Harper’s Magazine provides us with a delightful, or disgusting — depending on one’s frame of mind at this time of the morning — trip down Memory Lane. What follows is the beginning of an article by John Thomas Flynn that was published in the Atlantic Magazine in January 1933.
The beginning portion of the article appears below. Read the rest here.
I also urge you to read the Wikipedia entry on John Thomas Flynn (link in the first paragraph) , the author of this article, who was publicly rejected by William F. Buckley, Jr., in 1955, when Buckley decided not to publish one of Flynn’s articles for the new National Review. Flynn had attacked militarism as a “job-making boondoggle.”
Déjà vu anyone, from the 1930s, the 1950s or the 2000s?
The Congress which now presides over the dying months of President Hoover’s administration will, let us hope, bring to an end that fatuous adventure in secrecy which has stained the record of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. In the very act of its birth the R.F.C. was stricken dumb by the President. Thereafter for five months it passed round hundreds of millions of dollars of public money to banks and railroads without affording either to the public, or even to Congress itself, a grain of information about the identity of the objects of its bounty.
After these five months — in July — when Congress supplied it with additional billions, the directors were ordered to make to the House of Representatives monthly reports of the sums laid out and the persons or corporations receiving them. Through a mere misadventure in framing this publicity clause, the loans made by the corporation in those first five months were omitted. For this reason we must now divide the life of the R.F.C. into two episodes. The first, covering the period from February to June, was marked by the most complete secrecy; in the second, from July to date, in obedience to Congress, the directors have been compelled to reveal the destination of their funds.
Here I shall deal with that first secrecy. In that time something more than a billion dollars was authorized in loans. Of this sum, nearly 80 per cent ($853,496,289) was lent to bank and railroad corporations. The railroad loans we have been able to guess at because of the preliminary approval required from the Interstate Commerce Commission, whose proceedings are public. But the bank loans — $642,000,000 of them — have never been revealed to this day.
These vast sums were laid out by a group of directors drawn from those business groups whose performances during the pre-crash years have rendered them objects of suspicion to the American people. The immense sums they dispensed were given to borrowers, many of whom, to put it mildly, have forfeited, justly or unjustly, the confidence of the people. These circumstances alone cast a sinister shadow over the policy of secrecy pursued. But the case is something worse than this. The Administration did not stop at mere concealment, but led the public to the acceptance of utterly false impressions.
Here I propose to reveal some of these hitherto unreported loans — enough, at least, to justify Congress in tearing away the screen altogether and bringing to light this whole story.
Before lifting a corner of the curtain let me insert a word about this dangerous notion that government can be safely conducted in secrecy. There is a school of politicians — in close communion with their business allies — who hold to what is sometimes called the idiot theory of government, because of certain expressions which the President himself has let fall.
There is a belief that the citizens are stupid; that the less they know the better off they will be; that knowledge in their immature minds will frequently produce economic disorder, and that they will be better served if they will entrust their affairs to the strong and able men set over them by Providence and a well-oiled election machine.
The theory ignores a very old truth: that if there are foolish citizens there are also selfish rulers; that the poor judgment of the masses is to be trusted hardly less than the bad ethics of their leaders, and that, in any case, those who supply the funds for governments and the blood for wars have a right to know what is being done with their money and their lives.
For a century this country (and the world) has been learning the solemn lesson that it has nothing to fear so much as the public servant who is unwilling to report to society what he is doing with its funds. In America, at least, we have been warring upon secret diplomacy, secret campaign funds, secret corporation activities, secret utility and railroad managements.