« ForrigeFortsett »
It is bad enough when those engaged in an industry see that it is not growing, that it is probably falling off; it is hopeless when they plainly see that it is actually vanishing, that in five, ten or fifteen years it will be no more.
The cause may be actual disappearance of raw material, locally or generally; or it may be discoveries or inventions that take the place of older processes. Electricity is playing havoc with steam, and electric devices are supplanting many older machines and tools.
In many cases factories are changed over to meet the new requirements, but in others they cannot be and owners face total losses; labor must look ahead to periods of idleness and poverty.
Under existing social conditions and prevailing economic theories most of these consequences cannot be avoided, but some might be if the law permitted and helped.
Given a situation such as described the law should not only permit, but encourage men getting together to face the situation wisely and intelligently.
A government "by the people, of the people and for the people" ought to look out for the people just a little unless the familiar phrase is bombast; it should make even more careful investigations of all industries and occupations than it now does; it should note and publish the first signs of fundamental changes in both demand and supply; it should give the first warnings of impending trouble.
In a measure governments of the most advanced countries do these things-not with any large economic and ethical outlook, but mostly for temporary gain.
A wise government would go farther and when it detects signs of inevitable decay and dissolution encourage the coming together of all interested so that by coöperation disastrous results may be minimized.
In this country state and federal laws forbid coöperation the object of which is to restrain trade, yet with a vanish
ing industry trade must be controlled and regulated in such a manner that losses will be limited instead of aggravated, conditions ameliorated instead of exasperated.
If ten men are adrift in a boat with food and water for only a few days they do not fight and kill one another and in their struggles waste the little store they have-they do not do that unless they are madmen. No, their one thought is to make the food and water last as long as possible; they coöperate to prolong the life of each.
The biologist might say, "Why don't you strong fellows kill the weak? You will have their shares and live longer." But they don't; a force far above the laws of evolution stays all beastly impulses.
Why should the ten survivors of a shipwrecked industry engage in a hand to throat struggle to kill one another when by rational coöperation the little business there is may be made to go around until something else can be done; or until by prudent management plant after plant may be disposed of for other uses on fairly favorable terms?
All the expert can say to those men is, "Your situation is desperate, if you continue competing for a diminishing business your situation will become more and more desperate; you will simply slaughter one another. There is but one thing you can do, get together, face the situation as a unit, combine all your sources of knowledge, exchange all information freely so that each may know all there is to know about what the future has in store, then shape your course accordingly.
"The law ought to permit your acting as a unit as regards both producing and selling, but it does not.
"The law ought to help you save what you can out of the wreck of your industry, but it does not.
"The attitude of the law is that of the biologist—'Kill the weak, you strong ones-and then kill each other,' ha!"
Meanwhile these diminishing and vanishing industries can do something to help themselves in open-price associations-not much but something.
It will help for each to know what the others are doing. both in the way of business and prices. Losses may be lessened to some extent. Friendly association will develop a "give and take" spirit that will modify some of the more vicious features of competition.
At the same time it must be confessed the outlook will be dismal at best; without such firm coöperation as the law does not now allow, competition cannot be otherwise than disastrous. Men who must have business to live will bid to get it, considerations of cost will not deter them, much less considerations for competitors-nothing will restrain them.
Association will yield this one advantage, where a man knows the condition of his competitors and the extent each will go in a desperate fight for business he will be in a position to keep out of the fiercer competition, to exercise some judgment, and he will realize the inevitable all the sooner, he will realize the futility of hanging on until all his money is lost.
The isolated manufacturer is in a position of serious disadvantage, he seldom meets the men who keep track of what is going on and often he clings to methods either actually out of date, or that are about to be superseded by improved processes; he is at the mercy of all his competitors who are better informed.
As a center for information, a place for exchange of views, the association has a commercial as well as a social value—it means a saving of money to all who belong.
In these and many other ways the open-price association with its atmosphere of frankness and coöperation can help even diminishing and vanishing industries, but by no means to the extent it helps growing.
WHAT IS A FAIR PRICE?
What is a fair price?
"Cost plus a reasonable profit," the seller will answer.
But the average buyer will quickly reply, "I do not care anything about your cost or your profit, the only price that interests me is the market price-the price I have to pay."
"But," the seller urges, "the market price may be either far above or far below a fair price, it may yield me an exorbitant profit, or it may mean a disastrous loss."
"I can't help that."
"Yes, you can to some extent; if buyers will only cooperate with sellers to control so far as possible the violent fluctuations that are bad for both."
And the practical question is, to what extent can that be done?
A great many writers have dealt with the subject of price, but all that has been written on the theoretical side since the days of Adam Smith has been but little more than refinements upon the conclusions reached by him in Book I of his famous work.
Natural Price and Cost-"There is in every society or neighborhood an ordinary or average rate, both of wages