The Path to Prosperity

by Gilbert M. Tucker
[Putnam, $2.50]
IT sounds like a belated volume on economic planning, but actually it is in direct and scornful rebuttal of the familiar prescriptions. Instead of panacea plans, Mr. Tucker advises a return to first principles, plus modifications dictated by new conditions of production and employment. The prophet he follows most devotedly is Henry George; the one major reform advocated is the single tax on land. Beyond that and a few suggestions based upon improving corporate relations with the public, the author is content to rest the future upon the past, insisting that the principles evolved in the search for justice be cleansed of the inequalities and special privileges to which we have grown all too accustomed.
The very inventory of these barnacles on the ship of state makes this a challenging book. What would happen to America if the protective tariff were abolished in favor of a tariff for revenue only, or to national solvency if the income tax, ‘which is to be wholly condemned,’ were voided? What would be the effect on government expenditures if we followed the authors recommendation to disfranchise all who draw their incomes directly from the public purse? What would Doctor Townsend say to that? By piling one absurdity of American government upon another, Mr, Tucker shows the folly of trying to secure social justice through claptrap innovations when existing injustice rests upon disregard ot fundamentals.
Here are found numerous cases of that tortuous phenomenon sometimes described as ‘the reverse English in legislation. Whatever a new law is designed to do, we can be sure only of this — it will not do all that is expected of it, and it is altogether likely to do something entirely unexpected, Burke noted the effect when he said that the results of any change of government are incalculable and may be disastrous. For example, the most pressing present duty of the Interstate Commerce Commission, created to protect small shippers and the helpless public, appears to be that of protecting railroad securities, as far as possible, from loss of value incident to the advance of the motor vehicle and airplane. Railroads desirous of meeting this new competition on an even keel, emphasizing their manifestly superior safety and ease of travel, find that Washington delays granting permission to reduce rates. Time and pressure have wrought a complete reversal of the idea behind the I.C.C. legislation.
As the author hints, the whole security programme may be defeated in detail. Why should employers be taxed for unemployment insurance more directly than the rest of the public which accepts none of the risks inherent in providing employment? Does not every hiring-and-firing complication, and every funding-anddisbursing operation beyond provision for simple wages, discourage possible new employers from trying their luck and tend to keep present employers from expanding their operations? Why should anyone hire when he cannot fire? How can anyone be expected Lo set up a job, lay out the work, furnish materials, provide wages, and take responsibility for sale of the product, unless he has authority over conditions and personnel, plus a prospect of profit?
This book is of the stuff that stirs a reviewer to regret that he cannot have unlimited space to jump from its covers to a broader discussion of the problems it raises. One could debate at length whether taxing the full value of land rents into public treasuries would meet present revenue requirements and those of the future, for so much wealth now matures through advanced mechanical and chemical processes on small areas and with relatively few laborers. Weightier still would be the author’s assumption that the sovereign state’s ideal is justice; instead, is it not power, with justice merely an afterthought to be dispensed as necessary to keep content a population desiring security for goods and chattels? The realist contends that the state feeds the indigent, not to keep them from starving, but to keep them from rioting, and that there is no room in that iron frame for the milk of human kindness. Is justice likely to be a first concern of an institution which enforces private contracts yet tears up its own? Though there be no Macaulays left, and perhaps no readers for that sort of essay, it is certain there is need for dusting off our political philosophy now that the division of wealth is consciously accepted as the most pressing political question.
Any business man who is willing to risk a few bumps and shocks in return for a rational explanation of things as they were, and a calm programme for things as they might be, will find The Path to Prosperity worth reading.
Current books of general interest are reviewed in the front advertising section