. The Deindustrialized World (eds. High, MacKinnon and Perchard, UBC Press, 2017) responds to this historical moment by excavating the profound impact of deindustrialization on the lives of working people but also the wider ramifications of these structural economic, political, and cultural changes. Many will argue that total manufacturing numbers do not bear out the thesis of precipitous decline; but, for all of the increases in productive capacity, the types of jobs that are now available are oftentimes more precarious and require less skill than did those of yesteryear. In the words of one Scottish steelworker coming to terms with his redundancy:  ‘How do you tell fifty year old steelworkers to sell tartan scarves to Americans?’ Such arguments also miss the often-profound regional, local, and personal impact of these changes. The book demands that we go beyond national aggregation. In some cases, it has been accompanied by further capital flight and the collapse of civic infrastructure, leaving communities to deal with the legacies of multiple deprivation, ill-health and contaminated air and water, such as in Flint, Michigan.

Arising out of the ‘Deindustrialization and Its Aftermath’ conference in Montreal in 2014, this collection – scaling up our analysis from deindustrializing bodies to concerns of political economy – seeks to capture the complex cultural, environmental and social legacy of deindustrialisation (and industrialisation) for communities and individuals in Australia, Canada, France, the UK and US.  The fifteen essays demonstrate the different experiences and responses of those affected by industrial closures.  Chapters by Jackie Clarke and Sylvie Contrepois (France), Cathy Stanton (US), and Lucy Taksa (Australia) explore questions over the contested memory of industrial identities, places and spaces.   While Arthur McIvor (UK), Lachlan MacKinnon and Robert Storey (Canada) consider the environmental and health legacies of such industries.  In their urban studies of Australia, Canada and the US, Tracy Neumann, Andrew Hurley and Seamus O’ Hanlon discuss the tensions around regeneration and gentrification with urban studies.  While chapters by Steven High (Canada) and Andrew Perchard (Scotland), include discussions around deindustrialisation in association with geographical peripheralization, racial exclusion, and regional policy failures.  Andy Clark (Scotland), and Jackie Clarke (France), explore the role of female workers in resisting closures and maintaining an industrial legacy.  There is a confluence between many of these issues and discussions across the collection. The editors and Jim Phillips (Scotland) consider these questions within the context of the notion of ‘moral economy’ and the viewing of plants as collective resources.  Crucially, in amongst these voices seeking to make sense of what has happened to their lives and communities, are those of children living with the aftermath of deindustrialisation, alongside those of the adults shaped by an industrial culture and now left without it.


To contact the authors:

Andrew Perchard:, @Aluminiumville

Lachlan MacKinnon:, @LachlanMacKinn

Steven High:

Managing the Economy, Managing the People: narratives of economic life in Britain from Beveridge to Brexit

by Jim Tomlinson (University of Glasgow)


book‘It’s the economy stupid’, like most clichés, both reveals and conceals important truths. The slogan suggests a hugely important truth about the post-1945 politics of the advanced democracies such as Britain: that economic  issues have been crucial to government strategies and political arguments. What the cliché conceals is the need to examine what is understood by ‘the economy’, a term which has no fixed meaning, and has been constantly re-worked over the years. Starting from those two points, this book provides a distinctive new account of British economic life since the 1940s, focussing upon how successive governments, in seeking to manage the economy, have sought simultaneously to ‘manage the people’: to try and manage popular understanding of economic issues.

The first half the book analyses the development of the major narratives from the 1940s onwards. This  covers the notion of ‘austerity’ and its particular meaning in the 1940s; the rise of a narrative of ‘economic decline’ from the late 1950s, and the subsequent attempts to ‘modernize’ the economy; the attempts to ‘roll back the state’ from the 1970s; the impact of ideas of ‘globalization’ in the 1900s; and, finally, the way the crisis of 2008/9 onwards was constructed as a problem of ‘debts and deficits’. The second part focuses in on four key issues in attempts to ‘manage the people’: productivity, the balance of payments, inflation and unemployment. It shows how in each case  governments sought to get the populace to understand these issues in a particular light, and shaped strategies to that end.

