The Charlotte News
Friday, January 20, 1939
Site Ed. Note: We include the following piece, a sort of de Tocquevillian look at the South:
An Englander Has A Squint At Dixie And Reports
George Edinger, in The London Spectator
Still one must talk to somebody sometimes, and it was impossible to talk to anybody without realizing that things are very wrong here. These thirteen states are America's black belt in more senses than one: rural and industrial, they are all her "special" area..."
First there was the curiosity, almost resentful, at finding a foreigner who had selected that section for his first view of America. And when, in an effort to allay these feelings, I insisted on the beauty of the Southern states, the comment would be: "Oh, it's beautiful all right, but you can't live on beauty." The South does not try to live on beauty, not, that is, to any great extent.
The South does try to live on cotton. More than half the farmers in these thirteen states depend on cotton and cotton alone for their whole livelihood...
Naturally, tanks and insurance companies charge high interest to finance cotton-farming. In consequence, one-tenth of the farm land is not only mortgaged but foreclosed. Half the Southern farmers are tenants, generally on a share-cropping basis, and often for a season only. Over a third move every year. While cotton and tobacco are overproduced to get a quick return, there is a scarcity of other necessities which the states can grow but which, in fact, they import. Four-fifths of all they eat and wear is bought and paid for, and as there is not much money with which to pay, thousands of families are under-nourished...
The laws on child-labor are lax, carelessly enforced, usually restricted to factories, and so full of exemptions that outside Virginia, Oklahoma and the Carolinas (the latter have a sixteen-years age limit) they hardly exist. Consequently, school attendance falls off, ten per cent of Southern children do not go to school at all, and there are places where fourteen per cent of the population are illiterate.
Women, without a minimum wage level, work in the cotton mills for anything up to two pounds a week: where labor is farmed out, for as little as ten shillings a week. This unrestricted flow of women and child labor naturally depresses the entire wage-level. Tourists from the North, where a carpenter earns seventeen pounds a week, look upon their fellow citizens very much in the way that an Englishman regards a Balkan peasant. Low living conditions are most immediately obvious in the blistered frame houses strung along the highway. Only six per cent of these houses have water laid on...
Of all the people in the United States these Southerners have, psychologically, stood up best to the depression. They are people with a history. The fact that so much of it has been a history of misfortunes has steeled them to bear their troubles with a good-humored philosophy that is very refreshing after the hysterical ups and downs of the East and Middle Western temperament.
The South has a fine climate, which makes poverty more bearable...
With such a land and such a people it is impossible to be despondent for long. In spite of all the warnings I had received "go to Chicago or New England or California but don't go South, nobody does," it was with a feeling of unsubdued optimismthat i waved a good-bye to Virginia at last from an aged paddle-wheel steamer turning its way North from Old Point Comfort. "Come back," they all said. It was only their formal goodbye. I don't suppose they meant it.
But I want to.
We hate to confess it, but it looks as if the Hon. Robert Rice Reynolds has us neatly roped.
"In that campaign I not only preached temperance day in and day out but, etc. etc. etc. etc..."
Thus the hon. gentleman in the Senate, with reference to his campaign in 1931. And in fact he did say again and again that year that he was agin liquor, per se, and that he favored temperance. We know: we have looked him up in the files. And about prohibition itself, he had to say:
"I'm not half so strongly in favor of a revision of our prohibition laws as I am opposed to the evils that they have brought into existence..."
But, ah, perhaps we happen on something there, after all. Sure enough, when we read on:
"I believe the ends of real temperance and sobriety have been defeated by the attempt to enforce artificial restraint upon the people who have been reared in liberty and tolerance... My appeal, therefore, is... to the straight-thinking citizens who are sick and weary of our calamitous dose of hypocrisy..."
But, now, now, that speech Robert made the other day was within an inch of agreeing with Senator Sheppard that we ought to go back to "artificial restraint" and "our calamitous dose of hypocrisy" by restoring prohibition! A very far passage, masters, a very far passage--a circling of the earth, as it were.
On Fleet Smashing
The Japanese newspaper, Kokumin, is a little upset over the recommendations of an American naval board that our Pacific islands, Guam, Wake, and Midway, should be fortified. The journal suspects a move aimed at protecting our interests in China and pops off with a declaration that, in that case, "The Japanese people are determined to smash the American Fleet."
Just like that, you see. Bingo! and there the American Fleet will lie, deep down in Davey Jones' locker!
Ah, well, Kokumin is merely relieving its emotions, and we should not want to deny it that solace. We know, indeed, how it is. But we are minded to offer a practical suggestion: that fleets are never smashed by determination or even the boldest words. What is needed is, above all, gunners to shoot straighter than the appointed smashees. A man named Cervera, who came ramping around the world full of the hottest determination to smash an American fleet, found that out once.
And in connection with that we observe that, whereas at the last reports the American gunner was still shooting straighter than any other comer, the Japanese gunner was taking a whole week to find an objective as large as a park in Shanghai. From which we deduce, for the benefit of Kokumin, that if the Japanese people are really contemplating some fleet smashing, what they actually need is about 50 years of good hard target practice.
