The 1930s to many were thought of as the “devil’s decade”, where the economic consequence of long term mass unemployment led to social consequences: e. g. idleness, starvation crime etc. In this respect to think that the 1930’s were a depressed era full only of “suffering”, would be an accurate judgement to make. However, on the other hand it could be argued that a vast number of the general population experienced an increased living standard, with longer holidays, shorter working hours and higher real wage. This in turn would lead one to question the accuracy of such a judgement.
It could be argued that the return to gold standard, was a negative economic consequence, which makes this judgement accurate. Since the return to gold standard led to the Pound being over valued the by 10%. This made British export too expensive to compete with the USA and Germany, which in turn led to a decline of over 33% in British export. This is a very important factor, which led to high unemployment. For example, in 1929 1. 4 million where unemployed, but by 1931 2. 9 million people where unemployed – 23 % of the insured workforce.
Furthermore, the suffering of those in the 1930’s is emphasised simply by the fact these statistics of unemployment did not account for people not covered by the insurance scheme, such as the self-employed and agricultural workers. On the other hand it could be argued that the Depression of the 1930’s was not the cause of mass unemployment but simply a catalyst, since the decline of the stable industries had begun well before the 1930’s. in this respect the judgement which of this era is inaccurate. Moreover, it could be argued that this judgement is reductionist and therefore undermines itself.
The concept of the depression is generalised to the whole of the decade, when the effects of the depression only lasted for a small part of the 1930’s. The British recovery from Depression was more rapid, than some historian care to admit. This was partly due to Britain’s poor economic performance during the 1920’s. By 1939 unemployment in Britain had declined sharply to1. 5 million. This is another issue which limits the accuracy of the judgement made. Further limitations are placed on the accuracy of this judgement, by the fact that the Newer industries compensated for the decline of the stable industries to some extent.
The newer industries were better at adapting to economic changes than the older industries. Furthermore, the newer industries depended on the home market. So when the world market collapsed light industries where not affected, as the heavy industries were. The fact that the new industries created their own demand and had no competitors in those respects gave it an advantages over the stable industries. In addition, this indicated that that the workers of the newer industries were virtually immune to the effects of the depression, i. e. mass unemployment, which in this respect proves the inaccuracy of this judgement.
Moreover, The newer industries combined with the old led to an increased output from 12. 5% in 1924 to 25% in 1925 An increase in out put would suggest an increase in demand and therefore an increased opportunity for jobs. Take, for example, the car industry, which increased its workforce from 0. 23 million to 0. 5 million, and electrical engineering from to. 23 million to 0. 33 million. An economy with an increasing opportunity for jobs, as well as an increased total output are not the signs of an economy plunged into a Depression, which in turn serves to weaken the accuracy of the judgement made.
However, it could be said that, the effect that the light industries were largely regional, since the newer industries affected different industries than those hit by the problem of the declining stable industries. Moreover, even though there was some migration from the depressed areas to take advantage of better job opportunities, majority of people in depressed areas could not do so. The people most affect by mass unemployment were likely to be the least mobile, and therefore it could it could not be expected of these people to shift wholesale to area where opportunities lay.
This therefore suggests that a lack of jobs was not the main cause of mass unemployment, but the immobility of those subdued by the economic consequences of the depression. This in turn serves to emphasise the accuracy of this judgement. Furthermore, even if the concept of mobility was plausible for those affect the most my unemployment, there structure of the new industries made it insufficient for the needs of the mass unemployed from the staple industries, which at accounted for 50% of the estimated total figure of unemployment.
However, even if the newer industries could not accommodate the high levels of unemployment located within area of the heavy industries, it at least provided some stimulation for them. Take for example, the steel industry, which showed more capacity for recovery than the other stable industries, which enabled production rose within this industry to rise steadily during the 1930’s. The notion that mass unemployment was not so much structural as self-inflicted makes the accuracy of this judgement questionable.
