A Commentary (Jan 1932)
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[ 403 A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 11 (Jan 1932) 268-75 For the last few months we have been peppered with a succession of little books on financial and economic problems; little books aimed at that large part of the “reading public” which normally is not only ignorant of such matters, but prefers to remain so. I myself am normally ignorant as anybody , with the normal disinclination to take up any subject which I did not study in my youth. But the repeated impact of these small books upon the eye cannot fail to make an impression upon the conscience. Of old it seemed that the economists preferred to discuss their mysteries among themselves, and in two-volume works priced from fifteen to thirty shillings; and that was a happy age for the man who desired to know nothing of their subject. But now economists issue into the market-place to harangue and convert the people; they almost buttonhole you, by publishing these modest volumes which seem to say “it is now your duty to learn what’s what in these deep matters; I am just the book to make it all clear even to your intelligence , written down exactly to your level; and the urgency is so great, that you cannot pretend that the price is beyond your means.” But the conscience which forces us to read one, compels us to go on and read the rest; and in the end the voice of conscience seems to me almost a Siren voice, coaxing one to be fair-minded and “hear the other side.” And there are not two sides, but a great many. Having entered upon such a course of education, however, we can only go on; and from time to time draw up a balance of convictions and doubts. Among the literature of the subject which I have examined lately are Can Governments Cure Unemployment? by Sir Norman Angell and Harold Wright (Dent: 3s. 6d.); Poverty in Plenty by J. A. Hobson (Allen & Unwin: 2s. 6d.); Money and Prices by Augustus Baker (Dent: 6s.); and This Unemployment by the Rev. V. A. Demant (Student Christian Movement: 4s.). None of these books would, I believe, be considered quite orthodox, but they differ among themselves in kind and degree of unorthodoxy. Among these, Sir Norman Angell and Mr. Wright appear to be, if not wholly orthodox, at least, in the present state of affairs, the most conservative .1 For the first conviction that the beginner acquires is that the troubles Essays, Reviews, and Commentaries: 1932 404 ] from which we suffer are very deep-seated indeed, and of very long heredity ; and such opinions are held even by some who could not be called “mediaevalists.”2 We are not interested in anything that appears to promise merely temporary alleviation, however reasonable in themselves for the moment may be the measures suggested. The remedy which we suggest for this condition (say Sir Norman and Mr. Wright) is a governmental control of marketing operations; the adaptation and co-ordination of industry under the direction of the State; a National Plan, involving co-operation between a series of interlocking industries to supply the ascertainable needs of the community, scientific marketing, the education of the consumer by advertisement, and the better organization of labour.3 [140] Perhaps it is a phrase like “National Plan” which first arouses the suspicion of the ignoramus; but the whole sentence is as disappointing as the Mosley Plan or any of the nostrums of the moment offered by any of the politicians ,whetherinofficeorout.4 WehaveseensomanyBoards,Commissions and Conferences already; and the authors of this book seem to hope much from the “co-operation of Capitalism and Socialism,” whilst we suspect that it is partly because of this “co-operation between Capitalism and Socialism” which has been going on for a generation, that we are in the present pass. Sir Norman Angell and Mr. Wright, one suspects sadly, are merely Mensheviks of the London School of Economics pattern.5 It is already a relief to turn to Mr. J. A. Hobson. For Mr. Hobson, whatever we may think of his proposals, writes with a warmth of feeling appropriate to the subject, and without which any writing on this subject is apt to appear complacent. I know the name of Mr. Hobson as the author of serious economic works; I have no knowledge of his standing in academic circles.6 But I liked this book; and though it has a Fabian...