A Christmas purchase from the excellent second-hand bookshop in Helmsley, perhaps North Yorkshire's nicest market town - this is a really clean copy of the 1944 Beveridge report. The report he issued two years earlier, on social insurance, is better known. This one, as you can see on full employment, was also influential in determining the shape and scope of post-war social and economic policy.
As we enter 2014, seventy years after this report was published, one aspect of it caught my attention - the quote on the title page: "Misery generates hate". In his preface, Beveridge explains how he came across those words:
The text on my title page I owe to my wife. It comes from the account given by Charlotte Bronte, in the second chapter of Shirley, of the hand-loom weavers who one hundred and twenty-five years ago were being driven into unemployment and miserable revolt by the introduction of knitting frames. "Misery generates hate. These sufferers hated the machines which they believed took their bread from them; they hated the buildings which contained the machines; they hated the manufacturers who owned the buildings."
This text is my main text. The greatest evil of unemployment is not physical but moral, not the want it may bring but the hatred and fear which it breeds. So the greatest evil of war is not physical but spiritual, not the ruin of cities and killing of bodies, but the perversion of all that is best in man's spirit, to serve purposes of destruction, hate, cruelty, deceit and revenge.
There is another passage in Shirley, describing in Chapter 8 a conversation between a workman and an employer, which illustrates another leading theme of what is written here. "Invention may be all right," says the workman. "but I know it isn't right for poor folks to starve. Them that governs mun find a way to help us. ... Ye'll say that's hard to do - so much louder mun we shout , then, for so much slacker will t'Parliament men be to set on a tough job." "Worry the Parliament-men as much as you please,", replies the employer, "but to worry the mill-owners is absurd." To look to individual employers for maintenance of demand and full employment is absurd. These things are not within the power of employers. They must therefore be undertaken by the State, under the supervision and pressure of democracy, applied through the Parliament men.
Beveridge himself became part of the number of what he, and Bronte, called the Parliament men - for a few months a Liberal MP, and then a member of the House of Lords eventually becoming the Liberal leader in the upper house.
His preface of seventy years ago, and indeed the humanity of his two hugely influential wartime reports, deserve remembering as we again struggle with achieving full employment and a semblance of social justice.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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