Author Archives: crowleymarkj

Little Britain? Empire and the rise of protectionism in interwar Britain.

When Britain turned inward: Protection and the shift towards Empire in interwar Britain

By Alan de Bromhead (Queen’s University Belfast), Alan Fernihough (Queen’s University Belfast), Markus Lampe (Vienna University of Economics and Business) and Kevin Hjortshøj O’Rourke (University of Oxford)

International trade became much less multilateral during the 1930s. Previous studies, looking at aggregate trade flows, have argued that discriminatory trade policies had comparatively little to do with this. Using highly disaggregated information on the UK’s imports and trade policies, we find that policy can explain the majority of Britain’s shift towards Imperial imports in the 1930s. Trade policy mattered, a lot.


Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2017-03-20

Reviewed by Mark J Crowley

This paper provides an interesting insight into tariffs, and their role in interwar Britain from a perspective that has not been previously examined.  An examination of this issue is timely, especially with the debates surrounding the implication of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, and the threats issued by the American Trump administration concerning future trade policy.  It demonstrates that the impact of tariffs during the economic crises of the 1930s had a variable impact, and did not always achieve their intended outcome.  In this respect, the impact of punitive trade policies from a historical perspective can provide a very important context to future negotiations as the world becomes acclimatised to a very different political landscape.

Tariff reform was a huge issue for the British government in the early twentieth century, and the subject of significant political propaganda.

The paper is deeply researched, and draws on a wide collection of data.  One of the main conclusions is that trade blocs made very little difference, nor did the imperial preference scheme, to the balance and nature of the British economy in the crisis years.  However, it does show that the change in the nature of trade, away from free trade to focusing specifically on empire did have specific outcomes that shaped the direction of the British economy, but that these changes were caused specifically by trade policy rather than anything else.  Indeed, the authors show that as a result of the changing nature of the British government’s trade policy, a 70% increase in empire trade was reported in the period 1930-33.  In this respect, the paper poses a very interesting question that is addressed, but will need further historical enquiry:  Did trade policy contribute to return of intra-Imperial trade?

The paper looks at a range of policies pursued by the British government in the period after the First World War, some of which were discriminatory, in order to evaluate the nature of its economic and trade development.  In compiling their conclusions, a huge amount of data was analysed, including data sets from 42 countries examining 200 products categories between 1924-1938.   The data showed that dramatic changes were seen in the nature of Britain’s trade and economic policy in the period 1931-33.  Nevertheless, these changes had long roots.  The abolition of free trade after the First World War saw the introduction of the McKenna Duty, which imposed a 33.5% tariff on cars, clocks, watches, films and musical instruments ad valorem (based on the value of the goods).  This was later intensified with the implementation of the 1921 Safeguarding of Industries Act, where a 33.5% tariff was placed on the imports of key goods.  However, despite the apparent punitive nature of these policies, the British economy was largely Liberal up to 1930, when the Abnormal Importations Act allowed 100% tax on all manufactured goods from outside the empire.


Utilising goods from the empire was seen as an excellent opportunity for the British government to stablilise its economy during the challenges of the Great Depression.

Realising the potential difficulties that such a punitive law could unleash, a more compassionate deal was reached in the 1932 Import Duties Act, where it was agreed that a 10% tax be imposed on imported goods, although this exempted products from the empire.  This concession was achieved with the aim of ensuring improved access to dominion markets, and resulted in several bilateral agreements with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland, India and Southern Rhodesia.  Nevertheless, with the introduction of quotas for agricultural products through the Agricultural Marketing Acts of 1931 and 1933, there were now restrictions on the type of farming products that could be imported.  Moreover, in a tone that is reminiscent of the pro-Brexit camp both during and after the referendum, the British explored deals that went beyond the traditional confines of Europe in order to strengthen its economy, and this included Scandinavian countries and Argentina.  This not only improved British trade prospects, but provided the mutually-beneficial element to these countries in order to maintain access to the British market for the purpose of trade.


The 1932 Import Duties Act was seen by many as symbolic of punitive protectionist policies pursued by the British government.


