ECONOMIC PROGRESS IN BRITAIN IN THE 1920s: A REAPPRAISAL

Date01 June 1967
Publication Date01 June 1967
AuthorNeil K. Buxton
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9485.1967.tb00765.x
ECONOMIC PROGRESS IN BRITAIN IN THE
1920s:
A REAPPRAISAL
NEIL
K.
BUXTON
IN
a
recently published paper' in this Journal, Dr. Aldcroft has gone
to great lengths to present the
1920s
as
a
'
watershed
'
in the industrial
history of this country. Indeed, he goes much further by claiming
that although
'
certain industries were contracting
'
and
although
'
certainly there were blackspots in the economy
',
nonetheless this
decade
'
ranks as one of the most buoyant periods in our recent
his-
tory'.' This somewhat startling conclusion can be reached only by
assuming, as Dr. Aldcroft apparently does, that increases in industrial
production acted as a panacea for the chronic and well-known ail-
ments which were characteristic of the British economy during the
1920s.
Even if, however, one were prepared to discount such factors
as unemployment, declining staple industries and the rapid relative
decline in the exports
of
this country?
a
closer examination
of
the
remaining indicators of growth would still not permit
an
interpretation
of the
1920s
such as that presented by Dr. Aldcroft. Increasing indus-
trial production, although a necessary condition of growth, is by no
means synonymous with
'
real economic progress
'.
The contention of this paper is, then, that Dr. Aldcroft has, to some
extent, misinterpreted the nature of the evidence relating
to
economic
growth in the
1920s.
In consequence, several of the major conclusions
which emerge from his analysis are open to serious question. First,
the rate of growth of indus~al production in this country during the
1920s
does
riot
compare favourably with that achieved by Western
Europe. This is true certainly of the decade of the
1920s
itself, and
even
of
the years
1913-29,
the period to which most of Dr. Aldcroft's
evidence relates. Second, the allegation that there occurred an accelera-
tion in the rate
of
growth
of
national product
of
this country during
the
1920s
(p.
304)
is without foundation. On the contrary there would
appear to have been a distinct retardation in the rate
of
growth dur-
ing the decade. Third, the evidence would tend
to
refute the claim
that an acceleration in real income per head was evident in the
1920s.
Fourth, it is highly misleading to suggest that growth rates in the
D.
H.
Aldcroft.
Economic
Progress
in Britain in
the
1920s.
S.J.P.E..
Vol.
XIII,
No.
3,
1966;
pp.
297-316.
Ibid.,
pp.
315-316.
A.
E.
Kahn,
Great
Brifain
in
the
World
Economy
(New
York,
1946).
pp.
132-133.

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