Chapter XVII

We Stagnate Because There Is No Common Will to Action

Activity, stability and order are the essential objectives of the new revolution the world over. They are being pursued everywhere with different means peculiar to different local situations. Everywhere this pursuit of order is being accompanied by a curtailment of individual economic liberty, i.e., the power of the moneyed few, and a continuous extension of social control, with increasing stress on individual duties and diminishing emphasis on individual rights. The terms communism (referring to the revolution in Russia), Fascism (referring to the revolution in Italy), Nazism (referring to the revolution in Germany) and the New Deal (referring to the revolution in America) now appear clearly to be each just a local —ism. Looking at the entire world situation, one may now say that there is just one revolution and just one significant ism: socialism. Everywhere it is a socialist revolution, differences being largely local peculiarities of different situations.

The new revolution is not the discovery of new means, but of new social ends. Democracy was the escape of the individual. The new socialism is the emergence of new folk communities. It is not the escape of peoples to Utopia. Individuals formerly could escape to America or to the upper classes. Peoples in mass cannot escape any longer anywhere. They have to stick it out more or less where they are. Japan may be able to do some considerable settlement of its people in Manchukuo and it may be able to export large numbers of people in imperialistic projects in the Far East. But, for western Europe and the United States, large-scale shifts in population are no solution, not even for Germany and Italy, except that large scale migration from the British Isles is indicated. The problem, then, is not discovering a place to go or finding a means of getting there. The problem of peoples everywhere is essentially one of staying where they are and developing there a community will to face the necessities and frustrations of the given situation. This means trying to change the situation by community effort. It is no longer feasible individually or collectively to flee from a bad situation to a better one as did the founders of the American colonies who came from Europe to this Promised Land. The tradition of democracy being escape, the tradition of most humanitarian and liberal varieties of socialism has been flight from reality to Utopia, usually by means of some panacea or series of panaceas.

The underlying assumption of all reformers and most socialists under democracy has been that the main problem in getting a better social order is one of finding and acquainting the people with the right means. This is the basic assumption of the New Deal as well as of the leaders of the Republican party. Actually, this assumption is wholly wrong. It cannot fairly be said that there has been a failure to find means to end stagnation, simply because there has been no collective will or effort to find such means. What has been lacking has been the collective will to end stagnation.

The preceding statement may come as a surprise to many who have thought of the New Deal as having received two distinct mandates from the people to end the depression and bring about recovery. That interpretation of those elections is an easy or plausible view to take of events. But it is not one which will bear searching analysis. Actually, the people making up the majorities which elected four New Deal Congresses and gave Mr. Roosevelt two terms voted as they did for a variety of reasons. Their several motives in voting did not add up to a single mandate to end unemployment and bring about full production. He has fulfilled partially or wholly some expectations and disappointed others. The farmers wanted higher prices and did not care about unemployment. They have got somewhat better prices but not enough better to satisfy them or to relieve the government of the necessity of giving them around a billion dollars a year as a straight dole. The unemployed wanted jobs and did not care about farm prices. Unemployment has been reduced from fifteen to eight to ten million, according to the phase of the business cycle, but this reduction in unemployment has not been enough to dispense with the need for at least a couple billion dollars a year for unemployment relief. Certain rich speculators in late 1932 wanted Mr. Roosevelt to devalue the dollar and raise the price of gold and silver so they could make a killing speculating in these and other commodities. He did as they wished, not, of course, merely because they so desired. In consequence, they made their killing. Those speculators who made this particular turn on Mr. Roosevelt’s first important monetary policy came nearest to getting exactly what they wanted of any important group of Roosevelt backers. But those capitalists who voted for the New Deal for a restoration of business prosperity have, on the whole, been as little satisfied as the farmers with the results.

It cannot be said that the American people as a whole have ever wanted full employment and full production or voted for Mr. Roosevelt or anyone else to bring about these desiderata. No one, of course, is opposed to these boons and everyone will say that he wants them. Yet it is his own immediate interests that the voter in a democracy votes for. He cannot vote for full recovery because there is no candidate or party committed to achieving full recovery. Of course, it may be said that he also votes to have the Constitution upheld and so forth, but the Constitution does not give a man a right to a job or food for his wife and children, nor does it give a farmer a right to a fair price for his product. Hence the irrelevancy of the Constitution.

It is, of course, quite as it should be in a democracy that individuals and minorities should be concerned over their self-interest rather than that they should be obsessed with a passion for some ideal of collective interest such as putting the unemployed to work, raising the standard of living of all the people or stabilizing full production. One assumption of democracy is that politics is a game in which individual and minority group self-interest must enjoy free play under the rules of law and the umpiring of the courts. If order does not result from the playing of this game, the game has to be called off, notwithstanding the protests of the still satisfied winners who cannot see anything wrong with the game.

