Freedom to Work
The tendency to "demagogue it" in America has made it virtually impossible to talk common sense about anything. Thus, when Barry Goldwater, speaking before the Economics Club of New York, says that lack of motivation, not lack of education, is behind much of our unemployment, he has to risk being buried under a practically universal blast about his alleged "cold-heartedness." His qualifying sentence about the need to restore motivation as the condition of enabling boys and girls to absorb education and so prepare themselves for work is blanked out by the partisan commentators.
Since "them are the conditions that prevail" (quoting Jimmy Durante), one might have good reason to doubt that Oscar W. Cooley’s eye-opening Paying Men Not to Work (Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho, $2.50) will ever get the attention that it so clearly deserves. But if the country is ever to be saved from the demagogues, it will be by people who are willing to listen to the cool logic employed by Mr. Cooley in his discussion of the causes of the chronic unemployment of recent years.
Mr. Cooley eschews the statistical approach to economics for the old-fashioned reason that it provides no key to the future. The fact that unemployment and automation exist together proves nothing, for there may be fifty or sixty reasons for the co-existence of the two phenomena that have nothing to do with the fact that employers are always seeking to cut their costs by mechanical improvements in production. Wage scales distorted by union monopoly can have something to do with unemployment; so can attitudes; so can legislation that immobilizes people by taking care of them in places where job opportunities are slow to materialize. Again, many people can be listed as job-seekers who are only half-heartedly in the job market. The housewife who would take a job on condition that it might yield her something substantial beyond the cost of hiring a baby-sitter is a case in point.
Mr. Cooley’s proposition is a simple one. It consists of the assertion of a self-evident truth, that if you channel capital to regions or industries that cannot employ it to create optimum production or to yield maximum returns, you necessarily and inevitably take it away from enterprisers who might use it to bring about a state of full employment. It would be better for everybody, so Mr. Cooley deduces from his proposition, to let "resource allocation" take its freest forms. Mr. Cooley is not one to admit the necessity of any form of political subsidization. But if we must have some subsidizing, Mr. Cooley might be induced to argue that it should go toward making state and national employment agencies more efficient factors for matching men with existing job opportunities. At present the main effect of government invasion of the employment agency field is to set up "dole-dispensing agencies" which keep people from moving about in quest of work.
The Ghost Town Fallacy
Mr. Cooley attacks so-called "area redevelopment" as a form of the "ghost town fallacy." Obviously, if the government had spent immense sums to keep men employed in the buggy whip business or in the hay, grain and feed business, the automobile men might never have had the capital to put Detroit on the map. We can see this as it relates to the past. No one in his right mind would argue that Central City, Colorado, should be reconstituted as a mining camp; it is enough that it has become an interesting historical artifact. But we do not see the new Central Cities under our noses. When machines replace bituminous coal workers, the attempt to find forms of subsidized employment for the men of the mines deflects capital from the very businesses that might put the ex-miners to work in industries that would be profitable all around. True enough, an ex-miner may be unwilling to move. But should Connecticut, say, or Idaho, be compelled to support the ex-miner to stay where he is? The same argument could have been used sixty years ago to keep buggy whip manufacturers employed in Westfield, Massachusetts, which once boasted that it was the "buggy whip capital of the world."
The "ghost town fallacy" is paralleled by the fallacy of overextended unemployment compensation. Noting that a chronic shortage of labor exists in many types of industry at a time when unemployment hovers around the five per cent mark, Mr. Cooley wonders about the common sense of giving men weeks of unemployment insurance benefits followed by the possibility of extensive and extended relief. He offers many examples of people who frankly prefer relief checks (which are not subject to income tax) to pay checks for jobs that they consider beneath them.
The efforts of government to "get the country moving" by subsidizing area redevelopment are negated, in Mr. Cooley’s belief, by the simultaneous offer of support to people who prefer to abstain from work rather than to accept a different type of employment than they had before. We stultify ourselves in a welter of cross-purposes. And everywhere we are encouraging the practice of putting the cart before the horse.
The Appalachian Area
In the region surrounding Huntington, West Virginia, for example, there were 7,000 unemployed when Mr. Cooley looked into the matter. In an attempt to change things in West Virginia’s Cabel and Wayne Counties, the government started a retraining project. Only 750 people professed any desire for retraining. The others said they were "too old" or "not interested." Only three out of eight people in the neighborhood qualified in aptitude tests for retraining. Meanwhile, in Ravenswood, West Virginia, the Kaiser industries had to bring in people from outside the state to get a new plant going.
Mr. Cooley deduces from the West Virginia experience that companies which need competent employees will take care of their own retraining. They will retrain people for specific jobs. Government retraining, on the other hand, must in the nature of things be too generalized. And the people who need to be educated for new job opportunities either lack the motivation to undertake the grind or have missed the elementary schooling that is necessary before one can even think of doing anything more than crude manual labor.
Fortunately, if regions have to sweat out a period of change, they develop their own motivation for improvement. Mr. Cooley mentions many exciting local comebacks. When Lawrence, Massachusetts, was flat on its back because of the southward migration of its textile manufacturers, local business executives set out to fill the old mills with new industries. The "finger dexterity" developed by long experience in textile work was advertised as a local resource that might be valuable to new companies. A big breakthrough came when the Western Electric Company decided to locate a plant in Lawrence. Soon smaller companies were following Western Electric in the trek to the banks of the Merrimac. Between 1952 and 1957 bank deposits in the area increased by thirty-five per cent, car loadings by 387 per cent, contributions to the United Fund by close to 100 per cent, and traffic at the Lawrence airport by 980 per cent.
