Our Postwar Job
PRODUCTION AND EARNING POWER
By WHEELER McMILLEN, Editor-in-Chief of Farm Journal and Farmers Wife
Delivered before the North Eastern Poultry Producer's Council, New York City, August 26, 1942
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 756-758.
THE paramount postwar task for most Americans will be similar to the primary war job. The task will be to produce goods. Until victory is complete—no matter how long we must produce and fight to make it complete—war is America's job, and war only.
The idea of decisive victory involves more than annihilation of the criminal enemies of human freedom. Victory's concept is bigger than that. The victory world should be aplanet on which Americans, and all other peoples to the full extent of their wills to participate, shall have full liberty to produce and to enjoy the fruits of their own productive industry.
Production will always be as essential to the maintenance of true liberty as it is now to complete victory. And only under freedom can production exert its real powers for the betterment of humanity.
The task of production in the postwar era will be confronted by an interesting variety of difficulties. One important difference that will early become conspicuous is that government will no longer be a foremost customer. For an unpredictable period, while the world is settling down, the United States may use its great food-producing power to prevent starvation and perhaps to ameliorate the effects of under-nourishment on the young of several countries. Possibly, as has been predicted, this power will be exerted as an influence in determining some of the policies of peacemaking. Undoubtedly to whatever degree circumstances may require, government agencies will continue in the field of buying and distributing food for its citizens in distress. Proper food as well as proper education may be regarded as something the public interest shall require to be supplied to children. But the poultry industry which you here represent, nor agriculture nor manufacturing, will find a continuing extensive customer in postwar government.
Obviously, then, a major postwar undertaking for all producing groups will be to find profitable markets.
This might appear to be a formidable problem in a world which will have spent years in killing people, destroying wealth, and accumulating monstrous debts. Except for one potent fact, the problem would be formidable indeed. Fortunately, both wealth and purchasing power are essentially dynamic rather than static forces. Only a small part of their power is in accumulated form. Most of today's production is consumed tomorrow. Tomorrow your hens will lay other eggs, and start a new cycle.
The great postwar jobs then, in simplest terms, will be to produce goods and to find profitable markets for the output.
In an important sense, these two jobs are one. What is a market? A market is a place where buying power awaits goods. What is buying power? Buying power is the consequence of having produced goods of value. Therefore, production and buying power are all of one piece.
The talk of all statesmen in the postwar period—whether they be political, economic or agricultural statesmen—will include an emphatic challenge which has never yet been truly met. The postwar statesman, if he rises to the needs which will confront his world, will have to understand the elementary truths about production and what it implies.
He will need to understand clearly that there has never been too much production of any desirable commodity. He will need to understand that a surplus has never meant too much goods. An unmarketable surplus has never meant anything except too little production of something else, somewhere—and because of that, too little buying power. This is clearly a fact because only an infinitesimal fraction of human beings have ever found all their wants satisfied.
The future statesman will be called upon to think in terms of increasing production—where and how it will count most toward creating earning and consuming power.
Voices have been heard of late from economists who predict that there will be no postwar depression. They point to the huge new factories now making munitions. This tremendous production capacity, they tell us, will be converted to making peace consumption goods, and the high rate of output will go right on.
They can be right, but only if this great output can reach people who are producing enough of other things to become customers.
Upon thinking men will fall the task of so influencing the distribution of productive opportunity as to create the most widespread diffusion of earning power. That will call for more successful attention than has yet been achieved tothe problem of enabling the less fortunate and less efficient workers to produce more. By producing more, they can earn more, buy more, consume more.
The greatest potential NEW market for farm and factory is that large part of our own population which so far has never been able to earn enough to buy all that it has needed. The consuming capacity of our own American people has never been approached. We have never been within gunshot of its satisfaction. Whoever can implement consuming capacity with earned buying power will assure the economic future of the nation.
Some of us have been shocked in recent months by clumsy and moonstruck utterances that have attracted the general attention. One is to the effect that we are fighting a global war to guarantee the right of every person to drink a quart of milk a day. I prefer to think we are fighting for the right of a man to earn a cow or raise a heifer if he chooses, and the right to drink or sell the milk she will give if he works hard enough to care for and feed the beast. The man who does that, or its equivalent, has the right to drink a gallon of milk if he chooses. The man who won't care for and milk the cow, or perform work of equal value, has no right to a quart of milk either now or after the war.
