The Prevention of War, November 18, 1923


The Prevention of War

A dream of the ages to be realized at last by the Engineer and Scientist through a  Constructive Enterprise

{Reprint from South Bend Tribune, Nov. 18, 1923}

By R. L. GREENE, Chemist and Efficiency Expert


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Future wars will be contests, largely between the chemists and engineers of the enemy nations. Instead of debasing their noble callings thus for the destruction of life and property the leaders of these two professions should devote their energies rather toward removing the cause of war from the field of commerce by the conquest of distribution, an enterprise more in keeping with their high ideals than fighting.

The inertia of custom is the big obstacle in the way of this constructive program. Inertia, however, is "pie" for the engineer so he should have no difficulty in overcoming it, providing the scientists will do some teamwork with him.

War Begins on the Field of Commerce and Ends on the Field of Battle.

War in the last analysis is but a struggle between nations over conflicting economic interests, a struggle which springs from a fault or blunder in the field of commerce. As the argument develops it will be clear that the problem of establishing permanent peace lies in the field of science and engineering and must be attacked from those standpoints if a successful solution is to be attained. The scalpel of science therefore will be used to expose the nexus between war and the commercial fault mentioned, a fault which only the scientist or engineer is competent to correct.

Man foolishly threaded the needle at the wrong end for many, many centuries. Countless millions of people, unthinking slaves of custom, continued making this stupid mistake until Howe a few year ago perforated the other end of the steel.

Man is still making a similar blunder in another and more important way, without even a suspicion apparently, of his stupidity. Economically speaking, he is threading the needle at the wrong end by using a distributive system through which it costs a great deal more to deliver all kinds of products than it does to make those products.

Fatal Economic Blunder.

Edison, the great inventor, recognized this fatal economic blunder and pointed it out in "Printer's Ink" with these words: "Selling cost is outrageously high; manufacturing cost is often small beside it. Now why not put more inventive genius to work upon the problem of distribution? Did you ever see the Jacquard loom? It is marvelous how simply and perfectly it performs the weaving of complicated patterns. That perfect the selling machine should be."

In these words "Selling cost is outrageously high, manufacturing cost is often small beside it," Edison has exposed the astounding commercial fault which is the root cause of war, a fault wholly unpardonable inasmuch as we have every facility for cheap and easy transportation. Before tracing the connection between this economic blunder and war, Edison's observation will be extended and supplemented by some concrete examples.

Fifty years ago the village cobbler made a pair of shoes complete for $2 in one day's time using leather from the village tan yard, a few wooden pegs and some waxed string. After supper his 10 year old son delivered the shoes a few doors or blocks away and got a five cent piece for his pay. Note well the two factors in the primitive shoe industry, first, the skilled labor of the making the [page 2] shoes, second, the boy's job of delivering the shoes. These same two factors still exist in the modern shoe industry, but an astounding change has taken place, namely, the boy's job of delivering the shoes has completely eclipsed in financial importance, the skilled task of making the shoes. The people engaged in carrying the shoes from the workman's bench to the user, receive about three or four times as much money as the skilled workers who make the shoes. Here are the figures in detail for a pair of woman's low shoes weighing three-fourths of a pound and retailing for $10. The rawhide (calfskin) costs 10 cents a pound and it takes one and one-half pounds of rawhide to make one pound of leather.

The rawhide for 3/4 pound of leather...12 cents

Labor of tanning at 4 cents per pound...3 cents

Labor of shoe workers, in round figures...$1.50

Total, $1.65

The first cost price is $1.65, but for illustration we will call it $2 the same price the village cobbler received for his product.

Subtract $2 from $10, the retail price, and there remains $8 for the boy's job of delivering a $2 pair of shoes.

Eight Dollars for Service.

Why must we pay $8 for the same service which the cobbler's boy 50 years ago furnished for a nickel? Because our methods of furnishing this service are inefficient and inadequate. Man has devoted his attention exclusively to the improvement of manufacturing processes, which he has perfected to a marvelous degree, and has completely neglected the easier and simpler task of delivering things. The work not being properly [coordinated] or mobilized, high prices are the result. The delivery of a pair of shoes is really no more difficult [today] than it was 50 years ago and it should not be any more expensive. We have all the facilities for rapid and cheap delivery. The fast freight, the lightning express, swift autos and [airplanes], supplemented by the telephone and telegraph -- hence there is no valid excuse for high delivery charges. The freight rate in a pair of shoes from the factory in Milwaukee to New York is only two cents. The thousand mile trip between the producer and the consumer cost three cents less [today] than the cobbler's boy 50 years ago got for carrying the shoes a few blocks.

