"The War and Small Business"


By HALE BOGGS, United States Representative from Louisiana

Over the Blue Network, March 19, at 10:45 P.M., E.W.T.

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 405-406.

ALMOST a year ago on April 14, 1941, I called to the attention of the members of the House of Representatives the vital necessity for decentralizing the then national defense program so that the entire nation could participate in the tremendous effort which was necessary even at that time when we had just proclaimed ourselves as the arsenal of democracy.

Shortly before I made my remarks on the floor of the House of Representatives, the Temporary National Economic Committee, in a special report to Congress, asserted that the Office of Production Management, set up to mobilize and organize the productive resources of the United States for national defense, was "an instrumentality of economic concentration the like of which the world had never seen."

The Temporary National Economic Committee had spent many months studying the business and economic structure of the United States. Its main conclusions were that the basic cause of business ills and economic disturbances is to be found in the concentration of power within a few organizations and corporations and within a comparatively limited area of our Country. That report said in part:

"Far from detracting from the importance of economic reconstruction the events of the past year have served only to emphasize the need for readjustments after the present crisis is over. It is quite conceivable that the democracies might attain military victory over the aggressors only to find themselves under the domination of economic authority farmore concentrated and influential than that which existed prior to the war."

Since this report was filed, the history of an era has been written. The National Defense Program has become the War Program. The Office of Production Management has become the War Production Board. The necessity for winning the war, regardless of cost, of sacrifice, of hardship, is now recognized by all Americans. Thousands of our young men are marching off to do battle and our armed forces are fighting in every corner of the globe to preserve the heritage of the free institutions of America.

It would seem therefore that the problem which existed a year ago would be well on its way to solution today. It is not in the spirit of criticism that I point out that it not only has not been solved, but that it is more acute now than ever. I am again calling your attention to this matter because I believe that if we are going to win the production battle and preserve the American system, an answer to this problem must be found. Today, in order to continue in whatever field of activity a small concern may be engaged in, it is necessary to secure priorities and unless a direct relation to the War Program can be shown, it is impossible for a vast majority of these concerns to secure priorities. To show relationship to the War Program, a contract of some kind is ordinarily necessary and few small concerns have been granted contracts. Thus it becomes a vicious cycle. All too often representatives of these Small Organizations have come to Washington to be shoved around from pillar to post to obtain no encouragement and finally to return to their homes without hope and facing the prospect of bankruptcy.

The Washington Evening Star recently commented editorially:

"There is no doubt that the small businessman in this country is faced with an imminent threat of permanent ruin. It is estimated that there are 169,000 small manufacturing establishments in the country, some 45,000 of which could be utilized in war work. Before this country entered the war, however, only about 10,000 of these plants had been touched by the military production program, approximately 75 per cent of the value of all contracts having been concentrated among fifty-six big corporations."

Everyone knows that war requires sacrifice and when the history of this cruel struggle is finally written, the sacrifices of countless thousands of our Small Businessmen will be numbered among the noblest deeds of all. Can you find a better example than the fine patriotic response of the thousands of automobile dealers, tire dealers, typewriter dealers, refrigerator dealers and others who have literally been forced to close their doors.

I believe that if it were necessary for every Small Business Concern to cease functioning in order for us to win this conflict, no one would raise a voice in protest. But every study that has been made shows that if we properly convert the facilities of Small Business Concerns, rather than deter the War Effort, there is every possibility that our production will be increased by leaps and bounds.

There are two methods of utilizing these vast resources. The first is to convert small plants and shops into war production—the making of shells, powder and so on. The second, and possibly more practical plan is to let the small concerns devote themselves to civilian production and thus enter fields primarily dominated heretofore by the large concerns which are now packed and jammed with war orders and are unable to engage in civilian production.

Can you imagine an America completely dominated by giant corporate organizations controlled from one or two large metropolitan centers? Can you imagine the enterprising, progressive, intelligent businessmen in our communities, both large and small, without a means of livelihood? Such a condition would be the essence of un-Americanism. The small independent concern has been the foundation of our democratic form of government. The men who run these concerns are the leaders in our civic organizations, in our local governments, in our churches, in our schools and in every worthwhile community movement.

To destroy these organizations and the independence of spirit which they represent is to establish in America, by theback door if you will, a system of regimentation which has many of the characteristics of the totalitarianism which we are giving our lives and our treasure to defeat.

The paradoxical thing about the whole matter is that it is our duty to put every man, every machine, every instrument, every facility into the War Effort. When we fail to do this, we not only throw every town, village and hamlet in America into the pall of economic insecurity, but we weaken and threaten our entire War Effort.

I quote from a recent address by Senator James E. Murray who, as Chairman of the Small Business Committee in the United States Senate, has done a magnificent job in focusing the attention of the American public on this challenging issue.

Senator Murray said:

"A handful of corporations have secured from 75 to 80 per cent of all war contracts. Many of these contracts cannot be undertaken at once. Their fulfillment depends upon the construction of new plants and these plants take from nine months to a year to build. Yet during the past two years there have been thousands of plants of Small Business which have been capable of undertaking war contracts at once. There have been thousands more that could have converted their facilities within a few months into the production of war supplies if credit had been forthcoming. Up to the present moment, practically nothing has been done to utilize this potent reservoir of unused productive capacity."

I cannot speak too highly of the work which has been one by the Small Business Committee in the Senate. That Committee is now proposing legislation which, if enacted into law, will set up in the War Production Board a Division of Small Business Production, which will be charged with the responsibility of mobilizing the thousands of small enterprises; with providing adequate supplies of raw materials to these concerns; with working out a plan of sub-contracting; and with providing credits and finance through the proposed Small War Plants Corporation so that conversion to war production can be undertaken.

I commend this Bill to your attention and suggest that from every spirit of patriotism, Americans throughout the length and breadth of our land, desirous of maintaining our free institutions and opposed to the "isms" which have swept our world into bloody war, call upon your individual representatives, in both the House and the Senate, to face this problem and devote their energies to its solution. Remember that in saving Small Business we contribute to the productive capacity of the Nation at a time when every man and every machine must be given a job to do if we are to defeat the menace of Axis slavery and preserve civilization, religion and democracy.