Aug 1, 1976
As We Go Marching, America’s Emerging Fascist Economy & Toward a Planned Society
“Justice can hardly be done to Flynn’s masterpiece in a review.”
The dreams of economic planning (often euphemistically called “rationalization”) and of social reconstruction are seldom far removed from the forefront of the imagination of numerous American businessmen, intellectuals, politicians, and other social engineers. A recent spate of planning proposals have been pushed center stage in the current ideological debate, and although this is not the place to consider the merits of the current proposals, it is important that we try to place them in their proper historical perspective.
Everyone recognizes that there has been a dramatic change in the nature of the American economy during this century. Almost everyone recognizes that the system that has emerged is not that of the free market. The economics and political science textbooks usually call it a “mixed economy.” whatever that might mean. Clearly we must move towards a more meaningful definition, but definitions are possible only after considerable analysis and interpretation. The books under consideration in this review help us to do just that.
Attorney Charlotte Twight faces the problem of definition head on. She looks around for a socioeconomic structure similar to that of the United States, and she finds such a fully developed system (America’s being only incipient) in the corportivist states of Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, viz., fascism. She accepts E.B. Ashton’s definition of fascism as “capitalist collectivism”: the forms of capitalism (nominal private property, contracts, and markets) but the substance of State control, both direct and indirect.
Twight cites the constitutional basis for the legality of American fascism (the interstate commerce clause, and the preemptive doctrine), and she then goes on to catalog numerous economic interventions, the sum total of which she demonstrates add up to, at the very least, an emergent system of economic fascism. She perceptively sees that control over the economy’s money and credit is the necessary and most important command post. She examines the economic consequences of interventions such as the following: licensing, regulation, and rate making; product control; increasing the power of the executive branch; control over labor and agriculture; import-export and foreign exchange controls; and more.
As useful as the Twight book is—and it is quite useful as far as it goes—I find it almost devoid of social and political context. There is no real sense either of historical perspective or of historical circumstance. There is nothing to give us even the slightest inkling of why the interventions took place. Were they the result of fate, of chance, of design, of perceived need, or of actual need to rationalize dislocations caused by previous interventions? The reader will find no answer here.
Twight, an obvious devotee of the free market, views the emergent controlled economy with sadness. Otis Graham, a disciple of America’s foremost exponent of planning, Rexford Tugwell, welcomes the advance of planning. Whereas Twight is strong on economic libertarianism and weak on historical context, Graham is, at the very least, naive on economic theory, but excellent at putting the history of American intervention and planning in historical perspective.
Graham’s book is a very important contribution to twentieth century American historiography. He traces the path—an inexorable path as he sees it—of planning from the midst of World War I to the present. The continuity that he uncovers is both an eye-opener and cause for alarm.
Beginning with the War Industries Board during WWI, both the vision and practice of central control and management of the economy caught the imagination of numerous businessmen and intellectuals. The desire for centralized planning of the economy has waxed and waned in business and academic circles during the years since, but there has been a continuity of the planning vision that has remained strong with pivotal intellectuals and business and political decision-makers.
Graham traces the history of American planning from the WIB to the New Deal, where he finds the various experiments in planning—Twight would, I think, more correctly call them experiments in, or “flirtations with,” fascism—such as the NRA, AAA, WPA, RFC, et cetera, to be tentative steps in the right direction. Particularly intriguing is Graham’s insight concerning the central importance throughout the New Deal of the Natural Resources Planning Bureau. Control over the use of resources, perhaps second only to control of the economy’s supply of money and credit, is the key to “successful” planning. Twight’s excellent chapter on control of America’s agriculture is particularly relevant on this point.
After the fight over the Employment Act of 1946, during which the tough planning teeth were pulled from the bill, conscious efforts at comprehensive planning lapsed. Graham contends that, with few exceptions, central planning lay dormant until LBJ introduced the planning, programing, and budgeting system in the Bureau of the Budget. (Graham refuses to consider macro fiscal and monetary manipulations to be planning in any proper sense of the term.)
The next great leap forward towards planning, a leap that is portrayed in one of the most revealing parts of Graham’s book, takes place during the first administration of the Nixon regime. The role in the Nixon schemes of unreconstructed planner Daniel P. Moynihan is particularly interesting. Both Twight and Graham rightly see Nixon’s imposition of peacetime price controls as an important precedent that is sure to have widespread ramifications for future planners.
The combined analysis of these books of Twight and Graham gives the reader a much better than usual understanding of the developing nature of the American System. There is, however, a grave flaw of omission in this analysis, an omission that is particularly pronounced in Twight’s book and present to a lesser degree in Graham’s.
In Twight’s book there is inexplicably not one mention of the Pentagon, of the WIB, of the OPA, of military expenditures and contracts, or of national security management. Although there is historical recognition of the military’s existence and role in Graham’s book, he emphasizes the importance of militarism’s role in leading us to the fascist-planned economy little more than does Twight. It is as though the work of Melman, Weinstein, Neiberg; Barnett, Beard, Dennis, Nisbet, O’Connor, and dozens of others had never been published. One begins to wonder if the authors are not consciously or unconsciously attempting to create an historical vacuum so that the untidy reality of war preparations and militarism does, not complicate the theses of their respective studies.
What the Twight-Graham complementary analysis needs is a large, healthy dose of John T. Flynn’s profound insights concerning the ubiquitous and distroying role of war, war preparations, and militarism in general, for it is militarism that cements the ties between business and government. It is militarism that places increasing power in the hands of the government to better control the economy. It is militarism that can most easily be used as a cover to create and maintain government jobs. It is militarism that can, with most political acceptability, be used for purposes of Keynesian pump-priming. It is militarism that permits the State to become, in Twight’s words, a full-fledged “market surrogate.” It is militarism whose shroud of secrecy creates widespread suspicion and a rampant Garrison State mentality. It is, in short, militarism that has been the chief propellant thrusting the United States economy into the planned society, into the throes of the fascist quagmire.
Justice can hardly be done to Flynn’s masterpiece in a review. One must read and savor for oneself the brilliance of analysis and of prophecy found in the pages of As We Go Marching. I am convinced that the Flynn book is one of the few truly great works of socioeconomic analysis written in this century. I would go so far as to contend that if one has not read and digested the analysis and prophecy contained in this book, it is highly unlikely that one would have much understanding of the essential nature of the American System.
We are fortunate that As We Go Marching has recently been republished as an inexpensive paperback. I urge you to buy a copy and to immerse yourself in it. Study it along with the Twight and the Graham, and you are sure to develop a far better understanding of the increasingly controlled world in which we are forced to live. Only with such understanding will we ever be able to figure out what to do in order to change the system. Reviewed by Walter E. Grinder /Marching / Free Life Editions, 1973 / $3.45 / Planned Society / Oxford University Press, 1975 / $11.95 / Fascist Economy / Arlington House, 1975 / $12.95