Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Demise of a Highly Respected Doctrine

The Demise of a Highly Respected Doctrine

By Neva R. Deardorff, January 12, 1918


LAISSEZ-FAIRE is dead! Long live social control! Social control, not only to enable us to meet the rigorous demands of war, but also as a foundation for the peace and brotherhood that is to come. This was the theme that ran strongly through all the annual meetings of the learned societies of the social sciences(1) which were held holiday week in Philadelphia. Education in idealistic concepts of service, toleration, justice, are in the future to underlie this social control and to make possible an enduring world democracy. New faith was everywhere manifest in the ability of democratic governments, and of our own in particular, to rise to occasions and handle gigantic enterprises both efficiently and with a view to benefitting society as a whole. While most of the contributions were in the nature of analyses of fundamental social forces which are now at work, suggestions, often quite specific, were not lacking as to how those forces can be directed to secure the maximum of human welfare. Everywhere there was a proud loyalty to the best that American life has produced, but nowhere the fatuous assumption that the promise of America has been achieved. Criticism was searching, frank and kindly; the spirit of genuine helpfulness abounded. Men and women, young and old, brought a fine spirit of toleration and mutual respect which stands in sharp relief against the acrimonious dissension which now characterizes so much of the discussion elsewhere of the issues which were before these meetings.

The political scientists were mainly concerned with new bases for international relations and with questions of improving the governmental machinery in nation, state, county and city. Prof. Munroe Smith of Columbia pointed to the new evidences, produced by the war, of the vitality of international law which, now in its infancy, seems to be following the same line of development that national law has pursued. The German government's disregard of international law has affronted the whole world, while the allies now represent a stupendous vigilance committee organized to punish the offender and to uphold that law. In future the fabric of international law will need to be strengthened by new provisions for arbitration, for delaying the resort to force, and for joint action, short of war, to show approval or disapproval of some nations for the action of other nations. New laws of war will be forthcoming as a result of the new conditions of air and submarine fighting; "military necessity" will need definition and some proportion established between injuries and reprisals. It is probable that eventually the nations of the world will be federated. Prof. Robert M. McElroy of Princeton, as well as several other speakers, maintained that there is no essential conflict between national and international ideals just as there is no essential disharmony between loyalty to family and to nation. All of the political science teachers seemed convinced of the necessity for cultivating in their students an international-mindedness as a basis for peace.

As for government at home, the professors seemed very diffident about the part they have, until very recently, played in shaping its course. The older teaching of government was referred to as rapt contemplation of the theoretical structure of government with no regard for its actual workings. Prof. A. R. Hattonsof Western Reserve University characterized political science to date as descriptive anatomy of political institutions and legalistic concepts. The pathology of politics, together with hygiene and prevention of political ilk, are the big opportunities of political scientists today. Everywhere it came out in the discussions that civic and political education for the mass of people is the sine qua non of the kind of democracy to which the United States is now committed and that this education is to be socio-economic rather than historico-juridical. Prof. Guy S. Ford, now of the Committee on Public Information in Washington and one of many teachers who have gone into public service since the war began, explained how the federal government is now educating, with millions of pamphlets, with pictures, films, four minute-men, etc., the mass of people on public affairs. Altogether the political scientists showed a refreshing regard for truth, a wholesome independence of judgment, and a sincere, though perhaps too modest, desire to be of service.

The discussions of constitutional law brought out very clearly the temper and spirit with which existing institutions are being examined. Decisions and judges of the Supreme Court were appraised with the utmost candor and in general the conclusions were by no means laudatory. Dissenting opinions were pointed out as evidence of the somewhat unsanctified character of the court and the fact that constitutional law frequently changes its mind lends color to the suspicion that politics is not wholly divorced from that high tribunal.

The economists, like the political scientists, have progressed from the detached, dehumanized study of the phenomenon of wealth to the consideration of the psychology of men in relation to the possession of wealth. Prof. E. C. Hayes of the University of Illinois, in what was considered the star session of the economic association's meeting, cleared the ground tor the new approach by calling attention to the fact that every age has had its philosophy to justify the existing order and that laissez-faire had until recently performed that function for our time. Our present order makes life and labor the cheapest commodities on the market and results in conditions that ill befit a democracy. As wealth is now distributed in the United States, the top 1 per cent of the population receives as much income without work as the lower 50 per cent obtains for its labor, and the top 2 per cent own three-fifths of the property. The middle class is declining. A better distribution, rather than equality of income, is the practical aim of those who would arrest the cleavage of classes that is widening, but the class-control of schools and press now makes very difficult the organization of a liberal party and tends to preserve the two old political parties, both of which are conservative.

