The Steel Industry, 1939-1959: A Study in Competition and Planning

By Duncan Burn | Go to book overview

Chapter VIII
ANTITRUST AND AMERICAN STEELMAKING

1. THE F.T.C. ATTACK

The high efficiency of the American steel industry in the decade before the Second World War, which provided such a spur to changes in European steelmaking in the decade after the war, and was most notably embodied in the wide strip mills which spread through the industry with dazzling speed,1 was achieved in the doldrums of the thirties, when the industry only once worked at more than 70 per cent of its capacity for a whole year and for six years was working at between 20 and 40 per cent of capacity. 2 However, such quick adoption of technical change was in the tradition. Hence during those years Americans were more conscious of economic ills than of achievements, and though the working of the economy in low gear was increasingly thought of as a symptom of general economic policy which restricted demand the temptation to explain it also in terms of malignant disease within the individual industries most severely hit was irresistible. The Federal agencies whose duty (and as it seemed whose pleasure) it was to enforce the antitrust laws, declared boldly that the practices of the steelmakers in regard to prices bred over-capacity, kept inefficient plants alive, made prices needlessly high, and led to

____________________
1
Already in 1936 there were 21 built or building ( Walter Tower, Secretary of the American Iron and Steel Institute in an address at California on 6 Feb. 1936, reprinted by the A.I.S.I.).
2
The figures were:
Per
cent
Per
cent
1930 67 1935 41
1931 39 1936 63
1932 18 1937 72
1933 29 1938 36
1934 32 1939 65

-476-

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