The United States—Its General Atmosphere and Conditions
Publication:
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 26 Oct 1939, p. 103-113


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Cameron, W.J., Speaker
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Text
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Speeches
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A report of the present conditions in the United States as they appear to one who travels constantly among the American people and who is in touch with the American businessman. 1939 as a crucial year for United States business. Economic recovery in the United States, which has lagged behind that of Canada. To what that lag has been attributed. A new spirit abroad in U.S. business. The present upturn of business in the U.S. and to what that change is due. A new self-recognition and self-reliance on the part of business men. Some background and history to this period, going back to 1929. The embargo that the American people desire to retain. Two extremes of American thought with regard to the embargo debate. A decided change for the better in the popular attitude towards business. Taxes. The U.S. national income and how it is divided up. The American people, coming to see that the free processes of production and distribution are really the physical core of the national life. A general repudiation of a false political and economic philosophy, and how this has come about. A new reasonableness and faith in the people.
Date of Original:
26 Oct 1939
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English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
THE UNITED STATES--ITS GENERAL ATMOSPHERE AND CONDITIONS
AN ADDRESS BY W. J. CAMERON
Chairman: Rev. Canon H. F. D. Woodcock, Vice-President.
Thursday, October 26, 1939

CANON WOODCOCK: As I rise to introduce the speaker; our guest of honour today, a text comes to my mind, that may be familiar to some of you: "I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee". Of course, I would like to tell Mr. Cameron that I have just made that remark in order to let him know how long it takes for an idea to filter through an audience, so that he will be quite prepared to make things particularly plain when he comes to speak before the Empire Club of Canada.

Now, I don't know what you think, but when "mine eye seeth him of whom I have heard by the hearing of the ear," I find that he is a very much handsomer man than I expected to see. We all have our visions as we listen to him over the radio, and the picture that I had of Mr. Cameron was quite different, although, mind you, it was a very fine picture that I had. But when I saw him today I saw a much handsomer man than I had conceived.

Some of you may not know that Job is the author of that text which I just quoted, and when a clergyman stands up to speak, even if his task is simply to introduce

a speaker, he can hardly help choosing a text, and doing a little preaching. Well, Job, I do not think had a radio in his day, so it was not by the hearing of the radio that he had heard. It was not by that instrumentality but no one could say that Job was not up to date, notwithstanding the fact that many people today are feeling and thinking that the Bible is more or less obsolete. He is up to date because he has expressed that idea that was in many of our minds as we assembled here today, waiting for the address. Job did not have a radio but he had something else, something which was more wonderful than a radio. He had an instrument through which and by which he was able to communicate with Jehovah himself. That is where the preaching comes in, Gentlemen. He was able to communicate with Jehovah himself, and the simple instrument that he used was one that is always in vogue with the human race, that is, the instrumentality of prayer.

Mr. Cameron comes here, not as a stranger. I want to assure you everybody within the hearing of his voice is included in that group which he addresses, Sunday by Sunday, "Friends of the Sunday Evening Hour".

We welcome him here today for himself. We welcome him for what he has done, and for the particular talents which he possesses. We welcome him also because he is a Canadian (Applause). Now, of course you think this would be enough to commend him to any audience in this country. Of course, it was in Hamilton where he was born, but I notice, as I always do, that something else must be mentioned. He was not only born in Canada, but he is of Scottish descent. I never knew a Scotsman yet who didn't have to announce the fact that he was a Scotsman--never. He may be a Canadian, but he is of Scottish descent. Why is it that everybody who happens to have a grandfather or a grandmother who was born in Scotland announces the fact to everybody? Well, I suppose it is because of that national characteristic, "What we have we hold"--even that.

Now, Gentlemen, we appreciate Mr. Cameron not only for his common sense, for his business acumen, we also appreciate him because of his wonderful command of the English language. I think this is one reason why we listen to him Sunday night after Sunday night, because of his clear diction, because he manipulates that wonderful English tongue so he can convey to his audience exactly what he means in simple words, simple words which are beautiful to listen to as they come from his lips.

I have great pleasure, and I also deem it an honour to introduce to this Empire Club of Canada, Mr, W. J. Cameron, of the Ford Motor Company, Detroit, Michigan. His subject is: "The United States-Its General Atmosphere and Conditions."-Mr. Cameron.

MR. W. J. CAMERON: Canon Woodcock, Gentlemen: I appreciate this gracious introduction and the hospitable atmosphere of this room. When I was asked to put a name to this address, it came to me that possibly you might want to hear a report of present conditions in the United States--not as they appear in the headlines, but as they appear to one who travels constantly among the American people, and who is in touch with the American businessman.

