The Devil’s Decade Essay Example
The Devil’s Decade Essay Example

The Devil’s Decade Essay Example

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  • Pages: 9 (2304 words)
  • Published: November 10, 2017
  • Type: Analysis
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The 'Devil's Decade' casts a depressive and dark image of the 1930s and identifies it as a time of depression and struggle; when the evil overcame the good. The 1930s were also known as ' The Wasted Years' and ' The Great Depression' and such labels seem appropriate due to the fact that in the 1930s, a substancial section of the population existed in conditions of chronic poverty, poor-housing and ill-health; for many suffering was a day-to-day experience.However, although the popular image of the 1930s is that it was the ' Devil's Decade', due to the research of revisionist historians, challenges to this traditional view have been made. It has been found that if one focuses upon the growth of Britain's economy and the acheivements of the nation, a new light is shed on the ' Gloomy Decade'


and a remarkable degree of economic and social advance of new industries, economic growth, properous suburbs and a rising standard of living for those in work can be seen.

Such revisionist views strongly contradict those of the traditionalists who left no room for optimism or praise in their views. Therefore, one needs to examine both sides of the argument to understand whether the 1930s could be seen as it was a time of prosperity and growth in Britain and could therefore adopt the title or the ' Dawn of Affluence' or whether the 1930s was genuinely a time of extreme dispair and hardship and should remain known as the ' Devil's Decade'. One of the defining elements of the 1930s was the decline of Britain's economy.Triggered off by the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Britain was to ecounter

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it's worst years as a result of the financial crisis. As a direct result of the Wall Street Crash, the value of British exports had halved between 1929 and 1931 and there was a deficit on visible trade for which not even 'invisables' could compensate.

This was a result of the staple industries such as coal, iron and steel, on which Britain's leading position as the first industrial nation had rested, havind gone into relative decline, as Britain fell behind new competitors like Germany and the US.Competition played a significant role in Britain's economic decline. Due to the decision to return to the gold standard in 1925, decline was not only hastened but it also aggravated industrial relations and countries and trade links began a process of retalliation against Britain. Britain therefore lost it's once superior economy to evils such as Germany, which was particularly paining as Germany had caused so much distruction to Britain in WWII.

However, although it cannot be ignored that Britain did suffer from the Wall Street Crash, it also must be realised that Britain's economy did recover.Although the old staple industries did suffer a decline in demands, there was an increase of new industries which were primarily producing consumer goods such as motor-vehicles, processed foods, electrical appliances and building materials. Britain simply needed to undergo a painful but necessary period of switching from producing what people did not want to supplying them with what they did. Although Britain's economy was in a poor state at the start of the thirties, by the 1937, industrial output had risen by 50 per cent and Britain had become the fourth top industrial producer

in the world.Britain therefore, had suffered economically in the thirties but had not been damaged to the extent that traditionalists have claimed.

The decline in the staple industries meant that industries had to employ fewer people to match their output to consumer needs. This resulted in the fundamental problem of high unemployment. The unemploment rate rose from 10 per cent ( one million people) in the 1920s to 22 per cent ( 3 million people) in 1932. The situation was particularly bad in regions such as Jarrow where over 70 per cent of it's population were unemployed.With no employment options, ex-workers found themselves bored and would hang around streets with nothing to do except feel wretched and helpless as they were unable to provide for their families. The only way that they would be any good for their own families would be lining up to receive government unemployment benefits in what was known as the dole queue.

These skilled men became nothing but living corpses, their lives wasted away. Therefore the 1930s being labelled the ' Wasted Years' seems extremely suitable and the concept of the ' Devil's Decade' is supported.Undoubtabley, unemployment was a tragic problem for many Britons in the 1930s, yet in reality the unemployment peak of 3 million quickly declined and unemployment only really ever affected certain regions, mainly in the North. In Southern regions where new industries were being established, unemployment did not pose as a problem. For instance, in Birmingham where vechicle production dominated the whole country, output rose from 95,000 vehicles in 1923 to over half a million in 1937 .

As an effect, the number of vehicles on the

roads doubled by 1939 and by the end of the thirties over 400,000 people were employed in the industry. Not only did new factories provide new jobs, but so too did the new service industries that grew as a consequence such as retailing, insurance, advertising, and forms of entertainment such as the cinema. As the growing number of employers moved in to the industrial areas, it is obvious that another growth in the economy would be the ' housing boom'.In the 1920s, 150,000 new houses were completed in England and Wales and by the end of the thirties, 2.

4 million houses had been built. New houses were sited in the suburbs of major cities and as a result the transportation system modernised. These houses were also wired up with electricity, causing a growth in the electrical industry and not only did Britain's economy benefit but house owners could enjoy luxuries such as central heating. It is hard to see the 1930s as the ' Devil's Decade' if the period showed no sign of ultimate doom and that it was in fact seen to be growing and progressing economically rather than failing.Traditionalist also seem to have overlooked the fact that although Britain did suffer from high unemployment in the 1930s, it was not as badly affected as countries such as Germany and the US that saw unemployment levels of 7 million and 13 million. The whole world was suffering from depression and when Britain is put in to perspective on a global basis, it is clear to see that if Britain was in the hands of the devil, the devil's grip was not secure enough to

prevent Britain from escaping and acheiving many amazing economic advances.

