The Economic Organization of a POW Camp_Radford_1945

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The Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines

The Economic Organisation of a P.O.W. Camp Author(s): R. A. Radford Source: Economica, New Series, Vol. 12, No. 48 (Nov., 1945), pp. 189-201 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The London School of Economics and Political Science and The Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines Stable URL: Accessed: 20/09/2010 10:14Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

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The Economic Organisation of a P.O.W.CampBy R. A. RADFORDINTRODUCTION

has been made for abnormal allowance circumstances, the ideas of in socialinstitutions, and habits groups theoutside world are to be found in reflected a Prisoner WarCamp. It is an unusual of but a vitalsociety. Camporganisation politics matters real and are of to concern the inmates, affecting present perhaps as their their and existences.Nor does this indicateany loss of proportion. future that No one pretends campmatters of anybut local importance are orofmore thantransient interest, their but importance is great. there in of Theybulklarge a world narrow horizons it is suggested and that of in any distortion valueslies rather the minimisation in the than of exaggeration theirimportance. Human affairs are essentially matters themeasure immediate and practical of effect thelivesof on in thosedirectly concerned them to a largeextent criterion is the of at their importance thattimeand place. A prisoner holdstrong can as viewson suchsubjects whether not all tinned or meatsshallbe issued individuals or be centrally to cold cooked, without losing sight ofthesignificancetheAtlantic of Charter. of is Oneaspect socialorganisationto be found economic in activity, with other andthis, manifestations group ofa along is existence, to be in is found anyP.O.W. camp. True,a prisoner notdependent his on for of or of exertions theprovision thenecessaries, eventheluxuries his the life,but through economic of activity, exchange goodsand his of is comfort considerably services, standard material enhanced. matter theprisoner:he is not " playing Andthisis a serious to at " the shops eventhough smallscaleofthetransactions thesimple and of of and in and expression comfort wants terms cigarettes jam,razor maketheurgency those bladesandwriting of needsdifficult paper, to even of months' standing. appreciate, by an ex-prisoner somethree it Nevertheless, cannotbe too strongly that emphasised economic in do as activities notbulkso large prison do society they in thelarger can as world. There be little production; has beensaid theprisoner of is independent hisexertions theprovision thenecessities for of and of lies luxuries life; the emphasis in exchange and the mediaof withthe seething exchange.A prison campis notto be compared in of crowd higglers a street market, morethanit is to be comany inertia a family of with economic the dinner table. pared academicand literary interests, Naturally then,entertainment, " and discussions the" other of world bulklarger everyday in games of do normal Life thanthey in thelife more societies.But it would beAFTER 189




of the to wrong underestimate importance economicactivity. Everyequal share of essentials; it is by trade that one receivesa roughly are individual preferences given expressionand comfortincreased. make exchangesof one All at some time,and most people regularly, sortor another. Althougha P.O.W. camp provides a living example of a simple economywhich might be used as an alternativeto the Robinson belovedby the text-books, its simplicity and renders Crusoeeconomy both amusingand of the demonstration certaineconomichypotheses thatthe principal is significance sociological. it instructive, is suggested of the in institutions True,thereis interest observing growth economic small and simpleenoughto preand customsin a brandnew society, the from obscuring basic patternand disequilibrium vent detail from lies of the obscuring working the system. But the essentialinterest of life; it came and in-theuniversality the spontaneity thiseconomic into existencenot by consciousimitationbut as a responseto the betweenprison immediateneeds and circumstances.Any similarity arisesfrom similar stimuli evoking and organisation outsideorganisation similarresponses. is The following as briefan account of the essentialdata as may had intelligible. The camps of whichthe writer the narrative render the were Oflagsand consequently economywas not comexperience power. Theyconsisted for plicatedby payments workby thedetaining of normally betweenI,200 and 2,500 people, housed in a numberof bungalows,one company of 2oo separate but intercommunicating a or so to a building. Each companyformed groupwithinthe main organisationand inside the company the room and the messing and a formed groupwhofedtogether, syndicate, voluntary spontaneous units. the constituent therewas active tradingin all consumer goods Betweenindividuals or was forfoodagainstcigarettes and in some services. Most trading the status of a normalcomrose from but otherfoodstuffs, cigarettes modityto that of currency. RMk.s existed but had no circulation could be purchased withthem debts,as fewarticles save forgambling the from canteen. power Our suppliesconsistedof rationsprovidedby the detaining of the and (principally) contents Red Crossfoodparcels-tinnedmilk, jam, butter,biscuits, bully, chocolate, sugar, etc., and cigarettes. So far the supplies to each personwere equal and regular. Private and cigarettes were also received, toiletrequisites parcelsof clothing, numbersdespatched and here equality ceased owingto the different and the vagariesof the post. All these articleswere the subject of trade and exchange.THE DEVELOPMENT AND ORGANISATION OF THE MARKET

Verysoon aftercapturepeoplerealisedthat it was both undesirable in size and unnecessary, viewofthelimited and theequalityofsupplies,




to give away or to accept giftsof cigarettesor food. " Goodwill" developed into trading as a more equitable means of maximising vdual satisfaction. indi We reacheda transitcamp in Italy about a fortnight aftercapture and recei'ved of a Red Cross food parcel each a week later. At i .once exchanges,already established, in multiplied volume. Starting such as a non-smoker withsimpledirectbarter, givinga smoker friend his cigarette issue in exchangefor a chocolateration,more complex exchangessoon became an accepted custom. Storiescirculatedof a padre who startedoffround the camp with a tin of cheese and,five to cigarettes and returned his bed with a completeparcel in addition cheese and cigarettes; the market to his original was not yet perfect. Withina week or two, as the volume of trade grew,roughscales of exchange values came into existence. Sikhs, who had at first exchangedtinned beef for practicallyany other foodstuff, began to insiston jam and margarine. It was realisedthat a tin of jam was worthI lb. of margarine plus something else; that a cigarette issue was worthseveral chocolate issues. and a tin of diced carrotswas worthpractically nothing. In this camp we did not visit other bungalowsvery much and pricesvariedfrom place to place; hencethegermoftruth the story in of the itinerant priest. By the end of a month, whenwe reachedour permanent camp,therewas a livelytradein all commodities their and relativevalues were well known,and expressednot in termsof one another-one didn't quote bully in termsof sugar-but in termsof cigarettes. The cigarettebecame the standard of value. In the permanent camp people startedby wandering the through bungalows calling theiroffers-" cheese for seven" (cigarettes)-and the hours afterparcel issue were Bedlam. The inconveniences this system of soon led to its replacement an Exchange and Mart noticeboard in by whereundertheheadings" name ", " roomnumber everybungalow, ", " " wanted" and " offered sales and wants were advertised. When a deal wentthrough, was crossed theboard. The publicand semiit off led recordsof transactions to cigaretteprices being well permanent knownand thus tendingto equality throughout camp, although the therewerealways opportunities an astute traderto make a profit for from arbitrage. With this developmenteveryone,including nonwas to smokers, willing sell forcigarettes, usingthemto buy at another became the normalcurrency, time and place. Cigarettes though,of course,barterwas never extinguished. The unityof the marketand the prev