One conclusion of the book is the grounding of most representations of key economic problems of the post-war period in Britain as an industrial economy, and how de-industrialization undermines this representation.  Unemployment, from its origins in the late-Victorian period, was largely about the malfunctioning of  industrial (and male) labour markets. De-industrialization, accompanied by the proliferation of precarious work, including much classified as ‘self-employment’, radically challenges our understanding of  this problem, however much it remains the case that for the great bulk of the population selling their labour is key to their economic prosperity.

The concern with productivity was likewise grounded in the industrial sector. But outside the marketed services, in non-marketed provision like education, health and care, the problems of conceptualising, let alone measuring, productivity are immense. In a world where personal services of various kinds are becoming ever more important, traditional notions of productivity need a radical re-think.

Less obviously, the notion of a national rate of inflation, such as the Cost of Living Index and later the RPI, was grounded in attempts to measure the real wages of the industrial working class. With the value of housing as key underpinning for consumption, and the ‘financialization’ of the economy, this traditional notion of inflation, measuring the cost of a basket of consumables against nominal wages, has been undermined. Asset, especially housing, prices matter much more to many wage earners, whilst the value of financial assets is also important to increasing numbers of people as the population ages.

Finally, the decline of concern with the balance of payments is linked to the rise in the relative importance of financial flows, making  the manufacturing balance or the current account less pertinent. For many years now Britain’s external payments have relied on the rates of return on overseas assets, exceeding those on domestic assets held by foreigners. We are a very long way indeed from 1940s stories of ‘England’s bread hangs by Lancashire’s thread’.

De-industrialization has not only undercut the coherence and relevance of the four standard economic policy problems of the post-war years, but has also destroyed the primary audience that most post-war economic propaganda was aimed at: the industrial working class. While other audiences were not entirely neglected, it was the worker (usually the male worker), who was the prime target of the narratives and whose understandings and behaviour were seen as the key to the projected solutions.

A recurrent anxiety of this propaganda was the receptivity of those workers to its messages. This anxiety helps to explain much of the ‘simplified’ language of this propaganda, as well as its patterns of distribution. More fundamentally, this anxiety rested upon uncertainties about what kind of arguments would a working-class audience find congenial; there was perennial debate about the efficacy of appeals to individual as opposed to the ‘national’ interest. Above all, there was a moral message of distributive justice which infused much of the propaganda, ultimately grounded in the belief that working class culture had within it ingrained notions of  ‘fairness’ that had to be appealed to.

While ethical appeals continued to inform economic propaganda into the twenty-first century, the fragmentation of the old audience accelerated. In addition, given the upward lurch in inequality in the 1980s, and the following period of continuing growth of incomes right at the top of the distribution, appeals to ‘fairness’ have become much more difficult to make credible. Strikingly, concerns about inequality emerged across the political spectrum after the 2007/8 financial crisis, at the same time as the narrative of debts, deficits and austerity had driven post-crisis policies that increased  inequality. Widespread talk of ‘reducing inequality’, whilst having obvious political appeal, especially after Brexit, would seem to be largely rhetorical.


Managing the Economy, Managing the People: narratives of economic life in Britain from Beveridge to Brexit is edited by Oxford University Press, 2017,  ISBN 978-019-878609-2

To contact the author:

Land reform and agrarian conflict in 1930s Spain

Jordi Domènech (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid) and Francisco Herreros (Institute of Policies and Public Goods, Spanish Higher Scientific Council)

Government intervention in land markets is always fraught with potential problems. Intervention generates clearly demarcated groups of winners and losers as land is the main asset owned by households in predominantly agrarian contexts. Consequently, intervention can lead to large, generally welfare-reducing changes in the behaviour of the main groups affected by reform, and to policies being poorly targeted towards potential beneficiaries.

