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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

Let’s Raise That Subsistence!

(5 May 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 18, 5 May 1947, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

Science under capitalism is an astonishing thing. It can, with equal facility, discover nuclear fission – and statistically prove that it is impossible for a veteran in college to live on sixty-five dollars a month. Even Life magazine, on the basis of a recent survey, has come to the same conclusion. So it must be true.

It is not necessary at this late date for the 1,500,000 veterans in college to consult statistical surveys in order to find out their economic and social condition. That can safely be left to the unique brand of idiot represented by those professors of economics whose wisdom begins and ends with the “law” of supply and demand.

The sixty-five dollar subsistence grant given to single men or the ninety dollars awarded married couples was initially insufficient, both in terms of services rendered during the war and in terms of meeting the cost of living. The inflation which has occurred during the past year in particular has reduced these figures to derisory values. As a result, savings accumulated during the war are melting away and war bonds are being cashed in. To augment incomes part-time jobs are resorted to, parents are drawn upon, or wives ate forced to go to work. The total result is the Lilliputian life: miniature housing, indifferent food, G.I. clothes, scrimped medical care, a penny-pinching social life, a shrunken college experience. Many have had to leave school altogether.

Economic Basis of Current Situation

All this is obvious to most veterans – even to those majoring in business administration or taking advanced ROTC. What is not so obvious is the cause of the present condition and the relation of the student-veteran’s problems to those of the domestic economy as a whole.

The basic characteristic of the present period is an inflationary rise in prices. Chester Bowles, the former price administrator, pointed out last month that “Moody’s Index of general commodity prices shows an increase of 63 per cent since a year ago, while Moody’s Index of raw Industrial material prices shows an Increase of 61 per cent.” Increases in wholesale prices promise still further increases In the cost of living.

The lifting of OPA ceilings, a year ago under the sustained pressure of big business produced these price rises. Business motivated the lifting of controls by saying (1) production would increase and (2) prices would ultimately go down. Naturally prices immediately rose and unit consumption in such commodities as food, milk, drug store products, and department store items has decreased. “Non-durable goods are off 15 per cent,” in comparison with a year ago, states Bowles.

The Falling Barometer

This falling off in purchasing power is what is worrying the men who tell Truman what to think. The combination of high prices (which means decreased purchasing power), diminishing savings with which to buy commodities, the expansion of consumer credit (“deficit financing”) and profits which can neither be reinvested or utilized as purchasing power is beginning to worry some economists. They fear the beginning of the fatal sequence which Truman, recently described: “Buying stops; production drops; unemployment sets in; prices collapse; profits vanish; businessmen fail.” That is a fair description of the embryology of a depression.

Further, Truman warns, “Economic trouble in the United States would provide agitators with the opportunity they seek.” The reference, of course, is to unreasonable people like you and me who read Labor Action and refuse to see in capitalism or its apologist Truman the final flowering of millennia of cosmic and social development.

Neither moral exhortation, stronger measures of political and economic coercion, nor activity inspired by a more perfervid interest in the coming elections on the part of Truman can stave off the crises to which capitalism is subject. His efforts can at best ameliorate a few of the effects. Under capitalism there are no ways other than through economic crises and war in which to work off the periodic surpluses which build up.

What Must the Vets Do?

Veterans must organize. The capitalists do – and with notable results. “Profits in the aggregate,” says Truman, “are breaking all records ... In 1946, corporate profits, after taxes, were 33 per cent higher than in 1945.” What gains labor has been able to record in combating the rising cost of living have been achieved through organization and militant action. Even so, despite the slanders of the daily, press, the wage earner’s pay check, accordingly 16 per cent less today than in 1944. But without organization it is guaranteed in advance that the veterans In college will continue to take de facto cuts In their subsistence allowance.

Veterans organizations, and in particular the AVC, must initiate demonstrative – and not hat-in-hand – actions whose aim is an immediate increase in subsistence benefits. The AVC program of increases to $90 for single men and $125 for married couples is, in God’s truth, a modest beginning. Such a program could be handily financed through an excess profits tax on the criminal profits currently being made by the corporations of this country.

The student-veteran should make common cause with organized labor in its fight for better living conditions. The opponent is the same: the class which both owns the means of production in this country and controls the government.

To do less is to aid in permitting the boundless avarice of the capitalist class to depress the living standard of the whole country, hasten the advent of a new depression – and thereby accelerate appearance of the Third – and Atomic – World War.

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