The Man Behind The Plan

"Beveridge, in the prime of his powers at 63, has more influence on Britain’s economic policies than the average Cabinet Minister"

JOHN STEVENSON February 15 1943

The Man Behind The Plan

"Beveridge, in the prime of his powers at 63, has more influence on Britain’s economic policies than the average Cabinet Minister"

JOHN STEVENSON February 15 1943

The Man Behind The Plan

"Beveridge, in the prime of his powers at 63, has more influence on Britain’s economic policies than the average Cabinet Minister"


IT IS not often that the species of human being known as an economist leaps suddenly into international fame. Sir William Beveridge has done it by publishing a report upon the social and industrial problems of Britain, which has attracted world-wide attention.

But Sir William has not been entirely unknown. He has for more than thirty years been a notable figure in Britain, as a counsellor of governments, an authority upon a variety of problems and an educator of youth. Years ago it had become a tradition in Whitehall, no matter what kind of a government was in power, to say, “Send for Beveridge” whenever some difficult economic or social problem had to be solved. So when, in 1941, the Churchill Ministry decided that the confusions and inadequacies in the social services demanded drastic reorganization, they sent for Beveridge and set him to work with a group of able civil servants drawn from different departments to investigate and report these conditions. It was just the sort of job Beveridge loved and, while his colleagues did a lot of useful spade work, it was Beveridge who gathered the ends together and wrote by himself practically all of the monumental 200,000 word report. He is believed to have compiled most of it in a basement room of the Reform Club, which he occupies when he is in London.

Sir William himself does not regard his report as offering any solution for the desperate economic problems which will confront Britain after the war. He has been careful to point out that far-reaching though its proposals are, they are secondary to the larger objective of maintaining an economy of full employment, and merely plan a line of defense against the ravages of unemployment and other calamities which befall the workers.

William Beveridge was born in India. He went to Charterhouse, famous PJnglish public school, and on to Balliol College, Oxford, where he was the most brilliant man of his year. Indeed, he accomplished the uncommon feat of taking a triple first in classics, mathematics and “Greats.” He followed by taking the degree of Bachelor of Laws.

London’s East End

THESE honors constituted a record and in 1902 Beveridge, at the age of twenty-three, was elected by University College to its Stowell Fellowship in Civil Law. He could have settled down as a law don at Oxford, but he had no inclination for such a sedentary career. He had become interested in social problems and after a year he left the

common room of University College, to become subwarden of Toynbee Hall, the famous settlement house in the East End of London where young Oxonians go into residence and busy themselves with educational and social welfare work for the benefit of their less privileged brethren.

It was while living at Toynbee Hall that Beveridge made his first acquaintance with the grim problems of poverty and unemployment and he has spent a good deal of his life wrestling with them. In 1906 he tried his hand at journalism as a leader writer on the ultra-Tory Morning Post. At the same time he was a member of the Central (Unemployed) Body for London, and became the first Chairman of the Employment Exchanges Committee. In The Morning Post he wrote with such authority and skill upon social and industrial problems that Winston Churchill, who was president of the Board of Trade, and keenly interested in social reform, created a post for Beveridge. The latter, with the title of Director of Labor Exchanges, became a civil servant. He and Mr. Churchill worked together for two years to provide the British worker with a system of employment exchanges and they formed a close friendship. So when Churchill, elevated to the premiership, entrusted his old subordinate and friend with the task of reporting upon the social services of Britain, he knew what he was doing and what he could expect from the report.

Soon after the first Great War had come to an end, Beveridge had become rather weary of administrative jobs so he accepted an invitation to become director of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

This school had been founded as a department of London University and it has achieved international fame through the presence on its staff of a group of brilliant intellects. Sydney Webb, Graham Wallas, Hugh Dalton, and Harold Laski were the best-known stars in its firmament. Both the quality of the teaching and the standards of examination were high and students flocked to the school from every corner of the world. Under Beveridge’s direction it continued to flourish and expand. Its influence upon economic thought not merely in Britain but throughout the Commonwealth and the United States was great. City magnates in London took a dark view of an institution which they regarded as a hotbed of socialistic doctrines. But although the majority of the staff were probably infected with Leftist views, Sir William saw to it that they maintained impartial

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The Man Behind the Plan

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standards in their teaching. Defenders of orthodox capitalism, like Professor T. E. Gregory, remained on the staff and expounded their ideas freely. Beveridge delivered occasional lectures. He made administration his chief concern.

