The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Beveridge, William Henry (1879–1963)

  • Jose Harris
Reference work entry


Beveridge is chiefly remembered as a social and administrative reformer, whose Social Insurance and Allied Services (1942) set out the basic principles and structure of the post-war welfare state. Paradoxically, however, he thought of himself chiefly as an academic economist whose significance for posterity would lie in the fields of manpower policy and the theory of prices. Throughout his life his approach to economic problems was resolutely inductive and empirical, in contrast with the deductive and analytical method characteristic of most English economists. His early work, Unemployment: A Problem of Industry (1909), was based on detailed statistical analysis of the case-papers of applicants for unemployment relief. It drew attention to the structural, geographical and informational barriers that stood in the way of a perfect market for labour; and although its challenge to orthodox theory was practical rather than theoretical, it helped to erode belief in a natural economic equilibrium. Later editions of Unemployment (revised with the help of Lionel Robbins) were more strongly influenced by classical economic thought, but Beveridge never abandoned his belief that unemployment could only be cured by state intervention to organize and rationalize the market for labour. Beveridge in the 1930s was initially highly critical of the Keynesian analysis of unemployment; and although during the early 1940s he gradually absorbed many aspects of Keynesian thought, his Full Employment in a Free Society (1944) differed markedly from Keynes in its emphasis on the need for physical as well as fiscal controls over the economy and, in particular, on manpower planning.


Beveridge, W. H. Keynesian analysis of unemployment Mixed economy Pigou, A. C. Poor Law Redistribution of income Robbins, L. C. Social insurance Transfer payments Unemployment Welfare economics Welfare state 

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jose Harris
    • 1
  1. 1.