Since some of the redevelopment money for Lawrence was raised through local taxation, local employers who may have seen incoming firms as competitors in the hiring of labor could have had a legitimate gripe at the methods employed by the city fathers to save the community as a whole. But the use of local taxation was certainly better than dependence on Washington for redevelopment funds. At least the local voters had a say in the matter of how their money was to be spent.
In a year of anti-poverty talk, Mr. Cooley’s book should be considered "must" reading for anybody who hopes to approach the problem of poverty with elementary intelligence. Considered reflection on Mr. Cooley’s deductions could save the nation from an emotional binge that will do nothing to remove the causes that provoke sentimentalists to equate rationality with hard-heartedness. It is the sentimentalists who whip up the mob spirit against people who are not hard-hearted in the least.
THE NAKED SOCIETY by Vance Packard (New York: David McKay Company, 1964), 369 pp. $5.95.
THE BRAIN WATCHERS by Martin L. Gross (New York: Random House, 1964), 304 pp. $4.95.
Reviewed by Michael F. Zaremski
Vance Packard, in previous books, has examined the hidden persuaders, the status seekers, and the waste makers. In The Naked Society he is concerned with an even more alarming and ire-arousing subject — the mass invasion of privacy through the use of modern electronic devices and psychological techniques.
None of Packard’s insights are particularly profound or original, but the sheer weight of the evidence he has accumulated has a powerful effect on the reader. What he depicts is an Orwellian nightmare of "background" investigation, personality probing, and electronic eavesdropping — unabashed spying and prying by government, industry, and education.
The Brain Watchers is a thoughtful analysis of the psychological testing industry and how it seeks to dissect our personalities for its clients in industry and education, exposing our inner thoughts, opinions, frustrations, and aspirations, "The psychological theory which sustains the brain watcher," says Gross, "is that every job, from sales girl to board chairman, has an ideal personality description, or type, for which he hopes to find the right mate among men."
The harm to the individual is apparent; if he does not fit the predetermined criteria of the tester, he has lost the game without even being given a chance to play. The danger to the corporation, if not so evident, is equally acute. For the "brain watcher" is concerned with finding not necessarily the best man for a particular job, but the most average of the applicants.
A more basic objection to psychological testing is the question of the morality of prediction itself. "The mere attempt to predict the behavior of individual men," remarks the author, "is a violation of personal destiny. The prediction, and the undue value placed upon it, influences the destiny — and therefore the behavior — of the man without his consent, and is therefore intrinsically immoral. There is something unspoken but still clearly defined in Western idealism that revolts against the limiting of a man and his fate through predictive categorizing, false or otherwise."
VISIONS OF ORDER — The Cultural Crisis of Our Time, by Richard M. Weaver (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964), $4.50, 153 pp.
Reviewed by Robert M. Thornton
Society is not a lump of clay to be molded as men wish. It is more like a delicate watch which will be destroyed by clumsy tinkering. The human situation imposes certain unalterable conditions upon men, conditions they must meet with as much serenity as they can muster. Changes in a society, if they are to mark a net gain, must be accommodated to the pattern of that society; all other alterations and interventions are destructive. This conclusion follows inevitably from the fact that society itself is not the invention or direct creation of any man or group of men; society is a by-product of man’s cooperative effort to achieve certain personal goals and values. Society, then, "happens" without anyone planning it that way, or knowing quite why or how. Man’s invincible ignorance of some things which matter most is a basic premise for such a conservative as the late Richard Weaver, and making us aware of our flawed understanding is one of his achievements.
Weaver was a learned man, a scholar, but he never lost his sense of wonder. Acknowledging the mystery of existence, he knew that men will never equip themselves with the perfect knowledge that rationalists believe lies within man’s reach. Like Franz Winkler, he recognizes how much we learn through intuition that cannot be learned in laboratories. No doubt he would agree with E. A. Opitz’s description of a conservative as one who views life more as a reality to be lived than as a problem to be solved; who, in consequence, turns his back on all illusory expectations of a future homemade heaven on earth.
Four hundred years ago Montaigne observed that man is usually very incompetent when it comes to correcting the ills of his society; his clumsy interventions often make things worse than before. The supporting evidence is all around us. During the past fifty years the striving after all sorts of political panaceas has been trailed by a corresponding decline in civilization. "Liberals" talked about an End to War, but were at the helm during two world-wide conflicts that destroyed millions of lives and billions of dollars worth of property (not to mention the spiritual casualties). They are still in power, and today a dozen or so small wars are being fought, with the possibility of a third world war in the offing. During the same period, the "liberals" whooped it up for One World and an end to all forms of nationalism in favor of so-called internationalism. But after a half century, the barriers between nations are far greater than before World War I, when movements of goods, ideas, and people throughout the world were relatively free.
The great paradox of "liberal" thinking is that it regards individual man as unfree, the product of forces outside his control; whereas Man in the abstract — or collective Man — is viewed as something above creation, a perfectible being who requires no salvation since all evil resides in society, or in the material universe. Men, therefore, cannot be held accountable for the evil they do. Such a view of man finally reduces the individual to an irresponsible cipher and leads to a glorification of the godless State.
Weaver, on the other hand, champions individual excellence. He rejects a classless society and a society of privileged orders alike, because both stem from political interventions. What we need are the social conditions which permit and encourage the emergence of a true aristocracy of virtue and talent, which both John Adams and Mr. Jefferson saw as vital to any healthy society.