America Must Decide


By WILLIAM A. HANLEY, President of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers

Delivered at the Annual Meeting of The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, New York, N. Y., December 1-5, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 216-221.

WE are now concerned largely with the winning of the war and this will be our foremost task until victory has been achieved. Our first responsibility in this world catastrophe is to our government. We therefore unequivocally pledge that with loyalty and patriotism members of the engineering profession will give unstintingly of their time, their talents, and their labors, until the pledges of our government have been carried out and peace is restored on earth.

Although the war is our immediate problem we should begin to think about our situation when the war will be over, and as far as possible, we should plan for those uncertain days ahead. We should do some realistic thinking and some definite planning.

We do not know when the war will be over or what conditions may exist at that time. Our situation will not be what it was at the close of the World War. All the world, including ourselves, will be much poorer. When we entered the last war our federal debt was less than two billion dollars, and our government had lived within its income for many years previous to that war. When the World War was over our federal debt was twenty-six or twenty-seven billion dollars, and in the following ten years we reduced this debt to sixteen billion dollars. We are going into this war with a federal debt of fifty billion dollars; we will emerge from the war with the debt of possibly one hundred billions or more. We have not lived within our income for ten years. It has been truthfully said that "dictators are the receivers of bankrupt republics," and we want neither bankruptcy nor a dictator.

Although the lease-lend program has my unqualified approval, it is my opinion that we shall get back little, if any, money or materials in repayment. We must realize that England went to war with a debt of nearly one thousand dollars per capita and has been spending upward of fifty million dollars per day. France, Holland, Belgium, Poland, Germany, Italy, Spain, China, and Japan will be desperately poor at the close of the war, and probably through necessity will be seeking financial help for many years thereafter. This is the picture we must face. If the World War I produced a crop of communists, socialists, and people clamoring for a change of government, what may we expect after World War II when the world had not recovered from the effects of World War I? Crowned heads dropped and governments changed rapidly as a result of the last war. It will be true again after this war. We must be prepared for terrific social changes in Europe, and we must realize that we are not immune to such influences in our own United States. It could happen here. It may happen here.

If we in the United States are prepared for the trials ahead and if we are united in our efforts, we can undoubtedly weather the storm and come out less damaged than if we neglect the danger signals. We can either, as a united people, lead the world by example through this dangerous period, or we can wallow in the trough of the sea, without chart or compass, to be buffeted by the winds of political and social conflict and finally wrecked on the shoals of internal strife.

The National Resources Planning Board estimates that in 1944, if we are still at war, we shall have twenty-three million workers on defense projects and three and one-half million men under arms. This means that of fifty-five million workers in the United States, nearly half of them will be on defense or wartime effort. The colossal undertaking of putting these workers back into peacetime employment when this emergency is over is our great task.

This problem should not be underestimated in scope or in the time required to bring about the change. The job took bigger than first appraised when it is remembered that never were there less than eight million unemployed between 1930 and 1940, when pump priming and government peace spending reached all-time highs. After the war there are two ways for our people to obtain jobs. One is in private industry and the other is to work for the government. We must decide from which of these two ways these jobs are to be created. Do we want a government, loaded with debt because of prewar and war expenditures, to have fifteen or twenty million workers on W.P.A. jobs and in C.C.C. camps? If that is our idea of postwar jobs for our people, then we had better send some observers to Europe for we shall surely find ourselves following down that path which led Italy to Fascism. The alternative is to prepare now to create jobs in private industry, and to plan to reduce government employees to a bare necessary number. If all the men and women in America will become interested in this postwar employment and will individually adopt a policy to help in the solution, we can solve the problem and America can thrive as she did thrive from 1790 to 1930. The solution lies with individuals to a greater degree than it does with corporations, municipalities, or other groups. As individuals, as corporations, as cities and states, and as a nation we should reduce our peacetime expenditures now, so that we can accumulate money to spend, and then spend it when the war is over. Accumulate needs and money now. Satisfy those needs and spend the money when the war ceases. If we could have ten million orders for new automobiles in the first two years after the war, it would be very helpful. If the majority of car owners will drive their cars twenty-four months longer than has been their custom, then we shall have the ten million orders for automobiles. As a patriotic duty, to save this nation at home, to save our form of life for ourselves and our children, to avoid Fascism, we should not only have this demand for ten million new automobiles but for great quantities of goods and commodities which must be produced by labor. We should accumulate the need for clothing, home furnishings, and new equipment for homes, and in addition accumulate the need for several million new homes. Millions of men can go to work on these jobs alone, if this backlog is provided. There may be some personal inconvenience in such a program of waiting, but surely the sacrifices will be greatly repaid in helping create a staple economic condition in America, In the same way the commercial organizations should have an accumulation of man-hour projects which have been postponed until the war is over and then should carry forward such projects fearlessly to assist the job program. The town and city should, where possible, postpone the paving of streets, building of bridges, municipal buildings, extension of utility services, and the like. In like manner the respective states might well postpone as far as possible the paving of roads and repairs and additions to state institutions. The churches, schools, hospitals, and nonprofit corporations can all contribute to this great effort of accumulation, and if we will all do our part, the W.P.A. and the C.C.C. can pass into history.