There are so many fantastic elements to this paper that not only shed new light on the issue of tariffs, but also provide the foundation for future debate.  Nevertheless, the authors have highlighted what they believed were the difficulties in their research, especially concerning the masses of data that they collected.  They believed that there were inconsistencies in the data, but have done a wonderful job in using spreadsheets to predict the results in the absence of concrete data.  In some cases, the use of complicated mathematical formulas has been used to come to these conclusions.  The fact that the paper engages in counterfactual debate provides an important foundation for future discussion, but also lends itself to its own difficulties.  Counterfactuals, although interesting, cannot be definitively proven.   In this respect, the paper poses several “what if” questions relating to tariffs, especially what would have happened if tariffs had not been increased.  In their conclusions, they argue that it appears that the empire did better with tariffs than without, and if there was free trade, there would only have been a modest increase in the empire share of trade.  Thus, the impact of British protectionist policies proved substantial, and, they argue, account for a shift of around 50% of trade towards the empire by 1930.   The conclusions are interesting and useful, but as the authors explain, a lot of work needed to be done to fill the gaps in the data.  It is the interpretation of these gaps in the data, especially the ways in which some conclusions have been reached through the use of counterfactual debate that will undoubtedly provide the platform for future historical enquiry on this topic.


Eichengreen, Barry, and Douglas A. Irwin. The slide to protectionism in the Great Depression: Who succumbed and why?. No. w15142. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2009.

Capie, Forrest. Depression & Protectionism: Britain Between the Wars. Vol. 2. Routledge, 2013.

Temin, Peter. Lessons from the great depression. MIT Press, 1991.

Off with his head? Capital punishment and jurors’ dilemmas in 19th and 20th century Britain

The Fall of Capital Punishment and the Rise of Prisons: How Punishment Severity Affects Jury Verdicts

By Anna Bindler (University of Gothenburg) and Randi Hjalmarsson (University of Gothenburg and CEPR)

Abstract: This paper studies the effect of punishment severity on jury decision-making using a large archival data set from the Old Bailey Criminal Court in London from 1715 to 1900. We take advantage of three natural experiments in English history, which result in sharp decreases in punishment severity: The offense specific abolition of capital punishment in the 1800s, the temporary halt of penal transportation during the American Revolution, and the abolition of transportation in 1853. Using a difference-in-differences design to study the abolition of the death penalty and pre-post designs to study the temporary and permanent halts to transportation, we find that decreasing expected punishment (especially via the end of the death penalty), had a large and significant impact on jury behavior, generally leading to the jury being ‘harsher’. Moreover, we find that the size of the effect differs with defendants’ gender and criminal history. These results raise concerns about the impartiality of juries as well as the implicit assumption often made when designing and evaluating criminal justice policies today – that the chance of conviction is independent of the harshness of the penalty.


Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2016-10-16

Reviewed by Mark J Crowley

This is a very interesting article. It focuses on what is a hot topic today in British jurisprudence, and sets it within a strong historical context. It shows a deep understanding of the issues concerning statutory interpretation, and the consequent pressures facing juries. The uniqueness of this article is that it explores the extent to which juries were influenced by the severity of the punishments available to Judges. The article draws on thousands of pages of testimony from the Old Bailey Court Records. This magnificent online resource has opened several new possible avenues of research into the legal history of the United Kingdom, and this article will undoubtedly make a very important contribution in this field.


The Old Bailey, The Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, has passed down countless historic legal judgments

In examining the wide range of material from thousands of court cases, the authors conclude that the pressures on jurors were immense. These pressures, and ultimately their decision on whether to convict, were deeply influenced by not only moral judgements reached by individuals, but emotional considerations based on the severity of the sentence likely to be passed. In the nineteenth century, when punishments such as transportation to Australia were used for crimes, this would often lead to the death of those convicted (owing to the bad conditions and the length of the journey) and raise deeper questions about the quality and validity of the evidence. The conscience of jurors certainly would be provoked if the person sentenced to transportation or death was later found not guilty of the crime to which they were convicted.


