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The Western Mail, December 31st 1932  


And Two That Remain



On New Year’s Day, 1932, a young American businessman was driving rapidly from his home in the country towards the skyscrapers of New York and telling his fellow-traveller, who hailed from Wales, what he thought the year would bring: “I believe that we are all doomed.  The world is moving full speed towards ruin and starvation.  Nothing can save us.  I’m quitting Wall Street, buying a patch of land and a house in Connecticut, going to keep chickens and grow vegetables with my wife and kids, so that at least I’ll have a bite to eat when the big crash comes this year.

Throughout the world when 1932 first dawned men felt like this American businessman.  Panic had swept from city to city, and a vague dread of some sudden collapse preyed upon the minds of millions.  Former millionaires began repeating prophecies of the downfall of capitalism with as much sincerity as if they had been Karl Marx himself.  A fear of the unknown future gripped mankind.


The story of 1932 is the story of the overcoming of that fear, of the baselessness of the prophecies of sudden collapse, and of the- return of a slight wave of confidence.

The panic had been caused by three shadows which cast a gloom over the world - the shadow of Economic Collapse, the shadow of the Machine, and the shadow of War.

The shadow of economic collapse was particularly gloomy in America and in Germany.  Prices had tumbled down to almost unprecedented low levels.  Wheat, the unrivalled barometer of agricultural prosperity, dropped so low that students had to search in the records of 340 years ago to find its price so calamitously small.  The railways of America stood hovering on the brink of bankruptcy.  The production of steel fell to 12 per cent. of capacity.  In Germany there reigned a spirit of impending doom.  Six million unemployed tramped the streets or lounged apathetic and weak in fireless homes.  One political murder after another pointed to a grim nervous tension among the population, which believed that soon a breakdown of the whole system would come.

In July, however, a feeling went round the world that all was not lost.  After the Lausanne Conference, which in that month virtually put an end to the scourge of Reparations, prices began to rise.  To businessmen and economists a rise in prices is the best indication of recovery, and the leap upward in world prices after Lausanne led many to believe that the tide had turned.  The statesmen hoped that once Reparations were shelved the United States would be wise enough not to insist on a large payment of war debts.


Two events were destined, however to dash the hopes which the late summer months has aroused.  The first was the calamitous fall in prices from September to November, which followed on he continuous fall of the pound, and the second was the obstinate refusal of the American Congressmen to postpone the payment of war debts.

As this article is being read the Mauritania is three days out of Southampton carrying gold to New York to meet the British obligation.  In spite of the payment, however, the world has not gone back to the black gloom of a year ago, and even the darkest of pessimists entertains no longer the dread of a sudden collapse.

The second shadow which in 1932 hung, and still hangs, over us is the shadow of the machine. Experts have estimated that the output of energy per man has by machines been increased over eight million times during the past thirty years.  There arc inventions ready to be used which could change our whole mode of life in a few years.


According to a group of students of the new science “technocracy,” there is a plant called ramie which, if introduced to industry, would gravely affect the entire wood pulp, silk, wool and cotton industries.

When made into suits it lasts seven times longer than wool.  When made into paper it cannot be torn by human hand.  Its lustre is similar to that of silk.

There is also an invention ready which, by producing a motor-car lasting ten times the average age of a car to-day, would satisfy within a year or two all demand for cars for many decades.  A factory is being completed in America to produce rayon yarn which can be run twenty four hours a day without a single worker in the plant.  One man, seated many miles away in a New York office, can regulate most of the functions of the works.

The year 1932 brought the problem of the machine nearer to the minds of man, but it failed to convey the lesson of the machine, namely, that the world has become a small unit.  Instead of realising that the problems that confronted there were worldwide, politicians clung to outworn ideas of narrow nationalism, built tariff walls and put up barbed-wire entanglements of quotas and restrictions.

In 1932 Britain became Protectionist, and in the same year at the Ottawa Conference the United Kingdom agreed to impose tariffs upon foreign foodstuffs, in return for certain advantages given by the Dominions to British traders.


The third shadow which hung over the world in 1932 was the shadow of war.  The Disarmament Conference, which began in Geneva in February 1932, has failed to dispel the blackness. After months of haggling a few minor restrictions on weapons were decided upon.  Achievements were so slight that the Germans flared up and renewed vociferously their demand for equality of rights.  Several months passed before the justice of the Germans claim was sulkily admitted, and the fate of the Disarmament Conference still hangs in the balance.

If the leaders of the Great Powers were weak in their support of disarmament their weakness was still more patent when they knuckled under to Japan in December.  The failure of the world’s statesmen to uphold the treaties which had been broken by the Japanese in Manchuria dealt a severe blow to the League of Nations and alienated the American leaders, who had all along upheld the sanctity of the treaties violated by Japan.  When the Assembly of the League of Nations dispersed in December the shadow of war still hung ominously over the world, although few feared imminent strife.

Thus shadows still hang over the world, but 1932 has done at least one thing – it has dispersed the fears of a sudden world catastrophe such as expressed by the young American businessman speeding towards New York twelve months ago.

Special interest is given to this article by the repeated reports in the last few days of the ‘execution’ of ‘specialists’ on a charge of sabotaging the food supply of Soviet Russia. 








Dollar,  Yo-Yo.


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