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That same tendency is inherent today, as it was then, in the average human being. We simply dare not set up a group of bureaus or officials with powers such as these with the reasonable expectancy of their giving those powers up when the time comes to do so.
It would be so easy when that time comes to offer this kind of explanation: "We have just gone through a war. Our economic structure is distorted and badly disarranged. Men must be retained in work. We must keep this thing going. It is not safe to turn this whole economic structure back to the men who brought on the great depression."
That will be with the tacit and unjustified assumption that business itself brought on that depression, again not realizing that the war itself, the last war, was the major cause of the seriousness of that depression. And the one that is coming to us—the one will come just as surely as the sun rises tomorrow morning—the one that comes to us is going to be more serious than the one that we had before. And the sophistry by means of which a continuation of bureaucratic control of our economic life could be urged in the past will be even stronger in the future.
It seems to me, gentlemen, that we have at stake here a great deal more than the immediate defense of our country. And in considering this bill, if you will permit me to say it to you, you are considering the issue of whether we are going to have a continuation of democracy, free enterprise, with the rights of the individual regarded as sacred, as they have been in the past, with the limitation that they may, not, of course, be used to destroy the rights of other people, you are going to choose between that and the alternative of some kind of a system similar to that which we have in Germany, Russia, or Italy.
I don't care what you call it. We may call the man at the head of the Government the Fuehrer, we may call him the Commissioner, we may call him the President. That is not important. The thing that is important is whether or not we shall have in the hands of one man the power to control our economic life, a virtual dictatorship over the goods, property, and through that over the lives of American citizens.
The name does not matter. It is the fact that is important. And in my judgment, in the passage of this bill you have definitely set your faces in the direction of socializing the United States of America.
Without offering any condemnation or praise of our President, not considering that one way or the other, the fact remains that that is too much power to put in the hands of any one man.
We have no assurance as to the quality of the man who may succeed him. We know that a group of people with power such as this have a reasonably good chance to perpetuate themselves in power. Who in Germany could destroy Hitler? Who in Russia can destroy Stalin? Who in the United States could destroy a man who had that power; and who could reach out through all the ramifications of Government and its intimate contacts with business, our whole economic life-who could destroy such an individual and group as that? It could not be done.
Even at the risk of a greater cost of preparation-and God knows it is high enough now—even at the cost of more inefficiency, it seems to me, somewhat better to make sure that we do now not destroy that for which we profess to be fighting.
Let me give you an example or two of how ineffective the control by the Government officials might be of business if they took it over. There is no way of proving it. One can point to illustrations.
Take, for example, a carpenter, a personal friend of mine, whose name I trust you will not ask me to mention, because he would lose his job if I mentioned his name.
He works in one of the enterprises not very far out of Chicago. About 10 years ago he told me he was getting $74 a week. Then he laughed and said that the work that he was doing was worth about $15 a week.
I said to him, “You are a splendid citizen, aren't you—taking $74 a week pay—we don't mind that—but giving only $15 worth of werk."
His answer was that he did not dare do more than that, because if he did more than that he would lose his job.
And that can be multiplied. I think it might be worth while to conduct a quiet investigation into many of these places and see whether Uncle Sam is getting his money's worth for the money that is being spent.
There is simply one illustration of how the defense program might be stepped up two or possibly three times for the cost that it is now occasioning us.
Or again, in a factory where certain kinds of machine products are produced, there are several inspectors who watch all the stuff that comes over the line. There are lots of those inspectors that do not have the facilities to know very much about that product; but apparently on general principles they have to show their authority; so they just throw out a machine every now and then.
It happened in one of these factories that the machines that were thown out were perfectly good, as shown by an inspection of the plant's own officials. They were very angry about it. But then the plant manager decided to try something. He simply took the machines that had been discarded and put them back in the line again; and the second time they went through. At the present time every bit of that product is going through, except that some of them have to go through twice.
Take the case of a paint inspector. There was some paint that was about to be put into the cans. There appeared at the plant an inspector. He didn't know how to go at it. Finally the plant officials offered to help him. The outcome of the matter was that the plant manager offered to take the inspector into their laboratory and conduct the kind of tests which they conducted, and he could see how they did it.
It was done, and the inspecting there now is being done by the plant officials themselves, with the inspector standing there and accepting their word for that paint as perfectly all right.
It is not within the bounds of expectation that in a short period of time we can supplant expert men, who know their business, with others representing the Government, whether it be the Army or the Navy, and expect them to do as good a job.
Those things are happening in thousands and thousands of places. We can go through one of the plants in Chicago and find where a product that took literally weeks of work has just been thrown out because the specifications were changed during the process of production.
There has been a sad laxity in planning. That sad laxity in planning has not been on the part of business.
I came here just a year ago, on July 22 of 1940, on the 21st or 22d, and tried to find out then what the furniture industry possibly could do to help in this situation, having in mind not exercising any power or influence on that industry that I had, but thinking that if I could know something of what was going to be required, we could begin then to get ourselves ready so that when the Government wanted something from us, we could produce it immediately.
To this day have not been able to find out.
Not long ago an official from the Quartermaster General's office called up my office and said that they wanted some ammunition boxes. My assistant asked what kind of boxes they wanted, what kind of wood. He didn't know. What size? He didn't know. He knew only one thing; he wanted dovetailed joints. But beyond that he knew nothing.
Well, we turned over to him the names of several manufacturers; and I hope that in time there will be knowledge which will be sufficient to produce those particular articles.
Business is more than ready and willing to do its whole share it is given a decent opportunity to do so. But the price of helping should not be to turn over that entire economic structure to a group of men who, with all due respect to them, would be inept in their management of those concerns.
