James McC. Landis, the new Securities Exchange Commissioner, declared soon after his appointment that he was completely in accord with his predecessor, Mr. Kennedy, and would seek to continue the fair dealing, temperate direction which had characterized the Commission before his accession. Undoubtedly Mr. Landis is sincere. Way back in October, 1933, in the heat of the controversy over the Securities Exchange Bill, he addressed a meeting of Public Accountants in New York, and described the qualities of a good Commissioner. They will be the qualities exemplified by Mr. Landis. Under such able administrators the Commission will continue a great success.
But this does not, by any means, justify the bill itself, which is drawn up according to a very dangerous and undemocratic principle. Ever since the Civil War, perhaps before, politicians and pinks have had a feeling that business men were committing heinous crimes, continually breaking the law, but that they always managed to get away with it through the cleverness of their lawyers, who found holes through which any octopus could jump.
Finally, in the reign of Roosevelt, the pinks and politicians found a way out of this horrible situation. They would pass a law against all business men, set up a commission to enforce it, appoint a commissioner who would have sense enough to enforce it only against dishonest people who under fair and just laws could get corporation lawyers to weasel them out. The Securities Exchange Commission was founded; Mr. Kennedy was made Commissioner; he co-operated with, helped, encouraged honest business; at the same time, he had dishonest fly-by-nighters, sly corporation lawyers under his thumb.
But what will happen when a Harding returns, or when Curley becomes President? Then a grafter will be Commissioner, or a Socialist, and the extra power given to the Commission will be used against honest business men, against any one who dares fight the dirty politician in charge.
Some sort of law against the boom practices of the Stock Exchange is eminently desirable. So far, under the able direction of Mr. Kennedy, the present law has filled the bill and been approved even by the business men themselves. Surely, now that the breathing spell has arrived, a lawyer as ingenious as Mr. Landis can invent a law which will apply only to dishonesty, and at the same time be octopus-tight. Otherwise, while we thank God and Mr. Roosevelt for fair and paternal despots such as Mr. Landis, we must at the same time, as honest liberals, condemn Mr. Landis' part in drawing up and supporting such a dangerous, undemocratic, wrong bill as the one under which he so successfully operates.