But there we go relieving our own emotions.
Lawyers Kill a Bill*
The House Judiciary Committee in Raleigh yesterday killed, as have preceding Legislatures, the regular biennial bill to forbid damage suits against motorists by hitch-hikers and guest passengers. Assuming that the House Judiciary Committee is made up largely of lawyers, this action explains itself. Obviously passage of the bill would have had a deleterious effect on civil law practice.
But the effect of such suits on the good sportsmanship which is supposed to characterize the American people is even worse. Henceforth, in North Carolina, at any rate, wives may continue to sue husbands, mothers sue their sons and fathers their daughters for accidents that happen while the happy family is touring in the family bus. And the young girl about town who, at fifteen, sued her boyfriend for injuries sustained when his car met with a mishap, and three years later sued the same boyfriend for a similar accident, would be forethoughtful to inquire of each prospective date if he carries liability insurance.
And those of us who would disdain inter-family suits and such company as has to be warned that it enjoyed your hospitality at its own risk, will keep on paying these unsporting claims and lawyers fees in the form of higher premiums for protection against these ratified sorry practices.
Taxing the Tax-Eaters
The present proposal that the Federal Government tax the income of state employees and that states tax the income of Federal employees, will appeal to everybody (but state and Federal employees) as the most elemental fair play. The rest of us are exposed to income taxes. Why should jobholders be exempt from one or the other?
Taxation of the income from all future issues of Federal and state bonds, likewise, appears to be good sense, a sort of quid pro quo proposition. Interest charges will probably go up, which will mean a greater charge on these governments, but they will get it back in the form of increased tax payments, and the change will have the important effect of driving much effete capital out of the soft spot of government bonds into productivity again.
At the same time, local governments, which are the first point of contact between the taxing power and taxable property, may well examine the President's recommendation with much care and apprehensiveness. What local governments stand to lose in increased interest charges by Federal and state taxation of the income from their bonds, they cannot make up, as can the others, out of increased income tax receipts. They get none.
The proposal as a whole is desirable, for the loosening of government's stranglehold on capital if for no other reason. But it is not going to be painless locally.
Between The Monopolies
It apparently turns out to be true with a vengeance--that charge the anti-monopolists have long been making, that patents are withheld from the market by large corporations. Yesterday appeared before the O'Mahoney Committee Frank B. Jewett, president of the Bell Telephone Laboratories to testify that fifteen years ago his company developed radio tubes which last fifty times as long and consume half as much current as the commercial product, and that under cross-licensing agreements the Radio Corporation of America and General Electric, which hold a virtual monopoly on the manufacture of tubes, have been entitled to use these patents all along!
"It would not be to their commercial advantage to do it," he explained. "I know that if I were in their place I wouldn't do it."
Mr. Richard C. Patterson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce, understood. "I can see," said he, "how they would sell less (sic) tubes, all right." But Mr. Isadore Lubin, commissioner of Labor Statistics, didn't. He said he was amazed that some company hadn't grabbed the opportunity and made millions.
All of which seems to expose Mr. Lubin as being a little silly. There are several obvious reasons. The reason Mr. Jewett so candidly gives. The fact that nobody can make tubes without RCA's permission. Mr. Jewett wasn't sure that even Western Electric, Bell Telephone's own, could use these patents. And then, there is, as Mr. Lubin who deals with labor ought to have known, Labor. The new tubes would likely mean that, immediately at least, there would be fewer jobs. And against that, Labor, which has some monopolistic characteristics of its own, would put its foot down hard. We shall not, you may be sure, see those tubes soon.
Who'll Buy Our Cotton?
A brokerage house has prepared, as of December 17 last, a comparison between cotton conditions at the time the first AAA was established and now. It contains several startling facts, such as:
That at that time, May, 1933, cotton was selling for 9.20 cents. Yesterday the comparable future month closed at less than eight cents. Meantime, the dollar has been devalued from 100 cents to 59.05, which should of itself have had a stimulating effect on commodity prices.
That in the 1933 season, exports of American cotton came to 8,426,000 bales. This year's exports are estimated at 4,000,000 bales.
That in 1933 the Government held 2,255,000 bales of cotton. It now holds four times as much, somewhere near 11,000,000 bales, which ominously overhangs the market and depresses cotton prices.
That when AAA was passed, world consumption of foreign cotton was at 10,266,000 bales. This year it is estimated at 16,340,000 bales.
This adverse information needs to be qualified in some particulars. The present excess of stock of American cotton and low domestic and foreign prices are due, in part, to a factor beyond AAA's control--the bumper crop of 19,000,000 bales produced under the relaxation of mandatory control. Moreover, in 1933 this country was experiencing something of a boom in contemplation of NRA, and commodity prices responded. A feature of the current boomlet is the failure of commodity prices to go along. Moreover again, the exportation of cotton at world prices and the purchase of goods at American prices was anything but a boon to the American farmer. Say this for the Roosevelt Administration and its Secretary Hull--that they tried valiantly to restore foreign trade on a feasible basis.
But having said all that, the case for AAA looks weak indeed. So weak that we don't know what in the world is to be done about cotton.
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