The Broken Decade: Prosperity, Depression and Recovery in New Zealand, 1928-39.

Author:Bartlett, Dan
Position:Book review
 
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THE BROKEN DECADE: Prosperity, Depression and Recovery in New Zealand, 1928-39

Author: Malcolm McKinnon

Published by: Otago University Press, Dunedin, 2016, 512pp, $49.95.

Malcolm McKinnons The Broken Decade: Prosperity, Depression and Recovery in New Zealand 1928-39 is a narrative and an analytical history of the Depression of the 1930s' that primarily focuses upon 'the politics of the period'. Those hoping for a new social history of the period need not consider their hopes dashed; the book is more accessible than the preface intimates and the experiences of ordinary New Zealanders are captured throughout.

Contrary to the received history of the Great Depression in New Zealand--that the Labour government of 1935 radically changed the political consensus from laissez-faire to interventionist, creating a more caring and egalitarian society--McKinnon argues that what took place was much less transformation than it was restoration.

McKinnon asserts that The Sugarbag Years, Tony Simpson's seminal 1974 oral history of the period, 'confirmed the view of the slump as a story of desperate people and callous and unfeeling authorities, be they bankers, businessmen, officials or, most often, politicians in government'. It rings true when McKinnon writes that Simpson's book is 'the study that more than any other is cited by New Zealanders when "the Depression of the 1930s" is mentioned'; my father used to read excerpts of the book to me when I was a child, and for that reason, and because of that book, I have always felt closer to those stories than to any of the histories I have read since. However, The Broken Decade argues for more nuance in the historiography, stating that 'the story of the Depression is as much a tale of a struggle to restore a world as it is a story of building one'. McKinnon highlights the similarities between Labour's actions in the 1930s and those of the liberal Joseph Ward in the 1920s, and cites continuity...

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