on the World today


March 1049

THE President thinks that inflation is still domestic enemy number one. He arrives at this opinion with the help of his Council of Economic Advisers, the group put at the President’s elbow by the Full Employment Act of 1946. That act was a recognition of government responsibility for the economic state of the Union — the mark of what, since the President ushered in his Fair Deal, has come to be called the insurance state.

The Council of Economic Advisers is composed of three economists. Dr. Edwin G. Nourse, former vice-president of the Brookings Institution, is chairman. The others are Dr. John D. Clark, a businessman and former economics professor, and Dr. Leon H. Keyserling, a government economist. In approach they represent Right, Center, and Left respectively. Their reports are in the nature of compromises, but the three are united in thinking of the immediate future in terms of inflation.

Indeed, this has been the theme song in all the quarterly reports of the Council. In some of them the trio have run counter to the business analysts; but by and large, experience gives the Council the better record. It approaches the task of prognostication by ignoring particular signals and keeping an eye on over-all conditions. The economic picture looks good to the Council, which recommends that the Administration direct policy towards curbing inflation.

Steel is the President’s main concern. His proposal that the government be authorized to build steel plants and facilities for other materials in short supply if private industry fails to meet needs has caused a lot of heart-searching. Dr. Nourse has disclaimed all responsibility for it. The author turns out to be Dr. Keyserling. His theory is that the steel industry is not doing all that is necessary in supporting a growing economy. Steel men disagree, pointing out their plans for expanding capacity. They also claim that since steel is needed to make steel, care must be taken lest the present market be deprived of greatly needed metal.

Those who think of the period as an emergency are inclined to lend an ear to Keyserling. They are not opposed to an inquiry, and neither is the steel industry, provided that it is conducted non-politically, and not for the purpose of framing a case for a partial socialization of the steel industry.

Divided responsibility

The position of the Joint Chiefs of Staff lies at the core of our military establishment. In the past there have been four members: the Chief of Staff to the President, Admiral Leahy, Army Chief of Staff General Bradley, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Denfield, Air Chief of Staff General Vandenberg. The group relies on unanimous vote for decisions. It follows that any one of these men has a veto power.

The Hoover Commission refused to recommend a single Chief of Staff. Military reformers in the Capital find it hard to agree with such a conclusion. The report of the Eberstadt Committee, which was the task force of the Hoover Commission, noted “the decisions which the Joint Chiefs of Staff have failed to achieve,” pointed out “the underlying, inherent weakness of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” and warned that “it has been difficult to get from the Joint Chiefs clear advice and prompt decisions.”Yet it concludes that there should be no change in the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Here was a good opportunity to recommend the appointment of a single Chief of Staff, a reform which would have overcome the shortcomings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Why the Eberstadt Committee refused to face the logic of its own indictment is perhaps traceable to the chairman. Mr. Eberstadt, who is Secretary Forrestal’s close friend, is the architect of the unification plan which produced the present military establishment. Both of them shrank from proposing a single Chief of Staff, their objection being that it would be unAmerican and dangerous to put so much power in the hands of one man.

It is expected that General Eisenhower, who is serving as adviser to Secretary Forrestal, will by his very presence at meetings of the Joint Chiefs bring about better coöperation. The Joint Chiefs at present rely upon the kind of compromise that comes when two branches of the armed services yield part of their positions in order to get agreement from a recalcitrant service. Genuine coöperation would require prior agreement on a plan of strategy to which the three services would make their contributions. It would not be ideal and would still savor of old-fashioned compromise, but there might be this kind of working agreement under General Eisenhower’s leadership.

The Admiral goes over the side

The departure of Admiral Leahy means the end of a wartime necessity. As Commander-in-Chief the President needed a military man at his elbow. Gradually Leahy made a place for himself in the White House group during the Roosevelt regime. When Mr. Truman took over, the same need was present, and Leahy developed the same intimacy with Truman.

Leahy is not a boon companion; on the contrary, he is a wintry old seadog. He has, however, a sense of duty coupled with a sense of devotion to his Commander-in-Chief, and that makes him companionable to President Truman. But mere and more it is recognized at the Pentagon that he is de trop at the White House. There should be no intervening official between the President and his Secretary of Defense. Civilian supremacy lies at the heart of American institutions.

The whopping 41-billion-dollar budget has had precious little criticism and not much examination. Actually it is impossible to appraise in the absence of knowledge of all the factors involved. The crux of the budget is defense, which will cost 15 billion dollars. Out of every budget dollar, the defense establishment gets 34 cents. Whether this is too much or too little could be judged if one had knowledge of our atom bomb situation.

