The Charlotte News

Wednesday, May 11, 1938


Site Ed. Note: Since Hugh Johnson was in Charlotte for a talk, we include the following piece on a subject about which remark had been amply made on the News editorial page in April, the differential between Southern and Northern wages, and its concomitant results of a relatively poor standard of living in the South versus the North, coupled with the strain of competition with Northern manufacturers for cheap products.

"Shabby Neutrality" points up some of the misgivings at the time even among those who basically supported the President and the basic thrust of the New Deal, that FDR had a tendency to overlook too much in exchange for political cronyism. The illustrative case in point, that of Frank Hague, was certainly a glaring one not only in its time, but one in the entire annals of American politics. Hague was a sixth grade-educated goon-squad operator who worked his way up in government from a janitor to be Mayor of Jersey City in eleven years. He remained Mayor for thirty years, until 1947, when his appointed successor, his nephew, succeeded him, though with less success at operating the Hague machine. That machine had for thirty years successfully manipulated and stolen elections, and beaten literally into submission all comers who might attempt to horn in on the Boss's political turf, including of late in 1938, two United States Congressmen who sought a platform to speak in Jersey City in the wake of the exclusion of socialist Norman Thomas.

While we no longer hear of the type of big city bosses as Hague, since the demise of Mayor Daley in Chicago in 1976, we do wonder, especially in connection with the obvious manipulation of the vote in Florida in 2000, as to whether more subtle tricks today are being employed wholesale in our election processes.

We are aware, incidentally, that some claim a pox on both houses and point fingers at Democrats, especially in local races in some parts of the country, and perhaps rightly so; yet, in terms of magnitude, we fail to understand why it is that in all elections since 2000, going in, the polls have indicated a fairly to greatly strong disinclination to retain the Republican Congress, only to come out of them with a Republican Congress, if this be the case. We understand, of course, the strong tendency toward retaining incumbents district by district and state by state, as well as typical voter apathy on election day, though 2004 certainly belied that latter notion. Nevertheless, with the polls set as they are now, the next election for national offices this November may be the measure of just how much voter fraud is taking place, and which party has the greater edge in partaking of its misgiven notions. If it is true, as it appears to be, that such fraud, to greater or lesser degrees at points in history, especially in big city precincts, has been an American tradition, it is a tradition we most certainly must strive to eliminate, and as to both parties. Racism, too, has been an American tradition, but it is not to say it is one which should be tolerated as we grow as a country in our understanding of ourselves and our philosophical underpinnings, the basic foundational principles of the country, embodied in the Constitution, and why they must remain sacrosanct to insure democratic freedom throughout our republican Union.

The current Administration's obvious disregard for the Bill of Rights in that Constitution is becoming increasingly shocking, including the most recent revelation that the National Security Administration has been collecting telephone records on millions of American citizens, with a view to collecting them on all of us apparently, quite in violation of the First and Fourth Amendments, quite illegally again in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as we previously have provided for your edification here, codified as 50 USC 1802 and 1809, passed by the Congress and signed into law by the President in 1978 in the wake of the numerous abuses to our system of democratic processes unveiled in the Watergate investigation. It is a felony for anyone in government, or anyone complicit with anyone in government, acting under its encouragement and auspices, temporarily or otherwise, to spy on a United States person without a warrant or probable cause. Collecting wholesale a database of telephone usage by United States citizens is nothing more than wholesale spying on United States citizens in violation of the law and the Constitution. It is a felony, as the law cited says it is, apparently repeated now millions of times over by our current Executive branch, one which came to power quite without any but the most tenuous legitimacy in 2001. (In any event, it gave "one-man, one-vote" a whole new meaning, as one justice's vote, sure enough, turned the hair on the balance; and, in our opinion, threw the whole thing quite out of balance, where it has remained since. And, incidentally, if you don't believe that September 11, 2001, was at least an indirect consequence of all of that, you are quite as blind as a blood-sucking bat. For those with any memory of events so recent as five years back, you will recall that the current Administration was so busy then scouring the countryside to muster political support for its then, and now again even lesser, very weak and tenuous mandate to govern, that its entire energies were obviously consumed thusly and not in minding the switch. ("We had intelligence that Al Qaeda was probably going to strike somewhere soon, but we didn't know where"(?)))

