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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 4, No. 10. September 18, 1941

Axe or Poultice?

Axe or Poultice?

A section of the book which should be of particular interest to the general reader is that dealing with the depression of the early nineteen-thirties and the efforts to deal with the unemployment problem in that period. Dr. Sutch's account of the advent of the crisis is extremely clear and his description of the disastrously inadequate methods of relieving the sufferings of the unemployed is both convincing and grim. One may hope that the events of the depression have been sufficient to drive home the lesson that the unemployment problem is the result not of the wickedness or laziness of the unemployed but of the system under which we live.

This raises the question as to how far social services can be an alternative to reform in the economic system and whether or not the application of hot poultices may, under certain conditions, be a somewhat inadequate substitute for the axe that must be laid to the roots of the tree. There can be no clear-cut answer to such a question, but it is obvious that no set of social institutions, however suited to human needs, can obviate cases of individual hardship which must be met by social services. On the other hand, when those institutions fail to fulfill their purpose it is no longer sufficient to endeavour to soften the suffering they cause—we must break them, or they will break us.