Monday, September 19, 2016

The Great Depression Reconsidered

The Broken Decade:
Prosperity, depression and recovery in New Zealand, 1928–39
By Malcolm McKinnon
Otago University Press
ISBN 978-1-927322-26-0, $49.95

The popular view of the 1930s Depression as a conflict between rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless, is deeply embedded in our national psyche. The Broken Decade is the first account to question this orthodoxy.

‘The interpretation of any period in our history can become fixed,’ says author Malcolm McKinnon. ‘Standard accounts of the Depression have focused on a moment of crisis in 1932, followed by a moment of transformation in 1935 when Labour came to power. Both moments are pivotal yet the political reality was much more nuanced.’

The Broken Decade: Prosperity, depression and recovery in New Zealand, 1928–39
considers the contrast between the prosperous pre-Depression world of 1928–29 and the onset of the Depression in 1930–31. By the winter of 1931 numbers of registered unemployed had soared to an unprecedented 50,000, compared with little over 5000 a year earlier.

 The Labour victory in 1935 galvanised the nation and was heralded as a new dawn. Political rhetoric of the time represented Labour’s policies as a radical departure. McKinnon takes the longer view.

‘The story of the Depression is as much a tale of a struggle to restore a world as it is a story of building a new one,’ he says.

This book explores the way in which thinking about how to combat the Depression both shifted over time and divided New Zealand along sectional lines. McKinnon’s detailed analysis of the politics in cyclical terms also sheds new light on the social history of the period. And the ongoing debate about austerity and expansion, evident throughout those years, continues to play out in the contemporary political scene.

The Broken Decade is a landmark work; this exhaustively researched book will redefine our understanding of the Depression.

About the author:
Malcolm McKinnon has had a lifetime career in New Zealand history. He taught for many years at Victoria University of Wellington and has also worked on a number of government sponsored historical projects. He was the general editor of the award-winning New Zealand Historical Atlas (1997). His own authored works include Treasury: The New Zealand Treasury 1840–2000 (AUP, 2003) and Asian Cities: Globalization, urbanization and nation-building (2011). He has written extensively for Te Ara, the online encyclopedia of New Zealand, and was a contributor to the Royal Society’s report on the 2013 New Zealand census, Our Futures: Te Pae Tawhiti (2014).

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