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  • IntroductionMoney Matters—Shaw’s Interrogation of Society’s Social Conscience
  • Audrey Mcnamara (bio) and Nelson O’C. Ritschel (bio)

On 28 September 2015, the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, known to some Shaw scholars for having opened the 2012 International Shaw Society conference in Dublin—as well as for occasional references to Shaw in his speeches—delivered a lecture at New York University School of Law titled “The European Union—Towards a Discourse of Reconnection, Renewal and Hope.” In his lecture, which focused on failures of the EU as well as posited ways forward to serve all Europeans, Higgins repeatedly expressed concern with “the threat to democracy that is posed by increasing global inequality.” He spoke of the trend since 1980 of the widening “gap in income and wealth” in both Europe and the United States, and saw that hard-won programs of the past, such as Britain’s National Health Service, were under threat of eradication. It is, the President argued, resulting in “a growing inequality, an inequality that has implications for health, housing, work, participation, life itself.” It is, he fears, a situation dominated by a progression toward “capitalism without democracy.”1 But far from concluding that the situation is hopeless, Higgins called for an intellectual approach to be defined by scholars and public intellectuals led by the “profoundly ethical intellectual heritage of Europe.”2 This heritage includes Bernard Shaw, who, a century earlier, was also concerned with wholesale inequality and the economic questions of his day—and of the future.

The topic of this issue of SHAW, “Shaw and Money,” is vast, if not nearly limitless, given that Shaw’s long and productive life spanned over nine [End Page 1] decades. A Fabian socialist, he was fascinated by economic issues for most of his adult and professional life. If his sense of economics had a peak, it most likely fell within the four years leading up to the start of the Great War. In his remarkable introduction to The Road to Equality: Ten Unpublished Lectures and Essays by Bernard Shaw (1971), Louis Crompton comments that the “central idea” of his collection of unpublished Shaw lectures “is that social equality means no less than equality of income, that everyone is entitled to an equal share of the national wealth.” He believes Shaw’s 1910 lecture, “The Simple Truth about Socialism,” to be a “pivotal” work in Shaw’s economic considerations—which ultimately were shaped by money, or the lack of it.3

Shaw’s “The Simple Truth about Socialism” was part of the initiatives Beatrice and Sidney Webb implemented in the wake of Beatrice’s Minority Report, written in response to the Majority Report made by the Royal Commission on the Poor Law, a commission on which she had served—and which eventually led to Britain’s National Health Service.4 Webb had felt the Majority Report did not go far enough, and she saw her Minority effort as the way into a crusade combating poverty—which, along the way, could revitalize the Fabian Society by engaging younger members and, perhaps, some of the old Fabian guard. Shaw’s first and early contribution to that crusade was his “Poor Law and Destitution in Ireland” speech, delivered in Dublin in October 1910. In that speech, given under the auspices of the Irish Committee to Promote the Break-up of the Poor Law, Shaw endeavored to appeal to his audience’s “economic sense” and assailed them with the idea that “[p]overty was a crime—a crime, not of the poor, but of the people who allowed them to be poor. Poverty was a crime of society—a preventable crime.”5

The previous year, David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, in Herbert Asquith’s Liberal government, had filed plans for unemployment and what was essentially an Old Age Pension plan. In his Dublin lecture, Shaw asked, “How were they going to deal with their old people? Well, they had already made a beginning. It was entirely right that old age pensions be given to people who worked hard all their lives from the time they were children. They were just as entitled to their pensions as any Cabinet...


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