It appears, as revelations mount, that these in the Executive branch have come to this point of power to chill you.

Just who are these people now in charge of our government and why don't they appear to respect the laws and the Constitution they are each, by law and the Constitution, sworn to uphold?

Perhaps, we shall need to find out with a new Congress come January, in extensive hearings--impeachment hearings.

That is, unless we allow our votes again to be manipulated, either directly by the "traditional" shenanigans at the polls on election day, or indirectly through manipulative advertising, sure to follow as the weeks and months progress; if we do so, we shall resign ourselves to living in one Big Bossman's Jersey City, we suppose. In that case, you may then ask Big Bossman for your new licensed privilege, to be renewed every day only on an affirmative showing of good conduct, as determined by the Board of Inquiry appointed by Big Bossman, to cross the street; for crossing the street could pose a substantial risk to national security, you see. You could be, after all, in possession of a bomb or other dangerous weapon--such as a letter in your pocket.

The elephants, indeed, appear to us to be singing, and not so cutely, "Show Me the Way to Go Home", for the entertainment of all the little boys and girls out there. Perhaps, it is time to grant them their wish and show them the way, and supplant them with a good, stubborn mule or two. For there are sharks in these waters, and we may ill afford another doze at the watch as they recover from their apparent hangover. Sailors in this ship of state we need; but sober and sensitive ones at the helm, even if the compass is always, by our traditions anyway, a bit skewed from pointing true.

The South And Wages

By Hugh S. Johnson

CHARLOTTE--It is remarkable how well Southern business holds up in this depression in comparison with the Northern industrial areas. Department stores here in Charlotte show only about a 6 per cent to 8 per cent decline as compared with this time last year when business was good everywhere. The feeling is much better in towns than in Northern cities.

But there are Indian signs of trouble. Agricultural prosperity is waning. In this particular city the recession in the cotton textile industry is beginning to bite. In this hotel is a big delegation of the Hosiery Workers Union. They seem amply supplied with funds and are clearly determined to unionize the Southern mills. The South is afraid of this for the same reason it fears any cast-iron Federal wages-and-hours bill. Union success will depend largely on union wisdom in handling one of the most serious problems of the South--the necessity for wage differentials permitting lower pay as compared with Northern industry.


The Southern industrial structure is not entirely dependent on these differentials but it is so largely so that any sudden and violent attempt to put both regions on a rigid equality in wage rates would cause explosions which cannot now be fairly foreseen.

Through the South there have been many cases of abuses due not so much to Southern employers as to small Northern establishments. Many have emigrated to the South and set up shops solely for the purpose of exploiting cheap labor. They then use the lower cost of their product to compete in the North. They thus give Northern competing employers the unhappy alternative of getting out of business, moving South themselves, or cutting their own labor rates.

That is a dangerous tendency which ought to be checked and will be checked. But whatever action is taken to cut out that abuse, cannot be extended to smashing the whole economic pattern of the South, which would happen upon the application of any inflexible equality whether by Federal law or union activity.


As someone has recently pointed out, the available wealth from which wages can be paid is from 10 to 40 times greater in the Northern industrial states that in the South.

The whole structure and hence the cost as well as the standard of living is on a poorer level. It would not, some argue, be immediately lifted for all if the wage structure were jacked up by Federal law, because the living of so large a percentage of all comes from agriculture. Neither by statute nor by any union activity is there any prospect for this segment being lifted. Markedly higher-wage rates in only those industries, "in or affecting interstate commerce" would simply upset the existing balance and close down the small amount of slowly advancing Southern industrial enterprise.


The relative poverty of this section is a heritage of old misfortune. The Civil War was one. Another was the gutting of Southern wealth and enterprise in the terrible twenty years of Reconstruction when all the states were being treated--as the unspeakable Thaddeus Stevens insisted--"as conquered provinces." Perhaps as bad as any of these bad influences was the automatic exploitation which the tariff wrought for generations. It simply worked to subsidize increasingly wealthy Northern industries at the expense of an increasingly impoverished South.