At no time since 1929 has the executive or legislative branch of the federal or state governments ever had a real mandate to create full employment. They have had mandates to do and undo specific things, mandates which have been partly carried out and partly unfulfilled. Consider the difference when the nation goes to war. Although there is not a plebiscite on the declaration of war, war is never made unless the people are as a whole in favor of it. The people, of course, can always be lined up behind a war once it is declared, even though they voted only a short time previously against going to war, as occurred in this country in 1916-1917. Once the nation is at war, the people want the war prosecuted with the utmost vigor. There is a definite mandate from the people to the government to win the war. Consequently it does not happen that a modern nation goes about winning a war or trying to win it as ineffectually as the American government has gone about trying to end unemployment. The Germans lost the last war, but it cannot be said that they or any of the belligerents at any time during the course of the war failed to try to win it. The people everywhere wanted to win the war, once they were in it. The proof is the sacrifices and efforts they made to win it. But the American people at no time since 1929 have really wanted, as a whole, to end unemployment. The proof is the lack of sacrifice and concentrated effort to end it. Billions have been spent to help victims of the depression but not to end it.

Every intelligent person knows perfectly well that it would be an easy matter, technically considered, to end unemployment in the United States within six months, just as it would be for the United States to mobilize the entire nation for war within the same period. But there is no national will to mobilize America to end stagnation. Why? Essentially the reason is that recovery or the mere ending of stagnation and unemployment are not sufficient as ultimate values to inspire the necessary faith and create the necessary national will to carry out any recovery program. Under democracy, recovery has to be a by-product of the pursuit by individuals and minorities of self-interest or like pursuit of victory by the nation at war. Whatever national will we now have is united only on the maintenance of this game. If playing of the game does not yield the by-product of recovery, that is just too bad for the unemployed. Individuals want jobs for themselves, but do not care about jobs for others. That is good liberalism, good democracy and good capitalism. Why should an individual suffer a loss in his liberty or pay taxes because the other fellow fails to find a job? An affirmative answer to this question is not possible within the framework of democracy.

The chief mistake of New Dealers like Stuart Chase, Rexford Tugwell and Mordecai Ezekiel, etc., has been in not seeing that full production and employment are not, in themselves, spiritual values or ultimate objectives for which any people, as a whole, are ever willing to fight and die. There is no problem to finding ways of ending unemployment any more than there would be to finding ways of waging war. The only real recovery problem is to find things the people want done, the doing of which would suffice to end unemployment and maintain full activity. At present these things have not been found for the American people.

The orthodox assumption of democracy that needs and desires are insatiable and dynamic is all nonsense. Under democracy and capitalism it is greed, not need which is insatiable and dynamic. What is wrong today is that greed is no longer sufficiently stimulated by opportunity or unfettered by taxation and regulation to furnish the necessary dynamism to end stagnation. It is the greedy, not the needy, who run things under democracy or socialism. Under democracy the greedy of profits run things; under socialism the greedy of power run things. Under no system is there a government of the needy, by the needy and for the needy. The most needy people in this or any other community are the least dynamic. The needy have never yet led a revolution. If the needy masses really felt an inordinate desire for more goods, they could quickly and easily take the necessary steps of organization and action to satisfy such desire, exactly as frontier communities a few generations ago took collective action to rid themselves of Indians, horse thieves and other undesirables.

Revolutions are not the work of people looking for unemployment relief, old age pensions or farm doles, or of businessmen looking for government subsidies, freedom and lower taxes. Revolutions are made by people of strong will who are looking for power and action, not Utopia. They are made by the dissatisfied elite who are angry and frustrated rather than hungry and oppressed. Of course, the growth of the “gimme” groups tends to create in time of peace a revolutionary situation by reason of the disorder caused by trying to meet their demands. Similarly, the failure of those ordinarily greedy for profits to find enough incentives to stimulate them to activity contributes to the creation of a revolutionary situation. But the reaction to stagnation will have to come from the frustrated and angry elite who will want action and power to restore order. The new revolution will be a reaction of the will and not a discovery of new means.

It is not President Roosevelt’s fault that he cannot create a will to end stagnation. If he had tried to do so, he would not have become President. Nor is he to be blamed for not telling the people the truth about the necessity for large deficits to keep unemployment down. If he did not promise to try to balance the budget as soon as possible, he would not continue to command popular support. And if he did not break that promise by dishing out money to the “gimme” groups he would not have been reelected either. No politician can be elected to an important office in America today who does not conceal the truth from the people about the relation of fiscal policy to economic stability and make false and insincere promises. This is a reflection, not on successful politicians but on democracy which makes the delusion of the people a condition of success for a politician. There is, of course, no public will to balance the budget either. There is neither a will to sound finance in the orthodox sense nor to a realistic use of public finance for economic order.

Achieving full production and employment is not dramatic and has no sufficient appeal to the masses. Fighting Hitler or the Japanese would be dramatic and could be sold to the American people. Full production and employment would be a by-product. It is easy to arouse a will to war but impossible to create a will just to full production, full employment and a high standard of living for all.