The common scene of a public hanging had been an integral part of the English Legal System, but was now becoming more open to question in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

In their detailed analysis of the statistics concerning conviction rates, the authors show that there was an overall increase of 7.6% in convictions after the abolition of the death penalty. This was taken as an average across a range of offences. The area seeing the largest increase in convictions was for sexual offences (increasing by 34.5%) and fraud (increasing by 22%). However, the authors argue that these convictions, passed in the latter half of the nineteenth century, did not occur against a backdrop of improved evidence in court. In fact, they suggest that since the abolition of the death penalty in the twentieth century, it is possible that jurors were more ready to convict in the knowledge that this would lead to imprisonment (and subsequent release if found not guilty) than if capital punishment had remained in place.

Another aspect explored by the authors is whether there is a connection between capital punishment and criminal behaviour. Citing the 1823 Judgement of Death Act, the authors note that Prime Minister Robert Peel used this legislation to render capital punishment discretionary for judges (except for murder and treason). This could potentially explain the rise in convictions for other crimes that the authors cite, suggesting again that the absence of capital punishment for these crimes made juries more likely to convict. Moreover, they allude to the procedural changes that occurred with the conduct of juries in 1974. Hereafter, juries would only be permitted to listen to one case, and would remain in charge of the case until its conclusion (or their removal by a judge). Previous regulations permitted juries to listen to several cases. This procedural change was in part to ensure the quality of decision-making to facilitate the best form of justice to all through the age-old English legal system that ensured trial by your peers.

The latter part of the paper uses complicated (and very impressive) quantitative methods to identify the discontinuities caused by the changes to the sentencing provisions. The overall conclusion is that not only the ultimate abolition of capital punishment in Britain in the twentieth century contributed to increased convictions, but that changes to sentencing laws provided fertile ground for increased criminality. While the reasons for this are not explored in detail, they could be connected to contemporary debates on this topic, where Conservatives have traditionally argued that ‘softer’ punishments, and community rehabilitation does not provide a deterrent for criminals.


The dilemma facing juries was whether their conviction would result in the death penalty. Later evidence showing that the accused was innocent would prove a major factor influencing juries when considering the legal punishments open to them when listening to court cases.

There is a lot of insightful analysis and information in this paper. The connections that it develops between changes to sentencing law and the impact on juror’s psyche is interesting and new. It is based on a sound and comprehensive archival base that shows a deep understanding of the legal context. It answers its original research question comprehensively. Any suggestions for improvement would seem like a criticism, which I do not intend to make, as I believe this paper will make a very important contribution to the historiography of the English legal system in its current form. My suggestions perhaps would be more aptly placed if they were offered as possible suggestions for future research. For example, it would be interesting to get more information (if it is available) about the social class from which jurors were drawn. Since juries were supposed to reflect the composition of society, it would be interesting to see whether there were correlations between sentencing and the social demographic from which the jurors came. For example, would a conviction of a working-class criminal be more likely with a jury comprising people from predominantly a higher social class. I appreciate that this is a completely different research question, but as noted, this paper has comprehensively answered its own research question but has posed several others that may be worthy of investigation. Furthermore, this paper has examined the thousands of materials available at the Old Bailey, but would there be any scope to extend this research to a local level, to ascertain whether there were any local or regional variations to these findings? Nevertheless, this is a most impressive paper, and I hope that we will hear a lot more from these authors on this topic.

Burns, Arthur, and Joanna Innes. Rethinking the age of reform: Britain 1780-1850. Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Croall, Hazel. Crime and society in Britain. Longman, 2011.
Christoph, James Bernard. Capital Punishment and British Politics: The British Movement to Abolish the Death Penalty, 1945-57. London: Allen & Unwin (1962).
Smith, Susan J. “Social relations, neighbourhood structure, and the fear of crime in Britain.” The Geography of Crime. London: Routledge (1989): 193-227.




Don’t Panic!! War, Money and Stability, 1914-45

Confidence, Fear and a Propensity to Gamble: The Puzzle of War and Economics in an Age of Catastrophe 1914-45

by Roger L. Ransom ( (University of California at Riverside)