Early last winter some of us began to feel that 1939 would prove to be a crucial year for United States business, and it has so proved. The choice before us in the autumn of 1938 was to sink to lower depths of complaint and defeatism under the embargoes which maladroit political administration had placed upon normal business operations, or deliberately to discount these, dismiss them utterly from our minds, and try what new forces might be brought into play by a dogged daily and deliberate application of personal effort to the job-greater even than we had given it before.

You know, of course, that recovery in the United States always has lagged behind that of Canada. While your ecometric readings were normal or approaching normal, ours were always fluctuating and always seemed weighted for a downward plunge. We attributed this at the time, and quite rightly I think, to your greater freedom from political interference and to the irritation which such interference begat in the business mind of the States. Freedom from interference enabled you to give at least a less divided mind to your task. But it was for us in the United States to seek somehow to attain a state of mind similar to yours, while yet the political irritation remained with us. Not being able to get rid of the one we had somehow to find a method of getting rid of the other, and it is this, I think, that we have succeeded in a measure in doing. That has far more importance as an announcement than any business statistics I could recite, for I have found that business statistics of the United States, and I suppose it is true everywhere, follow precisely the temperature of the business spirit.

There is an entirely new spirit abroad in United States business-not as a result of any upturn of business, Gentlemen,--please have that clearly in your minds; it is not that things suddenly turned for the better and therefore our minds took on a better cast-the improved state of mind appeared before there was any material upturn.

Another thing I feel quite sure of-the present upturn of business in the United States is not to any great degree the direct or indirect consequences of war trade. The whole point is that the change was not due to an extraneous stimulus, but to a new self-recognition and self-reliance on the part of business men. They realized that more depended on what effort business could make than upon any effort made against business. To maintain the functions of business and charge the economic circulation with sound elements, became recognized as the highest patriotic duty of the hour. That is the great change which has occurred in the business mind of the United States during this year, 1939.

Now, not to conduct a post-mortem examination, but to sketch in the background of this period, let me take a moment to recall what had happened to the American business mind previous to 1938. It is an almost incredible story. The period represented by 1929, a period of prosperity, falsely so-called, was a total loss to American business. It was a fever and not a progress. It brought the country to a technological standstill. The demand for production was so great that improvement within industry stopped. More technical advance has been made during the depression than during the entire period of the so-called prosperity. Management has come back to an alert attention to its job. The business man's conception of the functions of business in society has been restored. But the result of that period of "prosperity" was that the business mind was left soft and retrograde. If it hadn't been pretty soft, no political administration would have dared to suggest anything resembling the NRA for the control of business. An election intervened. Demagogues came up from every quarter, fattening upon the distress of people and upon the general bewilderment of American society at the time.

Tyros appeared in places of power with national treasuries and legislative power behind them, to put any fool idea into force, and fasten it upon the country. The witch hunt against business was on in full force, and every economic fallacy of the last four thousand years was brought out of the stable and given a new trial. Laws were changed overnight, and business did not know from day to day where it was. Taxes soared. With one exception, every Government official of Cabinet rank, engaged in a vendetta against business, holding it up to public scorn and indictment; and to this persecution was added prosecution in the courts and before the inquisitorial committees of the Senate. Manufacturers were brought in from all parts of the country to give an account of their dastardly crimes--the making of things that supplied the people's needs. Even the medical profession was not spared; the American Medical Association was indicted, and like the rest, finally acquitted in the courts.

But the effect of all this bludgeoning upon the business mind was a rather terrible thing to behold. It was rather terrible to see the spirit of complaint steadily reducing what should have been the most balanced and resistant type of mind in the country, to see hypochondria settling down upon business thought, to see men weakly alleging political or economic alibis to explain their lack of energy and courage. The spirit of defeatism was everywhere.

Well, that political bludgeoning at length became so serious that it acted like an overdose of poison. Business suddenly ejected the whole thing, simply cast it out and wrote it off and in the classic words of an American Admiral, said, "Full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes". Well, we are not under full steam as yet, but we have won a spirit of disdain for the political torpedoes. It has been like a rebirth of the spirit of constructive enterprise, that first built the country. The political disabilities of which business complained still remain on the books, but they have lost their enervating power upon our American business mind.

Now, that is the basis for the determination of American business that no further power over it shall be given to those who have so unwisely persecuted and hindered it up to now. And that is also the key to much that is transpiring today-the debate on the so-called Neutrality or embargo Bill.

