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Susan Green

According to Economist Not 20,000,000 But

23,500,000 Will Be Jobless

(6 September 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 36, 6 September 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Most capitalist opinion on postwar unemployment is based on the assumption that after the immediate freak boom, the demand for goods will not fall below the 1939 level. Just why this assumption is made is hard to figure out. For this simple reason:

The year 1939 was by no means a typical peacetime year. In 1939 American business was supplying considerable of the war demands of the belligerents and was already stepping up production for domestic war demands. But, for the sake of argument, let us take this baseless hope for the 1939 demand for goods, as our starting point also.

Do you know that in 1939–40 there were still 9,500,000 unemployed workers? Well, that’s a fact.

Dr. Julius Hirsch, the capitalist economist quoted in last week’s article, states that jobs will be needed for “fourteen million or so more persons than in 1939.” This, of course, makes his estimate of twenty million post-war unemployed a bit too low. By simple arithmetic, fourteen million plus nine and a half million already unemployed in 1939, equal twenty-three and a half million workers eligible for the army of post-war unemployed.

Where Will They, Find Jobs?

Will any number of these employable workers find jobs in agriculture? Dr. Hirsch believes that “as a result of improved techniques and equipment, the number of persons really needed will be less than in 1939.”

So that, instead of agriculture absorbing more than the 10,700,000 farm workers it did in 1939, it is likely to need less, and thus increase rather than decrease the figure of twenty-three and a half million unemployed.

How about distribution (department stores, etc.), finance (banks, brokerage houses, etc.) and the service trades (cleaning, laundering, repairing, etc.) – a group of industries which used 10,500,000 workers in 1939? Will these industries have openings for any of the 23,500,000 jobless?

In these fields, labor conditions during the war have compelled the use of labor-saving techniques and of a higher degree of individual efficiency. So that, with the possible exception of the field of repairs, the existing channels of operation can handle a considerably increased volume of goods and business. And if the increased volume does not materialize, even the existing staffs of workers will not be needed.

Will more men and women be required to run the railroads or to man the ships than in 1939? Here, too, the answer is negative. Dr. Hirsch says: “No additional employment, as compared with 1939, may be expected from the railways.” As to ocean shipping, after the last war it took ten years for this business to recover its 1913 level. After demobilization and the immediate postwar shipping needs, a similar slump in ocean traffic is expected this time also.

Well, let us try mining. Any better luck here? Dr. Hirsch states simply: “The industry as a whole has constantly lost manpower, primarily as a result of mechanization, which has made very considerable progress during the war.”

How about oil production? “As for the petroleum industry, it is doubtful that it will require more hands, because it is already highly developed,” says Dr. Hirsch.

Facts Against Fancies

Perhaps the reader wonders why so much stock is placed in the opinion of this Dr. Julius Hirsch. Here is why: He wrote the article from which extensive quotes are taken, for the business men who read Barren’s National Business and Financial Weekly. He wrote this article to give business men the real low-down on the “optimistic group of planners” who are “solving” the unemployment problem as fast as their glib tongues can wag or their fleet fingers can typewrite.

The facts, figures and opinions seriously presented for the guidance of the business world are more reliable by far than the demagogic speeches of the Wallaces and Willkies, who don’t care what they promise to get worker support – and than the wild-eyed “plans” of the well-wishers who take their wishes for facts.

So to go back to those 23,500,000 post-war industrial orphans. Will they perhaps be able to get asylum in the production of consumer non-durable goods? Again the job-seekers will be greeted with the “No Help Wanted” signs.

In this branch of manufacture the number of workers employed to get out the great mass of consumer non-durable goods is almost unbelievably small.

For instance, in 1939 only 1,009,000 workers were required in the manufacture of boots and shoes, men’s and women’s clothing, tires and tubes, cigars and cigarettes, meat packing. For about a million workers to turn out this big list of commodities for domestic and export trade tells the story of the wonders of modern mass production methods – even before the great technological strides made during the war period.

One of the starry-eyed planners, by name Stuart Chase, “expects” the addition of 1,000,000 more workers in the manufacture of clothing. Dr. Hirsch tells his business men readers not to expect anything of the kind, saying: “As for one million additional clothing workers, they could produce, with the help of mechanization, the fantastic amount of four or five times as much as was bought in 1939.” WHEREAS, REALISTICALLY SPEAKING, THE DEMAND WILL BE LESS BY FAR THAN IN 1939.

No, there will not be any openings for workers in the field of consumer non-durable goods, either.

Why Unemployment?

Of course, the reason is not that the population of this country does not need and cannot use four or five times the amount consumed in 1939. Quite the contrary.

Many millions of the people live far below the bare subsistence level. Millions more get by only by the skin of their teeth. And even the so-called well-off workers do not begin to live the good life that this machine age could provide for them and their families. Definitely the reason for unemployment is not that there is no need for the goods and services that the unemployed workers could be producing.

The reason is that the wages of the working people are too low to create a demand for the things that the working people need and that the unemployed could be making. In cutting the pie of national wealth, the capitalists give their workers a thin little sliver, keeping the hog’s share for themselves. THE PROFIT SYSTEM PREVENTS THE FULL EMPLOYMENT OF LABOR TO ITS FULL PRODUCTIVE CAPACITY.

Furthermore, under capitalism, the big corporations – which Mr: Wallace thinks are “harmless or beneficent” – utilize all improvements in labor productivity in their own interest. They reduce their wage bill and increase their profit-take by firing workers. Whereas the civilized method of a socialist society would be to shorten the hours of toil, thus lengthening the leisure and the life of the workers.


The next article in this series will take up the manufacture of automobiles, refrigerators, radios, etc., from the point of view of how many jobs it can provide for the 23,500,000 postwar jobless. Those fields of production that the “planners” expect will give a new lease of life to the capitalist system – such as airplane manufacture and the construction industry – will also be considered from the same point of view.

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