Confusion in Mainstream Economics
and Social Philosophy
Joseph Dana Miller
[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, May-June
Joseph Dana Miller was during this period Editor
of Land and Freedom. Many of the editorials published were
unsigned. It is therefore possible that Miller was not the author
of this article, although the content is thought to be consistent
with his own perspectives as Editor.
Is it harder to think straight than to think crookedly? Is it easier
to tread the labyrinthian caverns of what goes on under the name of
economics and social philosophy than to make obvious deductions from
the working of the factors in production and distribution that are
right under our eyes? Is the definition of terms and their
understanding so difficult that we must seek out esoteric meanings,
new complexities, verbal profundities to conceal the simplicities of
production and distribution everywhere?
For despite certain appearances to the contrary, industry in its
seeming complexities is as simple as it ever was. We are warned
against financial control of production through holding companies or
through banking organizations. We see the growth of corporate forms of
business ownership; we see the increasing number of chain stores, and
other symptoms of cooperation and the cooperative spirit. We hear this
manifestation hailed from one quarter as monopolistic, and therefore
insidious and dangerous, from another as a healthy manifestation of
social coordination in industry. Few seem to be sure of it.
We should be able to discover that these manifestations of modern
industry where they are unimpeded are healthy manifestations; we
should be able to determine that where they are harmful it is due to
the monopolistic basis of society common even to the simpler forms of
industry. That is, if we are patient and reduce it to simple terms. If
these great corporate forms of production and distribution possess
powers of oppression it is not because of the inherent capabilities of
combination to oppress the smaller industries but to the absence of
that very freedom of competition which these pur-blind economists
stigmatize as laissez faire.
Combination and competition are two sides of the same shield.
Monopoly is not inherent in combination. The two first named are
natural laws. And here is just where the modern economists fall down.
Monopoly is man-made and not natural. It is not possible to establish
any real monopoly without calling in the law to perpetuate it. There
is no monopoly where the natural laws of production and distribution
prevail. Co-operation and competition see to that.
[unreadable] is what is the matter with present day economic
thinking. If there is not a natural law of distribution the way is
open for all manner of invention to secure desired equity and we
cheerfully concede that this is the motive actuating many of these
thinkers. It may serve to explain some of the Roosevelt policies. But
unless there is some sensing of the nature of cooperation, competition
and monopoly if we start with the presumption that competition is
wholly bad, and thus mistake its real function we are betrayed into
all manner of makeshifts that result disastrously, and when exhibited
in panorama, as they have been in the last three years of the
Roosevelt administration, seem like a Chamber of Horrors. One series
of fantastic invention has followed another until we do not know what
to expect next.
These men are amazingly ignorant, despite their pretense of learning,
despite their degrees and the high regard in which they are held.
Writers like Stuart Chase, and even the more persuasive Walter
Lippmann, have capitalized the little they possess to unheard of
figures. Possessed of undoubted talent, though talent of a tenuous
quality, they might easily have attained to influential thinking. But
they do not know where they are headed. There are no laws and
principles by which they might be guided and thus no real destination.
Laws like competition and its complement, combination, or cooperation
are anathema to them; all our troubles are attributed to them; they
sneer at laissez faire without knowing what they are sneering at.
ANY knowledge of what actually has taken place in history seems also
to be unknown to them. They think prices can be regulated; nothing is
clearer than that they cannot be; they think Mr. Roosevelt does that
prices are connected somehow with prosperity. He talks about returning
to the price level of 1926 as if there were something epochal in that.
He has not, like his friend Upton Sinclair, talked about profits as if
profits were not wages, or interest, or rent or all combined. He has
not talked in socialistic jargon of "production for use" and
not for profit, but he came perilously near to it. Some of his friends
say it for him. These men are not only ignorant of natural laws; they
do not know the meaning of terms.
That there are large groups ignorant of the fundamental laws of
political economy is proven by the half-baked theories which are
current and are urged as panaceas. The money theory of prosperity held
by these ill-informed gentlemen, of whom Mr. Roosevelt is one, is at
the basis of most of these theories. There are groups, mutually
destructive, who advance theories of money with the object of doing
away with interest, forgetful that interest is not paid for the use of
money but is the return to capital; that if we had no money at all
interest would still be paid for the loan and use of capital.
The prevailing confusions are numerous and many of them, as we have
said, self-destructive. The real factors in distribution are calmly
ignored and explanations for the existing depression in the oracular
style are constantly forthcoming. Thus William Truant Foster says in
April Survey Graphic, concluding an article entitled "A Bill for
Hard Times," "All of which means that every major depression
is exclusively a mismanagement of currency and credit."
Now to deliberate further. That less than five per cent of the people
are receivers of economic rent paid by ninety-five per cent; that the
richest resources of the earth are held by the few; that industry is
burdened by excessive taxation and commerce throttled by tariffs, mean
nothing to these wise pundits who find it easier to think crookedly
than to think straight; easier to put aside all these plainly obvious
violations of natural laws and their outcome, and wander into
labyrinthian caverns for explanations that lie wholly within the
shadows and are only a pale reflex of prevailing conditions in which
all economic laws are violated or set at naught. This is the
explanation of the amazing profundity of these "thinkers"
who are held in such high esteem by their equally ignorant disciples
who think what is taught must be profound in that is bottomless.
Marcel Proust has said: "Each finds lucidity only in the ideas
that are in the same state of confusion as his own."