ECONOMIC surplus does not necessarily result in a prosperous and happy people. In many other regions and epochs the world has seen such a surplus produce, not freedom and leisure and well-being, but tyranny, servitude and oppression. Take, for example, the case of ancient Egypt. During the time of the Pharaohs there was a great surplus of food and of men. That surplus might have been used to build wholesome and sanitary dwellings for the whole people. It might have been used for public hygiene, for public education, for research, for useful public works. It actually was used to build up the greatest piles of stones on earth„the Pyramids; to create heartless oppression.
Throughout the long centuries that story of surplus bringing misery has been repeated again and again. In America today we do not build pyramids. We go in for competitive social expenditures. Our big houses are too large and our little houses are too small. A few years ago I was visiting in one of the mountain districts of the Tennessee watershed and spent the night in a little cabin in the hills. There were the father and mother and six children. I suppose the entire family did not see a hundred dollars a year in cash. Yet all were neat, courteous and intelligent. On leaving I wondered how I might express my appreciation. It would have been an offense to offer money to my hosts, but I sent $25 to a wise mutual friend in the mountains. That $25 produced the following: one child had tonsils removed by a publicspirited surgeon, one girl had her eyes fitted with glasses, and one child got six weeks in a boarding-school (there was no school near home).
A member of the faculty of a southern university has recently made a study of the cash incomes from farms in a mountain county. The average total cash income this last year was $45 for each farm in the county„$10 from relief and the balance from the farm. In North Carolina, two hundred mountain farms in four counties were similarly studied. Taking out taxes and the cost of fertilizer they had left, on an average, $86 in cash. Such low levels of income do not indicate low levels of innate capacity. There is a good breed in the hills that drain into the Tennessee. It deserves a good chance. Many lives are rusting away, many hopes are fading, because there has been no chance. This is not primarily a problem of economic theory. The South's greatest poet, Sidney Lanier, put it clearly:
Alas, for the Poor to have some part
In yon sweet living lands of art
Makes problems not for head, but heart.
Vainly might Plato's brain revolve it:
Plainly the heart of a child could solve it.
We need social-economic planning in the Tennessee Valley. We need kilowatts of electric power and tons of potash, phosphates and ammonia. We need forest policy and production policy. But we need something more than all thcse. We need the desire and the will that this productiveness shall not be segregated so that a few compete in ostentation while the many strive hopelessly against fate. We need a greater sharing here and in America everywhere.
When in June the Congress and the President set up the Tennessee Valley Authority, the general purpose of the act comprehended such a social goal, but it was but generally defined and only slightly provided for. Most of the present appropriation is for specific work, to build dams, transmission lines and fertilizer plants. The law provides that the President may from time to time outline his plans to Congress and request further funds. In the meantime our board of three directors, under the direction of the President, as provided in the law, must discover means for working out its purpose. The chief means must be cooperation with the people of the Tennessee River region and of the nation. Only as they have hopes and desires can much be accomplished. The Tennessee Valley Authority must chiefly be an instrument which can be used by the people of the region and of the United States.
IN piling that stove-wood as a boy, now this way and now that, I was trying to get away from the monotonous uniformity that made it sheer drudgery. That habit has persisted with me, and whatever the repetitive nature of a task may be, I find it desirable, even necessary, to introduce some variant into the pattern. Thus in responding to calls to talk about our Tennessee Valley work, I have taken it up now from one angle, now from another, according to the nature of the audience.
In midfall, I spoke before the Chamber of Commerce of Asheville, N.C., and there it was natural to begin with the series of events centering anout the power program, with which my hearers were familiar, and to deal with those phases of the project that bear on reconditioning the agricultural lands. During the War what was to become known afterward as the Wilson Dam and power plant at Muscle Shoals were undertaken in order to produce ammonia from nitrogen in the air. Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen. This "fixed nitrogen," as it is called, is the chief material used in making high explosives, and huge amounts of electric power were needed for its manufacture by the methods then in use. A large manufacturing plant was therefore built near the dam to use the water power for making ammonia. This is commonly known as Nitrate Plant No. 2.
