The economics of a prisoner of war camp

R.A. Radford was an economist taken prisoner during World War Two who later wrote about the complex cigarette-based economy that thrived in the POW camps in a fascinating 1945 article.

You can also read it online as a pdf if you want to see it in its original type-print glory, which I have to say, does rather add to the atmosphere it so wonderfully evokes.

It’s a vivid insight into the social organisation of the camps, and just the descriptions of the market pressures are quite interesting in themselves.

For example, the standard currency was a cigarette, but heavy air raids meant people would smoke more, presumably owing to stress, thereby altering the value of the currency through scarcity.

The camp residents imposed trade regulations, had trading areas, and some even developed businesses:

Around D-Day, food and cigarettes were plentiful, business was brisk and the camp in an optimistic mood. Consequently the Entertainments Committee felt the moment opportune to launch a restaurant, where food and hot drinks were sold while a band and variety turns performed. Earlier experiments, both public and private, had pointed the way, and the scheme was a great success.

Food was bought at market prices to provide the meals and the small profits were devoted to a reserve fund and used to bribe Germans to provide grease-paints and other necessities for the camp theatre. Originally meals were sold for cigarettes but this meant that the whole scheme was vulnerable to the deflationary waves, and furthermore heavy smokers were unlikely to attend much. The whole success of the scheme depended on an adequate amount of food being offered for sale in the normal manner.

To increase and facilitate trade, and to stimulate supplies and customers therefore and secondarily to avoid the worst effects of deflation when it should come, a paper currency was organised by the Restaurant and the Shop.

It’s completely readable even if you’re not familiar with economics and is a captivating window into POW camp society as seen through the eyes of a monetary expert.

Link to article (via MeFi).
pdf of article.

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