by the Rev. Paul Crane, S.J.
THE issue of nationalisation has cropped up again and again in the election speeches of the past few weeks. Nothing that has been said about it has been pat ticularly illuminating. Most at it has been confusing. This subjeet has suffered the fate of so many others which have been discussed recently by the prospective reoresenta
tives of the English people. Those in favour have supported their case by assertion rather than argument. Those against have resorted to Ike same tactics. On the one hand, outworn, doctrinaire Socialism of a particularly feeble type. On the other, a tendency to identify the prosperity of private enterprise with the continuance of something very close to kressee-faire. In neither case is there any inclinatfon to judge nationalisation on its merits, Ill terms, that is, of its ability to serve the needs of the people of this country.
Those needs are .simply defined — a job, a house, a decent income, improved planning of town and country, a firm control of indu.strial location. All these to be secured without threat to that liberty which is our priceless heritage.
What has nationalisation to contribute to their fulfilment? In my opinion, nothing. Take full employment. We secured it in 'war, but not in peace. It took a war to elicit from . the •Government that strong, steady demand for goods and services which more than absorbed the unemployed labour of this country. In peace time such demand was lacking. Consequently there was high unemployment in England (14 per cent. between the Wars) because the demand for goods which came from private individuals was and is insufficient to absorb into employment the available labour supply. The remedy (taught us by Lord Keynes and five years of war) is for the Government to raise total demand to a level sufficient to secure full employment. Nationalisation does not affect the issue one way or the other. So fat as the Attainment of full employment is concerned it carries no advantages over those offered by control. A Socialist State whose Government allowed its citizens free disposal of their incomes within the .limits set by taxation is liable to exactly the same type of involuntary, long-term under-employment as is the capitalist economy. The pointed flavour of a society (assuming its respect for that due freedom of choice which is essential to human dignity) makes no difference to its employment situation. To quote Sir William Beveridge "Nationalisation of the means of production in every industry would not be an alternative to the policy of ensuring outlay for fail employment: it would only change the conditions under which that policy had to he pursued." !Full Employment in a Free Society,-.para. 270.)
THE CASE OF HOUSES
The Government-engendered demand should do something more than cure unemployment. It should encourage the production of those goods such as working-class houses which are most necessary to the welfare of the community as a whole. At a time like the present when we are enjoying conditions of full employment. such demand for social priorities like houses should be supported by further control to prevent, say, an inflation of building costs which would place house rents beyond the means of those lot whom the houses
are being built. Aftet the last war Government policy was not in favour of control. On November 21, 1919, the Minister ot Health announced that the Government would not .undertake " administration of any scheme of prohibition of luxury building by a system of licences. We had that during the war and I never wane it again. It is irksome and irritating to everyone." As a result of this policy the cost of a Rerres home rose to f834 by January, 1921 A year .later when the boom had broken it stood at £494.
The people warn houses. They can
have them. The key is Government stimulation of demand supported by controls (over the long-term rate of interest, new. capital issues. building costs). Nationalisation of the building industry offers nothing fry itself. To turn out houses at a reasonable cost it would have to be supported by 4:centrals. With their help it might achieve the same result as could be effected by a combination of local authority and private .enterprise building. Alone, it appears to carry no advantage.
There are ninny who advocate nation's alieation as a means to fairer dietribu lion of the country's income. I am afraid their hopes are doomed to disappointment. The following figures, given in answer to a question put by the lion. Quillen Hogg, M.P., to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, show for the tax years 1938-39 and 1942-43 the distribution of tax-free incomes in Great Britain :
TWO FACTS REVEALED
'These ligures reveal two important facts,
in the first place. there is ill the country very little income available for redistaibution. Supposing we allowed no-one a tax-free income of more than £1,000, how much would have been available for redistribution in the year 1942-43 ? I should be eery much surprised if it came to as much as £17 per head. Nationalisation seems rather a heavy price to pay for so slender a
benefit. We have reached the point where an increase in income can be bought only by a combination of full employment and constantly improved industrial efficiency. In the light of this fact the recent T.U.C. platform proposal of a 40-hour week seems premature unless, of course, 'it is desired to take increased income in the form of extra leisure. I doubt if this is so.
In the second place, these figures show to what a remarkable extent incomes have been levelled out during four years of war. Now war is a time of full employment, a time when there are more jobs available than there arc men to fill them. It is a time when labour's bargaining-power is strong so that it can take full and rightful advantage of such increases in productivity as may occur. Would it be rash to conclude that the main factors accounting for the recent redistribution ol income has been war-time full employment with the bargaining power it has allowed labour to bring to the support of higher wages ? If that is so. may we not say that the persistence of full employment ill post-war Britain will enable labour to take fullest advantage of such increases in productivity as may occur. Thus we should see a steady trend towards an improved standard of living, which will not benefit one secitOn of the community hut will work to the advantage of all. Moreover, the technical reorganisation of industry, which is the condition of increased productivity, will be helped into being by the establishment of full employment. For full employment means freedom from industrial depression. Now it is in time of depression that the monopolistic practices of capital and labour. which arc so inimical to technical reorganisation and therefore to increased productivity, some into play. (Ince they go, industty should be set for further expansion at reduced, unit costs Briefly, my argument is that the establishment of full employment induces increased int-lush-15l efficiency and at the same time enables labour to gain its rightful share of the increase by reasor of the strengthened bargainingpower which the establishment of full employment places in labours hands. Ar any single moment of time. there is little income available for redistribution. Progressively through thrit there should he an annual increase of income. Conditions of full employment ensure its rightful allocation.
As regards men planning, I have hardly space to do more than notice that the equitable solution of the problems of compensation and betterment, as envisaged by the Uthwatt Report. do not involve full-fledged land nationalisation. though they do involve the sesting of development rights in the Stale and stiong powers of gompulsory pur
chase. Most -people arc agreed that this able Report provides a firm fours dation on which the most beneficial planning of our cities and countryside can he developed. Its adoption plus the strengthening of local and national powers of development should make possible the recovery of much of England's lost beauty and the. saving of that which she still has.
Once the problems of compensation and betterment have been settled, industrial location can be directed in the interests of the common good by firm control based Ctll stronger and more positive powers than those suggested by the majority report of the Barlow Commission. The clue to the solutioa of both these problems must be sought in strong, positive control exercised through national and local machinery suited to the task in hand. Here, again, nationalisation contributes nothing that control cannot achieve.
In this article I have been concerned with nationalisation as a possible means to the solution of our most pressing problems. I cannot see that it does anything that cannot be done better by control.
On those grounds 1 reject it as a general solution of the difficultie,s with
which we are and shall be faced. ,
Those are not my only reasons for rejecting nationalisation. They are the ones I choose to present in this context. In particular cases it may he advisable to nationalise certain industries. Coal is a case in point. With such examples I am not concerned. Each must be judged on its merits anddecided in terms of the common good.
What I am striking at here is that unreasoning, doctrinaire attitude which sees nationalisation as the panacea for all our ills. Equally doctrinaire is the outlook which herps OD the glory of a private enterprise undivorced from laissez-fair and wishes to abandon every type of control in the name of a shoddy and discredited individualism. The protagonists of both these doctrines suffer from a chronic inability to see that what is wanted is not the imposition of pet theories on a long-suffering electorate, but an honest. objective approach to the difficulties which confront us, an approach which sees them essentially in terms of the common good as defined by the Christian virtues of justice and charity.