Excessive delivery charges are not peculiar to the shoe business but are common to all factory products. Farm products, too, are handled on the same basis, for example, New York city people pay 18 cents per quart for milk for which the farmer gets only 5 1/2 cents. At this rate the city folks pay 12 1/2 cents to have 5 1/2 cents worth of milk brought from the farm to their front steps. Again, salmon canners pay fishermen six cents apiece for fish and it takes 11 fish to fill a case of four dozen cans. The cost of the fish in one can is a small fraction over one cent, about one and one-third cents. When the cans sell for 20 cents each the consumer pays eighteen and two-thirds cents delivery charges on one and one-third cents worth of salmon. Investigations by the U.S. bureau of markets show that the farmer gets on an average 34 cents for products which are sold to the consumer for $1. At this rate city folks are paying $2 for having $1 worth of food brought from the farm to the kitchen door. The rate on factory products is a little higher, being about $3 for the delivery of a dollar article. The products of mine, forest, fishery, and all other products are handled on the same basis.

Delivery Comes High.

Charging more for the delivery of products than the first cost price of those products in an economic crime which has plunged the world into financial perdition and wrecked the whole economic structure of Europe. This economic blunder is the direct cause of war and here the engineer must begin the campaign for peace by the conquest of distribution. Let us trace now, the connection between this economic fault and war.

It has been shown in the foregoing lines that it costs on an average $2 to deliver $1 worth of factory goods. Business men eager for gain fight each other -- compete they call it -- over these attractive delivery charges. As time passes, the contest waxes fiercer and fiercer in domestic territory until finally the fight leaps over the nation's border and goes into foreign lands. On the new and wider field, individuals and commercial organizations of the rival countries struggle fiercely with each [page 3] other over the fat delivery charges under the euphonious term of "foreign markets."

Being actuated by sordid motives only these captains of commerce do not hesitate to resort to violence in maintaining or attaining an advantage over their mercantile enemies and when the profitable delivery charges on shoes, meat, steel, petroleum and other export products, are menaced, assailed or destroyed by a rival nation, they induce their government by skillful propaganda to turn loose the dogs of war to help them in their mercenary struggle which is then transferred from the field of commerce to the field of battle. The enemy is falsely painted as black as possible to arouse hate to the fighting point and to create the proper [psychological] background for a ruthless and effective campaign. When the ugly military brawl is over, not peace but a temporary truce results. Such a truce the world is now enjoying. The fight, however, goes merrily on, having been shifted from a military base back again to the field of commerce with the advantage all in favor of the victor, for a time at least. Peace is just as far from Europe [today] as it was when the armistice was signed. The destructive forces let loose by war are still at work and as a result civilization is on the verge of collapse.

Statesmen Pay No Heed.

The great outstanding fault in the field of commerce, which precludes justice between nations in their economic relations with each other, cries loudly for correction but statesman and diplomats pay no heed, busying themselves instead with non-essentials. Seemingly they do not realize that our archaic system of distribution is most incongruous in this age of high efficiency. Being blind to the big economic blunder in the field of commerce which is clearly the cause of war they are, in consequence, incapable of formulating an effective peace program. Witness the failure of the Versailles peace conference. The diplomats at that meeting failed ignominiously in their spectacular effort because of the obvious impossibility of satisfying the conflicting commercial interests of the nations concerned. Quite naturally and in line with the usual business practice the conquerors fixed terms that were frankly intended to throttle the vanquished foe, commercially. "The terms were founded on rapine and fraud -- a disgrace to humanity," says Francesco Nitti. This policy instead of removing the cause of war simply sowed the seed for future war. Mandates, spheres of influence and other euphonious terms used to cover the privilege of commercial exploitation of helpless people, were heard, too, at the peace table. Peace could not come at the call of such statesman because Justice, her inseparable companion, was not wanted or invited. And now, England, not unexpectedly, glares fiercely at France, her former ally, because the latter threatens to become a dangerous commercial rival through her control of the Ruhr mines. The sordid fight has just shifted under a new alignment from the field of battle, back to the field of commerce again, this completing the vicious circle.

Cause of War.

Inasmuch as a military war is but the outgrowth or conclusion of mercantile conflicts the obvious remedy is to remove the cause of war from the field of commerce by adopting a new and simpler plan of performing commercial work, i.e., getting shoes and all other products from the maker to the user. A short, straight path in place of the long crooked one must connect the producer and consumer, through which all products will flow directly and at a minimum expenditure in time and labor. Opening this path is clearly a constructive job for the engineer.

By planning and building railroads, bridges, tunnels, locomotives and autos, the engineer has made it possible to carry a pair of shoes heretofore mentioned from Milwaukee to New York city, a thousand mile trip, for two cents. However, he didn't finish his job and as a consequence "delivery charges are outrageously high." He should resume and complete his unfinished task now by organizing, systematizing and mobilizing the operation of the delivery equipment which he created so that it may be used at the highest efficiency.

