Retro Public Sociology: “Freedom Today is to Some Extent Freedom to Starve” 1932 Edition

In conjunction with my research on the history of macroeconomic statistics, I’ve been poking through New York Times articles from the early 20th century. I came across an absolute gem from Jan. 24, 1932 that I had to share with you, my loyal readers. It’s a story about a speech given by Yale Professor, Jerome Davis*. Here are some choice bits:

“We have an industrial autocracy in the United States now just as real as the autocracy exercised by the late Czar over his subjects… The fact is that Americans haven’t begun yet to realize what it’s all about – that an industrial revolution or transformation has changed this nation into an urbanized one, a mechanized one, where fewer than 200 corporations out of 200,000 control half the wealth of the country. The result is that we’ve lost our liberty and freedom of action without realizing that we have drifted into a state where power is predominant.”

I wonder if Prof. Davis had read Berle and Means’ The Modern Corporation and Private Property (published the same year as the speech), or perhaps an earlier article. I think they would have gotten along rather well!

Prof. Davis went on to list a new “decalogue of social principles”. Some are fairly unobjectionable – freedom of speech and the like. Here are a few more interesting ones:

4 – A planned social and economic order for the benefit of all.
5 – Common ownership of what we use in common, such as roads, &c.. eventually even public utilities.
6 – Distribution of the national income so that all shall share according to their needs and to their ability to serve society.

9 – Soul force, not violence – sacrificial mutual action for and with all to be a basic ideal underlying the new order.
10 – Faith in a Father God or spiritual force in the universe.

It’s probably worth mentioning that although Prof. Davis got his PhD in Sociology from Columbia, he was a professor at the Yale Divinity School and was speaking to a conference of progressive churches! A position for which he was apparently denied tenure, due to his being a bit.. well.. communist. Ah, the good old days.

* I wonder if there is any relation to our own Jerry Davis?

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