Untitled Book Review
ARTHUR POUND, the economist, here continues his study of those new books which have been issued as panaceas for our present economic ills. His earlier review appeared in the April Atlantic.
A Basis for Stability,by Samuel Crowther, in collaboration with Henry Ford, G. H. Swift, Howard Heinz, Horace Bowker, James J. Davis, Myron C. Taylor, Frank O. Lowden, Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., Martin J. Insull, etc. (Little, Brown, $3.00)
America Fares the Future,edited by Charles A. Beard; a symposium of articles by Nicholas Murray Butler, William Trufant Poster and Wuddill Cateliings, Charles A. Beard, Gerard Swope, William C. Ewing, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Philip F. La Follette, etc. (Houghton Mifflin, $3.00)
Is Capitalism Doomed?by Lawrence Dennis (Harpers, $3.00)
MORE business doctors crowd around the bedside of capitalist society. Of course not all the names listed in the Crowther and Beard galaxies are diploma-and-fee doctors. Some are old friends who drop in with simples and ‘yarbs’ from their back gardens, or the rhubarb wine or goose-oil liniments which cured them as boys; others just drop in with a word of cheer or counsel. Symposiums, directed by skillful ringmasters like Messrs. Beard and Crowther, are not to be taken too seriously. In this case the contributions are meritorious enough; but their incidence leaves the reader almost as confused as he was at the outset. One has the feeling that any one of the contributors, if he had bent, his mind to a book on the subject he discusses, almost certainly would have produced a volume more worthy of library preservation than either of these collections. After all, a book, to be satisfactorily convincing, needs more than idea unity; it also needs soul unity, the drive of a single mind intent, even somewhat possessed, to serve his readers. A book upon which one first-rate mind has lavished loving care is sure to be a better book than one in which a dozen first-rate have collaborated briefly and fitfully, on the run between trains. While liquidating some other things, why not liquidate symposiums?
It is precisely on the score of intensity that the Dennis book, Is Capitalism Doomed? stands out above the two which form its present background. Lawrence Dennis has been a banker and diplomat, to be sure, just as these other gentlemen are butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers, industrialists, merchants, engineers, farmers, educators. The trouble is that they remain inside their occupational shells, exhibit chiefly their specialized talent, and do not spend themselves emotionally on their subject as one must do who writes a full-length book on the subject nearest his heart. Some of the contributions to the Crowther book indicate that the eminent writers may have had the advice of their public-relations counsel. The volume is informing but scarcely scintillant, safe rather than novel; though wisdom speaks, it speaks in muted tones. Still, there are striking passages; for example: —
Alfred P. Sloan, Jr,, President of General Motors, discussing the change from individual craftsmanship to production of goods through assembly, says: ’The one great point which distinguishes the old ways from the new . . . [is] the need for a constant supply of money. . . . An automobile cannot be turned out to graze on free pasture and the electric oven will not take the cuttings of the forest. . . . If the industrial worker is worse off it is only because the wealth he helps to create cannot be exchanged for money. . . . It would appear that our money system has not developed in step with either our industrial or our agricultural system.’
Horace Bowker, President of the American Agricultural Chemical Company: ‘The farmer is in reality a manufacturer, and the soil is his most essential machine. . . . One farmer in three is making sound profits. . . . The plain fact is that the average American farmer has been employing methods which cannot, possibly produce an American standard of living.'
J. C. Penney, Chairman, J. C. Penney Company, chain dry goods: ‘Obviously a small-town merchant must grow sidewise, from town to town. . . . Of course no chain merchant can command the trade and respect of a small town by accepting dollars while coldly refusing to accept [social] responsibility. . . . The chain store is only one item in the whole great process of nationalizing the business of the United States.’
Professor Beard’s omnium-gatherum consists of two sections: the first states the crisis of the hour and attempts a hit-or-miss diagnosis; the second presents various treatments. In general it is a rather lively textbook on the subject of economic planning. Here is the Beard plan, capably broad but a bit vague; the more definite Swope plan in detail, the La Follette plan for a National Economic Council, proposals emanating from the United States Chamber of Commerce, and sundry essays of real weight. The most spirited essay in the book is André Maurois’s ‘Can Capitalism Be Saved?' The conclusion reached is that it can save itself only by transforming itself. Can the clever M. Maurois be spooling us in our misery?
Against this mosaic Mr. Dennis’s book stands out with refreshing bulk and substance. Assuredly, the man has labored and brought forth. Sometimes the labor seems unduly painful and prolonged considering the result, but let us honor thoroughness amid so much haste. Fortunately, the mountains of statistics are tunneled with a grim humor and occasionally illumined by lightning flashes of sardonic wit. Here is a man enraged, yet cool enough to aim his arrows with steady hand. Among erring mortals his favorite targets are His fellow international bankers, politicians, and business prophets, from Presidents down to the writers of daily market reports. The impropriety of White House forecasts on the business curve receives a sharp but surely deserved rebuke toward the close of a convincing argument that no forecast can be trusted. We can prophesy an eclipse, he notes, for the excellent reason that we can do nothing whatever about it; wherever humans possess the power of altering the flow of events, the future becomes unpredictable because the interim volitions of man and the whimsies of society are not to be trusted. If we could effect the eclipse, someone would be sure to advance or retard it in hope of profit.
The Dennis gospel is a mixture of old and new: get out of debt and keep out, set agriculture going again by trading government bonds for farm mortgages and then holding the beneficiaries to crop restrictions; once out of debt, keep the wheels moving by spending your money instead of letting bankers play with it; effect saving by taxation rather than by personal thrift, avoid wars by keeping both dollars and warriors at home. Better to scrap ships than men. Professor Beard’s planners get no comfort from him; Dennis holds that you cannot plan a dog fight and that business for profit is just a fight.
In this, as in some other attacks, notably his disposal of free trade on the guillotine of ridicule, he seems to miss the mark. Both business and war involve already vast amounts of planning; and as for free trade, it is no less a philosophy of international accord than a way of exchanging goods. Nevertheless, here is a meaty and spirited book, written by a widely informed man intensely in earnest. It is perhaps a little out of line to view Lawrence Dennis as a business doctor; picture him rather as one who bursts into the sickroom to scold the invalid for shamming, and who bids him to be up and doing with no more nonsense.