Is Nationalization Merely a Bogy?
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MANY people are inclined to view the comments on nationalization that we make in this journal and others which are published elsewhere, as being something in the nature of flogging a dead IhOrse, or, at least, exaggerating the danger to private enterprise.
• The "'horse ",. is, however, not nearly so dead as some may assume. In fact, in certain sections of the community it is very much alive—for example, • amongst a considerable number of railway workers. Possibly, it was a realization of this that caused the chairmen of the four big railway groups to issue grave warnings at their annual general meetings.
Only a few days ago, the president of the National Union of Railwaymen, addressing the annual conference of the Railway Clerks' Associa tion, said that there was bound to be an amalgama-tion of the four railway groups, either under.the State, which would mean complete nationalization, or in some form of public utility body resembling the London Transport Board. He added that if the railways went back to private enterprise, railwaymen would be in for a very bad time, and• the only safeguard would be to go all out for nationalization.
The meetingAvent so far as to adopt a resolution calling on the Government to declare its policy on the futirre of British transport. It was proposed that road, rail and air transport, and cOastwise shipping should be owned arid controlled by the State, and that a National TransPort Board should be appointed by the Minister of War Transport, with sectional boards and consultative councils representing the local authorities, users of transport, and employees.
Governments May Fallt On This Issue A further example comes from Eire, where the Government was recently narrowly defeated on a proposal to nationalize the Great Southern Railway, together' with its fairly extensive road ser vices. It was subsequently announced that a General Election would be bed,. and no doubt one of the chief issues at stake will be this important matter.
So far as Great Britain is concerned, we wouk1 have thought that the majority of the public would have learnt its lesson in respect of Government control, although, at.. present, the latter is by no means complete. What matters would be like in .trade and industry if the control were to be extended to 100 per cent. can well be imagined, for even the nationalization of certain important sections of private enterprise, such as the railways and road transport, would undoubtedly have Severe repercussions upon the whole trade of the 'country and the export side in particular.
Some Reasons For These Demands However, we believe that those who cry persistently for what they apptar to think to be the Elysian fields of nationalization are the unenterprising, who are merely aiming at safe and comfortable jobs. They are rather like those people who refuse to fight for freedom, .but expect to enjoy the benefits derived from it.
Complete State control does little to encourage individual enterprise,, as any civil servant who is honest and frank will corroborate.
A machine can become so big and complicated that sight is lost of the little cogs Without which it could not work. The simile is apt because, in addition, the position of such a cog in relation to the whole cannot be changed without upsetting the functioning of the device.
The post-war years will demand courage, enterprise and, sometimes, a taking of risks, which are not the outstanding characteristics of huge, _unwieldy organizations. Britain has been described by some of our detractors as a nation of small shopkeepers. This is obviously an exaggeration, but the principle involved may not be so far from the truth. Whither has this brought us? The answer, is obvious. For the time being, at least, no nation is more honoured and respected. Despite the deliberate blindness of our politicians and successive Governments for the 20 years preceding this war, we have, almost by a miracle, survived, and now, with our strong Allies, are in a position which few, in the days of our gravest danger, would have considered to be possible.
It was the individualistic natureof the average Briton which rendered this attainable--that innate desire for freedom which is a characteristic of the British temperament.
Consider for a moment the case of the motor industry as a whole. Both on the commercial and private-car sides it has to fight every inch of its way against other big competitive interests, prejudice, -severe restrictions argl excessive taxation, but, despite these obstacles, it has become the third greatest industry in the country—much larger than the railways from the point of view of the workpeople engaged in it. It has contributed largely to our national prosperity, quite apart from the substantial sums it has been forced to give to the Exchequer; its overseas trade has been consider able, although even this has been restricted by the foolish methods of computing taxation. .
This progress has encouraged the development of innumerable ancillary factories of great importance in respect of the quality and supply of -materials of production, and not least it had in its service, when hostilities commenced, a large army of trained specialists. Without this great capacity for production to fine limits, the aircraft and other war industries could never have developed in time to supply those products which have proved so essential to the freedom of the world. That is the record of only one branch of trade and industry which was built up on private enterprise.