JANUARY 29, 1955
SARASOTA, Fla.—The question of bigness is again being brought before the people of the country as it is at fairly regular intervals.
This time, Gardner Cowles, editor of Look magazine, has had a nationwide survey made on the subject, "What the Public Thinks About Big Business."
I can remember hearing the late Justice Louis D. Brandeis say that big business or big anything was a bad thing because it tended to belittle the individual. He felt very strongly that individual initiative and the development of one human personality was far more important than the mass production which lies at the base of our economic development.
The question that was first asked in the Look survey was: "In general, would you say that big business has been a good thing or not for the nation?"
Eighty percent of the people questioned said it was a "good thing." Eight percent thought it was not good. Seven percent qualified their reply, and five percent had no opinion.
There was an effort made, too, to find out the reasons for these attitudes. The main reason seemed to be the feeling that big business provided more jobs. Many others thought it lowered prices through mass production. Then there came a number of other reasons why people felt big business was important, such as promoting research, being the backbone of defense production, improving our standard of living, and helping the nation's growth and prosperity.
It is important to remember, though, that people on the whole have short memories. And it is evident in these answers that they have forgotten the day when the power of big business was unchallenged. The laws regulating it were insufficient and the labor unions were not strong enough to be a factor. As a result, some of the benefits now attributed to big business were at that time nonexistent.
Now, however, two out of every three people stated that the laws regulating business were sufficiently broad and strong, and more than half felt these laws were being adequately enforced. Fortunately, three out of four felt that this regulation in its present form was necessary and proper.
According to the Look survey, many more people today fear the power of labor unions. This probably is brought about by scandals that have been exposed in some unions, and also by the fact that labor unions are now going through the period that big business once went through. They will learn, just as big business learned, that with all power there must be responsibility. The balance probably will be held about equally between them in the near future.
Some things, however, are still not very well understood about big business. For instance, there was a marked rise in 1954 in the number of business enterprises in the country, and 55 percent of the overall increase in employment was in firms with less than 20 employees. This group accounts roughly for 95 percent of all firms and for about one-fourth of all paid employees.
Also, a great many people feel that all big companies make at least six percent profit on their investments, but as a matter of fact of the 100 largest manufacturers 52 of them earned under six percent net profit on sales last year and 16 of these 52 earned under three percent.