Post-War Employment


By JOHN M. HANCOCK, Special Adviser to Director of War Mobilization

Delivered at Pabst Post War Employment Dinner, New York City, May 24, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 573-575.

MAY I salute our host and his associates who have developed this contest, the contestants who have won the prizes, and those other contestants who also won through clarifying and crystallizing their thinking on this problem, the judges who picked out the gems they liked best from the collection of golden thoughts, and may I again salute our host for drawing the attention of the country to this great problem.

When the time for writing and talking ends, when the time for action is here, when we start to deal with post war employment we are going to be in the position of having, thought about the problem in advance. We will not be plowing in a strange field. Those who are interested will have gone through a great course in mental gymnastics. I see still many signs of diversity in the plans. It would be strange if this were not the fact with the multitudes of people and organizations working on post war employment plans. With some 36,000 people, two big army divisions, occupied in this one contest, one may well wonder how we can win the war, though we can readily understand why, with so many busy on post war plans, there is no unemployment problem now. The great indoor sport of the nation has been post war planning during the past six months and I surmise it will again become the great outdoor sport as soon as park benches—in Lafayette Square and elsewhere— can again be used for the purpose.

With the multitude of planners the probabilities are that there will be no one plan but there should be many elements which will be agreed upon. I can foresee only a great tug-of-war of all of the ideas that could form a part of a complete post war employment plan. Many of these ideas will be pulling in opposite directions and no one is going to know how much of a pull each will exert, leave alone knowing in all cases in what direction any individual idea will exert a pull. After reading over the winning manuscripts I thought the problem seemed so simple for the cures read so smoothly.

For some reason the human mind in these days puts great reliance in a "plan". Today "national planning" takes the same place in public thinking as "industrial efficiency" and "organization methods" have taken during the past thirty years. Of course, to develop these plans people must have the figures on which to base them. This explains the great thirst for figures on the part of the entire public and the somewhat ready acceptance of such figures just as if they were facts. Those of us who have been spending some time in Washington have to get into a foxhole when we face the barrage of figures. Everyone seems to have a figure at the end of his tongue and few seem concerned about whether the figures represent facts. Having lived for some time facing this barrage of words, ideas, and figures, I venture to come out long enough to suggest a simple answer.

The first step in securing post war employment is to get more employers. We are out of balance for we have more employees than we seem to have jobs for. Of course, that mere statement doesn't solve the problem but 1 hope it points it up for I believe the only answer to this post war employment problem is to induce men to become employers. I am sure that the Government cannot compel men to become employers and I think it is about time that we made the attempt to lead the natural leaders of men to become employers. We cannot make new employers by coercing them to become such, nor can we induce men to become new employers if we are going to coerce present employers.

No one can know what is required in the way of reasonably full employment for creating the best economic health in the nation, but I think we can all agree that many things have to be done before we can expect reasonably full employment to take hold after we have stopped making war goods. Each will have his own ideas about how to bring this about. In reviewing all of the plans, not only among the contestants but among the thousands who have expressed their views, I think it is becoming entirely clear that the clear trend today is toward private enterprise.

Many of our young people, certainly all of those under thirty, know of the enterprise system only as a theory. They have been interested for years in new economic theories rather than old economic principles. To those of us who have lived in a free enterprise system we can see it in perspective because of its distance back from where we are. If we look forward we probably can still see it in perspective because of its distance from where we are. It is going to take time and a great deal of effort before the broad idea will gain public understanding and wide public approval. We haven't found the way to describe it in ringing words, but in spite of that it seems clear today that as a nation we are going in that direction—the right direction. The political observers and the essayists and commentators all seem to agree. If the present trend continues the only question is whether we will accept the old proven economic principles soon enough to bring about the results which, in my opinion, can be brought about in no other way. When the young men come back from the war they are going to want the door of opportunity open and they are going to live in the hope of a profit. I think that platform will suit most of us who have not gone to the war. I believe we are all going to be interested far more in our liberty than in any plans of a paternal government to solve our problems

for us. I hope we have learned to accept the jolts of life if at the same time we realize the great benefits of a release of the power that rests in a free people producing for free consumers.

