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man in a suit with a pointer stands to the left of a chart with the title UNITED STATES BUSINESS POPULATION with Thousands of Concerns along one axis and the years along the other with lines for New Enterprises, Total Discontinued, Total Listed Concerns
Dr. Willard Thorp formerly with Dun & Bradstreet Economist now with the Commerce Department before the Temporary National Economic Committee. December 2, 1938 (Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress)

To Create a Temporary National Economic Committee

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I find historical business and economic overviews helpful. While looking for any that would provide perspective on the years before the World War II, a co-worker pointed out Economic Concentration and World War II which mentioned The Structure of Industry from the Temporary National Economic Committee. I wasn’t all that familiar with the work of this committee and wanted to know more.

The Temporary National Economic Committee (TNEC) was established in June 1938 (52 Stat. 705) as a joint Congressional-Executive branch committee. Membership in the committee was comprised of three members from the Senate, three members from the House, and one representative from selected federal agencies including Department of Justice, Department of the Treasury, Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission. As indicated in the statute, their task was:

JOINT RESOLUTION To create a temporary national economic committee. Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there is hereby estab- lished a temporary national economic committee (hereinafter referred to as the "committee"), to be composed of (1) three Members of the Senate, to be appointed by the President of the Senate; (2) three Members of the House of Representatives, to be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives; and (3) one representative from each of the following departments and agencies, to be desig- nated by the respective heads thereof: Department of Justice, Depart- ment of the Treasury, Department of Labor, Department of Com- merce, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission. Such representative may designate an alternate to sit and act for him on the committee in his absence. Any such alternate, while so acting, shall have the same rights, powers, and duties as are conferred and imposed upon a member of the committee by this joint resolution.
52 Stat 705. Joint Resolution to create the Temporary National Economic Committee. June 6, 1938

“(a) To make a full and complete study and investigation with respect to the matters referred to in the President’s message of April 29, 1938, on monopoly and the concentration of economic power in and financial control over production and distribution of goods and  services and to hear and receive evidence thereon, with a view to determining, but without limitation, (1) the causes of such concentration and control and their effect upon competition; (2) the effect of the existing price system and the price policies of industry upon the general level of trade, upon employment, upon long-term profits, and upon consumption; and (3) the effect of existing tax, patent, and other Government policies upon competition, price levels, unemployment, profits, and consumption; and shall investigate the subject of governmental adjustment of the purchasing power of the dollar so as to attain 1926 commodity price levels; and (b) To make recommendation to Congress with respect to legislation upon the foregoing subjects, including the improvement of anti-trust policy and procedure and the establishment of national standards for corporations engaged in commerce among the States and with foreign nations.”

The committee held a number of hearings as part of their inquiry, and ultimately ended up publishing quite a few reports. Some focused on a specific industry or sector:

two men stand to the left of a chart one is point at that says LIFE INSURANCE IN FORCE AND POPULATION OF THE U.S.
Ernest How, Chief Financial Adviser to the study and Dr. Donald H. Davenport, Special Economic Consultant, witnesses in the investigations of the National Economic Committee. February 6, 1939. (Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress)

Other reports covered specific topics including: Industrial Wage Rates, Labor Cost, and Price Policies; Patents and Free Enterprise; Price Behavior and Business Policy; Profits, Productive Activities, and New Investment; and Investigation of Concentration of Economic Power. However, it was their more general titles that I thought might interest more people and offer a broader perspective on the U.S. economy in the years before World War II.

Structure of Industry: This report focuses on big manufacturing concerns, including their concentration and product structure and is chock full of charts and graphs, many of which include historical data. The report includes sections on industry concentration in agriculture, automotive, copper, cotton, iron/steel, petroleum, and rayon yarn.

Concentration and Composition of Individual Incomes, 1918-1937: This report covers almost 20 years of American incomes and purchasing power.

Saving, Investment, and National Income. This report focuses on the concentration and composition of savings and on life insurance, cash, government bonds, corporate stocks/bonds, and mortgages.

Problems of Small Business. For anyone interested in a historical perspective of small business, this report provides some general statistics and discusses small business-specific concerns, such as managerial competency, capital, cost of operations, control of sales/the market, credit, government regulation, and personnel issues.

The Distribution of Ownership in the 200 largest Non-financial Corporations. This large report is broken into two parts. One portion uses data based on the data and information about specific companies. The second part of the report is devoted to appendixes that present information on the 200 companies themselves, with a focus on the 1938/1939 period. For example, Appendix VII looks at company officers, how much stock they own and the stock’s value, while Appendix XI has some great business statistics.

Technology in Our Economy. This report is based on hearings with companies that fulfilled certain criteria including: the use of a lot of capital; were subject to technological change; and were large employers. Companies had to have felt the impact of technology, and have had a big impact on the economy. One section of the report looks backward to the 19th century, while another was focuses on problems specific to the 20th century. The report also references a number of studies and reports that could be helpful for someone who needed even more history.

There are also two titles that complement the reports of the TNEC in providing pre-Second World War economic data. Oddly enough, both have the same name and were produced by the Securities & Exchange Commission. The Survey of American Listed Corporations looks at industries and focuses on the years 1936 to 1947, while another Survey of American Listed Corporations looks more at specific companies, focusing on 1938 through 1941, along with some post-war years.

When it was created, the TNEC was established for a limited time; it was abolished in April 1941. Their work lives on in the reports that offer a window into the US economy.

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