In the old days the budget critic had at hand a full statement of what defense the taxpayers were getting for their money. That information is now lacking. With secrecy the new god, the public is forced to accept on faith the military estimates. How much money could be saved by economy in the armed services is another moot point. The Hoover Commission shows the opportunity for considerable savings.

Acheson’s capacity

The appointment of Dean Acheson to succeed General Marshall was a straight middle-of-the-road choice. Acheson is neither Right nor Left, but a Centrist, devoted to ideals of a world resting on law and reason, and yet possessed of the wisdom that comes from attention to realities. He has been an originator of most of the policies he will now have to execute. He is well known to Congress as a man of wit and intellect, with a flair for work and for the ready response, together with a unique experience in statecraft.

If Secretary Acheson has shortcomings, what are they? The critics mention several, though they add that their yardstick is perfectionism. Acheson is said to be somewhat soft in his choices of personnel. He is said to have an irascible streak which may not be helpful in the conduct of affairs. Clearly he cannot bear fools gladly, and this may not be of service when he has to deal gently with bumbleheads, whether in or out of Congress. All in all, however, no appointment could have been better received.

Acheson has a great capacity for work. He will mobilize the best talent in the Department and reverse the present drift of policy-making into military hands. However, for all these purposes he needs the greatly strengthened department that the Hoover Commission, of which he was vice-chairman, recommends.

Congress and foreign policy

The Eighty-first Congress seems to be more constructive-minded than any that even old-timers in Washington can remember. It is less jittery about war than its predecessor. This may be due to both the seasoning of time and experience and the improved international situation; but part of the reason is that the people elected better men last November.

There is a very high average of talent and sophistication among members of both Houses of Congress. This is obscured by the venerables who, in virtue of the seniority system, head the committees. But the over-all tone is excellent.

Members of Congress in general seem to share the feeling of Secretary Acheson that the great need in foreign relations is steadfastness of purpose and continuity of policy. If there is to be criticism on foreign policy, apparently it will be balanced and informed.

This does not mean that the Atlantic Pact will sweep Congress. Far from it; the Pact will be carefully scrutinized, and another “great debate” is promised. The brunt of the criticism this time may come not from isolationists but from internationalists— from people like the Federal Unionists, who feel that the Pact doesn’t go far enough.

On the Fair Deal there should be equally shrewd and intelligent discussion. Most of the members of Congress know that the assumption of government responsibility for economic stability is here to stay. How to prevent boom or bust is the preoccupation of new and old members. This involves a familiar philosophical principle. Should government intervention be managerial or operational? The times call for a flexibility of approach to the answer to this important question.

The mood of Congress

What is most heartening about the new Congress is that there is no mood of self-complacency. To be sure, nobody knows what to do about the seniority system, but the strangle hold on the House exercised by the Rules Committee has been broken. The Rules Committee has been made what it was intended to be, namely, a traffic cop.

In the Senate nobody would be surprised to see the corresponding phenomenon of the filibuster removed. The Senators are very conscious of the public agitation against it, and several Republican and Democratic Senators are proposing to amend the rules in order to restrict debate.

Signs of vigor and public spirit are in evidence, though fingers are kept crossed out of fear of deterioration as the session hits its stride.

The reform of the House Committee on Un-American Activities is a reflection of the growing criticism of the Committee’s methods. To be sure, it ferreted out information on bad practices, and it had every right to complain of inactivity on the part of the Department of Justice. But the liberties that the Committee took in examining suspects were thoroughly un-American.

In public the committeemen, except for Representative Hebert, acted like the hounds of the chase that G. K. Chesterton said were the hallmark of tyrannies. They were seized by a fever like that which made the good folk of Salem hang their neighbors as witches.

A code of fair procedure is likely to be enacted. Much of it is the work of the Committee itself. But, as everybody has been aware, a code would never bind such men as J. Parnell Thomas, John E. Rankin, or John S. Wood.

Accordingly the Committee as reconstituted has been restricted to Congressmen who are also members of the bar. This has let out Hebert, and Rankin is likewise missing because he has another committee assignment, and under the new rules he cannot take two.

Wanted: a more vigilant press

The addition of members who are familiar with court procedure will make the committee less flamboyant. Its antics in the past are not entirely its own fault. The only way a legislator can catch the attention either of his constituents or of the newspaper press is to be spectacular. This is a sorry commentary on our government, but it is nevertheless true.

In this matter the press could take a hand. With the newspaper reporters waiting in anterooms, all equipped with headlines for distribution, the temptation to the member of Congress to go off the handle is well-nigh irresistible. More editorial direction to the newspaper corps in Washington to dig out news of Congressional doings as well as Congressional mouthings would be a real benefit to the Congress.