Most of this book review will consist of excerpts from this inspirational and thought-provoking book by Eric Johnston. My hope is that many of you will pick up and read this timely book as we wade through our current problems. I wish that I could reasonable reprint all of the passages that I have highlighted as I read America Unlimited.
As you read the passages think about succinct Mr. Johnston’s comments are. I should mention that he was a businessman and the president of the United States Chamber of Commerce. He also had the opportunity to travel at the behest of the President of the United States. At the risk of sounding like an chain e-mail, please read to the end (or skip ahead if you are that impatient) for a rather surprising fact.
“I have tried to convey my own feeling that we Americans live not by bread alone, but by the food of the spirit: freedom, self-respect, democratic justice.”
“I see no contradiction between…concern for the general good coupled with an interest in private advancement…It simply attests a belief shaped by our history-the belief that the individual American prospers through the prosperity rather than through the impoverishment of his fellow men…most Europeans think of the rise of one man as implying, always and inevitably, the fall of another, or many others…total wealth of their community as more or less fixed, if not dwindling, so that the gains for one group necessarily mean losses for the rest.”
“Americans, however, think of the total wealth as an ever-expanding, snowballing element, so that the enrichment of one implies some measure of enrichment of all.”
“Businessmen found themselves…cursed as economic parasites. Under the whiplash of the executive branch, Congress enacted restrictive measures in an endless series. Bureaucratic rule makers had a field day of it, and soon business found itself fenced in by restrictions, baited in all seasons, and all but outlawed. This over and above its staggering load of financial losses, uncertainties, and the self-depreciation that comes with trouble and failure.”
“In society, as in medicine, the sign of the quack is his ready promise of a cure-all. Whether his is a political charlatan thirsting for power, snaring the masses with glittering promises to make ‘every man a king’ or a high-minded idealist with some fountain-of-youth theory of economic perfection, his is equally dangerous. The danger is that in offering what should be he prevents the working of what reasonably could be.”
John Galt would like this one…
“It is about time that the articulate representatives of American capitalism reject the notion that they are selfish, insensitive to suffering, and ‘reactionary.’ The fact is that the honest champions of American capitalism see it as the proven road to genuine evolutionary progress. They know that it [capitalism] has done more to lighten the burden for ordinary man in five or ten decades than had been done in tens of thousands of years under a variety of other systems and dispensations.”
“What is more, by control of radio, printing presses, schools, television, it can hold the minds of its population in subjection.”
“These were the collectivists, socialists, communists, super-planners who looked upon business as an enemy to be destroyed. They regarded capitalism as a system of ‘exploitation’ and businessmen as ‘parasites.’ They did not take office with a view to easing tension of a difficult period, or curing capitalist ills. They were not interested in restoring the even tenor of the American way of life. The crisis of depression seemed to them a God-given opportunity t deliver the coup de grace to what they considered a decrepit and tottering system.”
“What so many of our overzealous reformers fail to comprehend is that social insurance can be effective only in a normal, healthy, prospering society. To the extent that their plans undermine the economic vitality of the nation, they foredoom their own insurance and security schemes to bankruptcy…The provisions for a ‘rainy day’ are meaningless except on the premise of long, lush periods of sunshine.”
“Big business is subject to the curbs of government control, the brakes of public opinion, the limitations of law. But government-dominated economy is a law unto itself, since economic and political powers are in that case merged and inseparable. Imagine a great monopoly which in addition t taxing the people arbitrarily through fixed prices also could tax them to raise capital or to make up deficits. Imagine, in addition, that this monopoly possessed police, secret services, armies, and law courts to enforce its every whim.”
“Our revenue system is archaic, haphazard, almost an accidental accumulation of imposts. One tax after another has been added on a piecemeal basis as the government needed new revenues. The process of expanding taxes and making them more sharply progressive has gone on at an ever-accelerated tempo…tax rates were so steep that it really didn’t make sense for those affected to continue their trade of job-making…the investor was likely to lose even if he won.” [emphasis added]
“It is easy to demonstrate that Henry Ford could not succeed in business today in the face of the present federal, state, and local taxes.”
“Equality of income is an attractive political slogan. It has the surface sheen of justice. Fewer Americans would fall for it if they realized that its ultimate effect is to dry up the sources of all income, equal or otherwise. Its logical end products are general impoverishment, a stalled economy, and the totalitarian state of exercising monopoly powers.”
Mr. Johnston seems to have sucinctly highlighted our journey to our economic woes and perhaps show us the road back to prosperity. The surprise to you should be that Mr. Johnston was the president of the United States Chamber of Commerce when Franklin D. Roosevelt was President.
America Unlimited was first published in 1944. We were in the middle of World War II.
Johnston’s words give chilling proof to the adage that failing to learn from history dooms us to repeat it. He didn’t get it all right;
“Now, Mr. Johnston, in your country you know perfectly well that your government wouldn’t permit the General Motors Corporation to go bankrupt. In peacetime, I replied, we certainly would! That is another aspect of the American competitive system that outsiders find it hard to understand. We take seriously the fact that ours is system of profit and loss. We attach no special value to longevity in business as an end in itself. If a company, large or small, has been mismanaged or has shown itself unsuited for its time, its exit from the business scene is accepted as a natural phenomenon.”
Perhaps as a reminder to our political leaders and institutions of learning (I believe that true Americans know this intuitively) are these last two quotes that need to be shouted and remembered;
“The two essentials in the American pattern of life and thought are FREEDOM and OPPORTUNITY. These were the values for which men and women of many nations, races, tongues, and cultures uprooted themselves to come to America.”
“If ever humankind and geography have been brought together under the most propitous circumstances, it is here in the United States of America. One feels almost that the kindly Providence which contrived this miracle is watching anxiously to see how the epic test of man’s capacity to grandeur is working out. Can man, thus richly dowered with all the prerequisites of greatness, live up to his magnificent opportunity? Can he temper his spirit and lift his mind to new and unpreceneted levels? If he can, then this is AMERICA UNLIMITED.