To accomplish this task successfully he must organize distribution on a broad, scientific basis by establishing a general clearing house for human wants and supplies, a clearing house, through which all products of the farm, factory, mine, etc., would pass by the most direct path from the point of production to the consumer with a minimum expenditure of time and labor. The engineering [page 4] societies of the country should have sufficient pride in their profession to detail their best brains for this important enterprise in order to show the nation how to use its distributive facilities to the best advantage. This proposed clearing house with national headquarters centrally located would be connected through regional, state and county chiefs with the local organizations in every town and hamlet in the nation. Such an organization would take up economic slack of every description in delivery work and would afford instant and perfect mobility of operation. Such a clearing house has been described and called by the author "A Postal Market."

The Postal Market.

Briefly the postal market is a plan for establishing direct contact between producers and consumers by means of a single central distributing depot in every town. This depot would be called the postal market because the market house used in the work would be operated by the post office, delivery work of every kind being consolidated with mail delivery. The postmaster, then, would be called a postal market master to cover his enlarged duties resulting from the consolidation. Through this market all sorts of products would pass by the shortest path from the farm, factory, forest, fishery and mine to the consumer under the general direction of the state or national headquarters. Everything would be handled in standard grades and standard packages only, thus enabling the patrons to order by telephone and get a satisfactory quality without a personal examination of the goods. Standardization is the key to the conquest of distribution.

Standardization of products has already been [affected] quite extensively by the government. Progress is being made along this line, too, by manufacturers. Wheat, potatoes and many other staple foods are now graded by U.S. government standards. All medicines, drugs and chemicals must meet definite requirements as to purity and strength as specified by the United States Pharmacopoeia. You can order U.S.P. spirit of camphor from a drug store and be certain that it contains 10 [percent] of camphor in alcohol; or you can order tincture of iodine and be sure that it contains 7 [percent] of iodine and is free from all objectionable impurities. So, too, in the postal market, through standardization of goods, you will be able to get satisfactory quality, not only in drugs and foods but in all other products without a personal inspection. For example, you could order by telephone a crate of strawberries, grade "A" or a bushel of potatoes, grade "B," and get exactly what you expect, running no more risk of being cheated than you do now when you order a pound of Royal baking powder or a gallon of Polarine. All perishable foods would proceed, pre-cooled under refrigeration from the farmers' [cooperative] warehouses direct to the postal market of the city needing the product. Immediately after arrival, delivery to the consumer would be made, thus abolishing spoilage which is a big factor in the high cost of such food now. In the near future an [airplane] freight service would [ensure] delivery in perfect condition.

The postal market would furnish from telephone and standing orders an early morning and afternoon delivery by fast auto trucks attended in the residential district by two or more push carts each holding baskets for 50 homes. One trip with this consolidated delivery would bring mail, the daily newspaper, milk, bread, groceries, drugs, dry goods, hardware, laundry and parcel post packages from out of town. From the central depot and sub-station conveniently located all deliveries would proceed, thus performing the work of numerous retail establishments. Building material, coal and other bulky and heavy products would go through the postal market too, but by special delivery.

Procedure of a Sale.

A customer wanting a pair of shoes would examine the samples on display which would be numbered serially and marked with the price in plain figures. Deciding to take, for example, a light calfskin shoe for man, Blucher style, size 8, width C, he would copy the serial number of this shoe on a card and present it with the cash to a clerk at the window who would pull a lever on an automatic vending machine which would print the serial number and price on a slip of paper as a receipt for the customer, and at the same time the box of shoes would be released electrically from its shelf and go down a chute to the shipping room where it would be put in a wire basket by an attendant and marked [page 5] with the customer's original order showing his carrier's route number and box number. The shoes would proceed to the home on the next delivery. The serial number on the goods and the carrier's route number and the customer's box number instead of the street and home number would simplify delivery greatly. The automatic vending machine mentioned is already covered by patent.

Clearing House Staff.

The postal market masters of the county, state, regional and national headquarters would constitute a clearing house for supply and demand not only for food but for all other products including coal, building material and the like. This organization would perform the function of boards of trade, chambers of commerce, wholesale dealers and commission men and do their work in an orderly and scientific manner. The information on supply and demand needed in this service would be collected by local postal market masters by surveys and transmitted by telephone or radio through county, state and regional chiefs to the national headquarters where after tabulation it would be broadcasted back to appropriate units for attention. Very exact information on available food supply could be obtained from rural mail carriers through their local and county postal market masters. This data would be tabulated and sent to state and national headquarters to be used in apportioning supply to demand. Factory and other goods would follow the same procedure. Such a clearing house for human wants would be highly sensitive and instantly responsive to all requirements.

