POLITICS JULY 17, 1935
Public opinion, which once upon a time was only a symbolic figure in cartoons, has become a valuable commercial property. The banners and buttons of World War propaganda showed, as one writer has explained, “the possibilities of molding public opinion toward an objective. Its success convinced leaders how vital it is to gauge public reaction to ideas or products; how necessary it is to get public support.” And big business, having learned the technique of selling its products, is now trying to sell itself. Certain corporations, of course, have been doing so-called institutional advertising for a long time, and various associations have been formed to propagandize products made by its members.
It was not until the New Deal was invented, however, that a group of corporations, united by the same interest (profits) and faced with a common threat (the loss of profits) banded together to sell themselves, in their total identity, as a good, gentle giant, interested in protecting widows, orphans and the common man. The activity of the utilities is a case in point, and the effort of various industries to prevent the adoption of the Child Labor Amendment is another. The most recent instance, however, is the attempt of the Agricultural Industries’ Conference, the American Association of Creamery Butter Manufacturers, Swift and Company, the United States Chamber of Commerce and the American Liberty League to kill two proposed amendments (S. 1807 and H. R. 5585) to the A.A.A. These amendments, against which the processing interests have formed a united front, have been proposed in order to make the A.A.A. more effective. They were, originally, much more drastic than they are at present, having been subjected to considerable revision after the Supreme Court invalidated the N.R.A. The original report of the Committee on Agriculture reads:
The primary objective set forth in the declaration of policy in the Agricultural Adjustment Act is to secure parity prices for farm products through balancing production with consumption. . . . These amendments will permit a more flexible program by permitting the use of different plans with reference to different commodities. . . . The word “adjustment” has been substituted for the word “reduction” so that the production of a crop hereafter may be adjusted to our domestic and foreign market demand rather than being based on the question of reduction alone. It may mean an increase or a decrease, or neither, depending upon the supply necessary to fit the general market demand.
The Good Giants.—The groups that have been trying to kill the amendments are principally those that have opposed farm legislation from the first. Fountainhead of the propaganda flood is a body calling itself the Legislative Committee, Agricultural Industries’ Conference. This Conference has never revealed the interests behind it, but on the covers of its innumerable leaflets it tries to identify itself with agriculture by saying it represents “the major groups in the agricultural industries” brought together at the invitation of the United States Chamber of Commerce. The Conference has prepared and distributed pamphlets, one addressed to farmers and one to business men, and has maintained a publicity office in Washington which issues daily press releases. Its pamphlet for the farmer begins:
An adroitly worded legislative proposal is found by careful analysis to contain dangerous, arbitrary andautocratic powers over farmer-producers, manufacturersand distributors of agricultural products andderivatives. . . . Under the licensing system set out inthe bill no farmer can fail to feel the effect of restrictiverequirements in his own marketing operations.In fact, farmers who do not sign the allocation andcrop-restricting contracts may be entirely without amarket. The small farmers producing diversifiedcrops—for whose benefit the whole force of agriculturaleffort has been directed for the past generation—may be disastrously affected. Even if this is not specificallyintended, the possibilities of the language of these amendments arc sufficiently broad to give an administrativeofficial this power.
Other arguments presented are that the amendments would mark the end of voluntary cooperation, that farmers’ cooperatives would be “wholly and completely subject to the arbitrary licensing provisions” and that instead of benefit payments the government might “pay corn or wheat farmers by presenting them with supplies of raw cotton.”
The leaflet addressed to business men begins: “Broad Powers to License a Large Section of American Business, Even Against Its Will, Are Proposed in Amendments to Agricultural Adjustment Act.” This leaflet pictures Secretary Wallace as a merciless giant controlling a great percentage of the nation’s business, and the Agricultural Industries’ Conference as the good giant who doesn’t want the bad giant to get away with it. The leaflet argues that the amendments hold the threat of licenses not only over 110,000 processors and 52,500 wholesalers, but also over 811,000 retailers. “A broad interpretation of the proposed amendments would bring within their scope practically all manufacturing establishments in the United States with the possible exception of iron and steel and a few isolated other kinds of plants.”
One keeps wondering, reading such material, who the good giant, so interested in the welfare of the farmer and the little business man, really is. A clue is given by the names of those associations represented at the committee hearings on the bill in Congress. These include the Institute of American Meat Packers; Millers’ National Federation; American Creamery Butter Manufacturers’ Association; American Feed Manufacturers’ Association; Dairy Industries Committee; The Cotton Textile Institute; National Canners’ Association; Associated Grocery Manufacturers.
