C. H. Douglas
C. H. Douglas
C. H. Douglas in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, 1934
|Born||20 January 1879|
Edgeley or Manchester, England, United Kingdom
|Died||29 September 1952 (aged 73)|
Fearnan, Scotland, United Kingdom
|Institution||Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Institution of Electrical Engineers|
|Field||Civil engineering, Economics, Political science, History, Accounting, Physics|
|Alma mater||Pembroke College, Cambridge|
|Contributions||Cultural heritage as factor of production, Economic sabotage, Unearned increment of association, Money as means of distribution of production, A + B theorem, National dividend, Practical Christianity|
Education and engineering career
C.H. Douglas was born in either Edgeley or Manchester, the son of Hugh Douglas and his wife Louisa Hordern Douglas. Few details are known about his early life and training; he probably served an engineering apprenticeship before beginning an engineering career that brought him to locations throughout the British Empire in the employ of electric companies, railways and other institutions. He taught at Stockport Grammar School. After a period in industry he went up to Pembroke College, Cambridge at the age of 31 but stayed only four terms and left without graduating. He worked for the Westinghouse Electric Corporation of America and claimed to have been the Reconstruction Engineer for the British Westinghouse Company in India (the company has no record of him ever working there), deputy Chief Engineer of the Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway Company, Railway Engineer of the London Post Office (Tube) Railway and Assistant Superintendent of the Royal Aircraft Factory Farnborough during World War I, with a temporary commission as captain in the Royal Flying Corps.
It was while he was reorganising the work of the Royal Aircraft Establishment during World War I that Douglas noticed that the weekly total costs of goods produced was greater than the sums paid to workers for wages, salaries and dividends. This seemed to contradict the theory of classic Ricardian economics, that all costs are distributed simultaneously as purchasing power.
Troubled by the seeming difference between the way money flowed and the objectives of industry ("delivery of goods and services", in his view), Douglas set out to apply engineering methods to the economic system.
Douglas collected data from more than a hundred large British businesses and found that in every case, except that of companies becoming bankrupt, the sums paid out in salaries, wages and dividends were always less than the total costs of goods and services produced each week: the workers were not paid enough to buy back what they had made. He published his observations and conclusions in an article in the magazine English Review where he suggested: "That we are living under a system of accountancy which renders the delivery of the nation's goods and services to itself a technical impossibility." The reason, Douglas concluded, was that the economic system was organized to maximize profits for those with economic power by creating unnecessary scarcity. Between 1916 and 1920, he developed his economic ideas, publishing two books in 1920, Economic Democracy and Credit-Power and Democracy, followed in 1924 by Social Credit.
Freeing workers from this system by bringing purchasing power in line with production became the basis of Douglas's reform ideas that became known as Social Credit. There were two main elements to Douglas's reform program: a National Dividend to distribute money (debt-free credit) equally to all citizens, over and above their earnings, to help bridge the gap between purchasing power and prices; also a price adjustment mechanism, called the Just Price, which would forestall any possibility of inflation. The Just Price would effectively reduce retail prices by a percentage that reflected the physical efficiency of the production system. Douglas observed that the cost of production is consumption; meaning the exact physical cost of production is the total resources consumed in the production process. As the physical efficiency of production increases the Just Price mechanism will reduce the price of products for the consumer. The consumers will be able to purchase as much of what the producers produce that they want and automatically control what continues to be produced by their consumption of it. Individual freedom, primary economic freedom, was the central goal of Douglas's reform.
At the end of World War I, Douglas retired from engineering to promote his reform ideas full-time, which he would do for the rest of his life. His ideas inspired the Canadian social credit movement (which obtained control of Alberta's provincial government in 1935), the short-lived Douglas Credit Party in Australia and New Zealand's rather longer-lasting Social Credit Political League. Douglas also lectured on Social Credit in Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Norway.
In 1923 he appeared as a witness before the Canadian Banking Inquiry, and in 1930 before the Macmillan Committee. In 1929 he made a lecture tour of Japan, where his ideas were enthusiastically received by industry and government. His 1933 edition of Social Credit made a reference to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which, while noting its dubious authenticity, wrote that what "is interesting about it, is the fidelity with which the methods by which such enslavement might be brought about can be seen reflected in the facts of everyday experience."
Douglas died in his home in Fearnan, Scotland. Douglas and his theories are referred to several times (unsympathetically) in Lewis Grassic Gibbon's trilogy A Scots Quair. He is also mentioned, together with Karl Marx and Silvio Gesell, by John Maynard Keynes in The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936, p. 32). Douglas's theories permeate the poetry and economic writings of Ezra Pound. Robert Heinlein's first novel For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs describes a near future United States operating according to the principles of Social Credit.
- Martin-Nielsen, "An Engineer's View of an Ideal Society", p. 97
- Pottle, Mark. "Douglas, Clifford Hugh". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/32872. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- "No. 29448". The London Gazette (Supplement). 21 January 1916. p. 977.
- "The Delusion of Super-Production", C. H. Douglas, English Review, December 1918
- Martin-Nielsen, "An Engineer's View of an Ideal Society", pp. 97–99
- Martin-Nielsen, "An Engineer's View of an Ideal Society", pp. 99–100
- Martin-Nielsen, "An Engineer's View of an Ideal Society", p. 100
- Report in the JSTOR archive
- CHAPTER VI Taxation and Servitude Archived 9 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
- Janet Martin-Nielsen, "An Engineer’s View of an Ideal Society: The Economic Reforms of C.H. Douglas, 1916-1920", Spontaneous Generations, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2007), pp. 95–109
- George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, Chapter VI
- Economic Democracy (1920) new edition: December 1974; Bloomfield Books; ISBN 0-904656-06-3
- Credit-Power and Democracy (1920) new edition: August 2011; BiblioLife; ISBN 978-1241274955
- The Control and Distribution of Production (1922)
- Social Credit (1924, Revised 1933) new edition: December 1979; Institute of Economic Democracy, Canada; ISBN 0-920392-26-1
- The Monopoly of Credit (1931) new edition: 1979; Bloomfield Books; ISBN 0-904656-02-0
- The Use of Money (1935)
- The Alberta Experiment: An Interim Survey (1937)
- The Brief for the Prosecution, Legion for the Survival of Freedom, Incorporated; (December 1986) ISBN 0-949667-80-3
- Whose Service is Perfect Freedom?, Canada; Veritas Publishing Company; (June 1986) ISBN 0-949667-64-1
- The Big Idea, Veritas Publishing Company, Canada; (June 1986) ISBN 0-88636-000-5
- The Grip of Death, Jon Carpenter, UK; (May 1998) ISBN 1-897766-40-8
- Major Douglas and Alberta Social Credit by Bob Hesketh ISBN 0-8020-4148-5
- Clifford Hugh Douglas by Anthony Cooney ISBN 0-9535077-4-2
- Four monetary heretics by Hugh Gaitskell in What Everybody Wants To Know About Money Gollancz 1936