TODAY'S WASTE CAN ASSIST TOMORROW'S SUPPLY
By W. J. CAMERON, of Ford Motor Company
A Talk Given on the Ford Sunday Evening Hour Broadcast over Columbia Broadcasting System from Detroit on January 18, 1942
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 275-276.
THIS is inventory time for the American people. We are taking stock of past activity and where it leaves us, and the disclosures are not entirely flattering. In some respects we seem to be a people of admirable prudence and common sense, and in other respects a people of almost incredible shiftlessness. We have abilities and resources, but not to boast of, for they are gifts. The shiftlessness, however, is all our own. Under stress of national emergency the Government is directing attention to one of our glaring faults, which is Wastefulness.
The great sources of Waste, of course, are not mentioned. That would be preaching, and with us the State does not preach—we are supposed to fulfill that function for ourselves. Thus no mention is made by the State of the wastefulness of crime, preventable disease, wars past and present, desertion of national principles. No mention is made of the wastefulness of ignorance, class strife, destructive habits. No warning is uttered against useless luxury, senseless fashions, the entertainment craze that sabotages mentality and all the other boondoggling superfluities that clutter up our private lives—these are wastes that no government except self-government can control.
Waste may mean things we use too much of or things we throw away with use still in them. It may also mean the wantonness of duplication, as when we had 81 colors of shoes, 5,000 styles of rubber footwear, 400 different models of washing machines and 300 styles of pocketknives.
Of all the assaults made on private property, the first and worst assault is not made by the revolutionaries but bythe Wasters. We are the most wasteful people on the globe because we have the greatest plenty. Thrift seems obsolete as a virtue because this nation never yet has had to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread" with any urgency of meaning; famine is a word that has not yet appeared in the lexicon of our history.
We need not, however, blame our plenty for our waste, nor yet our free and lavish use of our plenty, so long as it be use. Blame rather, for one thing, our dull sense of human value in commodities—the human labor that must be spent upon a thing to make it useful. If we sensed the forest in a piece of paper and the mine in a tin can, if we sensed the smelter and the factory and the railway and all the men that operate these, we would treat our scraps of paper and tin with more respect. For eight years no scraps of wastepaper or stray tin cans or old rubber have been kicking about in Germany.
Visitors from Europe, who see us as we cannot see ourselves, may help us to view ourselves objectively in these matters. Gilbert K. Chesterton, for example, never quite overcame his surprise at finding ours a country of wooden houses. Coming as he did from a country of stone and brick houses, our style of building struck him as oddly as the bamboo and paper houses of Japan or the igloos of the Arctic would strike us. But these are only peculiarities determined by resources, climate and taste. Foreign visitors are amazed also at the distribution of motorcars among Americans. Viewing acres upon acres of employees' motorcars in theFord Motor parking lots at Dearborn, their sense of wonder is stirred in a way that to us is a wonder in itself. Workmen coming to work in cars! The woman who does the weekly washing driving up in her own car! To Europeans the thing is incredible! But that only illustrates a difference in abundance.
The Americanism that most deeply impresses some of our guests from foreign lands is the way our lavish use of things slops over in vulgar Waste. One author of world-wide fame simply could not become accustomed to—you would never guess what!—the large helpings at meals and the amount of waste food carried away from hotel tables! His profound sense of the sacredness of bread was shocked. In England they say the great mustard fortunes were made out of the dabs of mustard left on the plate; a study of American garbage pails also yields some interesting economic data. Athing is not waste merely because it has served its initial purpose, it is made waste through ignorance of its possible further use. American industry performs economic miracles with materials that once were wasted; even the weeds of the field are now found to have industrial value and every factory junk pile has long since become a valuable iron mine. But in our private affairs as a people we have not been so quick to learn this saving wisdom.
So now we are being compelled to put our habits under the microscope. And that is a fine and hopeful thing. Abounding plenty has not mothered many notable virtues in us. Threatened scarcity may. At least it will teach us how today's Waste can assist tomorrow's supply. And that in turn may lead to a growth of general wisdom in greater economic matters—and no one doubts that we stand in need of that.