|Jarrow marchers (1936)|
People then wished to do what their employers wanted – unlike employees now, who will not, for example, do laundry within the hours for which they are paid because, they say, that is too ‘personal’.
The underlying ideology of totalitarianism was, however, already present then. For example, there was a wish to prevent people from competing with one another in ways which might lead some to improve their position faster than others.
At a very early stage, interventionist legislation was brought in which had the effect of restricting competition.
When my mother was about eight, that is, about 1910, my maternal grandfather, who was a shopkeeper, started to take her to music halls on Sundays, because he was not allowed to sell anything in his shop on that day of the week.
The reforms of 1904 to 1914 introduced a number of restrictions on the operation of shops in Britain, including limiting trading hours. For example, the Shop Hours Act 1904 gave powers to local authorities to make ‘closing orders’, fixing the hour at which shops had to stop serving customers; while the Shops Act 1911 made it compulsory for shop assistants to be given half a day off every week (‘early closing’).
Previously my grandfather had been willing, and able, to sell things at any time. People who wanted to buy a bar of soap or a packet of sugar in the night could throw stones up at his bedroom window, and he would get up and come downstairs to serve them. By being more willing to provide this service than other shopkeepers, he could have made more money, allowing his additional efforts to be rewarded.
The rules on trading and employment by shops must have reduced the ability of people like my grandfather to improve their position for the benefit of themselves and their families.
The famous Jarrow March which took place in 1936 is now taken to show the inadequate nature of unemployment benefit at that time. The level of benefits available two or three decades earlier would have been even more limited. It seems reasonable to assume that the restrictions that were introduced in the early twentieth century, doubtless bringing about job losses in some instances, will have caused harm in some cases, including starvation and death.
As Friedrich Hayek wrote in The Constitution of Liberty,
A society that does not recognize that each individual has values of his own which he is entitled to follow can have no respect for the dignity of the individual and cannot really know freedom.