A natural result of this relative impoverishment was relatively lower wages. Some of the South has completely recovered but most of it has not. This territorial unbalance must be cured. It is slowly being cured. But we can't expect to cure overnight a condition created by the play of powerful economic forces over more than half a century.

Shabby Neutrality

That the President is in reality two people has been repeatedly made clear--one of them being a man of honestly great humanitarian purposes and the other a somewhat shabby politician. But he has rarely looked more baldly and simply the latter than in his "neutral stand" on Boss Hague and the abuse of civil liberties in Haguetown and New Jersey.

When he says that he has no power whatever in the premises, he is manifestly and deliberately dodging the issue. It doesn't make a hoot whether he has any direct authority to remove Hague as Vice-Chairman of the Democratic Committee. He is captain-general of the Democratic Party, and as such has the real power to force his resignation today. And it most certainly has not been characteristic of him that he has been squeamish about bringing pressure for ends he desired. More, he has the power to speak out and make his disapproval of Hague's actions perfectly plain, to Jersey City, New Jersey, and the nation. He has spoken out and made his disapproval of the ways of foreign dictators perfectly plain.

And if he doesn't speak out about exactly the same way in this "local police matter," it is most difficult to understand his silence on any other hypothesis than that it is due to the fact that the Hague machine is hand in glove with the New Deal in New Jersey and is extremely useful to it for political purposes.

Another Menace

The latest report of the silly season comes from St. Louis. In that fief of old August Busch they have a celebrated zoo. And in the zoo are three baby Indian elephants, named respectively Marian, Clarabelle and Vi. They are very clever little elephants, and have learned to do several tricks. The best of all is one wherein they quaff colored water out of liquor bottles and pretend to fall prostrate on the floor when their trainer sings "Show Me the Way to Go Home."

There are people who think it screamingly funny. But Mr. P. A. Tate, director of the Missouri Anti-Saloon League, doesn't think so. Mr. Tate is very indignant about it and plans to take steps to see that it is stopped. Possibly, Mr. Tate is afraid that the little female elephants might have ideas put into their heads, and want one of these days to really get drunk instead of only playing at it. More probably, however, what Mr. Tate is concerned about is not so much the morals of the little elephants as those of little boys and girls. You see, the little boys and girls come in to watch the little elephants and laugh at them. It is mainly the little boys and girls, indeed, who think that the little elephants are screamingly funny. And, if the little boys and girls laugh at little elephants for playing drunk, why, manifestly, they are very likely to go right out and start getting drunk on their own account. You see how that follows naturally and logically, don't you?

Site Ed. Note: Incidentally, we don't wish too much to disagree, (and do we or don't we?), with the Socratic irony displayed here by our esteemed mentor.

But we shall relate that once upon a day, 'twas in the fifth grade, we recall, we had occasion, in September, we seem to remember, to attend a football contest of the Pop variety, down at our local elementary school's football field.

Demons, the team was yclept.

We had, in our span of years to that point, had occasion to witness many an adult slightly in their cups or more so, and not usually was it very funny to us. For often, it caused these adults, when so habituated, to do funny and mysterious things, the result of very decreased and, eventually as the time wore on, depressed, judgment.

So, in a bit of Socratic irony of our own, being of a mind to impress our peers with our most crazy Guggenheim impression, we staggered mysteriously, and deliberately slurred our speech, to the effective point that our comrades of the moment were most hysterically laughing at it all, breathlessly, and to our great and continued encouragement for more of the same comedic dramatization, until...

Until a very wise teacher, who became our teacher the following year, but at the time presumably didn't know us from Adam, came along, unbeknownst to our simulated state of inebriacy, just as if we were actually possessed of such, and suddenly caught our attention, to catch us immediately back to unsimulated sobriety: "Hey, you," she suddenly struck us as if by a bullet. We turned, dumb-faced. "Yes, you. Don't you ever do that again. Do you understand me?" "Yes ma'am," came our immediate and most sober and sincere reply.

We have never forgotten the lesson. And the following year, we profited much from the instruction of this fair and sober-minded, though not sober-sided, younger teacher of yet younger students.

So, there you have it, our 2 cents plain, for what it's worth...

