To the Editor:
Richard Hofstadter’s article [“Antitrust in America,” August] exhibits his usual incisiveness . . . but certain subsidiary propositions contained in it cry out for clarification. To say, for example, that the younger generation has adjusted to the corporate bureaucratic way of life is not to say (as the article seems to imply) that such concentrations of power do not present serious social and political problems. Many recent college graduates have also made careers in atomic energy and missile development, for example, but surely the control of these forces nevertheless remains one of the most important problems of our time.
John Kenneth Galbraith, already much maligned unjustifiably for his phrase “the affluent society,” is saddled by Professor Hofstadter with a major share of the responsibility for reconciling Americans to the disappearance of competition. But while it is true that Galbraith has described antitrust as a “nostalgic goal” he has also recommended (in The Liberal Hour) alternative approaches to what he calls this “urgent” problem. A. A. Berle, too, though indicating that “history cannot usually be reversed,” has suggested alternative approaches to what he describes as a basic issue. (See his Economic Power and the Free Society.)
Finally, Professor Hofstadter states that small business has grown apace with adult population during the last dozen years—a very questionable proposition of ambiguous meaning. Here the author almost seems to be subscribing to an alternative popular ideology.
In absolute numbers, small businesses may seem plentiful, but the percentage of the gross national product for which they account is clearly shrinking. The unhappy fact is that the present method of statistical reporting in this area by the Small Business Administration is inconclusive. Empirically, however, finance executives dealing with this segment of the economy recognize the disappearance trend of small business. . . .
In sum, ideologies may become more or less fashionable, but the problem in actuality persists. . . . As Professor Hofstadter rightly points out, ideology is not a proper substitute for accurate measurement of the problem and reasonably effective techniques of handling it.
Monroe R. Lazere
New York City
Mr. Hofstadter writes:
Mr. Lazere’s letter gives me an opportunity to clarify a few points. It was not my intention to persuade anyone to be complacent about the concentration of economic power, but merely to show that the particular kind of fears about it expressed, for example, during the Progressive Era have largely disappeared. My reference to the younger generation was not meant to prove anything either way about the seriousness of the problem; but I did speak of “a bland acceptance of the large corporation” and “a depressing complacency about the terms and rewards of the corporate life.” If Mr. Lazere will re-read the paragraph in which I refer to small business enterprise, he will see that my interest was not in minimizing the concentration of economic power but in conceding, and attempting roughly to assess, the persistence of the ideal of small entrepreneurship and of the aspirations associated with it. He is, of course, right about its decreasing role in the GNP. Finally, I had no intention of maligning Galbraith or Berle; I merely cited their influence to show how a certain acceptance of bigness has become more common in liberal thought. Neither of them has ceased to believe in the usefulness of well-chosen antitrust actions, and in the longer essay from which my COMMENTARY article was condensed I took pains to say this, and to speak of their advocacy of “other economic and social mechanisms that promise to control excessive market power.”