Thursday, May 24, 2012

New Book Details How American Industry Helped Win WWII – And the Shocking Revelation About CEO Pay During America’s Most Critical War Period

Amazing Story of What of Greed Can Do in Wartime

The Economist reviews a new book

Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II. By Arthur Herman. Random House; 413 pages; $28.

which describes the home front during World War II and how American manufacturing companies switched from producing consumer goods and started producing the military weapons and machinery that would be needed to win that war.

Before the Republican War on Women
The production statistics cited by Mr Herman, a think-tank scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, still astound. Preparations for war got off to a stuttering start. But everything changed in 1941 when Germany invaded Russia and then Japan attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbour. By the end of 1942 America’s output of war materiel already exceeded the combined production of the three Axis powers, Germany, Italy and Japan. By 1944 its factories built a plane every five minutes while its shipyards launched 50 merchant ships a day and eight aircraft carriers a month.

There were many heroes, but two of the ones that were most significant were Bill Knudsen and Henry J. Kaiser.  That both of these men were immigrants is a fact that is totally lost on people like Mitt Romney who wants to self-deport young men and women who have been brought to this country as children, and Republicans in Alabama and Arizona and other states that want the police to harass residents for the crime of  being Hispanic.

The business heroes in his history are mostly immigrants or high-school dropouts and often both. Two tower above the rest: William “Big Bill” Knudsen, a General Motors executive who was once a teenage clerk in a bicycle business in Copenhagen, and Henry Kaiser, who began work at 16 as a travelling salesman for a dry-goods store in Utica, New York.

But that is not the real news.  The real news is the revelation of how much money CEO’s made while taking over the war production effort.  They had America over the proverbial barrel, the country needed their expertise and had to pay whatever it took.

Knudsen headhunted corporate innovators and persuaded them to give up their pay and perks to join him as “dollar-a-year men” in Washington. Kaiser recruited a can-do team from such blue-chip American companies as Lockheed, Bechtel-McCone, Chrysler, Boeing and General Electric to produce everything from dams to tanks to ships to steel. Each executive received an annual fee of $1.

Incredible, a dollar-a-year.  Why couldn't it have been 50 cents?

Yeah, those guys were just nothing like the patriotic CEO’s of today who put country and prosperity ahead of their own interests.

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