It happens that this same ammonia so necessary in the manufacture of explosives is also the valuable element in nitrogen fertilizers. For that reason Wilson Dam and Nitrate Plant No. 2 have been looked upon by the farmers of the country as a possible source of a cheap substitute for the manure of horse-driven days. The nitrate plant was not finished until the War closed. It was run just long enough to make sure that it would do what was expected of it, and since then has lain idle. Processes for making ammonia have so improved that many people have questioned whether the plant is not now obsolete.
The Tennessee Valley Authority law provided for research in fertilizer manufacture, and for the purchase, mixing and sale of fertilizer materials, and for the manufacture of fertilizer ingredients where that seems wise. The Authority is now at work on that problem. Research is being actively carried on in the manufacture not only of nitrates, but also of phosphates and potash. These three are the chief plant foods supplied by commercial fertilizers. An examination is being made of Nitrate Plant No. 2 to determine whether it can still be used to advantage. A plant will shortly be built for the manufacture of phosphates and perhaps of potash.
As this work with fertilizers develops successfully it will be of interest, not only to North Carolina and other parts of the Tennessee River region, but to the whole South. There is said to be an overproduction of fertilizer at present costs.
Yet many southern farmers would like to buy in quantities they cannot afford at present prices. The cure for overproduction and low prices on the farm is not through the back-breaking drudgery of farming land for poor crops. Rather it lies in getting the best possible crops from the best possible land, with poor land put to other uses, such as forests, or storage reservoirs for regulating our streams.
THIS brings us to the matter of stream flow, and to a range of problems and possibilities which are beyond the grasp of private waterpower development. One reason that we need those fertilizers is that we have allowed surface soil to run down and wash away. The earliest travelers through this region spoke of the crystal water of the streams. Since then, with the clearing and farming of our southern rolling lands, much of the original fertility has been carried down to the sea. Millions of acres are now barren clay hillsides, cut with gullies and abandoned by agriculture. It has taken only a little more than a century to produce this result in the Tennessee River area. If the process continues as it has in some other countries, such as southern Greece, parts of Palestine, and parts of China, great areas will become useless for cultivation. The remainder cannot raise taxes for schools and roads, and the more progressive people will move to other regions. Civilization will dry up, and as in Greece, what was once a prosperous region will be peopled by poverty-stricken farmers who pasture their scrawny goats on barren hillsides.
This is a real issue in the rolling lands of the South. It presses for an answer. What can be done about it? First, we can encourage different methods of agriculture. On hillside land corn crops, with the resulting bare ground during the hard winter rains, must give way to grass and cover crops, such as the new perennial lespedeza. Second, the steepest land should be taken out of agriculture and planted to forest. In corn the land is quickly destroyed. In forest the erosion is largely stopped and a profitable crop is started. Experiments of the United States Department of Agriculture indicate that under intelligent care the soil erosion can be reduced to only 5 percent of what it was before control was begun. Third, our laws of land ownership should be changed so that if a man is handling his land in a way that will destroy it, the part he cannot take care of should be taken away from him and given to someone who will farm it properly, or be planted by the government to some growth that will prevent soil erosion. A man has no natural right to inherit good land and pass on a waste of gullied hillsides to those who come after him. We are not complete owners of the soil, but only trustees for a generation.
MID-DECEMBER rounded out the first six months of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The first step of the three of us appointed to the responsible management was to get acquainted with each other, for my two associates had never met each other, and I had met each of them only once or twice. Our second step was to divide the field functionally. Dr. H. A. Morgan, president of the State University of Tennessee, is charged with those developments with respect to fertilizers which I have described; and with the problem of the balance of agriculture and industry which is close to his heart. To David E. Lilienthal fell the transmission and selling of power; the purchase of all right of way, and the study of railroads and other transportation. Apar. from my duties as chairman, with the assembling and management of the staff, the construction of the dams has come to me, along with the fields of social and economic planning, education, and the development of a unified plan for the control and use of the waters of the region. We spent July, August and September in getting our new functions going; and before the end of September construction was under way. With vast unemployment in the Valley, impatience to see the dirt fly was natural. Laymen could not know, for example, that it took a twenty-seven days' test of the rock at the Norris damsite to discover how strong concrete it would make, before deciding on whether we should have to build a railroad to bring in sand and gravel from a distance. But such studies, of course, were only small items in bringing down to earth a great change in national policy in a given series of operations.
