In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918-1938
Legal scholar Butler Shaffer proposes a reexamination of the traditional interpretation of government and business relations in the post-World War I period.
The common view of American economic history suggests that in the years between the end of World War I and the start of the New Deal, the business system operated within a largely laissez-faire environment characterized by irresponsible practices detrimental to the broader interests of American society.
Shaffer offers an entirely different interpretation of the period. In the years preceding World War I, American industries had experienced intense and troublesome competition. During the war years, however, much of the American business system was brought under the control of the War Industries Board, a governmental agency that was under the effective control of business leaders. This board had the power to direct production, pricing, allocation of resources and finished products, and other basic decisions within the business sector. Such wartime experiences with government regulation of practices that were normally left to the informal disciplines of the marketplace inspired many business leaders to look for an effective way to restrain and regularize the intensely competitive trade practices prevailing within their industries.
What emerges from this book is an awareness that the relationship between government and business has been far more symbiotic than adversarial in the years following World War I, and that government regulatory practices have served the needs of the business community far more than the interests of the public.
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Page 17 - ... the competition from the new commodity, the new technology, the new source of supply, the new type of organization (the largest-scale unit of control for instance) — competition which commands a decisive cost or quality advantage and which strikes not at the margins of the profits and the outputs of the existing firms but at their foundations and their very lives.