Prof. John R. Commons of Wisconsin, in the presidential address of the economic association, pronounced the obsequies over the laissez-faire or rather the "let's grab" doctrine, and at the same time knocked the bottom out of the "pork-barrel" as the great objection to government ownership and control. The special assessment of benefits to private property from public.improvements can be depended upon to correct whatever tendency localities may have to dip unduly into the public treasury. Through such a system of taxation the basic utilities and such improvements as irrigation, land-reclamation and railroad extensions can be promoted. Rural credit can be extended and subsidies given to roads and education. Quite as important as obtaining the capital with which to do these things is the fact that by keeping capital at home one of the irritants which cause war will be removed. Capital which hunts in backward countries for high profits and big increments influences diplomacy, demands military protection and breeds international disputes. For the job of directing through taxation, the most beneficial use of our surplus, the government is becoming rapidly more expert. Indeed, our public inefficiency is even now little more than a state of mind.

The "economic man" of the classical economists was ushered off the stage by Prof. Carleton H. Parker of the University of Washington, who introduced the new discovery of the psychological man. This newly found being has some sixteen separate instincts which cause him to behave as he does. As Professor Parker had been testing his ideas among strikers in some of the lumber camps of Washington, the report of his observations of the motives of economic life represented considerable rugged reality.

Health Insurance by Common Consent

Health insurance and the conservation and mobilization of the labor supply of the country were the main topics of discussion in the meetings of the American Association for Labor Legislation. Relatively little time was devoted to the question of the advisability of health insurance legislation in the United States, it being quite generally agreed that we should have taken steps in this direction long ago. The great obstacle to be overcome in securing the adoption of health insurance laws would appear to be the lack of popular understanding of the subject, and this obstacle can be removed only by a campaign of education. The main participants in the discussion were members of state legislative investigating commissions appointed to inquire into the question of health insurance and to recommend appropriate legislation. Representatives of six such commissions were present - those of California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Views were exchanged regarding the lines of inquiry that commissions ought to follow and also regarding the methods of conducting public hearings. A comparison of the experiences of the various commissions revealed that in nearly every state the first impulse of employers and wage-earners alike is to oppose the idea of government health insurance, but as both groups come to understand its operation and benefits more thoroughly, their opposition tends to give way. Private insurance companies are usually against the scheme, and physicians and surgeons seem to be divided on the question. Opposition has come also from Christian Scientists, and in agricultural states it is difficult to obtain the support of farmers.

The Labor Difficulty Analyzed

In The discussions on the conservation and mobilization of the labor supply of the country there was general agreement that we are not at present confronted with a shortage of labor. Our real ailment is that of maladjustment and improper distribution of our available man power. In order to correct this state of affairs, a more complete and better coordinated system of employment agencies was advocated. Opinions differed as to the advisability of securing this end by establishing cooperative relations between the federal and local systems or by bringing all government employment agencies under national control and operation. How to provide the farmer with the help he needs received considerable attention. To a great extent the farmer himself seems to be to blame for his predicament. He does not yet realize that wages generally have gone up and that it is no longer possible to obtain men for the wages he has been accustomed to pay. The conditions of labor on the farm also are such that men generally prefer city work. Relief for the shortage of farm hands might be brought about, partly by improvements in the system of employment agencies, partly by the transfer of men from cities and industries to the farm during the harvest season, partly by inducing retired farmers, women and other unemployed persons to take part in agricultural work, and partly by the offer of better wages and working conditions to farm laborers. The use of city school boys of working age during vacation also was recommended.

There seemed to be no sentiment in favor of labor conscription. Some attention was given to the efforts of the federal government to conserve human life in the war industries by safeguarding workmen against accident. At the last meeting of the association the applicability of the British munitions act to American conditions was discussed briefly. The suggestion of adopting these provisions in the United States, however, met with the immediate objections that, our conditions were different from those in England and that even in England the munitions act had been the cause of much dissatisfaction and unrest. According to an investigator of the London Times, it had been the cause of driving one-half of the workers of England to the verge of revolution.

As has been said, all the associations had turned "social." so that in point of view, the sociologists were but a vaguely defined group of thinkers at the big conference. Their most distinguishing mark consisted in that, while most of the other associations talked about social control somewhat in general, they took it for granted and discussed applications of it in particular. Both Profs. George E. Howard of Nebraska and Charles H. Cooley of Michigan submitted thoughtful analyses of the elements of social control of international relations - Professor Howard, the ideals that must guide, and Professor Cooley, the psychological and social machinery through which it is even now working, and will work, it is hoped, much better in the future. Among the false ideals which now make so difficult amicable relations among the nations are overdeveloped nationalism, territorial aspirations, the notion of war as a good in itself, race and sex conceit, the supposed necessity for economic and political oppression of the masses, and contempt for the idealist. The teaching of world-wide brotherhood must supplant these narrow concepts and democracy must be made to mean something tangible to all.