For the unemployed in the North, living standards were terrible with 25 per cent of all households living at or below subsistence levels. Many families lived in overcrowed, squalid and cramped housing and it was common for families of 8 or more to be co-existing in just two rooms. Many had a main diet of bread, jam, milk, tea and margarine and missed out on essentials such as meat, fruit and vegetables as they could not afford them and had to constantly economise. As Cramped lifestyle also meant that diseases could spread faster and due to poor diet, illness was made inevitable.Malnutrition caused many shocking cases such as being a direct cause in 1938 of the death of 3,200 women in childbirth and causing an increase of rickets in school children. In the 1930s, the NHS did not exist and doctors and dentists were too expensive.

Therefore the idea of the 1930s being a helpless and deadly time greatly supports the ' Devil's Decade' theory. Although life for the unemployed was very tough it is important to acknowledge the medical advances that were taking place in Britain.Diets in depressed areas may have been poor but the diet of the population as a whole had improved and average life expectancy rose for both men and women. Although maternal mortality did not fall, infant mortality did and facilities for infant care had progressed substancially. One of the great medical advances was contraception.

Women in the early century had an average of 4. 6 children whereas women in the 1930s were likely to have on a average 2. 19

children. This was due to the wider artificial methods of contraception which had been largely confined to the upper class before the first world war.This meant that as knowledge of birth control diffused down the social scale, a higher proportion of a family income could now be spent on non-essential consumer goods.

This was not the only benefit for better-off people. In 1938, holidays with Pay Act established a week's paid holiday as the norm and shorter working weeks were promoted. This meant that leisure could now play a big part in people's lives. Trips to the seaside were made possible by the advances in transportation systems and cinemas and dance halls were also popular places to spend excess earnings.People in the suburbs of industrial cities caught up in the housing boom experienced the great luxuries of new houses.

An average new house included two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom with an indoor toilet, a private garden and electricity and central heating. Council housing was also made available in the 1930s. The fact that the thirties were beneficial as it was an essential time of housing, medical and social progresses, shows that the thirties could be seen as more affluent times rather than depressed times.The interwar government have been highly critisized by traditionalists for not tackling unemployment and poverty efficiently and they were seen as incompentent as they should have done more to prevent the harsh conditions their people suffered. The brilliant economist Maynard Keynes put forward suggests of ' demand-management' to the government.

This policy involved the government actively creating employment by increasing spending and so boosting demand for goods and services.The government refused

to accept Keynes ideas and it is believed by many that if the government had accept his ideas that many unemployed Britons would not have lived such hard, unbarable lives. Many government actions actually harmed the welfare of the people. By cutting the dole by 10% in 1931, the spending power of the people was reduced and so therefore employment prospects were harmed and it also led to a deterioration in the health standards of the poorest in the community. Another example of the government measures causing more problems for the people is the introduction of the means test in 1931.

The means test stripped a family to the bare essentials in order for families to go on the dole. Families were forced to sell items that were not essential to day-to-day life and had to give up items of great sentimental value. Not only did this lead to moral depression, it led to resentment of the government due to their lack of understanding at hard times. For a country's leaders, who are meant to lead their country into prosperity and hope, to turn against their own people and cause more good than harm is an unacceptable situation.The government appeared to show no sympathy or understanding of it's people. Perhaps the thirties really was the ' Devil's Decade', as it's people seemed to be surrounded by evil sources, even in it's leadership.

Revisionists have argued that tradional views of the government are too critical and harsh. They also argue that the economist Keynes was over-rated and that it was a good decision for politicians to have refused to accept his measures as a solution to unemployment.It

is believed that if Keynes' advice had been taken on board that there would have been a collapse in buisness confidence and the economic depression would have been much more sevre. Although government social policies such as protection in 1932 were cautious and low-key they were beneficial in the long run. Britain also increased it's expenditure on social welfare and although it's social services were far from adequate to meet the needs of the people, they were amongst the most advanced in the world.

Yet again, traditionalists seem to fail to put Britain's situation in to perspective and seen how well Britain coped with the situation and acknowledge that it was not affected as badly as the title the ' Devil's Decade' makes it out to have been. In conclusion, the thirties should be able to shed it's traditional name as the ' Devil's Decade' as to be labelled as such a period of time, suggests that Britain in the 1930s was overwhelmed by poverty, distruction, depression and evil. When the traditional views are revised, it is clear to see that this was not the case.Yes, there was mass unemployment and poverty in Britain in the 1930s but it was only a posed as a great problem in the early thirties and not all areas of Britain were affected. The South saw substancial advances in industry and as a result many benefits were obtained. It can also be concluded that the thirties was not the ' Devil's Decade', rather the ' Dawn of Affluence', as the thirties saw much progress and hope for the future.

By the end of the 1930s, Britain had improved measures in

housing, electricity, medicine, leisure, transport, social serivices and health.The government have been seen in two lights, as cruel, lathargic politicans who only harmed their people or as intelligent politicans who made decisions that saved the country from further economic depression. One cannot be certain which view is correct, as both are predictions or assumptions made by traditionalist and revisionists. Whether or not one agrees with the statement that the thirties were the ' Devil's Decade' or that the thirties were the ' Dawn of Affluence', one thing is certain, the thirties can definately been known as the ' Decade of Contrasts'; a period of paradox.

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