The Single Flaw

The populace of Rome is hoarse just now. From cheering. It was a truly magnificent sight, you understand--that demonstration of military might which Signor Mussolini staged for his guest, Der Fuhrer. Up into the clouds went roaring a mighty war fleet, 800,000 horsepower strong, traveling at 250 miles an hour, carrying 1,500 machine guns and many thousands of bombs. And on the ground there was the infantry. Over there were some fences marking "a camp to be bombed out of existence." It was bombed out of existence. Out at sea beyond the Ostia there were some old tramp steamers representing "the enemy's fleet to be sunk." They were sunk. On land again were some trenches "representing the enemy's positions to be taken." They were taken.

Who could blame them, then, if Roman hearts swelled and surged, if Roman throats cheered till they could cheer no more? Here before their eyes was Italian might moving out, resistless, to certain victory. Those were the towers of London or Paris or Moscow or what-have-you toppling down, helpless, under the deadly Italian thrust from the air. Were they not? That (was it not?) was Britannia's fleet plunging down to the bottom of the Tyrrhenian sea to keep company with the Carthagenian galleys of long ago? And there on the ground--surely that was the armies of France reeling back, beaten, from the Alps?

Yes, a naturally heart-warming spectacle, that one. And there was only one small hole in it--that it was all prearranged. And that, if the real test came, Britain or France or Russia, or all of them together, might refuse most accommodatingly to be pre-arranged.

Call for Rescue*

"To halt this destructive depression," a national conference of industrialists, labor leaders, farmers, financiers and merchants has been suggested to President Roosevelt by Philip Murray, capable head of the Textile Workers Organizing Committee. It would be up to this conference to determine what really was best for the national interest and how to achieve it.

Mr. Murray seems to overlook Congress, which is in session even at the moment and is charged under the constitution "to promote the general welfare." He seems also to place no reliance upon the President and his executive advisers, who "planned it this way." Instead, he resorts to the notion of a conclave of unofficial representatives who would, he hopes, assume a "total unselfishness" and bring their knowledge and experience to bear on the gigantic problems which "menace our free institutions."

And if by this proposal of extraordinary procedure over and above the routine processes of a going democracy Mr. Murray does not confess mistrust, at least, in the sufficiency of Congress and the President, he comes pretty close to it. If Mr. Murray, who has got a lot of benefit out of this administration, feels that way, how do you suppose those it has chastised must feel?

Somewhat Exaggerated

The Republicans in the House of Representatives who have been letting the conservative Democrats do the talking for them ever since the last election, came out of their hole yesterday to say that the President's spending program is based on a theory that the experience of the last six years has exploded, the theory that "a nation may spend its way to prosperity;" and to go on:

This trial has cost the taxpayers roundly $40,000,000,000, and has led only to the sharpest and most sudden business depression in modern economic history... The Roosevelt proposal simply is to start the whole disastrous cycle over again.

There may be, probably is, a great deal of truth in that. We ourselves have very strong doubts that government spending can do more than temporary good at best, and suspect that it may leave things a great deal worse off in the end, unless meantime the economic machine is got going on its own account. And it is quite likely that government spending and the taxes that government spending entails will operate and have operated precisely to keep that economic machine from getting going on its own account. It may be contended with logic that that is one of the principal causes of the present depression.

But there are at least two counts in the statement which are plainly not so. The first of the untrue counts is that the Roosevelt policies have cost the nation $40,000,000,000. It is true that the two administrations have, to date, spent about that much. But those included all the normal expenditures of government which had nothing to do with the New Deal. Mr. Hoover spent little for New Deals, but expenditures for each of the last three years of his administration were around $5,000,000,000. If we allow Mr. Roosevelt as much for normal expenditures, then the New Deal has cost about $15,000,000,000. And if we do the quite fair thing and recall the great increase in expenditures on the naval military establishments, the figure probably would have to be scaled down to around $12,000,000,000.

The second count that is plainly not so is that the present depression is "the sharpest and most sudden... in modern economic history." The "sharpest and most sudden depression in modern economic history" is that which began abruptly on a black day in October 1929, a few months after Herbert Hoover had been installed as President of the United States, and after nine years of Republican rule--the depression that got steadily worse all the while Herbert Hoover remained President of the United States. And the ultimate argument that the Republicans are driving home is that what we really need is another Republican administration.


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