`The Cause of the People Against Corporate Domination’ On May 4, 1938, Wendell L. Willkie made the following Foundation Day address at Indiana University. It is reproduced here for its relevance to our times. We have heard a great deal about liberalism in recent years, which is a pretty good sign that the people are a little concerned about it. Just as we don’t talk much about bread and water unless we foresee a scarcity, so we are apt to take liberalism for granted until it shows signs of disappearing. In Europe several of the major countries have very frankly decided that liberalism isn’t worth it. And even in America we have bandied the word about rather loosely until it has lost some of its meaning and has vague political implications. Of course, liberalism is not the property of any one political party nor the product of any one political platform. It is not a fixed program of action nor a vote on this or that particular measure. Liberalism is an attitude of mind. The liberal, for example, might be opposed to regulation of business intone instance and in favor of it in another. The criterion of the liberal philosophy is this: in the faith of the liberal the emphasis is upon individual freedom, while in the ideologies of either the Right or Left it is upon social control. You can make out quite a case for social control. Mussolini and Hitler have apparently convinced their people that it is desirable. You can say that a democracy which permits too much individual freedom moves too slowly. There are a number of people who are willing to sacrifice their freedom for the sake of what they believe will be greater efficiency and prosperity. Personally, I am convinced that there is no possibility for continuing prosperity for the great mass of people except in a free political society and under a free, if supervised, economy. Perhaps this is wrong, but even so, in the words of Newton Baker, “there are still many who would prefer to be poor, if necessary, but, in any case, free.” The liberal movement therefore strikes at the forces of autocracy whether they bear the label of business or government or society. It may this be opposed to a business program at one time, and to a government program at another. And nothing illustrates this more effectively than the parallel between the liberal movement when I was your age and the true liberal movement today. Those of you who are undergraduates will not recall the liberal movement of the first fifteen years of this century which was in full tide at the time I was in college. I can assure you, however, that the cause was an exciting one. As undergraduates we were certainly as much interested in it as you may be interested in current political and economic trends. The early twentieth century represented the period in which the great industrial organizations reached their fullest development and influence. Gigantic combines had been built in banking, in oil, in tobacco, in steel, in meat packing, and in other industries. In particular, the railroads, which by that time covered the continent, were the representatives of enormous financial power. In the development of many of these industries political influence had played an important part. The big corporations worked through political bosses in obtaining favorable government decisions. To a degree which we have never witnessed since, American business not only participated in the people’s government, but frequently played a dominant part therein. By their political power the industries of the East were able to get the franchises they wanted, to establish monopolies, to control legislation, to fatten themselves on high tariffs at the expense of the agricultural West and the South. It is not surprising that the American people began to resent this corporate supremacy over government. The leading liberal publications denounced the vested corporate interests that were in control of American politics. The leading figures in national affairs began to demand freedom for the average man against big business and high finance. And the average man himself, in increasing numbers, began to think that this was a good idea. For its leadership this movement was fortunate in getting three of the greatest of Americansall three men of very different backgrounds, inclinations and talentsTheodore Roosevelt, Robert LaFollette and Woodrow Wilson. Well, there is no time here to go into that long and colorful campaign which led to antitrust prosecutions, to new legislation, to the quarrel between Roosevelt and Taft, to the split between Republicans and Progressives, to the election of Woodrow Wilson, and which then came to an end with the World War. The objectives of the movement were largely achieved. The oil trust, the tobacco trust, the beef trust, and the other monopolies were dissolved. What Wilson called “the money trust” was ended by the Federal Reserve Act in 1913. The great corporate hand of the monopolies was pushed out of the state and federal legislatures, and the effort to reestablish popular control led to the direct election of senators, the giving of votes to women, and the enactment of income tax legislation on the principle of adjusting the tax to the ability to pay. By 1914, in his message to Congress, Woodrow Wilson was able to state: “Our program of legislation with respect to business is now virtually complete. . . . The road at last lies clear and firm before business.” That briefly was the cause that enlisted the enthusiasm of the liberals of my timethe cause of the people against corporate domination. Perhaps if there had not been a war, the road would have remained clear for business. But the war gave to business all over the world the highly artificial character of a war activity, and the governments of the world took control of business in order to administer it for mili tary purposes. To be continued in the next issue. Bernard Rapoport, President P.O. Box 208, Waco, Texas 76703 American Income Life Insurance Company
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