The embargo that the American people desire to retain has little to do with goods, or international trade, or with the international situation. It has entirely to do with retaining such restraint as we already can put against the extension and abuse of emergency power in government. That is the embargo the people of the United States want to retain. It is purely an internal matter.

Two extremes of American thought have met and flow together in the present so-called embargo debate. One is the demand by plain people all through our country, as the result of twenty-five years of education, that the distress of nations shall not again be made a source of profit. That is a very definite element in American thought today. The other is the demand by men of business that no plea of international emergency shall be made an excuse for clamping down with those extraordinary dictatorial powers we have successfully resisted in times of peace. The neutrality these two parties in the United States want is neutrality on the part of political administration toward business during this period-a moratorium on attempts to subjugate American enterprise under the guise of war necessity and thus achieve by trick what it failed to do in fair and open debate. American business is determined to put an embargo on any further unconstitutional abuse of power in the United States. These are the real issues behind the present debate. It will be settled by concessions and agreements that have nothing to do with what the headlines are screaming, but have much to do with the matters I have been discussing. When these matters are settled, of which I have spoken, all the rest become secondary, and will be settled in their turn in accordance with our tradition. I wish you, as Canadians, could occupy a point of vantage from which to see what is transpiring. It might prevent unnecessary misunderstanding.

I have often said in this City of Toronto that you have public whales that blow at times, and we have public whales that blow at times, and the part of common sense for both of us is to pay them no attention whatever. They don't represent either of our peoples. Every nation looks out for their own responsibilities first. You are pro-British, the United States are pro-American, but both give allegiance to the same basic principles, without which neither of them would be nations, and in the peril of those principles from the hand of force or from the doctrines of darkness, you, as Canadians, and we, as Americans, will react in precisely the same way. (Applause) In the United States, we want to tie up certain un-American forces first.

Now, this strengthening of the business mind, this firming of its fiber, that I have just been reporting to you is very welcome, as everything in the nature of gain is welcome these days; but it is not the only hopeful sign to be seen in the United States. There is, however, this to say about our gains thus far: They represent wrong courses dropped, more than they represent right courses advanced. They represent social, rather than official changes. They are negative, but they are numerous and important.

There has been a decided change for the better in the popular attitude towards business. For a long time our people stood on the side lines watching what they thought was a private war between political administration and business, as if the champions of economic justice stood arrayed on one side and the forces of economic oppression on the other; and whenever government hit business, there was a spirit of cheering among the onlooking population. Then, suddenly, for no observable reason, the people seemed to awake to the fact that business was their business, not the business of the businessman,-their business, their employment, their supply, their economic security. They began to sense what could be done to all, that any programme of "soaking the rich" was a prelude to a programme of soaking the poor; that such a programme, once begun, had to go all the way down the line. Once started on the policy of levying the punitive, confiscatory taxes against business, the effects eventually reached the people, for such taxes are paid, not from the treasuries of corporations, nor are they merely passed on as charges against the ultimate consumer. Taxes of that character are eventually paid for in loss of jobs. American corporations have absorbed 65 to 70 percent of the additional taxes laid upon them, but that could not go on forever. Very soon it became apparent that taxes were absorbing funds that normally were used for business expansion.

Sixty-five percent of United States national income has always gone for our livelihood, and five percent for the maintenance of government, leaving thirty percent for industrial growth and expansion. Now, sixty-five percent of income still goes for our living, but thirty percent of the remainder goes for government, and only five percent for expansion. And that means a curtailment of jobs throughout the whole Republic. Confiscatory taxation is pay-roll robbery. It puts men out of work.

The American people have come to see that the free processes of production and distribution are really the physical core of the national life. They have seen that the

plain man's dollar at the store is always worth a hundred cents; that the same dollar in public expenditure is never quite worth a hundred cents; but the business or industrial dollar, passing through all the processes of production and distribution, touching trade after trade, business after business, family after family, multiplies itself twenty times, and that to stop its multiplication and circulation is simply to create economic anaemia.

With this new attitude toward business there has come a very general repudiation of a false political and economic philosophy. This has come about, not through propaganda, not through the opposition of any party, because very little propaganda against these uneconomic and un-American things has been permitted. Opposition to them has not been organized. The thing itself broke down in its collision with natural law. So, this false philosophy has crumpled and the reason the country did not crumple with it is that the country had been very strongly built by our fathers upon the very principles these new saviours of the world now tell us are all wrong.

The aftermath of this failure of the fallacies has been the appearance of two distinct reactions--one of resentment, and one of reasonableness.