This paper uses the notion of animal spirits introduced by John Maynard Keynes in the General Theory and more recently employed by George Akerloff and Robert Shiller in their book Animal Spirits, to explain the speculative bubbles and decisions for war from 1914 to 1945. Animal spirits are “a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction” that produces decisions which are not bounded by “rational” calculations. My analysis shows how confidence, fear, and a propensity to gamble can encourage aggressive behavior that leads to speculative “bubbles” in financial markets and military or political crises. Elements of prospect theory are added to demonstrate how the presence of risk in crises tend to produce a very strong bias towards taking gambles to avoid economic or military loses. A basic premise of the paper is that war and economics were inexorably joined together by 1914 to a point where economic strength was as important as military might in determining the outcome of a war. The final section of the paper deals with the problem of measuring military and economic strength by using the composite index of national capability [CINC] created by the Correlates of War Project to evaluate the riskiness of the Schlieffen Plan in 1914 and the changes in military capability of major powers between 1914-1919


Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2016-03-17

Reviewed by Mark J Crowley

This paper surveys the impact of war on economic stability, and the role that confidence and fear plays in the nature of the economy and economic development.   It provides an interesting addition to the historiography, especially since numerous similar studies have concentrated on the social ramifications of war, most notably the correlation between armed conflict and social change first identified by Arthur Marwick in the 1970s.


John Maynard Keynes is still regarded by many as the architect of modern economics in war and peace

Using the framework of ‘animal spirits’, first advanced by John Maynard Keynes in his classical General Theory study of 1936, Ransom shows how emotion and rationality have governed many of the economic cycles that ensued as a result of war and peace. He shows that decisions based on instinct were often the driver of many deep-rooted changes that would impact on long-term economic stability.  With the perception among policymakers that interwar years (i.e. the period after the First World War) would lead to a period of significant economic instability, he shows how major world leaders often took gambles – some of which paid off, but some of which had deep consequences that not only changed the course of war, but also affected long-term economic performance.

In identifying the limitations of economic history analyses in this area, Ransom argues that the uncertainties caused by war and the transition to a peacetime economy leads to several difficulties. For economists, no real models exist for the predictions of uncertainty or volatility, whereas outcomes can, to a certain degree of accuracy, be predicted. Furthermore, he claims that in countries where the economy was growing and the war effort was achieving positive aims, leaders were thus operating in a ‘confidence bubble.’ Yet while this progress could be regarded as positive for the nation, the implications for the economy were not always fruitful, especially since the impact of emotion on leaders’ psyche meant that despite these developments, leaders and planners did not always act rationally. In explaining this phenomenon, Ransom draws on Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tverskey’s 1979 ‘Prospect theory’ in which they argue that many leaders have focused on the results they think are really possible while also seeking to avoid large losses. This, in turn, has served to cloud judgement with regard to the possibilities open to make significant gains.


Hoovervilles in the USA became a common sight of the Great Depression of the 1920s

In the final part of the paper, Ransom shows how historians have used the Composite Index of National Capability in order to assess a nation’s capability to wage a war.  The test, comprising six areas includes: military personnel; military expenditure; total population; urban population; primary energy consumption; and iron and steel consumption.  This approach looks at these aspects and divides each nation by the overall global variable.   While not totally reliable, it can offer possibilities to explain why leaders, in preparation for, and in prosecution of, war have changed strategies according to national needs.  Using the Battle of the Marne during the First World War as an example, Ransom shows how this acted as a ‘tipping point’ in the German prosecution of the war effort – the failure of which saw confidence turn into fear and the widely-regarded failure of General Schlieffen to discharge Germany’s military capability in the most effective way. Thus the idea that economics formed the foundation a nation’s military capability after the First World War has now received greater attention.


General Schlieffen’s economic decisions during the First World War have now been seen as a possible reason for German’s failures.


This paper is fascinating for the way that it shows the impact of emotion and human rationality on economics.  In terms of economic policymaking, little attention has been dedicated to the role of emotion and human behaviour on the economic decisions taken that, in turn, had a fundamental impact on the trajectory of war.

The interesting aspect of this paper lies in the way that Ransom uses case studies to show how wars, and the pressures placed on leaders, could have influenced their state of mind concerning their economic decisions.  The approach is geo-political.  This is particularly useful, since the importance of international relations would have impacted severely on a nation’s economic capability.  However, what could also be of interest is a consideration of the response on the home front to the challenges brought about by war and peace, and how the opinions of ordinary citizens may or may not have influenced those in positions of power.  For example, in the British case, the Ministry of Information during the Second World War commissioned surveys of the home front to ascertain people’s opinions on a wide range of topics, of which the condition of the economy featured heavily.  The social research organisation, Mass Observation, also conducted similar surveys so as to inform the government of the home front’s condition, and how it could be maintained to ensure solidarity for the war effort.  At the core of many citizens’ grievances was the nature of the economy, especially rising food prices.  While ascertaining this information in a transnational study such as this may not be easy, perhaps a little more focus on citizens’ opinions of economy and the prosecution of the war effort would provide a wider framework in which to understand the influences on world leaders when making decisions controlling the trajectory of their nation’s economies in war and peace.



