All Commentary
Tuesday, September 1, 1964

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1964/9

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. 

  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.