This is only a small sample of the Utopian speculation which must be checked against the stern facts of postwar necessity.
If the opportunity to work and to produce is to be so widespread that each able American can earn and buy, we shall need to concentrate on work for Americans. The eggs that have made the American poultry industry prosperous are not the eggs that have been laid by foreign hens in some overseas country. They are the eggs laid by American hens on American farms.
I am not happy to hear of plans and promises to make other countries prosperous by aiding them to produce materials and goods to be sold in the markets of the United States. I want to see every other friendly country just as prosperous as we are. I think the United States can and should help, but I would propose an entirely different approach. I believe it is an approach that will appeal to American common sense.
Suppose we do encourage another country, one of our South American friends for instance, to increase greatly its production of some commodity for sale in the United States. If it is a commodity which we can grow or make here, we shall be depriving some American of an opportunity to make his living. In any event, we shall be making that country to a greater degree an economic dependent of the United States. That is simply a form of the old economic imperialism which from time immemorial has bred international trouble.
I prefer to propose that our postwar aid to other nations be planned with a wholly opposite emphasis. Would it not be far wiser to assist other nations to produce more of the things which their own people need? Would not the well-being and peace of humanity thus be far better served?
Under one plan the United States might help the nation of Shangri-La to produce eggs for export to this country. That would increase the dependence of Shangri-La upon our economy. You who are poultry-men would have more competition and some would not survive. You who sell feed and supplies to American poultry farmers would sell less.
Under the other plan Shangri-La would be aided to produce more eggs for Shangri-Lanian, thus raising their standard of living. As the industry took hold, others there would find business openings to sell feed and chicken houses and equipment. The prosperity of all Shangri-La wouldcrease. There would then be room for a flourishing international exchange of Shangri-Lanian hanging gardens, quinine or tin for American apples or typewriters. If Shangri-La needed railroads and highways, our machinery and managerial experience might well be advanced to aid her development.
The primary basis of postwar planning, both in the United States and in other countries, should be economic The idea should be to expand the working ability and earning power of all peoples, in order that more goods may be produced everywhere.
The first interest of every family in the world is to make a living. That simple fact should be the fundamental basis of all national and international planning.
The United States should exert its best efforts toward the highest practicable degree of self-sufficiency and self-containment. No other policy will make so much productive work for Americans, nor raise so high the standards of living for our people.
Exactly the same purpose should be the objective of the other peoples of the earth. Every family in every land should be given the utmost opportunity for the production and exchange of goods. The more each country learns to produce for its own people, the higher will be its standard of living, the greater will be its prosperity.
This is not a doctrine of isolation. It is a doctrine of elevation.
Contradictory as it may seem at first, the logical result will be greater volume of natural trade between nations in the specialties which each can most advantageously grow or make. It is always the nation with the highest level of domestic prosperity which is in position to buy most freely of what its people desire from other countries.
The world has seen centuries of the kind of international trade that is based on exploiting the labor and materials of victim regions. The story has seldom varied. Resources have been depleted by cheap wage labor which has had small consuming power.
Americans have been accustomed to riding on cheap rubber produced by coolie labor which could never hope to afford motor cars. The new American rubber industry now about to be created will bring better and probably even cheaper rubber produced at American wages by men who can afford to ride to work in automobiles. The coolie of the Far East will in turn, I hope, be freed to produce something he needs and eventually enabled to build up to a living standard comparable to ours.
Our postwar job, I say again, will be to produce. We shall not find markets in the old sense. We shall create markets, create them by finding more ways for our own people and for people in other countries to produce the goods which in turn create earning, buying and consuming power.
This is exactly the process which has been going on here in the United States since 1776. Under freedom this process of creating and producing has built up the most widespread diffusion of comfort and decency and prosperity the human race has ever seen. We have not yet carried it far enough, even among our own people, but we have been steadily going ahead.
Talk about some grand new order for humanity! That's exactly what Americans have been building for a hundred and sixty-six years. Let's get the war won so we can go on with this greatest creative undertaking of all time, so its benefits can spread to more people in America, to mora people in Shangri-La, to more people wherever in the world they will work and think and produce to create and earn their shares.