Jefferys, Kevin (ed.), War and Reform: British Politics during the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994).

Marwick, Arthur, War and social change in the twentieth century: a comparative study of Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the United States (London: Macmillan, 1974).

Milward, Alan S., War, Economy and Society, 1939-45 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987).

Minns, Raynes, Bombers and Mash: The Domestic Front, 1939-45 (London: Virago, 1980).

Society? Economics? Politics? Personality? What causes inequality?

What Drives Inequality?

by Jon D. Wisman (American)

Abstract Over the past 40 years, inequality has exploded in the U.S. and significantly increased in virtually all nations. Why? The current debate typically identifies the causes as economic, due to some combination of technological change, globalization, inadequate education, demographics, and most recently, Piketty’s claim that it is the rate of return on capital exceeding the growth rate. But to the extent true, these are proximate causes. They all take place within a political framework in which they could in principle be neutralized. Indeed, this mistake is itself political. It masks the true cause of inequality and presents it as if natural, due to the forces of progress, just as in pre-modern times it was the will of gods. By examining three broad distributional changes in modern times, this article demonstrates the dynamics by which inequality is a political phenomenon through and through. It places special emphasis on the role played by ideology – politics’ most powerful instrument – in making inequality appear as necessary.


Distributed by NEP-HIS on 2015-10-04

Reviewed by Mark J Crowley

This paper was circulated by NEP-HIS on 2015-05-05.  It explores a topical issue in political discourse at present, in which the debate has largely been categorised into two major camps.  First, the Conservative argument, stretching back to Margaret Thatcher in Britain (and simultaneously championed by Ronald Reagan and Charles Murray in the USA) was that inequality was good and accepted by the populace as a way of categorising and organising the nation.  Their argument, it so followed, ensured that those who were at the lower part of society would be inspired to work harder as a means to lessen their inequality.  The second argument that has now experienced resurgence in the UK following the election of the left wing veteran Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the opposition Labour Party is that inequality is an evil in society that punishes the poor for their poverty.  The counter argument is that the richer, which have the broadest shoulders, should bear the heaviest burden in times of hardship, and that austerity should not hit the poorest of society in the hardest way.  Thus a political solution should be sought to ensure a fairer distribution of wealth in favour of the poorest in society.  Similar arguments have been made in the US by proponents of increased state welfare.  It is in this context that the debates highlighted in this paper should be seen.

Thatcher and Reagan were the major architects of a change in economic policy away from state welfare.

Thatcher and Reagan were the major architects of a change in economic policy away from state welfare.

This meticulously researched article demonstrates that inequality as a phenomenon has long roots.  Citing that inequality has virtually been omnipresent in the world since the dawn of civilisation, Wisman couches the argument concerning inequality within the wider organisation and economic hierarchy of society.  Building on the argument of Simon Kuznets that inequality, at the beginning of economic development shows vast differences between rich and poor but subsequently stabilises, he looks at other factors beyond economics that contribute to the growing inequality in society.  The heavy focus on political literature examining the impact of politics on rising inequality is especially interesting, and takes this paper beyond the traditional Marxist arguments that have often been proposed about the failures and flaws of capitalism.  Other arguments, such as the impact of the industrial revolution, are explored in detail and are shown to be significant factors in defining inequality.  This runs as a counter-exploration to the work of Nick Crafts who has explored the extent to which the industrial revolution, especially in Britain, was ‘successful’.

Despite the arguments and debates about why inequality exists, there still appears to be no conclusive answer about its cause.

Despite the arguments and debates about why inequality exists, there still appears to be no conclusive answer about its cause.

