Black Market Britain: 1939-1955

Research output: Book/ReportBook


Thanks to rationing and price control, Britain’s underground economy experienced a mid-century boom during the 1940s and early 1950s as producers, traders, and professional criminals helped consumers to get ‘a little bit extra’ ‘on the side’, ‘from under the counter’, or ‘off the back of a lorry’. Yet widespread evasion of regulations designed to ensure ‘fair shares for all’ did not undermine the austerity policies that characterised these years.

In Black Market Britain, Mark Roodhouse draws upon a wide range of source material, including recently declassified documents, to argue that all these little bits did not amount to a lot because Britons showed self-restraint in their illegal dealings. The means, motives, and opportunities for evasion were not lacking. The shortages were real and felt, regulations were not watertight, and enforcement was haphazard. Fairness, not patriotism and respect for the law, is the key to understanding this self-restraint. By invoking popular notions of a fair price, a fair profit, and a fair share, government rhetoric stymied black marketeering as would-be evaders had to justify their offences to themselves and others in terms of getting their fair share at no one else’s expense.

Black Market Britain underlines the importance of fairness to those seeking a richer understanding of economic life in modern Britain. Roodhouse reminds us that all trade is fair trade and all consumers are ethical consumers, at least according to their own lights; we just need to discover what those lights are.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages288
ISBN (Print)978-0-19-958845-9
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2013

Bibliographical note

See Bernard Porter, 'Iniquity in Romford', London Review of Books, Vol. 35, No. 10 (23 May 2013), pp. 31-2 for review.

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