Sir William Beveridge has never believed in tying himself to one particular job. When, in 1937, University College in Oxford invited him to fill its vacant mastersmp ne accepted. University College has long been, in me front rank of Oxford’s colleges and Beveridge did not initiate any revolutionary changes. But he broadened the fcasis of its recruitment by admitting a larger proportion of undergraduates from the grammar schools and helped thereby to promote the democratization of Oxford. He holds firmly that intellectual education should be the prime preoccupation of students at Oxford but he does not discourage athletics and, as he is hospitable in the Master « Lodgings, he is popular with the students.

Varied Activities

IN SIX years he has made himself a real personage in Oxford but the headship of a college could not occupy all the energies of so industrious a person as Sir William. He has continued to serve as Chairman of the Statutory Committee on Unemployment Insurance, and of an arbitration tribunal charged with settling wage disputes in the coal fields of South Wales and Monmouthshire. In 1937, when the war threat increased, he undertook the chairmanship of a subcommittee on food rationing, which functioned under the Committee of Imperial Defense. This load of extraneous duties would seem ample for one man to carry but it was due to be increased heavily in 1941.

No Stranger Here

SIR WILLIAM is no stranger to Canada. In the year 1924 he was one of the leading figures in the Economics Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science when that august body held for the fourth time its annual meeting upon Canadian soil. At a session of the Economics Section he delivered a paper upon the results of the dissemination of knowledge of birth control and the Toronto Globe, which gave it a long report, was moved to declare that his conclusions and predictions were sensational and had astounded his audience. Producing statistical evidence to show that a decline in the population of Britain was inevitable, he made this premise the basis for some remarkable prophecies which have mostly come true. For one thing he said that Canada and other underpeopled countries could not hope to draw any large stream of immigrants from Britain continuously.

Beveridge has long eluded the British public. He has chosen to be a man of mystery. One newspaper on searching its morgue found refer-

ences to him dating back a quarter of a century but they failed to state whether he wras married or single, what were his tastes and recreations, and where he lived. He is no Hercules or Adonis. Slenderly built, he is very tough and wiry and seems to be able to do without sleep. His thick shock of untidy hair has grown grey but his ruddy complexion leaves him with an air of youthfulness. His favorite recreation is walking and at the age of sixty-three he can outwalk most of his younger friends. He also likes an occasional game of billiards or bridge. No dry recluse, he has friends in every rank of society but he never wastes his time on fools. He demands the society of intellectual equals with whom he can match minds. He is a brilliant talker with a wide range of interests and his conversation is flavored with a salty wit.

The subjects upon which Sir William Beveridge is a recognized authority are as numerous as they are varied. He probably knows more about Britain’s unemployment problem than anybody else and he has written two books about it. He has also demonstrated his versatility by inventing a submarine war game called “Swish,” but his strangest literary adventure has been “John and Irene: An Anthology of Thoughts On Women.”

It was written in 1912 and since Sir William was then a confirmed bachelor, most people would have thought him ill equipped to embark upon such an enterprise as an appraisal of the feminine sex. But romance was due to make a belated entry into his life. Some twenty-five years ago an able Scotswoman, Mrs. Jessie Mair, became his privat^ secretary and gave him invaluable help in guiding the destinies of the London School of Economics. They had common interests and tastes, with the result that their close association ripened into love and Sir William followed up the publication of his now famous report with his marriage to Mrs. Mair, who now reigns over his household in Oxford and is once more his helpmeet. She finds herself the wife of one of the most important personages in Britain, for, although Sir William does not sit in Parliament and has no salaried official post, he exercises, by reason of his abilities, experience and his friendship with Mr. Churchill, more influence over Britain’s economic and social policies than the average Cabinet Minister.

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