Total war involves all the people and almost all activities of all the people. The bulk of the activities of the people of all nations is devoted to providing ordinary consumer goods. Poor countries, such as India or China, use 90 to 95 per cent of their total income to provide food, clothing, and shelter. The richest countries of the world use from 60 to 65 per cent for food, clothing, and shelter. If the provisions for other consumer goods, such as leisure, health, and education are added, from 80 to 85 per cent is used for consumer goods even in the United States.
Any great effort devoted to war must mean giving up a large fraction of our consumer goods. Our income is running at the rate of about ninety billion dollars per year. We could divert ten and perhaps fifteen billion to war without drastically changing our consuming habits. There are many who think our defense expenditures will have to go up to thirty-five billion dollars per year. We cannot reach that level without drastically reducing our ordinary consumer goods and services.
Where should that reduction come? A certain minimum of food should be provided for all. An adequate diet can be provided for all and still get substantial reductions in consumer food expenditures. Relatively much larger decreases can come in clothing and housing expenditures. If education shows people what to do, these decreases should cause little harm and may in some cases actually help general welfare. People can do far more for themselves. A good school system, particularly in this time of crisis, should show them how.
Drastic reductions can take place in expenditures for leisure without any appreciable harm being done. People can provide their own leisure, perhaps of a better quality than what they buy. Expenditures for health should be watched with great care. Any drastic reduction is likely to cause serious harm. Reductions in education should be watched with fully as much care. Any reasonable education more than pays for itself by increased efficiency. In general, one would say reduce luxuries and nonessential consumer items. Hold to a high minimum level on those items which increase efficiency.
From many standpoints the item of saving is among the most important. Savings are absolutely necessary in a period of crisis such as this. Large savings should go into Government Bonds. Savings should be made to provide for post-war transition. Gigantic sums are needed in savings to provide for technical advance. Without this technical advance a modern war would soon be lost.
In our period of crisis, the consumer should buy with great care necessary items. Luxury items should be reduced to a minimum. As many things as possible consumers should do for themselves. Saving is necessary to pay for defense, to provide for reserves, and to further technical advance. The proper kind of school will see that information along all these lines is made available to the consumers.
The Consumer Division, Office of Price Administration and Civilian Supply, issues publications including Consumer Prices, twice a month, which reports on various consumer problems.