Ideology is also a factor that is explored in detail.  The explanations for inequality have often been provided with ideological labels, with some offering proposals for eradicating inequality, while others propose that individuals, and not society, should change in order to reverse the trend.  The latter was forcefully proposed by Margaret Thatcher and Milton Friedman, whereas the former was commonly the battle-cry of post-war socialist-leaning parties (most notably the largely out-of power Labour Party of Britain in the post-war period, with the exception of 1945-51 and brief periods in the 1970s).

The religious argument about helping people who are less fortunate than yourself has now become more tenuous in favour of using religion as a form of legitimizing inequality.

The religious argument about helping people who are less fortunate than yourself has now become more tenuous in favour of using religion as a form of legitimizing inequality.

The exploration of religion as a factor is also particularly interesting here.  Wisman argues that providing state institutions with religious foundations thus legitimises their status, and hereby ensures that inequality has a stronger place in society.  This point, while contentious, has been alluded to in previous literature, but has not been explored in great depth.  The section in this paper on religion is also small, although such is its significance, I am sure the author would seek to expand on this in a later draft.


This paper is wide-ranging, and shows a large number of factors that have contributed to inequality in the western world, especially the USA.  It highlights the fact that the arguments concerning inequality are more complex than has possibly been previously assumed.  Arguing that politics and economics are intertwined, it effectively argues that a synthesis of these two disciplines are required in order to address the issue of inequality and reduce the gap between rich and poor in society.

I found this article absolutely fascinating.  I can offer very little in terms of suggestions for improvement.  However, one aspect did come to mind, and that was the impact of inequality on individual/collective advancement?  Perhaps this would take the research off into a tangent too far away from the author’s original focus, but the issue that sprung to mind for me was the impact of the inequality mentioned by the author on aspects such as educational attainment and future employment opportunities?  For example, in the UK, the major debate for decades has been the apparent disparity between the numbers of state school and privately-educated students attending the nation’s elite universities, namely Oxbridge.  Arguments have often centred on the assumption that private, fee-paying schools are perceived to be better in terms of educational quality, and thus admissions officers disproportionately favour these students when applying to university.  While official figures show that Oxbridge is made up of a higher proportion of state school student than their privately-educated counterparts, this ignores the fact that over 90% of British students are still educated in the state system.  Furthermore, so the argument goes, those with an elite education then attain the highest-paying jobs and occupy the highest positions in society, thus generating the argument that positions in the judiciary and politics are not representative of the composition of society.  These are complex arguments.  This paper alludes to many of these points concerning the origins of inequality.  Perhaps a future direction of this research would be to apply the models highlighted and apply them to certain examples in society to test their validity?


Dorey, Peter, British Conservatism: the Politics and Philosophy of Inequality (London, I. B. Tauris, 2011)

Thane, Pat (ed.) The Origins of British Social Policy (London: Croom Helm ; Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1978).

Thane, Pat, The Foundations of the Welfare State, (Harlow: Longman, 1982).

Help or Hindrance? Business and Welfare Policy Formation

Bringing Power Back In: A Review of the Literature on the Role of Business in Welfare State Politics

by Thomas Paster (Central European University and Max Planck Institute) (


Abstract What is the impact of business interest groups on the formulation of public social policies? This paper reviews the literature in political science, history, and sociology on this question. It identifies two strands: one analyzes the political power and influence of business, the other the preferences and interests of business. Since the 1990s, researchers have shifted their attention from questions of power to questions of preferences. While this shift has produced important insights into the sources of the policy preferences of business, it came with a neglect of issues of power. This paper takes a first step towards re-integrating a power-analytical perspective into the study of the role of business in welfare state politics. It shows how a focus on variation in business power can help to explain both why business interest groups accepted social protection during some periods in the past and why they have become increasingly assertive and averse to social policies since the 1970s.

Reviewed by Mark J Crowley


This paper was circulated by NEP-HIS on 2015-04-19.  It is a meticulously review of a topic that is now becoming a subject of major debate in the developed world’s political culture.  At a time of austerity and belt-tightening in much of the western world in response to the economic crises of recent times, the welfare state has been targeted as an area where potential savings could be made, prompting arguments that the construct itself has become the scapegoat of austerity. Much of the attention in the recent literature on the welfare state has examined the political and social considerations behind the formation of a welfare system and its reform.  This paper hones in on an aspect that has received less attention: the role of business in the formation of welfare state policy.  Although there is still significant literature on this topic, the paper manages to draw the current research together into a coherent whole to present numerous interesting theories about the development and role of big business in public policy formulation that will be of interest to historians.


