Douglas Jay: The Socialist Case (1937)


Douglas Jay was an economist and Labour minister. Educated at Winchester and Oxford, he was first a financial journalist at The Times and a fellow of All Souls, Oxford, before joining the Economist in 1933, and in 1937 joined the Daily Herald as city editor, becoming an economic adviser to the Labour Party. Having studied the great depression and Keynesian economics, he published his most important work The Socialist Case in 1937. He worked in the Ministry of Supply during the war years. He was personal assistant to Hugh Dalton and then to Clem Attlee at Downing Street before being elected as MP for Battersea North in 1946, holding the seat until 1983. He became a junior Treasury Minister and then Economic Secretary under Stafford Cripps. He was President of the Board of Trade between 1964 and 1967 and argued for the dispersal of economic activity away from London – he was known as ‘Mr Regional Development’.

Jay was a follower of Hugh Gaitskell. He was sacked by Wilson – their relationship was awful. Tam Dalyell, in his obituary of Jay in The Independent, said that Jay regarded Wilson as “a little crook”. Jay was a vigorous opponent of British entry into the European Economic Community and campaigned for a No vote in the 1975 referendum. He joined the House of Lords in 1987. In 1962 he published Socialism in the New Society and After the Common Market in 1968. In 1980, he published his autobiography, Change and Fortune, which is a detailed study of the economic policy of successive Labour governments.

His first wife, Peggy Jay, was a leading member of the London County Council and the Inner London Education Authority. Their son Peter Jay, also a financial journalist, married James Callaghan’s daughter before somewhat controversially becoming British Ambassador to the US. Douglas Jay died in 1986.

“The case for socialism is mainly economic, and it rests on fact… And in fact the greatest economists have always recognised the three fundamentals of the socialist case: the arbitrary effects of free exchange, the peculiar character of unearned incomes, and the profoundly anti-social consequences of the institution of inheritance…

“For the drastic application of a socialist policy does not necessarily involve, for economic reasons, a revolutionary break with the methods of social reform that have been followed in the last century in democratic countries. The progressive expansion of the social services, the steady extension of social ownership and control, and the even more drastic modification of property and inheritance rights – all these policies need not cause any violent upheaval in the machinery of the economic system…

It may be that peaceful reform is impossible, not for economic, but for political reasons. It may be that the propertied classes will defend their unjust privileges not merely by force but by political force… First there is no economic reason why a clash of this kind is inevitable.”

“There is no economic reason why a modern industrial State… should not simultaneously overcome the forces of the trade cycle and redistribute the incomes of the rich. Those who proclaim the inevitability of violent revolution are always anxious to base their arguments on economic grounds. But a disinterested examination of the economic facts reveals no such inevitability; and those who proclaim it often seem really inspired, not by any economic analysis at all, but by an irrational eagerness to believe in the imminence of calamity.

“Experience may show that even in the democratically inclined countries the attempt to introduce socialism peacefully will meet with forcible resistance. In that case violence would become a necessity and an obligation. But those who recognize that the realities of personal and intellectual freedom are as precious as those of economic justice will probably be of the opinion that the attempt s at least worth making.”

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