To the Editor:
Robert L. Heilbroner cites me in support of his contention that big business has grown tamer as an expansionist force, to be supplanted by belligerent-minded government leaders and anti-Communist lower and middle classes [“The Future of Capitalism,” April].
He accurately reports the results of certain calculations in my book, Militarism and Industry, concerning the military and foreign investment profits of the 25 largest industrial corporations, and the portion of their taxes going to military and foreign-aid expenditures. I found that in 1959 the balance was nearly even—with the total profits somewhat exceeding the total taxes, but with 13 companies gaining against 12 companies losing.
But Heilbroner omitted mention of other, perhaps more important, calculations and observations in the book, and omitted mention of my own conclusions from the ensemble of data.
Discussing the even division of the 25 companies, I ask: “How does this jibe with the observable fact that big business opinion varies between enthusiastic support for, and tolerant acceptance of, a huge armament program, with none of the strenuous opposition which big business usually demonstrates toward government programs which cost it money? The main answer lies in the political advantages. . . . The large stockholder . . . may regard an excess of taxes over war profits as a small price to pay for the efforts of the Pentagon and the State Department to preserve ‘our way of life’ from ‘alien ideologies.’ In the last analysis, however, these ‘moral’ concepts refer to enormous financial benefits. The cold war atmosphere has facilitated a shift of internal political power from that of the New Deal period, which has paid big businessmen much more in profits from strictly domestic activities, than the total tax cost to them of military affairs. Specifically, it has facilitated a shift of the tax burden, to the advantage of big business interests, which has saved the latter a substantial portion of the cost to them of military outlays.”
Demonstrating this point statistically, I attribute the big-business success in this respect to “the political environment of the cold war,” and note additionally: “The cold war has stopped, and in some ways reversed, the reform trend of the New Deal period. It has led to a curtailment in the influence of labor in national affairs, and an increase in the grip of business on the Government and its freedom of action within the Government. It has been used to impose conformity to capitalist ideology, on pain of severe economic sanctions and possible imprisonment.”
From consideration of all these factors, I conclude that neither big business as a whole nor any major segment of it can be relied on to lead us to disarmament, which, I say, “must be achieved if our civilization is to be preserved. But it will be achieved only through a major political struggle carried on by millions of Americans in all walks of life.”
What, then, is the purpose of the calculations concerning the military profit-tax balance for individual corporations? The financial differences contribute to variations in attitude, which can provide important support to those campaigning for peace in the United States.
In the book, I note that in the period before its publication in 1963, the most powerful financial groups tended increasingly to support the more aggressive variants of U.S. foreign policy.
Since 1959, the year covered by my calculations, the armament and especially the foreign investment profits of giant corporations have increased very much, while their tax rates have diminished appreciably. The short-term financial balance of militarism and overseas expansionism is considerably more favorable to big business. Undoubtedly, a fresh calculation would show a significant majority of the 25 largest industrial corporations benefiting immediately on balance.
Today the war in Vietnam is the crucial war-and-peace issue. The growing opposition to it, to the extent that it is vocal and organized, has come mainly from middle-class groups. I know of not a single spokesman of giant corporate and financial interests who has opposed it, while such corporations as Lockheed, Sears Roebuck, and Delta Airlines financed, and supplied attendance at, the only mass rally in support of the war, held in Atlanta. President Johnson, the chief escalator, is reported to be the most popular President with big business since Hoover. Business opposition undoubtedly exists, but it is silent, and exerts little pressure on Washington.
On the other side of the social scale, civil-rights movements, representing essentially the very lowest classes in American society, are beginning to come out organizationally against the war (in addition to individual statements by leaders which have been forthcoming for some time). The hard-shell cold warrior, Mr. Meany, is by no means all of the American labor movement. An increasing number of significant unions are taking a peace position, or one closer to the doves than the hawks—e.g., the United Automobile Workers, the Packinghouse Workers, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, not to mention a number of such old standbys as District 65 and Harry Bridges’s ILWU.
Heilbroner, by his faulty appraisal of the lineup of social forces on the issue of war and peace, may tend to discourage efforts to broaden the active peace movement, which represents the main hope for the progress, and even the survival, of America. Only such a broadening, based on “lower and middle classes,” will bring in its wake a significant accretion of public support from substantial business circles, which can be extremely important, and in some cases essential, in turning American policy and practice in the direction of peace and disarmament.
Croton-on-Hudson, New York