Since it suggests that the economic depression was not main cause of unemployment , but people’s unwillingness to take up jobs that were available. Benjamin and Kochan argue that the jobs were available but the difference between the pay and the dole was to small to attract worker to them. Unemployment benefits were “on a more generous scale than ever before, or since”, which suggests that the unemployed cold be picky in their job search. This notion is support by figures, which show that the ratio of benefit to wage was 0. 49 during the 1930’s and 0. 7 in 1936. However, Hatton has challenged his argument, by claiming that the proportion of benefit to wage to be 0. 3, rising to the maximum of 0. 41 in 1936. Taking into account that women and young people would be eligible only to lower rates. This therefore suggest that such figures could hardly have been an incentive not to accept whatever work was available. This explanation of high unemployment seems to be less persuasive as the economic structure explanation of mass unemployment, and there for the accuracy of this judgement remands strong.
The fact that the real wage fell slow than prices of goods was a positive economic consequence of the Depression, which the middle class used to its advantage to achieve economic security. This indicates inaccuracy in the judgement made about the 1930’s, since Real wage was higher than prices of goods, which would suggest an increase in living standards. This also indicates the social consequence of affluence amongst the majority, due to the economic growth in domestic sector, which is something that this judgement fails to take into account.
The notion of an increased living standard for the general population is support firstly by the fact that the disposable income of the average family with a fully employed member was twice that of pre war level. Secondly, the decline in the average family size to 2. 1 in the 1930s compared to 3. 0 before, made possible by the wide use of contraceptive measures. It is evident that the majority of the general population experienced an enhanced lifestyle. For example, the improved diet of the population indicated by an increased consumption of dairy products and meat.
Furthermore, an increased use of labour saving devices were indications of an easier life for the majority. Take, for example, vacuum cleaners purchased at an annual rate of 400,000 by 1938. Moreover, by the end of the 1930’s 3 million people owned cars, which was not only the ultimate sign of affluence, but also an indication of the increased mobility of the British people, which in turn signifies , again, an increased living standard for the majority, and serves to indicate the inaccuracy of this judgement.
On the other hand, it could be argued that, any positive social consequences dew to the depression where short lived, since increased affluence came at the price of an increased debt, which could leave an individual worse off in the long run. For example, the increase of mortgages from 0. 55 million in 1928 to 13. 9 million in 1937. Moreover, it could be argued that life on the dole contrasted greatly with the increased affluence of the majority.
The notion that for the those on the dole unemployment” got them slow, with slippered stealth of an unsuspected malignant disease”, which suggests much suffering amongst the population as a result of mass unemployment, in this respect the judgement made on the 1930’s depression seem accurate. The average male worker of the old industries was “a living corpse; a unit of the spectral army of three million lost men”, and whose reduction in wage only served to spread poverty, especially in depressed areas like Liverpool. Where there were over 600,000 slum dwellings, most of which lacked baths or Lavatories.
This, indeed, was a contributing factor to the diseases, which remained rife within the deprived minority of the population, especially tuberculosis. However, it could be argued that the Depression was not the most important causes of a decline in health of the population, but the government’s failure to introduce a health care scheme. This meant that families on a low income could not afford the medical care, which was reflected in the infant morality rate: 42% of live Births in the south and 63% in the south of Wales. Starvation was probably the most disturbing a negative social consequence of the Depression.
An unemployed man’s wife died of pneumonia in 1933, aged 37. The pathologist had no doubt that ” she hand sufficient food ….. she deliberately stinted herself and gave such food to her children…. She sacrificed herself”. This woman’s case signifies the suffering of people during the 1930’s, and therefore in that respect the judgement that has been made is proven to be accurate. On the other hand it could be argues that, the woman’s death saw self inflicted, since the woman had enough food to survive, and there has the Depression was not really the cause of her suffering or death.
In this respect the judgement made is inaccurate. The Depression had a profound negative social consequence on the metal health of many of the unemployed. The unemployed had “nothing to do with their time, nothing to spend ; nothing to do tomorrow, nor the day after. ” This was the type of thinking that often led to psychological effects such as helplessness and lack of self worth, an ultimately a lack of the will to live. However, it could be argued that at least the Cinema offer some type of escape from their lives, even if only temporary, which became very popular in the 1930’s receiving up to 10,000 million visits annually.
The fact that that the judgement made did not take into consideration possible factor that could ease the suffering of the unemployed, makes it in that respect limit in accuracy. However, it could said that popularity of the cinema was not the indication of an improved life, but an indication to the increased suffering of the unemployed that just fuelled their need of a form of escapisms even my means of death or cheap entertainment, i. e. the cinema. .