In this paper (available here), we analyse the impact of tenancy reform in the early 1930s on Spanish land markets. Adapting general laws to local and regional variation in land tenure patterns and heterogeneity in rural contracts was one of the problems of agricultural policies in 1930s Spain. In the case of Catalonia in the 1930s, the interest of the case lies in the adaptation of a centralized tenancy reform, aimed at fixed-rent contracts, to sharecropping contracts that were predominant in Catalan agriculture. This was more typically the case of sharecropping contracts on vineyards, the case of customary sharecropping contract (rabassa morta), subject to various legal changes in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It is considered that the 1930s culminated a period of conflicts between the so called rabassaires (sharecroppers under rabassa morta contracts) and owners of land.

The divisions between owners of land and tenants was one of the central cleavages of Catalonia in the 20th century. This was so even in an area that had seen substantial industrialization. In the early 1920s, work started on a Catalan law of rural contracts, aimed especially at sharecroppers. A law, passed on the 21st March 1934, allowed the re-negotiation of existing rural contracts and prohibited the eviction of tenants who had been less than 6 years under the same contract. More importantly, it opened the door to forced sales of land to long-term tenants. Such legislative changes posed a threat to the status quo and the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled the law was unconstitutional.

The comparative literature on the impacts of land reforms argues that land reform, in this case tenancy reform, can in fact change agrarian structures. When property rights are threatened, landowners react by selling land or interrupting existing tenancy contracts, mechanizing and hiring labourers. Agrarian structure is therefore endogenous to existing threats to property rights. The extent of insecurity in property rights in 1930s Catalonia can be seen in the wave of litigation over sharecropping contracts. Over 30,000 contracts were revised in the courts in late 1931 and 1932 which provoked satirical cartoons (Figure 01).

Figure 1. Revisions and the share of the harvest. Source: L’Esquella de la Torratxa, 2nd August 1932, p. 11.
Translation: The rabaissaire question: Peasant: You sweat by coming here to claim your part of the harvest, you would be sweating more if you were to grow it by yourself.

The first wave of petitions to revise contracts led overwhelmingly to most petitions being nullified by the courts. This was most pronounced in the Spanish Supreme Court which ruled against the sharecropper in most of the around 30,000 petitions of contract revision. Nonetheless, sharecroppers were protected by the Catalan autonomous government. The political context in which the Catalan government operated became even more charged in October 1934. That month, with signs that the Centre-Right government was moving towards more reactionary positions, the Generalitat participated in a rebellion orchestrated by the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and Left Republicans. It is in this context of suspension of civil liberties that landowners now had a freer hand to evict unruly peasants. The fact that some sharecroppers did not surrender their harvest meant they could be evicted straight away according to the new rules set by the new military governor of Catalonia.

We use the number of cases of completed and initiated tenant evictions from October 1934 to around mid -1935 as the main dependent variable in the paper. Data were collected from a report produced by the main Catalan tenant union, Unió de Rabassaires (Rabassaires’ Union), published in late 1935 to publicize and denounce tenant evictions or attempts of evicting tenants.

Combining the spatial analysis of eviction cases with individual information on evictors and evicted, we can be reasonably confident about several facts around evictions and terminated contracts in 1930s Catalonia. Our data show that that rabassa morta legacies were not the main determinant of evictions. About 6 per cent of terminated contracts were open ended rabassa morta contracts (arbitrarily set at 150 years in the graph). About 12 per cent of evictions were linked to contracts longer than 50 years, which were probably oral contracts (since Spanish legislation had given a maximum of 50 years). Figure 2 gives the contracts lengths of terminated and threatened contracts.

Untitled 2
Figure 2. Histogram of contract lengths. Source: Own elaboration from Unió de Rabassaires, Els desnonaments rústics.

The spatial distribution of evictions is also consistent with the lack of historical legacies of conflict. Evictions were not more common in historical rabassa morta areas, nor were they typical of areas with a larger share of land planted with vines.

Our study provides a substantial revision of claims by unions or historians about very high levels of conflict in the Catalan countryside during the Second Republic. In many cases, there had a long process of adaptation and fine-tuning of contractual forms to crops and soil and climatic conditions which increased the costs of altering existing institutional arrangements.

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