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Sam Adams

A Professor Says Facts Are Not “Scientific”

(24 April 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 17, 24 April 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

With an air of apparent impartiality, the President has established a Cost-of-Living Committee to investigate the exact state of affairs on the home front as it affected the overwhelming majority of the people, This investigation of the cost of living came after clamors by the labor movement to change the Little Steel formula and to establish a measuring stick for wages which would truly conform to the rising living costs.

Since then several reports were made public. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a government body, estimated the rise in the cost of living at 23.4 per cent and then declared that wage increases granted more than matched this rise. Then retired self-satisfied.

This report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics was immediately challenged by the labor members of the President’s committee. They declared that the cost of living had actually risen by 43.5 per cent and that the wage increases granted to workers did not conform to this stupendous rise. Moreover, millions of workers received wage increases not comparable even to the. low figure of 23.4 per cent, while other millions have received no increases since the war began.

The labor members of the committee pointed out that the BLS figures overlooked some extremely important factors. Among these were that the overwhelming majority of the workers expended their wages on those items whose increases were the highest, as, for example, food and clothing.

The most interesting aspect of this dispute is that the index on the cost of living for farmers issued by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics shows the cost of living at 42.6 per cent, a figure almost identical to that issued by the labor members of the President’s body.

Enter the Professor

Now comes a professor, one Dr. Willford I. King of New York University, a man who usually produces “economic analyses” for business organizations, to refute the contentions of the labor movement. This august gentleman has just prepared a report for the National Industrial Conference Board which says that the rise in the cost of living has been only 20.8 per cent.

What’s wrong with the figures of the labor members of the President’s committee? According to the professor, who works for big business organizations, it seems to have “the earmarks of rather an argumentative brief than a scholarly scientific document.” “Scholarly!” “Scientific!” These are mighty impressive sounding words, and authoritative to boot. But let us see what is actually involved.

The labor movement contends that the “official” statistics do not take into consideration important items that do not appear in “scientific analyses” but which are nevertheless real to the workers of the country. Among the things which go to make up the real level of living costs for the people are: the black market, which gouges the poor; deterioration in the quality of goods sold the people by profiteering manufacturers; moving expenditures for war workers; higher prices in war production centers; dual residence and increased taxation on those least able to pay. These things must be added to the actual rise in living costs over current wages.

Do these things go to make up the cost of living? Obviously they do. But the genial professor denies it. They are not scientific because they do not necessarily show that prices have risen.

The black market? Piffle, says the professor, it really doesn’t amount to much. Then he goes on to blame the workers for trading on the black market, when in reality the existence of the black markets can be placed directly upon the inefficiency and inability of government agencies to stop them, and the refusal of “honest” business enterprises to abstain from trading goods in such a profitable way. The workers are really at the mercy of the black market, which has many ramifications.

Disposed of with Sweep of Pen

How is it possible to exclude the existence of the black market from the rise of living costs which the workers actually meet? Only with the sweep of an opinionated pen of a university professor whose problem of existence is relatively simple!

Take the deterioration in the quality of goods. The fact is that prices for clothing have risen tremendously. But more important, the poor quality clothing for which the same prices are changed as for previously higher quality goods – and higher prices for the quickly-deteriorating clothing – may not show up so high in “statistics,” but to the masses of people paying for them, this is a real rise in the cost of living. Is this scientific? Maybe it isn’t to the professor, but it is a fact, and that makes it scientific enough.

What about the higher cost of living in war centers? This isn’t recorded in the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nor in the figures of the big business organizations, who take averages for the whole country, rich and poor alike, cities and rich suburbs alike. But it is an uncontroverted fact that the cost of living is higher in places like Detroit, Akron, Chicago, St. Louis, etc., than it is in other places in the country. Is this real or not? Well, just ask any worker living in war production centers!

What about expenditures in moving and the maintenance of dual residences? Have the workers voluntarily done these things, moved and maintained double homes? Obviously not! They have been compelled to do these things by the conditions created by the war. Are these expenditures real or not? Of course, they are, and no professor, working for big business, can gainsay them. Do they enter into the living costs of the workers? How can anyone deny it, you ask? Well, big business can. Its hired propagandists can. The Bureau pf Labor Statistics can. And the War Labor Board, acting under the instructions of the President and his War Stabilization Board, does!

We could go on at great length to show that actuary the figures issued by the BLS and the business organizations are played with-and interpreted to suit the purposes of these bodies. They in no way actually interpret the real cost of living.

The labor movement, however, has taken into account what the masses of people actually spend in order to live. The CIO and AFL have shown that one-third of the working people have not received a raise since the war began – that one-third of the nation lives on substandard wages – that the War has increased the living costs of the workers in a real and substantial way over and above any wage increases granted. The tangible factors cited by the labor movement are real. Their figures are really scientific.

The figures of the so-called “experts” are pseudo-scientific since they are colored to sustain the viewpoint of all the forces fighting the wage demands of the great mass of workers in the country.

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