Production in factories had been properly organized and put on a scientific basis with happy results. Science means order, system and efficiency. These same principles can be applied to distribution with equal advantage and when this is done by means of the postal market, delivery charges will fall to a minimum, the rate being based on the actual cost of the service. People could go to this central merchandise depot and get all sorts of goods at factory prices, plus freight or postage. For example, the freight rate in car lost on a pair of shoes heretofore mentioned, from the factory in Milwaukee to New York City is two cents. The postage from New York postal market to the city home would be about five cents and the C.O.D. charges would be about the same amount making the shoes cost the customer $2.12 instead of $5 or $10 by present methods. The delivery charges on all other products would fall in like manner. Instead of charging $2 for the delivery of $1 worth of farm products as at present, this service could be given through the postal market for 50 cents or perhaps less, which would cut the cost of food in two. Delivery charges on factory goods could be cut from three times the manufacturing cost, the present rate, to 25 [percent] of that amount.

The engineers' conquest of distribution as briefly outlined here would remove delivery work from the field of exploitation by putting the service on a cost basis. Commercially speaking, this would thread the needle at the right end and thus materialize Edison's idea of a selling machine as simple and perfect in operation as the Jacquard loom. This same conquest would correct the great economic blunder, "outrageous delivery charges," the prize over which nations wage war against each other. The United States should invite other nations to [cooperate] with her in establishing postal markets to furnish a world wide delivery service at cost and thus establish justice in the economic relations between nations, the only basis upon which permanent peace can be founded.

Justice being enthroned by the engineer in the new temple of commerce, the postal market, peace would come and abide with her.

The First Step.

The first step in this program would be a federal law requiring the first cost price to be marked in plain figures on all goods offered for sale. The enlightenment and dissatisfaction created by this exposure of inefficient or fault commercial methods would crystallize a demand for the conquest of distribution via the postal market.

A Peace Budget.

Nations make extensive preparations for war, providing enormous sums for military purposes but not a cent for peace. The time is certainly ripe for creating a peace budget. A happy way to do this would be to cut our war budget in two and divert one-half of the funds from [page 6] the manufacture of ammunition, guns, etc., to constructive purposes, viz., erecting buildings and furnishing the equipment needed to establish the postal market, peace being the aim of this work through the conquest of distribution. Ample funds would be available for this constructive work without adding even a penny to the present burden of taxation. Peace, then, would have an equal chance at least, with war, both being on the same financial footing.

I hold that man, the intelligent creature who has made a conquest of the sea by the ocean grey hound; the land by the lighting express; the air by the swift [airplane]; and space by "radio," will sooner or later recognize the folly and stupidity of using an archaic system of distribution which by an inherent inefficiency enforces payment of delivery charges greatly in excess of the first cost price of the product despite the fact that we have every facility for cheap and quick transportation, and that the manufacture of a product is much more difficult than the carrying the finished article to the user -- I hold that man, sooner or later, will use his intelligence to make the conquest of distribution by mobilizing and systematizing our delivery facilities so that delivery charges can be cut to a minimum, a fractional part of the first cost instead of a multiple thereof, as at present. It would be the part of wisdom, therefore, to make this conquest at the earliest possible moment especially since war would be abolished by the same stroke.


Justice is the only secure foundation for peace. World peace, therefore, can be attained only by establishing justice between nations in their economic relations with each other. Unfortunately, justice in those relations is precluded [today] by a fault in our mechanism of distribution, namely, charging more for the delivery of products than the first cost of those products, a procedure which leaves a big margin of gain to arouse cupidity and strife. War in final analysis is but a struggle arising from conflicting commercial interests; attractive delivery charges being the unrighteous prize which arrays nation against nation in moral conflict.

Obviously, the simplest way to abolish war would be to remove the thing that causes war from the field of commerce, namely, attractive delivery charges. This objective could be reached by adopting a new and better method of performing commercial work, i.e., getting products from the producer to the consumer and furnishing this service on a cost basis like the mail delivery. With this aim in view the United States could establish a scientific system of distribution by creating and operating a national clearing house for human wants and supplies which would carry all products from the point of production direct to the consumer and fix the actual cost of the service. In this way the root cause of the war would be eradicated from the field of commerce.

The United States could take its place and do its share toward preserving world peace by inviting and urging other nations to organize and mobilize their delivery facilities in the same way. The final step in this program would be an international clearing house to provide a channel through which all products would flow from one country to another on a cost basis. With delivery charges fixed at cost throughout the world, the motive for war would be destroyed, the unrighteous prize which arrays nation against nation in mortal combat having been removed. Justice being established between nations in their economic relations with each other permanent peace would ensue.

The United States should cut the appropriation for the war department in two and use half of the funds to found a peace department. The purpose of the peace department would be to remove the cause of war from the field of commerce by establishing the postal market. The cost of one battleship, $28,000,000, would be enough to build and furnish a $1,000,000 postal market house in practically every city in the United States having a population over 200,000. The battleship soon becomes junk any way and is sunk as a target for newer types of vessels.