Let me go back to the time the Wilson Dam or Muscle Shoals, as it was then called, was undertaken as a war measure. Its completion after the War was opposed by those who insisted that the generation and distribution of power should be solely a private industry. Finally the Dam was finished, and then it lay all but idle for six years while a contest was fought out in Congress between the advocates of public and those of private generation and distribution of power. Twice Congress under Senator Norris' lead passed bills for the public operation of the Wilson Dam power plant, but each time the bill was vetoed by the president in office. Finally President Roosevelt proposed and Congress passed a general program of public generation and transmission of power as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority program.
One of his aims was to prepare a "yardstick" of public ownership with which to compare the costs of private ownership. The law provides that power from Muscle Shoals or from other developments must be sold primarily for domestic use in cities and rural areas. Sales can be made to private power companies or for manufacturing purposes, but household and farm use shall come first.
The Wilson Dam power plant is what is called a "run of the river" plant. That is, there is very little storage of water in the lake above the dam. When the Tennessee River is high during the winter there is water enough to develop 300,000 horsepower or more. During the driest summer seasons, the flow is small and there is water enough for only 50,000. To correct this wide variation of flow, the new act provided for the construction of the Cove Creek Dam and power plant on the Clinch River more than two hundred miles upstream from Muscle Shoals. This dam, which since has been given the name of Senator Norris, the champion of public power development, will create a storage reservoir, great enough to store almost a year's rainfall. During the winter, when the river is high and power is abundant at Muscle Shoals, this Norris Dam plant will be shut down and the water will be stored in the reservoir. During the summer when the river is low and power is scarce, the Norris Dam power plant will be operated. The water used for generating power at the Norris Dam will, however, then flow down to the Wilson Dam at Muscle Shoals where it will be used again to develop more power. The two dams operated as a single system will generate five or six times as much dependable power as either one alone.
Certain plans for the new dam were inherited by the TVA, but they had been developed with great haste. We presented them to the ablest designers in the country, who advised us that they ought to be thoroughly remade. The most effective organization for such work is the ganization for such work is the United States Bureau of Reclamation, with its designing office at Denver, where plans are made for more dams than in any other office in the United States, if not in the world. They have recently finished designing the Boulder Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, which is the biggest dam ever built, the Madden Dam at Panama, and are engaged on the Columbia Basin dams in the Far West. This organization set aside some of its ablest designers to take up the Norris Dam problem. About forty of their engineers have been working at it and we have added a number of men to that staff„men who are experienced in certain fields where we needed help.
SPEAKING before the Kiwanis Club of Knoxville, I endeavored to give its members a picture of some of the factors entering into such a project and I will pass it along to you. A completed dam looks like a piece of concrete anyone could make, but it is much more than that. The Norris Dam will have a wall of water behind it more than 200 feet high. When one begins to deal with the great pressures that such walls of water exert, he must be very careful. I have been in this class of work for a good many years and seldom get on a job before people say, "Why don't you speed up?" We want to build the Norris Dam in such a way that as the years pass, no responsible engineer will say that safety was overlooked. Any kind of preparation but the most thorough would be treason on the part of engineers who build structures on which the lives of people depend.
Every new engineering job brings up new variations of old problems. There is the question of how much water will come over the top of the dam when the greatest floods occur in the future. We must know whether we are preparing for 250,000 cubic feet of water a second or 350,000 over the spillway. If we provide for too much, it means waste. If we provide for too little, there might be lack of safety. No two regions are exactly alike. We have ransacked this country for records and there is not a stream in the eastern United States with flood records which we have not compared with flood possibilities in the Tennessee Valley. A record of flow in the Tennessee River has been kept for half a century, but we need to know as nearly as possible what the relationship is between the greatest flow in that period and the greatest flood that might ever occur. On such judgment safety depends. Two weeks after the contractors started work on a flood-control project in the Middle West, a flood occurred, not of 90,000 cubic feet per second, like the one planned for on the basis of seventy-five years' experience, but of 250,000 cubic feet per second. This flood drowned two hundred people and destroyed $100,000,000 of property. Such mistakes must be avoided.