In short, I believe that on a basis of individual responsibility alone can American employment be widely spread, and oa the basis of the enterprise system alone can national prosperity be restored. I know of nothing else which offers any hope for the post war America. The boldest and the most daring opening of the door to opportunity alone holds promise for the future. Recognizing that we cannot drive Americans but that they can be led, we are going to have to abandon the habit of mind which induces whole groups to lean upon Washington. We are going to have to reward the individual leadership among those who make what we want and supply it to us at the price we are willing to pay. With all of our efforts to level up for our whole people we are going to have to provide the kind of leadership we need, with the kind of reward such leadership deserves. In the efforts to level up we must be equally careful not to level down. If we persist in leveling down, we will not add new employers and we will not have enough new employment.

Too much of our time in late years has been taken up in asserting our rights and in fighting for them. Too little has been given to thinking about and denning our responsibilities and our obligations. It always seems so easy for us to regulate the conduct of others and on the basis of my observations over recent years I have no hope of finding the man who can prepare a full plan for self regulation. Since the days of N.R.A., all codes and attempts at codes have outlined plans for regulating the action of others, but I recall no codes in which industries or groups proposed self regulation, nor have I seen any attempts in Congress on the part of any group to propose statutes which would enlarge or define responsibilities and obligations. I have seen plenty of effort to secure legislation to widen so-called rights. There will be struggles over this problem but if we have good sense we will solve them peacefully. We should see that die underwriting by Government—all the people—of the wishes of all classes of our population will certainly destroy Government itself.

Having lived through the problems of several small businesses where all of the facts were readily available, where all of the staff were within the influence of my acts, I have felt very modest about the possibility of making good operating plans for these small businesses. When I see the difficulties in the larger companies and larger groups I get very modest about the possibility of accomplishing much, and I get positively frightened when I see some men trying to plan for the whole country—men who have undoubtedly great mental agility but men who have never been able to make even small plans work in a big way.

Each of us thinks he knows what is best for him, but few of us are wise enough to say what is best fox all. Most of us see our immediate benefits clearly and we are inclined to grab them. We do not see so clearly the longtime programs for at best a longtime gain seems uncertain and remote. All of us can be depended upon to see what is to our immediate benefit and we can be depended upon to take action to secure it, but so few of us are satisfied to forego for today when that is necessary to reap tomorrow. Now, how is this philosophy of enterprise going to take shape? I can picture hopefully a good Job being done by the Congress. Congress alone is responsible and it alone has the authority. Even if it should do too little and too late, I think it can be expected to go in the right direction for that is the way America is going now. In my mind the place for the Congress is on the policy level and not on the operating level. Operations in this field demand decentralization. Unless they are decentralized the plan will not work. If the operations are regimented neither will the plan work. The Congress alone can provide the atmosphere in which our economy can again become^ dynamic instead of remaining defeatist—where people will be interested in producing national wealth for the benefits which will come to them, where industry will be interested in doing a better job than it has ever done before and where it may get as its profit a part of the savings it has brought to our nation and where it will pay for its mistakes. I know of no other course of action which bears even a remote hope of success in dealing with this problem of post war employment; in other words, the first need is to get more employers. Let America put its mind to that problem and marshal its courage to carry through with its convictions.

Nearly every plan which I see these days is giving eloquent lip service to the idea of free enterprise and the open door to opportunity, and likewise nearly all of the same plans embody some element of federal or state compulsion or some element of state socialism. When I see all of the difficulties in developing a plan I become more convinced than ever that the need of the country is to have each individual accept the responsibility for himself. Long ago I learned that what is everybody's business is nobody's business. In spite of many statements to the contrary I do not believe that government should take on the responsibility of providing jobs. Admittedly it can do so in an emergency, but government never seems to know what is a real emergency, nor when an emergency ends. It can only subject itself to every selfish interest in America and in turn yield to many of the pressures. As long as we as a people are going to think about ourselves as producers or in our professional groups we are going to have pressure groups in government.