During World War I several million women were absorbed into industry. Most of these women returned to their homes after the war to take up their duties as homemakers. More than one million, however, never gave up their jobs; and it was one of the contributing factors to the great depression that these women were filling jobs which might have gone to men. This error should not be repeated. Where there is a man in the family he should be the breadwinner and his wife should be what she has always wanted to be, the homemaker. His income should be sufficient to support his family without his wife's working.

Let Private Industry Provide Jobs

There are now, and will continue to be, powerful groups who feel the government should extend its field of employment and that private industry should shrink accordingly. In times of war there is no other practical scheme, but in times of peace governmental employment, except in vital functions and in great emergencies, should be tolerated only as visioned by the founders of this Republic. Whether this nation or any nation can long survive with half the workers on governmental pay rolls and the other half in private enterprises has yet to be demonstrated. Because of the demands of the war and in preparation for the job situation at the close of the war, the federal government should as rapidly as possible cease its efforts except in defense and in vital governmental functions. If there should ever be a Florida ship canal or a St. Lawrence waterway development they should only come when they are proved necessary for national defense or can be justified as a good business venture, and once all our workers are employed every governmental undertaking should be subjected to this searching scrutiny. Let the jobs for the postwar period be created by someone other than the federal government and then the government can be relieved of this responsibility. Many federal boards, commissions, bureaus, and agencies will hang on attempting to enlarge their fields and their influence and will organize blocks of voters who will pursue certain selfish objectives. These must be recognized and dealt with on the basis of the public interest. If individual enterprise will supply the jobs for our workers, and the federal pay checks will become less and less, then our people will more carefully, and with more independence, evaluate every governmental service paid for by the taxpayers. When the people are concerned more with the expenditures of their government and less with what they can personally or in groups siphon out of the public treasury, we shall again have reached a high degree of public responsibility. If we will produce the jobs for our people and will get them off the governmental payrolls, we shall have the key to the situation for maintaining the system of private enterprise.

The federal government will have problems aplenty even though private enterprise employs all the workers. World stability alone will take the most patient and careful planning after a war-torn and bleeding world has laid down its arms. Let us then save our government from an internal struggle that would only add more difficulties. The war itself will create a lot of new problems in America and these must be reckoned with. In the first World War we had four million men in uniform. We have many of these men incapacitated today. We face an eventual pension for many of these four million men. We had a soldiers' bonus. Shall we have three or four million more after this war to add to the previous millions for whom we may be obliged to provide pensions and bonuses? Our soldiers should and will receive consideration for the great sacrifices they will be called upon to make.

Shall we continue to subsidize agriculture to the extent of one billion four hundred million dollars as we are doing in this fiscal year? This is a new subsidy created almost entirely since World War I.

Shall we continue to pay seventy cents an ounce for newly mined silver as a subsidy to a half dozen of our Western states, when the world price of silver is thirty-five cents an ounce?

Can we run on an unbalanced budget forever without going bankrupt?

Will nine million people in labor unions, paying into these unions an estimated two hundred and fifty million dollars per year, accept the regulation and group responsibilities as have other powerful economic groups, such as the insurance companies, the banks, the railroads, and the stock exchanges? Will the labor unions resist the open accounting and corporate legal responsibility which must always be accepted by those having great financial, economic, or political power?

There are large numbers of workers in certain industries who would like to see the government take over such industries now and the workers become permanent government employees. These and many other problems confront our government and the manner in which we shall solve these problems will largely determine our future way of life. Every war causes certain reactions and one of the reactions of the last war was the creation of a philosophy that government could and should solve every single problem with which individual citizens may be confronted. All over the world self-reliance has been largely discarded. Thrift and economy and such virtues, which were so advocated in the three hundred glorious years following the Pilgrims' landing in 1620, have not been accentuated in this country for a generation. We must re-examine and reinstate the philosophy which achieved our success in the past. The hope to continue a high standard of living for our people can be supported only by a firm determination to have greater production of goods, at continually decreasing prices, and this means individual enterprise and work and a self-supporting population. How the employment situation is handled at the close of this war will greatly determine whether the government is to be the employer of most of the workers in the future, or whether individual enterprise will carry on. Shall we have regimentation or liberty? If it is regimentation and if the government

largely prescribes our way of living, then representative government will not be long in passing.

Let Us Measure Up to Our Responsibilities

We can do our part, beginning right now, to create our individual list of wants, which we will postpone until the close of the war. Let us measure up to our responsibilities in not only winning the war but in winning the peace, and in so doing continue that way of life for ourselves and our children as we received it from our parents and from those who through great sacrifices, created it for us. This country has gone through many crises; surely in this one, when we have the stewardship, we shall not fail. We want the historians of the future to write that representative government and individual enterprise produced the highest standard of living in the United States ever before attained in all time. We do not want those historians to record that representative government and individual enterprise failed under the strain of two world wars in one generation and, as a consequence, are only a memory in the history of mankind. Men have died and today are dying for these causes. Surely we will fight with all our strength to preserve them in these United States. Let us prepare now for this employment situation with a program that will lead America to a sound, enduring, economic freedom and not follow an unknown and uncharted path where the winds of destiny may destroy us.