Paster embeds his argument in the Marxist critiques of the 1970s that claimed much of the decisions concerning the level of influence exercised by business in state affairs depended on their relative power and individual preferences.  He cites the fact that the state’s dependence on private business for capital does give the latter, by default, a greater level of influence over public policy.  Furthermore, with the development of Marxist theory in the 1980s with the rise of Conservative policies, especially Thatcherism in the UK and Reagan’s economics in the USA, the ‘varieties of capitalism’ approach has led scholars to examine the development and evolution of the welfare state from a different perspective.  Many have now seen a link between the influence of business preferences and the level of support offered to policy options concerning welfare reform.  Moreover, the growth of interest groups in response to the increased size of the state has seen more actors playing a part in the negotiations of public policy, particularly state welfare.

Paster outlines how much of the literature has focused on the nature of power dynamics within the business community, and its relative influence over public policy.  In many nations, leaders of corporations form a major part of the power elite. It could be argued that this was why, in many developed nations there was significant opposition to the legislation proposed for a national minimum wage for low paid workers, primarily owing to the increased costs that this would bring.  This could also have influenced the greater outsourcing of work, primarily service-based industries and call-centre work to nations such as India.  Furthermore, he outlines how there is evidence that during times of economic difficulty, both the public and business are reluctant to see greater state intervention, and that a more cautious approach does led to a relative neglect in the nature of welfare provision for the most vulnerable in society.


One of the most interesting arguments articulated by Pester in this paper is how big businesses prefer to increase the level of skills among its workforce as a means of protecting against future unemployment.  The argument focuses on how business leaders believe that highly-trained workers, in the event of finding themselves unemployed, would then be easily able to find alternative employment owing to their skills, thus reducing dependency on the state.  This has become more important with globalisation and the internationalisation of the economy.  Yet despite the growing importance of international trade, and the growing economic relationship with not only European countries but developing nations, this has also brought pressure on the development of coherent policies to assist workers.  While the idea of policy transfer could be regarded as positive, with nations comparing its social policy and potentially embracing new ideas in the aim of improving life for its lower paid citizens, international trade has also brought about increased regulation, thus increasing the influence of both businesses and the state over the development of public policy.  This, therefore, is a double-edged sword which carries numerous positive elements but also several complicating factors.


This paper is very strong.  It shows a deep understanding of many of the issues concerning public policy development in many European countries, and the USA in the twentieth century.  In focusing on the role of big business in policy considerations, it approaches the issue of welfare reform and development from an interesting angle.

My observation on this paper would be that perhaps in trying to compare so many nations in one short article, perhaps the author is seeking to do too much.  In much of the comparative literature on the welfare state (albeit not from a business perspective) authors seek to compare two nations.  This paper has a much wider remit.  Furthermore, although the primary focus of this paper is on the role of business in the discussions concerning welfare state policy, I do feel that maybe it could benefit from some additional information, maybe only a paragraph or two, to help set the context.  The political culture concerning state welfare is different in each of the countries examined in the research.  The motivations and the political responses to the original formation of the welfare state were different among the respective politicians.  For example, it could be argued that in Britain, the earliest advocate of the welfare state in the government, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, did so because of his fear that if there was no provision for the working-class, it could result in a revolution.  For the USA, the growth in welfare programmes came much later with the development of Roosevelt’s new deal.  Furthermore, the development of such policies in a very politically-conservative nation was ravaged with difficulties.  For the British case in particular, I would encourage the author to consult the numerous works of Pat Thane on the topic, which place the formation of the welfare state into the wider political and international context.  While this is only a minor criticism of an extremely well-researched paper, placing this paper in the wider political context would help strengthen the argument and highlight even more the significance and value of this research to the wider academic community.



Baldwin, Peter, The Politics of Social Solidarity: Class Bases and the European Welfare State 1875-1975 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

Thane, Pat (ed.) The Origins of British Social Policy (London: Croom Helm ; Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1978).

Thane, Pat, The Foundations of the Welfare State, (Harlow: Longman, 1982).