By Angus Maddison (published in Banca Nazionale del Lavoro Quarterly Review, no. 189, June 1994)
My interest in economics started early. Until I was six, I lived in Newcastle-on-Tyne, where
The main industries were shipbuilding and coal-mining. A large proportion of the work force were unemployed throughout the l920s, and unemployment was massive in l929-33. My father had a steady job as a railway fitter but I had two unemployed uncles, and there were many unemployed neighbours. The unemployed were not only poor but depressed. Many loitered aimlessly at streetcorners, looked haggard, wore mufflers and cloth caps and smoked fag-ends. Their children were often sickly or tubercular.
My father took me to Gateshead every Sunday to see my grandmother. The double-decker bridge across the Tyne had openwork iron girders with a long drop to a dirty river that flowed between laid-up ships and a long line of derelict factories. The bleak image of the dead economy was sharpened by the noise and vibration above. Trams rattled down the middle of the roadway, and trains rumbled ominously overhead.
At the Gateshead end, the buildings were blacker, and the clusters of unemployed thicker than in ewcastle. I saw nowhere so depressing until visiting Calcutta thirty years later.
In l933, the railway workshops were relocated in Darlington. We only moved 30 miles but it was a different world with much less unemployment. I was also aware of other improvements, as I knew that food prices had fallen and that mortgages were affordable.
My parents both left school when they were l2 and were interested in improving their education and mine. My mother used to read to me at an early age, she taught me to play golf, we had competitions in spelling or guessing the title of operatic music we heard on the radio. She took me to movies with dancing or singing (Shirley Temple, Fred Astaire, Nelson Eddy and Jeannette McDonald) and later we graduated
Sadlers Wells ballet and opera when they appeared locally. My father had been in France from 1914 to 1918 as a paramedic, giving first aid and comfort to the wounded and dying. He continued this interest as a first aid instructor in evening classes for railwaymen. When I was young I often went along as the accident “victim” and was bandaged and splinted by the class. At the time I was an adolescent both my parents were active in the education activities of the Cooperative Movement which ran “weekend schools” once a month where my father was often the chairman. When I was about 12 I started to go with them to these sessions. The speakers gave lectures on British political or economic issues or on international affairs. Those I remember best were Hamilton Fyfe, Principal of Aberdeen University, J. M. (later Lord) Peddie, a Coop economist, Sir Walter Citrine, the trade union leader, and Bruno Halpern, an Austrian economist. About 30 regulars attended these sessions, and the discussions were usually animated. The people who came were nearly all industrial workers or their wives, who were active in trade unions or local labour politics.
One of these meetings, in l940, was concerned with the political and economic consequences of
The war. There were a couple of speakers, Cyril Joad, a philosopher, who dealt with the political issues, and Jack Hemingway, my history teacher, who explained how the war could be financed, basing himself on Keynes’ new book, How to Pay For the War, which my father bought. This was the first book I read on economics and was more or less intelligible to a 13 year old.