Sweden: The Middle Way

by Marquis W. Childs
[Yale University Press, $2.50]
MARQUIS W. CHILDS has prepared a study of coöperatives in Sweden. To it he adds a chapter on how the Swedish king manages to get along with Socialists, another on government-owned public utilities, and a third on farming in Denmark. These additional chapters distract the reader from the essential theme of the book. But Mr. Childs goes further than mere research into a Swedish experiment. He announces that coöperation on the Swedish model is the ‘Middle Way’ — we must assume between capitalism and Communism. He apparently offers that as a way for the United States.
At no point does Mr, Childs give us adequate data on comparative standards of living of the two peoples. For instance, it is interesting to me that in the United States there is one motor car for every 4.9 persons, while in Sweden there is a car for every 41 persons. Here is a measure of the standard of living under American capitalism which compares about nine times more favorably than the measure for Sweden. We might apply the same yardstick to other commodities to see what this ‘lowprice cöoperative’ does to standards of living.
It would seem that EPIC’S slogan ‘production for use’ is the goal of the Swedish cooperatives, although occasionally even they become entangled in profits. Now production for use is no new human concept. Every savage village, every pre-capitalist town, functioned on that basis. As life became more complicated, production entered another realm which involved increasing production for the supply of the total human demand. To create a demand, market stimulation became a method, often referred to colloquially as salesmanship, as when the Chinese were taught to smoke cigarettes and thus raised the standard of living of Virginia, Kentucky, and Carolina tobacco farmers and cigarette workers.
Mr. Childs says that ‘at the present time more than 20 per cent of the retail and wholesale trade in Sweden is carried on through the coöperatives. About 10 per cent of all manufactures is done in coöperative factories; almost the entire 10 per cent, it should be added, being goods for domestic consumption.’
In a word, the ‘Middle Way’ that is being offered us is still a very small affair, not even universal in the small area where it is being tried. Why, then, not label it merely as ‘Coöperatives in Sweden’ and not as the ‘Middle Way,’ which bears implications of far-reaching significance? For are we not all seeking a middle way?
Mr. Childs seems to be particularly antagonistic to trusts, and he offers the coöperative as an opponent to the trusts. In our economic system, we have but two trusts, possibly three. The A. T. & T. is on the whole a trust, because public opinion requires that we shall have a unified telephone system; the railroads are a trust managed — and, in my opinion, incompetently — by the Interstate Commerce Commission; and there is a possibility that the aluminum business may be a trust because of little competition.
Apart from that we have no trusts. Ours is a shockingly cutthroat competitive system in which prices are dominated by the law of diminishing returns, often referred to as the price ceiling or sales resistance. Prices in the United States, which include the highest wage scale known to man and an incredibly high and complex tax structure, are low — so low, in fact, that luxuries rapidly become necessities and so-called class-goods soon become mass-goods. Vide automobiles, refrigerators, rayon, radio, air conditioning. Competition does that.
Now, we have a theory here that the price must include a higli wage scale. That theory may he fallacious, but it is not politically feasible in the United States to bring the wage scale down. As soon as that is attempted, the worker resorts to strikes. The high wage scale has the effect of forcing industry to manufacture by mass production, which also involves market stimulation so that increasing quantities of goods can be absorbed. This process resists standardization of commodities and tastes. It increases tastes by stimulation; otherwise the factories would close down.
The soul of the entire system is competition. When we are offered coöperation, we are told to cast aside competition. To do that means a complete revision of our system of production and distribution, our standard of living, our wage system. It is not a mere shift from production for profits to production for use. It is a total shift of our economic and social system.
That takes a bit of thinking out, and I fear that Mr. Childs does not help us. He does not show us all the roads to the ‘Middle Way.’ All lie does is to show us how some Swedes buy 20 per cent of their goods.