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- Problems of Conduct - 60/68 -

completely organized industries of a socialistic regime would be, we are told, in a position to double human efficiency. If the postal business were open to competition, there can be no doubt that we should be paying higher rates today for a much less efficient service. If it were a private monopoly, some one would probably be getting enormous profits out of it profits which now go back into extending the service. The labor saved by industrial unification would be available for a thousand other undertakings that cry to be carried out.

(2) All the industrial wrongs enumerated in the preceding chapter could, it is asserted, be remedied, and all problems adjusted, with comparatively little friction, because it would be to no one's particular advantage to retard such betterment. Those in control of every business, being upon a fixed salary, and having nothing to gain by squeezing laborers or public, would be amenable to a sense of pride in the honesty, cleanliness, and efficiency of their business, and the contentment of their employees. If they were too lazy or stupid to respond to such motives, they could quickly be superseded in office by men who were more ambitious for the fair showing of their branch of the public service.

(3) Opportunity to rise to the control of a business would be open to every laborer in it. The sons of rich men could no longer step easily into the soft berths, whether they were deserving or not. Proved efficiency, plus popularity, would be the road to success. With the higher wages paid to labor (made possible partly by the economic saving through organization, and partly by cutting out the private fortunes now made out of industry), every boy would be able to get a thorough vocational education, and be in a position to strive, if he is ambitious, for leadership. Industrial power would be conferred, directly or indirectly, by popular vote; business would be recognized as a public affair, and nepotism and hereditary advantage banished from it as they have been from politics.

(4) The risk of bankruptcies, with all their attendant evils, would be done away with entirely. Business would have a stability unknown to our present individualistic industry, and businessmen would be freed from that anxiety that drives so many today to a premature grave.

(5) All speculation in stocks would be likewise eliminated. The necessary capital for any new undertaking would be provided by the industrial State, and the undeserved gains and losses of our present system of private investment would come to an end.

(6) Morally, there would be a probable gain in several ways. The elimination of private profit from business would give freer room for the development of a social spirit which is now choked out by the temptation that each owner of a business is under to grab all that he can for himself. There would be no motive, and no fortunes available, for, at least, the most striking forms of that corruption of the press which is such a grave problem today. Municipal theaters would be under no temptation to produce nasty plays. All this exploitation of human weakness and passion is done because it PAYS; if the men at the top were on a salary there would be no such inducement to cater to vicious instincts. The economic pressure that now pushes so many girls in the direction of prostitution would be relieved. The people generally would be dignified and educated by their participation in industrial, as now in political decisions. If some of the tougher strains of character, grit, push, endurance, etc. would be less fostered, the gentler and more social aspects of character would find better soil.

Whether all these advantages would actually accrue, in the degree hoped for, it is, of course, impossible to know. There are, however, at least two grave dangers in socialism which must be squarely faced:

(1) A certain degree of slackness and consequent inefficiency would almost inevitably result from the relaxing of the pressure of competition and the removal of the opportunity for unlimited personal profit. Employees and managers of state and municipal undertakings are apt to take things easily; and there have been usually waste and inertia and extravagance in such enterprises. The probable loss in grit, push, and endurance, mentioned above, might prove serious. We must admit that, on the whole, private business has been managed much better than public business, both in this country and abroad. To a considerable extent, however, the inefficiency of municipal and state undertakings has been due to the clumsiness and corruption of political systems, and can be cured by political reform. That public affairs can be managed as successfully as private business has been demonstrated on many occasions. The parcel post offers a much more economical service than the express companies ever gave. The most efficient and successful engineering undertaking ever accomplished by man the construction of the Panama Canal was a thoroughgoing socialistic achievement. Moreover, in our criticism of public undertakings, we are apt to forget how slack and inefficient the great bulk of private business has been; our attention is caught by the few concerns that have made a striking success, and we overlook the vast numbers that have failed or barely kept alive. Looking at the matter psychologically, observation does not altogether confirm the statement that men need an unlimited possibility of financial reward to work hard. The vast majority of workers today are on salary; and on the whole they probably work as faithfully as the few at the top (continually becoming fewer) who have the spur of private profit.[Footnote: 1 Cf. this testimony in regard to former owners of stores in Minnesota and Wisconsin who have been bought out and retained as managers by cooperative societies: "they work for moderate salaries, and in almost all cases are working as ardently for success as they ever did for their own gain." N. O. Nelson, in Outlook, vol. 89, p. 527.] Not all capitalists are hard workers; much of the real work is done for them by salaried managers. It is very questionable if doctors and lawyers, who work for profits, give any more loyal service to the community than teachers, ministers, or nurses, who work on salary. There would still be the need of earning one's living, and the incentive of rising to positions of higher salary, greater authority, and wider interest. And, after all, most of the really good work of the world is done on honor, from the normal human pleasure in doing things well, and pride in being known to do things well. When freed from the private greed and antisocial class feelings which now inhibit it, this zest in efficient work and loyal service might receive a new impetus. A socialistic regime would surely make a business of inculcating in its public schools the conception of all work as public service; and the pressure of public opinion would bear more heavily upon workers-as there is today much freer criticism of public than of private undertakings. But even if there should be a considerable increase in slackness and a decrease in PER CAPITA production, that economic loss might be more than made up by the saving of labor through organization. And if not, it is true that efficiency is not the only good. Considerations of humanity should weigh with us as well as considerations of moneymaking; if socialism can cure the intolerable evils in our present selfish and chaotic system, a certain decrease in production might not be too great a price to pay.