I find it difficult, frankly, to speak quietly and with restraint when I think of the possible consequences on a business of legislation like this, when I think of the things that Washington has said, that Lincoln has said, that Jefferson has said, that Wilson has said, and that Mr. Roosevelt himself has said, and then realize that this goes exactly counter to all of them.
When I think of the possibility of turning over an entire Nation to a group of experimenters, no matter how sincere and earnest and honest they may be, taking it out of the hands of the men who are qualified by years of experience and by the risk of their own funds to know what it is all about, it is enough to make one stand aghast. It is paying too big a price.
In the last analysis, if we really want production, we can get production. It is not a very difficult think to do. The most powerful force that we have in this country is the force that is contained in the emotion of individual initiative and the personal hope for gain.
I know that both of those are sometimes denounced. But the difficulty with the bureau that runs things is that it has the power without the responsibility. And there is no responsibility more constraining, that is more likely to make a man keep his feet on the ground and his head out of the clouds, than the realization that if he makes a mistake, there is going to be a loss.
Why should I, if I were a member of a bureau, be much concerned with what is going to happen to that company? In the first place, I don't know what is going to happen to that company. I don't know
enough about the business, about the running of it, to even realize that something I might do might have serious consequences and lead to the destruction of the entire structure.
I am concerned with doing a job. And when I have opposition, someone questions what I have done, I am likely to resent the questioning of my attitude. I am likely to feel that, being a representative of the Government, I not only have the power, but that some mysterious alchemy has endowed me with powers which I did not have as a private citizen.
If we really want production, we can do nothing better than to encourage private enterprise to continue. You will find businessinen almost without exception, as you will find any other group of human beings, ready to give their bit and do their bit for their country. They are not willing, not because they have money involved, but because they are American citizens, they are not willing to see all property socialized without limitation, as is provided in this measure, under the ostensible purpose of providing for the defense of our country.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you very much.
STATEMENT OF GEORGE H. CLESS, JR., GLENS FALLS, N. Y. The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Cless, give the reporter your name, your residence, what organization you are connected with, and in what capacity you represent them.
Mr. CLESS. Mr. Chairman, my name is George H. Cless, Jr., of Glens Falls, N. Y. I am speaking only for myself. I do not represent any organization or group of any
kind. Before, and for many years since my 2 years in foreign-war service, I have been engaged in industry and in commercial organization work, all of which I gave up several years ago to devote my whole time to various phases of economic research, writing, and speaking:
So, through the courtesy of your distinguished chairman, I appear here only as an American citizen—à representative, avera American citizen who, like the rest of my kind, is profoundly prejudiced against any and all processes, policies, proposals, and programs which would bypass Congress-double-cross the American people—bankrupt our national economy—and establish a communistic totalitarian dictatorship here.
This bill, I believe, is part and parcel of such a policy and program.
The title of this bill, S. 1579, has been amended to read : A bill to authorize the President of the United States to requisition certain property for the purpose of equpping the armed forces of the United States.
That sounds harmless enough. In fact, it sounds like something worthy of hearty endorsement. Certainly, there is something noble and uplifting in the thought of equipping the armed forces of the United States. It is truly a great event if that thought has at last taken form in the leading minds of our Government.
It is high time, too. When we can count on the fingers of one hand all the army divisions that can be completely and modernly equipped, there is something wrong somewhere. When we put American boys to sea in submarines that are so antiquated, decrepit, and moth-eaten that they immediately crumple, go to the bottom of the sea and stay there—there must be some colossal and criminal stupidity somewhere. It is said that such is the fortune of war. It is not so.
It is the fortune of folly and stupdity. It is the result of a criminal policy of sabotaging our own national defense by denying equipment to our own unarmed forces, and sending it all to somebody else far across the seas.
The title to this bill is misleading and deceptive, because right in the bill it is specifically stated that the President is authorized
to requisition and take over for the use of the United States or in its interest”—and it has been made perfectly clear to us by the administration that “in its interest” can cover a lot of territory, and include the armed forces of other nations from China to communistic Russia.
It is also specifically stated in the bill that the President is authorized “to use on such terms as he shall deem satisfactory, or to sell or to otherwise dispose of any materials so requisitioned or taken over.”
The words of the title mean nothing when related to the text of this bill. The bill itself throws the door wide open for our whole national productive plant to be operated for the benefit of any nation from China to Russia that the President may choose, and for a complete "take-over" by Government of our whole national productive plant, thus dealing a death blow to our free American system of production.
Just the other day at his press conference, Mr. Knudsen is reported to have revealed the contents of a letter to him from the President urging that defense arsenals short of machine tools take them from factories making civilian consumption of goods; and he specifically suggested that Mr. Knudsen transfer machine tools from automobile and refrigerator plants if the defense arsenals were deficient and no new machines could be obtained.
This means that the Jones plant, manufacturing comfort goods, must turn its machines over to the Smith plant, manufacturing war materials.
The result is that Jones can no longer run his plant. He shuts his doors, throws his men out of employment, and manufactures no more of the comfort goods that we buy for our use and enjoyment.
This will happen to possibly thousands of industrial plants in the country, with the inevitable result that our people will be required to get along with an increasingly drastic reduction in the quality and quantity of food, clothing, shelter, and all the comfort goods that add to the material and physical well-being of men, women, and their children.
Now, let me use just a little different type of illustration. It is highly probable that the production of pleasure cars will be drastically reduced soon. Consequently, we will be driving fewer and fewer cars.
Then what will happen? Service stations will go out of business; garages will go out of business; automobile accessory stores will be forced to shut up shop. The hundreds of thousands of people employed in these concerns will no longer be able to buy from other retail establishments.