Until we all give major attention to our problems from the point of view of ourselves as consumers where our interests are identical we are not going to get the results we want. We consumers will decide by our acts whether we are going to have reasonably full employment in this country and no pressure group is going to decide it for us. As long as government is going to listen to and yield to pressure groups, and as long as it leaves itself in the position of doing so, the pressure groups are going to survive in American government and in the national economy. In the end the responsibility is going to have to rest on the individual, or the group which he joins, to make the goods or the services which the world wants, and to do this at the price which the world is willing to pay. Until we can accept this philosophy that it is our individual responsibility to make for others or do for others what they want done at the price they are willing to pay, we are not going to have a healthy industry in this country. To sell this idea to our people is going to call for a degree and a character of spiritual leadership and a courage which hasn't arisen as yet. A modern crusade is needed.

At the end of the war the nation is going to face a definite clear-cut issue. It is going to aim to survive on its choice of low tax rates on high volume, or high taxes and low volume. The first plan may win and the second will surely lose. The first may release enough positive drive to provide reasonably full employment, enough Federal revenue and enough profits for the growth of industry. This ideal can be attained by our thinking about the people as consumers. No business would think of being harsh towards its customers. It wouldn't be good business and it wouldn't be good sense. Yet that is the course which we are forced to follow if we allow government to yield to pressure

groups thinking only of their position in the economy as producers. Every man in business knows that there is a price which will bring the largest attainable volume, the greatest employment and the greatest profit. America is i going to wind up this war with the greatest productive capacity in the world. Whether or not it is going to be able to compete in world markets is going to depend upon the attitude of mind of our people. If we are determined to produce goods efficiently at low costs we are going to have a great chance, not only in our home markets but also in world markets, with benefits to all—labor and industry and everybody engaged in service, industries and the professions. If we hold up prices or wages beyond the right price, if we don't accept the philosophy that it is our individual job to sell our goods and our services at the price the buyer is willing to pay, we will not last long in our home market nor in world competition.

I believe America can have an adventure in prosperity. I am encouraged by the buoyant, hopeful attitude as expressed by the contestants for this prize. I wonder upon what they base their confidence. It must be that they are convinced that the America we knew is better than any other part of the world and that what America has done once it can do again. I don't believe we are going to build any complete national plan with all of its operating details. I am hopeful that Congress with its post war planning committees will be able to find the proper scope of government in the field of post war planning. That is the most important question before our country today—the proper scope of government.

I do not believe that we have to arrive at a complete restoration of private initiative and a wide opening of the door of opportunity all at once. Too many things in the existing situation will have to be changed to bring that about completely and they will never be done in a hurry. I do believe the spirit of American initiative can be restored if we can see that we are put on the one path to recovery, and if we can see progress being made as the days go by. We learned long ago that confidence exists in business as long as the hope of a profit exists. I think we shall find a widespread restoration of confidence in our people just as long as the hope survives that we are going to continue along the path on which we are now traveling in our thinking.

After all the plans are presented and all the philosophies are debated, and after all the possible Congressional acts have been taken, there will still remain the responsibility on each one of us to make our own plan for making our own lives successful in the post war period.

There will be need for some selling of these philosophies on the part of the self reliant, to those who have been inclined to rely upon others, and particularly those who have wished to rely upon government. I look with hope to the accomplishment of this because I believe the men in the services are going to return to this country at the end of the war with a well developed resourcefulness and a strong self confidence. These men are going to have seen the utter failures of other philosophies and even if they haven't a full understanding of what is meant by the America we knew our enthusiasm will affect them and I believe they are going to aid all to go toward that goal.