Of the more concrete suggestions for the better adjustment of social machinery was that of Prof. Arthur J. Todd, of the University of Minnesota, for the control of immigration based upon the true demand for labor. Briefly, his plan calls for information as to the true demand for labor, organization of the labor market, abolition of the contract labor provision and the illiteracy test in the present immigration laws and the introduction of the sliding scale as a guide to admitting immigrant labor, with a bonding of the employer who imports labor to cover deportation costs for any laborers who may become public charges and with a provision for the employer to carry unemployment insurance for his laborers. Prof. Carl Kelsey of the University of Pennsylvania thought that the need for conscription of labor is now imperative and that the time is coining when strikers should be treated as traitors. On the other hand, the laboring class must, of course, be protected from low wages and other abuses.

Perhaps the group which assumed the reality of social control with least question was the statisticians, for they simply went ahead planning how to forge the tools with which society is to work out better opportunities and protection for all. Prof. Irving Fisher of Yale cited the recent stock-taking in health of the men within the draft age as a confirmation of what had been known to a few interested people for some time. He drew the conclusion from the large number of rejections that we ought to have a national department of health to conserve the physical well-being of our people. Nation-wide recording of vital statistics should take the place of state action, which at present covers only about two-thirds of the population of the United States. Prof. Allyn A. Young of Cornell demonstrated the urgent need of coordinating the statistical work now being done by the United States government. The war found us in a state of statistical unpreparedness. Since last April, independent investigations have sprung up in many departments and bureaus, which frequently failed to make use of the permanent statistical bureaus. Much work was duplicated and business organizations have been bombarded with questionnaires. The results have been far from satisfactory. A general war statistical bureau to serve all the other bureaus was suggested as the orderly way out of chaos and as a means to obtain a comprehensive view of our national assets, labor, resources and goods.

Better Government Statistics Wanted

From the discussion of present conditions as regards the vital statistics of our army and navy, it would appear that there is now much room for improvement in the record-keeping systems of the military establishments. Frederick L. Hoffman, the well-known statistician of the Prudential Life Insurance Company, deplored the lack of anthropometric statistics of the army and in the absence of any scientific knowledge of physical growth and development, he considered a lowering of the age limit of drafted men little short of a crime.

Committees were provided by the American Statistical Association to assist the government in systematizing the federal statistics and in planning for the census of 1920. An interesting and valuable suggestion came from the Children's Bureau that the material in regard to family groups which is recorded on the census schedules should be tabulated, i. e., the number of motherless families, the number of fatherless families, the number of mothers at work, etc. Hitherto the published data on population have related only to individuals.

History on the Heels of Current Events

The historians were quite as interested in the present as in the past. The Russian revolution, the recent Massachusetts constitutional convention, present day politics of China and Japan, found places on the historical association's program. At the closing session of the conference, held jointly by the political scientists, the economists, the sociologists and the historians, Prof. Wallace Notestein of the University of Minnesota described the uses which German magazine writers, geographers, politicians and others have made of history to engender hatred of the British empire, to glorify Germany's history, to magnify her wrongs, to point to her manifest destiny of colonial expansion and reunion of all the German peoples of Europe. The partial truth of that which they taught has made it extremely difficult to combat their conclusions. While the British empire is a solid fact, Professor" Notestein was inclined to doubt that John Bull had been the consistent villain "through five acts" that he had been depicted in Germany. Anyone who believes that England's methods of acquisition were cunning plots, faultlessly executed, has only to stay a little while in the British Foreign Office, said R. H. Brand, deputy vice-chairman of the British War Mission to this country, to realize that British foreign affairs are not handled that way. Mr. Brand viewed the "British commonwealth of nations" as the one successful experiment in internationalism which the world has thus far produced.

Edward P. Costigan, of the United States Tariff Commission, ably represented the administration's position in regard to economic alliances. The "war after the war" policies will find little or no support in this country', and the United States is distinctly against selfish and exclusively economic leagues and economic discriminations which impose such stubborn barriers against world federation.

The farm managers conferred very largely with the economists and those interested primarily in labor legislation. The accounting instructors likewise flocked with the economists. Indeed, the tendency of each group of specialists to harmonize its views and teachings with those of its brothers in the allied sciences was one of the outstanding features of the conference and one of the best omens for the successful growth of the new culture of knowledge of and interest in the socializing processes now going on in the world.


(1) American Sociological Society, American Political Science Association, American Economic Association, American Association for Labor Legislation, American Statistical Association, American Historical Association, American Farm Management Association, Association of Accounting Instructors.

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