Gentlemen, it is one thing to repudiate a government because it has failed to make a scheme work, and another thing to repudiate the scheme itself because it is essentially unworkable. Personally, I don't blame our politicians because they were unable to make the New Deal work. I blame them for their innocence or ignorance in ever thinking that it would work. Their failure is to me a grand testimony to the integrity of the universe. We live in a world, it seems, where wrong things can't go right, and right things will always rise above the wrong. We should rather thank God for all these failures of falsities, than blame men for them.

Nonetheless, resentment has arisen amongst many because the Kingdom of Heaven did not come in the shape of bank notes, and that resentment now is being curried

by a new host of candidates who rise to outpromise the former ones. The old assumptions are reappearing--that unemployment is a permanent and necessary condition of social life, that government paternalism must continue to the end of time, and that the grab-bag of sociology is the accepted one. They have accepted the depression as a career. Gentlemen, if the depression ever is cured there is going to be a lot of technological unemployment among those who had hoped to standardize the United States at fifty percent, and pass their lives in nursing an invalid nation.

All of these beliefs are the badges of nations that are dying; they denote systems of wealth built upon acquisition, systems of authority based on force, systems of power built upon the violent destruction of human dignity. Those things are doomed in the world. The prophets of doom have much on their side, if we clearly understand what they are talking about.

But when we confuse the civilization in which you and I live and which is built on quite other principles, with the system that is passing,-when we include this also in the general doom, we are only proclaiming our abysmal ignorance of this comparatively new thing in the world, this germ of the future, our Anglo-Saxon civilization. We need not resort to the devices of the dead and dying nations.

But even greater than that resentment and its new crop of "promising" politicians, is the new reasonableness that is apparent. Its characteristic has been an abandonment of man worship. Hitherto the history of the States has taught the people to believe that in periods of change, accompanied by distress, a great leader would be produced. The present period has not produced a great leader, and so great a break in the historic pattern has set our people thinking. What does this fact mean? How is it to be interpreted? They have interpreted it widely throughout our land to mean this,--that the American has been too reliant on leaders, and not enough self-reliant-too reliant on brilliant personality comets that streak across the political skies once every four or eight years, leaving nothing but dust behind; too ready to mistake the glare of campaign torches for the dawn of the millenium. It is taken to mean that we are not to be saved by supermen,--there are none, anyway. We are to be saved by the strength, stability, sobriety, morality and steadfastness of the people.

We also believe in our country that the fact of no new economic or political principle appearing, has a lesson for us also; it seems to say to the people that they already have all the principles they need on which to advance. What is needed is further observance of the principles that have brought us so safely and so far, greater faith in them, boldly stepping out upon them, trusting they will bear our weight and unfold before us, leading us into wider paths and on to stronger foundations. No new leader arising has thrust the people back upon themselves. No new principle discovered, has thrown them back upon the principles they know. Have they been exhausted? Our people are asking. Have they been discredited? The answer is always No.

That seems to be the spirit that is coming over our people. This way of life in which for generations our fathers have walked and in which they have been fed is still in its immature state. Let it grow; let the full fruitage and beauty of Anglo-Saxon Christian civilization ripen, as it surely will, and then politically and economically, socially and spiritually, we shall be justified of our faith.

Gentlemen, I thank you very much for your courteous attention. (Applause)

CANON WOODCOCK: Gentlemen: We are most grateful to you for your very fine address. Coming from a businessman, it gives us great assurance of the integrity and the honesty of business people, and we feel, as you do, that a government's function is to protect business and to foster business, and not to hinder and harm business, because surely it is the very life blood of the nation and it is only when business can progress that a nation can advance and people can be reasonably happy.

We are very grateful to you, Sir, for coming here and we feel that we are honoured by your presence, and by the very fine address that you have given us. In the name of the Empire Club of Canada, I thank you most heartily. (Applause)

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The United States—Its General Atmosphere and Conditions


A report of the present conditions in the United States as they appear to one who travels constantly among the American people and who is in touch with the American businessman. 1939 as a crucial year for United States business. Economic recovery in the United States, which has lagged behind that of Canada. To what that lag has been attributed. A new spirit abroad in U.S. business. The present upturn of business in the U.S. and to what that change is due. A new self-recognition and self-reliance on the part of business men. Some background and history to this period, going back to 1929. The embargo that the American people desire to retain. Two extremes of American thought with regard to the embargo debate. A decided change for the better in the popular attitude towards business. Taxes. The U.S. national income and how it is divided up. The American people, coming to see that the free processes of production and distribution are really the physical core of the national life. A general repudiation of a false political and economic philosophy, and how this has come about. A new reasonableness and faith in the people.