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Nigel Harris

An economist’s world

(Summer 1961)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.5, Summer 1961, p.29.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

British Industry
J.H. Dunning and C.J. Thomas
Hutchinson. 30s.

Growth in the British Economy
PEP Report
Allen and Unwin. 30s.

The first of these two books is a good introduction to the second. It provides a brief and concise resume of economic developments in this country since 1914, documenting the change over from heavy to light-medium industry, the decline of the traditional manual-worker and the increase in black-coated. In addition, there is some account of the development of power resources, of innovation, intervention by the State, changes in the structure of ownership, and external economic relations. The aim is modest, the exposition cautious and precise, supported by selected statistics. For trade-unionists, there are tables that might be of interest; for those unversed, the book is a fair introduction although expensively priced. The second takes up where the first leaves off, and plunges much more deeply into the morass of economic practice. Here is the world analysed in terms of production: a viewpoint shared by managerial Tories and right-wing Labour. The text is direct and clear, backed up by relatively lavish statistical material, and covers the complex of problems surrounding the question of economic growth. At the end, a series of recommendations roughly pursue a moderate Economist line.

It would take too long to pursue all the elaborately worked-out arguments that are presented – suffice it to note how sharply the political wings are divided from this, the predominant Centre. PEP defends the general level of taxation, the social services, and, by implication, the nationalised industries; they call for national planned co-ordination and a wages policy; they call for more expenditure on education and capital investment in welfare (to increase production potential and cut losses). Here, the, conclusions coincide with the demands of the traditional Left and repudiate the bad old Tory past. On the other hand, they are intent on ensuring that all costs should be born by ‘consumption’ – they quote West Germany, France and the US as prototype growth economies where cost-relationships are more ‘correct’. They deplore the failure of nationalised industries to revert to pre-war pricing relationships between industry and consumer, and the continued (partial and declining) financing of the social services out of general progressive taxation. They suggest that, in this way, labour is receiving numerous hidden subsidies, making it cheaper to industry than it would otherwise be, and increasing the burden of taxation on industry. Their suggestion would throw the whole weight of distributing income on to the factory floor – and incidentally, give a powerful argument for wage increases all round when the Health charges rise. As PEP well knows, income distribution through direct industrial bargaining is a much messier business (and omits all kinds of groups, witness the OAPs), and it is unlikely that the unions will recoup on the factory floor what they lose in higher fares, higher coal and electricity prices, increased health charges etc. ...

This is, then, under the sophisticated ‘progressive’ gloss, a very class conscious book. Perhaps the authors are partially right, and the changes in the distribution of purchasing power since 1938 are seriously curtailing economic growth while stimulating inflation and balance of payments crises – if they are, it is a serious indictment of our ‘reformed’ British capitalism.

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Last updated: 20 February 2010