April 30, 1949
Mr. DeWitt Emery
National Small Business Men’s Assn.
39 South La Salle Street
I was surprised, DeWitt,
very much surprised, to read an article in which William Green [president of the American Federation of Labor] stated the fundamental American principle of inalienable rights, and you called it “a weak technicality.” (Your editorial in the March issue of PULLING TOGETHER.)
When businessmen were the victims of New Deal legislation, they talked about principles, and the New Dealers said that principles were mere technicalities. When labor is being choked in its turn by legislation, we get the fantastic spectacle of William Green defending rights and DeWitt Emery talking about “starving babies.”!
The issue is really very simple: do we or do we not accept principles as a rule of conduct in public affairs? If we do, we have to state clearly what these principles are and act upon them. If we don’t, then we must admit that we are acting in the manner of criminals, on the so-called “expediency” of the moment—and take the consequences. The consequences are that this sort of expediency is not very expedient: it leads to nothing but self-destruction.
The principle involved in your editorial is: has a man the right to dispose of his own labor—or does his labor belong to the government? If man is the owner of his labor—then nobody can force him to work, nobody, nowhere, at no time, for no reason whatsoever. If the government has the right to dispose of a man’s labor and compel him to work against his will—then the government owns men, their lives and their property. There’s no “middle of the road” here. It’s one or the other. Either a right is inalienable—or it doesn’t exist.
If you do not accept a worker’s right to his own work—you have no way to defend the employer’s right to his business, the farmer’s right to his land, my right to my own home, your right to the shirt on your back, or any man’s right to exist. All these rights rest on the same principle.
Drop the principle and the rights vanish along with it. If your principle is that the government may—when it deems necessary, for a “good cause,” for the sake of starving babies, for instance—violate a man’s rights, then there is no reason why anybody should respect any rights whatever. Then any pressure gang who happens to control the government at the moment may grab anything it pleases, for any cause it chooses to call “good.” Certainly, the property of the rich, of the industrialists and the capitalists, should then be seized first—because that’s the most direct and immediate way to relieve the starvation of any babies that might be around (to relieve it for five minutes, after which everybody starves). The “starving babies” will always be with us. That’s always been their function in politics—to justify the looting and the enslavement of others. Do you call what is happening in Europe “a weak technicality”? It is happening as a result of the appeal, in one form or another, to feed starving babies at the expense of man’s rights.
The quotation from William Green in your editorial is unanswerable—and you have not answered it. Every word he says is true. If a man is compelled to work against his will for one minute or one second, for any cause, reason or purpose whatsoever—that is involuntary servitude. The purpose for which he is compelled to serve, is totally irrelevant. The concept of slavery does not say that it is slavery only when practiced for a bad purpose, but freedom when practiced for the sake of starving babies. Slavery is slavery, and its purpose does not change its nature.
You have not answered Green in the paragraphs that follow his quotation in your editorial. You used sarcasm—unconvincing sarcasm, which is not an answer. You did not refute his argument—you evaded it. You said that since workers are “doing their regular work at their regular rate of pay,” this means that they are not in the position of slaves. But the sole issue is: do they or do they not want to work? And if they do not, have they the right to stop or has the State the right to force them? And if they are forced to work at the point of a gun—would it matter if they were given a million dollars an hour as overtime? A man forced to work against his will is a slave, and no bribe or reward will change that. You might argue, if you wish, that you consider slavery proper in certain circumstances. But it’s no use trying to pretend that what you’re advocating is not slavery.
In the next paragraph you said that the public has the right to protect itself if and when labor union bosses are able to shut off food, fuel and everything else for everyone in the country. You did not, however, add what you stated in your letter to me: that it was Roosevelt and Truman who
built union labor up to the point where it has that sort of power over the nation. It is the Wagner Act and all the rest of the New Deal legislation that brought about the possibility of babies starving at the will of labor union bosses. The solution, therefore, is to repeal that labor legislation—and not to give the government more power over the babies, the milk and the workers.
Instead of fighting for the Taft-Hartley Law, the businessmen and the defenders of free enterprise should have fought to repeal the Wagner Act. They should remove the cause of an evil rather than perpetrate another evil—of the same kind—in the hope of counteracting the first. The villain in the picture is not labor, but the Bureaucrat—government regulations which, by forcing men to join unions, gave labor bosses the power to stop our whole economy. And what is the Taft-Hartley Law? An attempt to give more power to that same Bureaucrat. If the Wagner Act tied the employers, the Taft-Hartley Law ties the workers. Both groups lose and the only winner, as usual, is the Bureaucrat.
I have heard it said by the preachers of “expediency” on the Capitalist side that the repeal of the Wagner Act would be the most desirable objective, but since such repeal is impossible, the next best thing is the Taft-Hartley Law. It is not true that the repeal of the Wagner Act is impossible. There are union leaders and great numbers of rank and file workers who hate the Wagner Act as much as the employers do, because, actually, it is not to the workers’ benefit, either. If the employers had the courage to stand on a principle, they could repeal the Wagner Act. I have not seen any major attempt to repeal it. I have not seen anybody making the attempt and failing. All I’ve seen is attempts to pass more regulations, of one sort or another. But no evil ever has or can be corrected by another evil. The proof? Look around you. Are we moving closer and closer to national bankruptcy and Statism—or are we not?
Never mind the fact that William Green contradicts his own quotation in his other actions and in his support of the Wagner Act. His betraying of a principle does not justify our doing so. His actions or policies do not alter the truth of the things he said in his quotation. These things are true—no matter who says them. I showed your editorial to Frank and his remark was: “Well, Bill Green has the right shoe on the left foot.”
Now the last three paragraphs of your editorial—where you say that the income tax law is, in fact, a slave-labor law—are excellent. You are absolutely correct in saying it, and nobody could refute you on it. But what have you done? Since the first part of your editorial makes fun of
Green’s premise, the result is that it also makes fun of your own statement about the income tax, thus achieving the opposite of your intention. Instead of a proper attack on the income tax, your last three paragraphs are, by implication, a defense of it. You, in effect, say that it would be preposterous to consider the income tax as a slave-labor law, since it is preposterous to consider the Taft-Hartley a slave-labor law. This is a good example, within the space of one short editorial, of what happens when you depart from principles and attempt to make any sort of an argument. You merely defeat yourself.
Now to other questions. What on earth do you mean when you say that my reference to my new book sounds ominous and that you expect to be both surprised and angry? I thought you knew what I thought about businessmen. In my new book, I glorify the real kind of productive, free-enterprise businessman in a way he has never been glorified before. I present him as the most heroic type of human being, more so, in a way, than Howard Roark. But I make mince-meat out of the kind of businessman who calls himself a “middle-of-the roader” and talks about a “mixed economy”—the kind that runs to government for assistance, subsidies, legislation and regulation.
I will be glad to show you the manuscript of my new novel, when I finish it, because I will be naturally very interested in your reaction. But I don’t think it will be suitable as a film vehicle for Bing Crosby. It’s not a homey type of story. Its characters are not average businessmen, but heroic ones. I wish you would tell me more about what you have in mind for a Bing Crosby picture on business. I might be able to write a screen original for you, after I finish my novel, if I agree with the ideas you want to present.
The film of THE FOUNTAINHEAD will open in New York on July 2. I will come there either for the opening or shortly thereafter. I hope very much that you will be able to make one of your trips to New York at that time. I am looking forward to seeing you again.
With best regards,