In building the Norris Dam, we have secured all available material regarding the Clinch River, on which it is located. The region is between two sets of hills, and it seems to be true that the rainfall is less than on either side of them. Storms coming from the east produce greater floods to the east of us. Storms that come up the Mississippi Valley seem to produce heavier rainfall than do storms on the Clinch River drainage area. If these things are true without exception, it means that we might save one or two million dollars in the design of our dam. But are we sure of it?
The public isn't thinking of such problems, but hydraulic engineers must exhaust every last scrap of evidence before they reach their decisions. In our efforts in the past to work through these problems, we have gone back to Europe to study floods wherever records existed. For example, on the Danube River, near Vienna, there are marks on a castle wall which show where high water has reached. The highest mark was recorded in the year 1055 and that flood was 50 percent larger than any flood that has occurred since. There are interesting records in Ceylon, on the Tiber in Italy, and on the Seine in Paris, though in few cases are there dependable records with conditions comparable to those of today.
We have searched everywhere for records to get a long-range view in our Tennessee Valley planning. Work like this has to be done. It isn't spectacular, but it is important
Meanwhile, in the four or five months during which plans for the Norris Dam have been taking shape, we could go ahead with our coffer dams, strip the base of the dam, excavate the sides of the hill, open up quarries and start building our town which will house the larger construction crews when the main work gets under way. And we could send to the reclamation laboratory at Denver a carload of local stone, sand and other materials to be tested for use in building. If these could be obtained at the damsite, and the stone could be crushed economically, then we would have everything handy except the cement, which we could truck about five miles from the nearby railroad station of Coal Creek. It was not until August that we got a contract for an option to purchase the land at the dam, and our men were allowed to go in to get some of these materials for testing; and once we had them, the testing took a month. But the tests panned out right and saved building a railroad which would cost three or four hundred thousand dollars.
THE Tennessee Valley Authority is not primarily a dam-building job, a fertilizer job or power-transmission job. When I first went to see President Roosevelt, he talked about an hour about its possibilities, and there was scarcely a mention of power or fertilizer. He talked chiefly about a designed and planned social and economic order. That was what was first in his mind. At the time I did not realize how far-flung his ideas were, because his recovery program had not been fully revealed. The country as a whole did not appreciate how great a change in private and national life that program would require. I have spent several hours with him since then talking over the Tennessee Valley Authority from time to time. (Incidentally, on his return from Georgia, he seems to be in fine health, and at the full tide of mental vigor and alertness, quick to focus his life experience upon whatever point is at issue.) The government has provided about $5 billion for his emergency program. About I percent as much is to be used for the TVA. With that ratio in mind, the President wanted somewhere an undertaking that was not emergency, but a deliberate social planning for the future. The TVA is an expression of that desire.
At no point in our planning has the long view entered in more fully than in framing policies which would lead to greater economy in hydro-electric power generation. We go back to floods that antedate the written history of the region, and forward to tree growths that generations from now will hold the rainfall in the ranges. We are preparing to finance further experiments with the huge ten million volt electro-static generator developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which holds out possibilities for sending power vast distances at a loss so small as to fairly minimize the factor of distance. And in the field of power generation, our "framework of reference" has become the unified development of an entire watershed under a single ownership and control. This working conception I put before the New York section of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in December.
In this new epoch of the Tennessee Valley, electrical inventors have been as much pathfinders as Daniel Boone, and great advance in mechanical methods and equipment has taken place along a hundred fronts. Much of it is due to the electrical engineers, but much also is due to the mechanical engineers, the chemical engineers, the mining engineers, the metallurgical engineers, and the ceramic engineers; and back of them to the theoretical mathematicians, the physicists, and the chemists of our universities and scientific laboratories. Improvements in physical equipment cover an enormous range. They include the increased efficiency of the steam engine and the internal-combustion engine, the tungsten light, modern insulators, creosoted poles, present-day alloys, and all those complex devices and methods used in present-day generadon and transmission of electric energy.
But even in the field of scientific invention, administration is playing an increasingly important part. The lone inventor, like the pioneer, is giving way to the highly organized commercial laboratory. In the field of generation and distribution of electric power, the same istrue. More effective organization and administration are as necessary as improved technology in the elimination of small stations and the building up of great systems. When it comes to distribution to the ultimate domestic consumer, administration plays a far larger part than the cost of generating and transmitting the current. It is natural, therefore, that in the development of its power policy, the TVA should be giving primary consideration to administrative economies.
