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Economic America: Past, Present, and Future

ISSUE:  Autumn 1940

America, Incorporated. By I,eo Huberman. New York: The Viking Press. $275. Idle Money, Idle Men. By Stuart Chase. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. $2.00.

An invigorating trend in books on economic subjects is carried forward by Stuart Chase in “Idle Money. Idle Men” and Leo Huberman in “America, Incorporated.” These are not ponderous discourses, readable only with a dictionary at your side. Instead, recent economic history and the complex problems facing “the 130 million stockholders” in “America, Incorporated” are dealt with in a lively style. Stuart Chase’s work is especially noteworthy because it lifts the reader above the hazy language— the webby semantics—too frequently employed by so many of the economic writers.

Mr. Huberman’s work deserves first treatment, since it is a brief economic history of the United States since the Civil War. The period from 1865 to 1930 is compressed into the first ninety pages; and the decade of the ‘thirties, the main emphasis being on the New Deal years, is covered in the remaining two-thirds of the book. The thesis of “America, Incorporated,” is twofold. The Civil War gave rise to the corporate form of business enterprise, which by the turn of the century made America primarily an industrial state and entered Old Glory in the race of the imperialistic nations. Except for the vain effort of the farmers through the Populist party and the industrial workers through the anti-trust laws that were quickly turned against them, Mr. John D. Rockefeller and the other leaders of America’s industrial expansion never had their power challenged. The robber barons went on merrily building autonomous economic empires, like U. S. Steel and Standard Oil, beyond the power of the people’s democratic government until October 1929.

The second part of Mr. Huberman’s thesis is that the New Deal has fumbled the solution to the chaos and misery left by the October crash, that “Mr. Roosevelt’s New Deal . . . was a revolution in ideas, but it was not a revolution in economics” except that it contributed to a stronger labor movement. Mr. Huberman concludes on the general note “that jobs and peace are attainable only under a system of production for use, not for profit.” Mr. Chase’s discussion of the economics of the New Deal is more penetrating than Mr. Huberman’s, and offers a solution to America’s chronic economic problems that is more attainable and workable than the simon-pure reorganization of “the bankrupt old firm of America, Incorporated.”

Except for a few chapters, I filed “Idle Money, Idle Men” in my library as a collection of Mr. Chase’s recent magazine articles. Nevertheless this work is required reading for every American interested in the democratic future of his country. Two of its eleven chapters make “Idle Money, Idle Men” indispensable. The chapter “Government vs. Business” is, in the author’s own words, “an analytical essay directed against the whirlwind of foggy language which fills press and air waves today,” and will save the reader many headaches during the 1940 Presidential War in Semantics. The other equally indispensable chapter is “Design for 1960.” This is a description of the Futurama exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in the General Motors building, documented with an examination of the first steps we have already taken toward a rational society. Here, no doubt, is an essay that will find its way into many anthologies of important American writing.

Aside from these two brief excursions, Chase’s work is a serious economic treatise, but none the less digestible. The Federal budget is analyzed. The reader finds that as a method of keeping books it is obsolete; that the Federal government should adopt the modern corporation accounting practices which would automatically eliminate the current conception of balancing the budget; and finally, that the budget is a dynamic instrumentality for the distribution of large sums of money, no longer put or kept in circulation by private instruments of finance.

The population question comes in for close scrutiny, and the undeniable fact that elementary school enrollment has dropped more than a million since 1930, that the United States as well as all the Western world is “confronted with a massive trend in human fertility” is left for the reader to ponder. The author then launches into what he considers the heart of America’s economic problems: there is too much saving; to keep the country’s production facilities and man power fully employed, a high rate of exchange of goods is necessary; and this exchange of goods is accomplished through the spending of money, through the continuous circulation of money. How this all works is explained as clearly and simply as I have ever seen it explained.

Mr. Chase has condensed into popular language large bodies of information collected by the Temporary National Economic Committee which deal with the ability of large corporations to finance most of their expansion programs without the benefit of the investment banker, and other factors that have stymied the free flow of accumulated savings into useful enterprises.

Unlike Mr. Huberman, Mr. Chase sets forth in methodical detail just what he thinks has to be done to loosen up our jammed financial machinery so that our industries and workers can get back into full swing. These proposals deserve the careful attention of all thoughtful people. They are, in the words of the author, “not Chase’s plan to save the world . . . [but] a composite of measures known to all good non-classical economists, with more than half of the necessary machinery now in operation.” Careful examination of these measures is particularly vital now, as they may be the only alternative to complete economic chaos when the rearmament-created recovery we are now enjoying has spent itself.


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