An Engineer’s View of an Ideal Society: The Economic Reforms of C.H. Douglas, 1916-1920

Janet Martin-Nielsen


Intellectual engineering movements in early 20th century America – including scientific management, the progressive engineering platform, and technocracy – have received a great deal of attention from historians. Contemporaneous with these American movements, a British engineer was also developing a system of social and economic reform: the engineer was Major Clifford Hugh Douglas (1879-1952) and the reforms would form the foundations of the Social Credit philosophy. While Social Credit has been studied extensively as a political and economic system, little consideration has been given to the influence of Douglas’ engineering career on his ideology or to the relationship between Douglas and the American engineering reformists. This paper remedies this lacuna by analyzing Douglas’ proposed reforms in an engineering context.
It is argued that the set of reforms proposed by Douglas in the final years of the First World War was an engineer’s view of the economic re-organization necessary for the betterment of the lower classes, the alleviation of scarcity, and the loosening of the noose which the existing financial system held around the neck of productive industry. Developed contemporaneously with, but ideologically independent from, the American intellectual engineering movements, Douglas’ reforms represent a technical response to the ills of World War I British society. It is concluded that Douglas’ engineering training and experience was central to his reform platform.

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