The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Public Works

  • P. Bridel
Reference work entry


Public works to relieve unemployment is an idea as old as the pyramids. From the cathedrals of the Middle Ages to the dams of the Tennessee Valley Authority, recent centuries abound with examples of such government-supported schemes. However, it is only fairly late in the history of economic theory that economists started devoting some analytical thought to this problem. In fact, it was around the turn of the 20th century, with the appearance on the Continent of the first systematic work on business cycles, that economists stopped looking at unemployment as a ‘pathological’ problem to be tackled primarily as one of charity and relief. Even down to the British 1909 Report of the Poor Law Commission a majority still considered unemployment as no challenge to economic theory: if properly applied, in the long run, the normal laws of value and distribution would see to a solution to this problem.


Balanced budget multiplier Beveridge, W. H Crowding out Effective demand General gluts Hawtrey, R.G. Hoarding Kahn, R. F. Keynesianism Multiplier analysis Neoclassical synthesis New classical macroeconomics Pigou, A. C. Primary and secondary labour markets Propensity to consume Public works Ricardo, D. Saving equals investment Treasury view Underconsumptionism Unemployment Webb, B. and S. 

JEL Classifications

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Beveridge, W. 1909. Unemployment: A problem of industry. London: Longmans, Green.Google Scholar
  2. Hawtrey, R.G. 1913. Good and bad trade. London: Constable.Google Scholar
  3. Hawtrey, R.G. 1925. Public expenditure and the demand for labour. Economica 5: 38–48. Repr. in R.G. Hawtrey. Trade and credit. London: Longmans, 1928.Google Scholar
  4. Hutchison, T.W. 1953. A review of economic doctrines. 1870–1929. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  5. Kahn, R.F. 1931. The relation of home investment to unemployment. Economic Journal 41: 173–198. Repr. in R.F. Kahn. Selected essays on employment and growth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972.Google Scholar
  6. Pigou, A.C. 1908. Economic science in relation to practice. Inaugural lecture given at Cambridge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Pigou, A.C. 1912. Wealth and welfare. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  8. Pigou, A.C. 1913. Unemployment. London: Williams & Norgate.Google Scholar
  9. Ricardo, D. 1951–73. The works and correspondence of David Ricardo. 11 vols, ed. P. Sraffa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Robertson, D.H. 1915. A study of industrial fluctuation. London: LSE Reprint, 1948 (with a new Introduction).Google Scholar
  11. Royal Commission on the Poor Law and the Unemployed. 1909. The minority report of the poor law commission. 2 vols. London: Fabian Society.Google Scholar
  12. Webb, S., and B. Webb. 1911. The prevention of destitution. London: Longmans, Green.Google Scholar
  13. Winch, D. 1969. Economics and policy. A historical study. London: Hodder & Stoughton.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. Bridel
    • 1
  1. 1.