If any of these associations, however, are backing the Agricultural Industries’ Conference, the cat has not been let out of the good giant’s bag. The good giant, as far as the public is concerned, just strode into Washington and began protecting the American people against the machinations of Secretary Wallace. It’s almost a miracle.
The Good Giant’s Helpers.—Although the Agricultural Industries’ Conference is wrapped in a cloak of anonymity, other groups and corporations seeking to defeat the amendments are not. Swift and Company, in a report to its stockholders signed by G. T. Swift as president, made no bones about its opposition:
These bills would permit a complete dictatorship over the processors of agricultural products—a dictatorship without parallel in the history of this country…. There is practically no limit to what an unwise dictatorship could do to the competitive structure of the meat and other agricultural industries. No regard whatever need be shown for the trade position a company has earned through competitive struggle over a period of years or for the property rights of shareholders…. Several millions of shareholders and employees are dependent upon the agricultural processing and food industries for their income and livelihood…. If you wish to have your views regarding this legislation considered, you should write your Senators and Congressmen. If you do this, you may wish to explain the situation to your friends and ask them to do likewise. Congress is now considering these bills. Prompt action on your part is necessary if you want your views to be effective.
The American Association of Creamery Butter Manufacturers is another group that has come out in the open to attack the amendments. Besides urging its own membership to write Senators and Congressmen, this organization has prepared literature to be distributed “in any quantity” among farmers. “Service Bulletin No. 392,” dated February 27, 1935, along with the usual data on butter prices and similar information contained arguments against the thirty-hour-week bill and the A.A.A. amendments. “We are also having prepared and printed,” it went on, “a short statement to be circulated among farmers. There will be a large quantity of these. The farmers should know the danger that is confronting their business as cream producers. You may order any quantity you desire of these statements from this office, and the thing to do is to lose no time, but get busy at once.”
The bulletin also suggests that
creameries in every state should get together and raise a defense fund. Congress and state legislatures are going entirely too far—trying to regulate everything. Someone from every state possible should come to Washington and spend a few days seeing members of Congress on the five-day-week work bill, agricultural-dictator bill, etc., and perhaps appear as a witness at hearings. Those who come, please contact A. M. Loomis, 630 Indiana Avenue. [Loomis is secretary of the National Dairy Union and is one of Washington’s veteran lobbyists.]
On April 22, the American Liberty League came to the aid of the processing industries with a pamphlet, “The A.A.A. Amendments,” and a press release issued from Washington. Both characterized the proposed legislation as working toward “a fascist control not only of agriculture but of a major sector of the manufacturing and distributing industries.” The League’s pamphlet, like the releases of the Agricultural Industries’ Conference, said that the amendments would enable the Secretary of Agriculture to “take over… the virtual management of far-flung industries engaged in canning, milling, brewing, distilling, meat packing, textile manufacturing, cotton-seed crushing, soap making and the manufacture of sugars, feeds, tobacco products, various foods, fertilizers and automobile tires, as well as truckers, commission houses, distributors and retailers handling all kinds of farm products.” It also avows the great concern of the Liberty League for the welfare of sharecroppers, tenants and farm laborers—a concern that is even more remarkable when the personnel of the League is remembered.
The United States Chamber of Commerce, in a set of resolutions adopted on May 2, also entered the by now crowded arena as one of the Good Giant’s helpers. The Chamber could not completely adjust itself to its unaccustomed role, for it declared that it would insist that “the government shall not, by law, or otherwise, give preferential treatment to any group.” It made it explicit, however, that this doctrine of “no preference” is to refer only to agriculture. In the same set of resolutions the Chamber filed a special plea for a subsidized merchant marine; nor did its indignation regarding “preferential treatment” extend to the various handouts given by the government to big business.
Rebuttal.—The answer returned by those persons who want the amendments passed is simple enough. Without the amendments, the entire marketing-agreement and licensing programs of the A.A.A. would have more loop-holes than substance and would probably have to be abandoned. And nothing would please the Good Giant more than that—which is the moral and climax of our tale. A secondary moral, which needs little stressing, is that the only good giants are to be found in story books—not lobbying in Washington.
This article originally ran in the July 17, 1935, issue of the magazine.