Montréal,  25 sept. – 8 oct. 1999
Numéro 46
  (page 6)
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 by Ralph Maddocks
          When I came to Canada over forty-two years ago, one of the major factors contributing to my decision was the naive belief that I was leaving a highly socialized country with a confiscatory tax system. Why, I wondered, had Britain become such a collectivist state? 
          Approaching my majority during the post-war years I had been present at the election of Britain’s first post war Socialist (Labour) government. My family was divided – politically at least – between one uncle who held conservative views and other uncles whose belief in the ability of socialism to resolve all problems was quite touching; and very surprising in view of their intelligence.  
          Growing up during those pre-war years, I had of course seen some of the effects of the depression, the long lines of shabbily dressed men waiting to be hired outside the local cotton mills, the queues at the Labour Exchange for the hand out (dole) provided by the government, the generally poor dress and state of health of many of the children with whom I went to school. Bread and jam and tea in a jam jar represented a daily feast for many of my less fortunate schoolmates. The life expectancy of a boy born in the England of 1930 was just 58.7 years.
Back in those days... 
          The government health scheme in the 1930's did not provide for wives and mothers, except in childbirth. Children between the ages of one and five were left out completely. Those of school age were inspected, but seldom treated, by the school medical and dental service. Thus, of the adult population, only those earning a wage were included in the national health insurance system. The unemployed, all dependents and all independent workers were excluded from the system. By 1936 just over half of the population over the age of 14 were covered by the scheme. Medical treatment was available to those on public assistance as was treatment for tuberculosis, venereal disease and insanity. Charities of course flourished, many in conjunction with the state which provided money to the volunteers working with, say, unmarried mothers. In 1937 there were 900 charities soliciting funds, about half of the monies raised being for hospitals. 
          It was estimated at that time that some two million families (nearly a fifth of all families) had no margin for saving, another six million families had less than £100 ($400) in savings, or in furniture and property which could be realized by selling it. The remaining four million families with a net worth of more than £100 ranged from the comfortable middle classes to the very wealthy. This meant that two thirds of all UK families were living close to destitution. Extra expense such as clothes or shoes required a loan. Pawnbrokers were accommodating one in three families, and it was in the thirties that the « Clothing Club » made its first appearance where one paid so much a week for a « check » which could be used to buy clothes at designated stores. Similarly, the poor were exploited by the industrial life insurance companies whose agents (the famous Man from the Pru among them) collected a shilling ($0.20) or two a week from even the poorest of families. These schemes were uneconomical and it was estimated that they took in £60 millions ($240 millions) a year but paid back only half that sum, after allowing for 35% in overhead costs.  
          As in present times, lotteries were promoted as a kind of « investment », although not by the government, and by 1936 some seven million people were contributing an estimated £800 000 ($3.2 million) each week to the football (soccer) pools. A contribution made in the hope that their particular selection of eight drawn games from some forty matches would make them rich. If my memory is correct, the first prize for achieving this near miracle was £75 000 (about $300 000 Cdn. at that time), a not inconsiderable sum even today. 
 « When you are unemployed for years, living in substandard housing, ailing and ineligible for health care and unable to pay for it, it is probably easy to believe the siren songs of those who promise you a better life. »
          In the early part of this century the USA had a similar composition, with 2% of Americans controlling 60% of the wealth and half the nation living in poverty yet we did not see socialism take over to the extent that it has in England or Europe. 
          People like A.V. Dicey who defined collectivism as « faith in the benefit to be derived by the mass of the people from the action or intervention of the state » believed that collectivism began as early as 1865. Others believe that it really began during and after the First World War. Certainly, many new government ministries came into being at that time; Transport, Health, Labour and Pensions, apart from new creations such as the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. In 1914, all grades of the UK civil service (administrative, technical, executive and clerical) had amounted to 57 000 persons. By 1930, they had reached 120 000. Within these totals, the administrative class went from 1077 in 1914 to 1708 in 1930 and the number of typists and writing assistants went from 3000 to 14 000 in that same period. The population increased by only about 10% during that same period. 
Socialism travels 
          Collectivism was growing in ways that seem not to have been very apparent at the time. The government was beginning to intervene in matters such as employment conditions, housing, industrial hygiene and even the daily bread. The status of the unemployed man, as unemployed, became his most important asset for survival. There was great hope that the state could help to satisfy the needs of the individual, and by promoting social equality would complete the individual’s political liberty. The Representation of the People Act of 1918 had granted the right to vote to all men over the age of twenty-one, all except for peers of the realm, lunatics and felons. A woman over the age of thirty could vote too, provided that she or her husband owned or occupied land or premises valued at over £5 ($20) a year.  
          During the First World War, the idea of equality had been promoted by food rationing, since everyone, in palace or cottage, had been treated alike. This same theme would again become dominant and reinforce similar expectations during the second World War. In reality, food availability and distribution were not as equal as the government would have liked us to believe. 
          There were other factors at work though. David Lloyd George whose passion for getting things done had, after he became Prime Minister in 1916, accelerated the process of increasing the power of the state. Methods such as Orders in Council, Ministers' orders, decrees and regulations were used regularly to sidestep the legislative power of Parliament. Methods which continue to be exploited by prime ministers in so-called parliamentary democracies to this present day. 
          Many industries had been under tight government control during the war and so it was not unreasonable for the electorate to assume that this control would continue. There were calls for nationalization of the so-called « inseparable Triad », coal, transport and electricity; all of which was thought to be inevitable and by 1919 seemed imminent to everyone. One finds that, in the 1918 election, even people like Winston Churchill were advocating nationalization of the railways. Élie Halévy in his 1922 essay État présent de la question sociale en Angleterre, wrote that « étatisme » had become the hallmark of the times. 
          Strangely enough, the Conservative party seems to have been the main agent of collectivist measures between the two wars. While Labour Party pressures played their part, the force of circumstances were even more responsible for measures such as the changes to social welfare mentioned earlier; all compelled by the economic depression. The Beveridge report of 1942 was begun under their reign and implementation of a welfare state of womb to tomb benefits finally implemented by Labour in the period 1945-48. 
          I will leave it to others more skilled in these matters to explain exactly how this explosion of socialism came to pass, a phenomenon which regrettably followed me to this country. I have concluded though that it probably cannot be put down to a single cause. A major part of the explanation must lie in the exploitation by the politicians of the opportunities provided by the two wars; their unwillingness, as in Canada, to reduce the size of government and the illusion of equality raised by such actions as food rationing. Certainly, the conditions after the Second World War were propitious, a strong bureaucracy used to planning things on a nation wide basis. That central planning seemed to work rather well in time of war was undoubtedly because the entire country was focusing its energies on defeating an enemy. Trying to survive concentrates one’s mind, but not on political philosophy. This common objective disappeared after the war, but by that time the socialists were well entrenched. As I mentioned, the so-called Conservatives were not very anxious to dismantle all this centralization, many of them were after all Cambridge graduates and influenced by Keynes and his apostles. 
          Appalling economic conditions undoubtedly played their part. When you are unemployed for years, living in substandard housing, ailing and ineligible for health care and unable to pay for it, it is probably easy to believe the siren songs of those who promise you a better life. However implausible those promises may be. 
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