(2) The running of the complicated socialistic machine would involve a great deal of friction, with consequent dissatisfaction and dissension. Problems would arise on all hands: On what basis should the wage-rate in this industry and in that be determined? How much of the public moneys should be put into this and how much into that undertaking? Was this department head fair in discharging this man and promoting that man? Suspicion of bribery and graft would continually recur. Bad seasons would be encountered, blunders would be made, overproduction would occur, men would be thrown out of employment in the work they had chosen, floods, fires, plagues, and other disasters would sweep away profits; the adjustment of these losses would be an enormously delicate matter. At present, the poor are apt to feel that prosperity for them is hopeless; under a socialistic regime they would expect it, and be loath to see their incomes diminished when things went wrong. Socialism would require a great deal of good temper and willingness to submit to decisions which seemed unwise or unfair. It is highly doubtful if human nature is yet good enough to fit the system.

(3) A third objection to socialism, that corruption would be increased, is a much-debated point. There would be, as now, opportunity for falsification of accounts and embezzlement. Individual promotions would too often hinge upon personal friendship or favors received. The enormous administrative machinery would open up all sorts of new avenues to personal gain at the expense of others, which unprincipled men would be quick to take advantage of. But, on the other hand, no great private fortunes or wealthy corporations would exist to bribe, and no such money-prizes would exist to be won by bribery as are common in our present system. There would be no temptation to adulterate goods, and less of a temptation to award contracts or franchises to friends -since there would be no private profit in it. What supports our political rings today is, above all, the existence of the "interests" wealthy corporations that are making profits enough to spare large sums for "influencing" legislation; these "interests" would no longer exist. On the whole, then, the amount and direction of corruption under socialism is unpredictable; but its possibility should give us pause. The other general objections to socialism are probably less serious; some of them complete misapprehensions. It is certainly not anti-Christian; on the contrary, there are those who believe that it is the necessary the Christian spirit.[Footnote: Cf, for example, W. Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis.] It is not "materialistic" any more than any industrial system must necessarily be. It would not necessarily destroy private property or lessen human freedom, except in the one matter that it would prevent private ownership of the instruments of industrial production and destroy the freedom to conduct business to private advantage. But it is clear that it would involve us in all sorts of complicated and delicate problems of detail which would require generations for satisfactory solution and which might never be satisfactorily solved. And it might, of course, lead to other difficulties now unforeseen, graver and more difficult to meet than we now realize. Surely, then, it is not to be lightly undertaken, and not to be undertaken as a mere revolt of the lower classes against their industrial masters. It must be worked out in great detail, and contrasted with every possible alternative, before cautious statesmen will consent to its adoption. For it would mean a revolutionary change of enormous proportions; and it would not be easy to revert to the earlier order. Our political machinery, under which the vast industrial system would come, must first be reconstructed and made efficient. Religion and public education must be strengthened to meet the new demands upon character and intelligence. It is earnestly to be hoped that if socialism comes, it will come not by revolution, as the result of a class struggle, but by evolution and a general consent, the result of long and careful public discussion. In the writer's opinion, present steps must be along the line of government regulation, with socialism as the possible, but as yet by no means certain, eventual outcome. In any case, there is no simple and sweeping panacea for our industrial ills; the patient thought and experimentation and effort of generations will be required before a satisfactory and stable equilibrium is attained.


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