Water power in the future may have very stiff competition from both steam and internal-combustion engines. Whether these three million kilowatts of potential water power in the Tennessee River system can be developed in competition with other sources of power will depend upon whether every possible economy is achieved in its development. If the cost of generating water power should be half a cent per kilowatt hour, it may lose out before steam or the internal-combustion engine. If the cost of generating water power can be reduced to a quarter of a cent per kilowatt hour, it may have a relatively clear field.
Without suggesting any particular level of unit cost, I venture the opinion that if the water-power development of the entire Tennessee River drainage area of 40,000 square miles can be given a single unified ownership and control, the unit cost of power may be no more than half of what it would be with divided ownership and management. To illustrate: Near the east boundary of Tennessee is a damsite which will provide vast storage capacity for an area of very heavy rainfall and run-off of a few thousand square miles. From this point down the Tennessee River to its mouth is a fall of, roughly, one thousand feet, nearly all of which can be used for generating power. A plan has been proposed by a private company for generating power at the upper site with a dam, say 200 feet high, and to administer this power plant as an independent industrial undertaking, perhaps for the operation of a large manufactory. If this power plant is operated as an independent unit, it will be built with a view to its own needs. The management cannot invest money on the chance that stored water might on occasion be used by plants down below, in which it has no financial interest.
IF there were only one up-river plant and one down-river plant, some cooperating arrangement might perhaps be worked out, but with eight or ten down-river plants which have little or no storage, and twenty or thirty up-river plants on half a dozen uributaries, each with storage which could be released, all prospect for voluntary unified and coordinated control fades away. Each plant would be run when its owners chose, without being controlled by the supply of water elsewhere. Trading of water, or exchange of power, would be cumbersome and relatively ineffective.
Now consider what would be accomplished by a single unified system, thoroughly interconnected by transmission lines and conurolled from a single office. During wet seasons or wet years the storage dams would be closed until their reservoirs were filled, and all power would be developed from plants having no storage, or inadequate storage. If rains should be heavier on one tributary than on another, the full reservoirs would be drawn upon. On some of the smaller tributaries of the Tennessee, sometimes at high elevations, there are reservoir sites of very large capacity, but without water enough to fill them. Those cheapest and most capacious sites could be developed by building dams, and then, for off-peak hours at night, for a few wet months during the year, and for intermittent wet seasons, all surplus power could be used in pumping water uphill into those high reservoirs which would have power plants to be used during peak loads or for a standby supply. I have seen such developments in Switzerland, where not more than about 15 percent of the energy is lost by the pumping and regenerating process.
With such a single integrated system under a single control, the full hydro-electric power possibilities of the region could be realized, and the cost per unit of private power might be not more than a half or even a third of the cost of separately owned and operated plants. In this process navigation and flood control also would be provided for, with substantial contributions to the low water flow even of the Ohio and the Mississippi.
SUCH unified control and operation implies government ownership and operation. The control of this great electric-power system by a private corporation would give economic power over the people of the region which no self-appointed private business men ought to hold. Such management and operation would of necessity be governmental and public in its nature, whether privately or publicly owned. It would be necessary to exercise the right of eminent domain, and to have control over the economic life blood of a vast region.
Just as an adverse balance of foreign trade tends to bankrupt a nation, so the constant drain from a municipality of payments to a foreign-owned utility tends to economic impoverishment. Given administration of equal quality, the ideal status of a city utility is that it is fully amortized and is owned by the public it serves. Regional independence from a perpetual drain is no less important for an area as large as that of the TVA than for a city.
I believe the President knows that no waving of a magic political wand will do away with such economic drains and the social frustration that goes with it for the people of a whole region. In every move we make to bring about a change from waste to order we shall be treading on someone's toes, hurting someone who profits by it. Even the housewife who establishes thrift in her kitchen is robbing the scavenger who collects her garbage. Every step of economic planning will be contested by those who are interested in things as they are.
Support for such a program of social and economic planning as projected in the Tennessee Valley must come from those who will for the moment overlook their minor losses in the process of readjustment, and will think of the widely distributed prosperity and well-being which will come if a fair chance can be given for the fulfillment of reasonable hopes on the part of all men.