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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Caesar Cone, January 7, 1983. Interview C-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Lashing out at so-called big government

Cone is devoted to the idea of "less government," and resents the layers of government interference in business practice, which pit American industries against one another and inhibit the freedom of businessmen to do their jobs. He attacks big government at length.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Caesar Cone, January 7, 1983. Interview C-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

HARRY WATSON:
So, in other words, it's as if there were fewer businessmen in government now, and government is not as friendly to the interests of business.
CEASAR CONE:
You say "friendly to the interests of business." It's not a question of being friendly to the interests of business. It's a question of being independent. You've got all these damn lobbyists now, some of them lobbying for protection, others lobbying for promotion, at the state level, at the city hall, in Washington, in areas that never were considered government. Now foreign trade, tariffs, and all have always been considered areas for protection. But now you've got your milk people, you've got your tobacco people, every facet of agriculture, every facet of business. Textiles, steel, each one of them wants it. I know right after the War textiles were pouring in here, and I was on a committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the National Association of Manufacturers. The steel people were all for more textiles coming in, because they were selling steel all over the world, and these foreign countries had to develop some dollars to pay for the steel. So the hell with you in textiles; let those folks sell their textiles over here so they can generate dollars to pay for my steel. Now they're in the same fix we were, today. They're running up there now wanting protection on steel. But everybody runs to the government now for everything. For the health people; we didn't have any environmentalists or ecologists or groups like your Naderites and so forth. It's just unlimited now, the pressures you get as a congressman up there.
HARRY WATSON:
I gather that there was a time when there were more businessmen in public office, and now there are fewer of them. Is that the way you see it?
CEASAR CONE:
I'm not talking about, necessarily, businessmen. The thing is, I don't care whether they're businessmen or doctors or lawyers or whoever they are. I think that a democracy—as I think everybody recognized when it was first set up over here—meant less government. The minute you get a democracy into more government, you're running into trouble. Now they're trying to get democracy into running a business, all these labor laws. Now they're talking about stockholders coming to the board of directors and saying, "Don't sell your product to South Africa" or "Don't make this chemical." That's democracy of stockholders, democracy of whatever. And dammit, you just can't run a peanut stand if there's more than one individual involved unless somebody is going to be able to call the turns. If you've got to have all your stockholders meet to tell you who you can sell to and who you can't sell to, and all your labor people meet to tell you how much you're going to have to pay them and all, how can you run anything? Now we've been able to do it. We've had a very strong system in this country. It was made by free enterprise and built the subways that I alluded to and all these things that today would cost you billions, and they're here for us to use. And what are we doing? Maybe we've abused our freedoms. I say "we"; all of us. And that's required the government to come in and curb our freedoms, but my God, how they've curbed them! And the minute they get curbed, you can't manage anything if you've got to go to third parties and ask them to have a vote on whether we sell our product to South Africa or whether we don't make it or do make it. I'll give you an example that happened to me. And I think we've all, under this great expansion in government, forgotten about how important it is to abide by the laws, because we've got too many laws that nobody pays any attention to and wouldn't want on the books if they were enforced. For instance, my kids came along. "Daddy, I want a cold drink stand." I had one. It was before zoning, entirely legal. It was before sales tax; I didn't have to keep records and collect sales tax. All right, my kids want one. I said, "Son, you can't have it. It's against the law. I'll have to go uptown and get my front yard zoned for business, which I'm sure they wouldn't do." "Well, Daddy, he's got one down the street." I said, "Well, Johnny's father lets him have it, but if he wants to break the law, that's all right, but we ain't going to break any laws." In the summertime you go out on the golf course and play. Anybody who's got a lot that backs up to it, the kids are out there selling Coca-Colas or orange juice or whatever. It's breaking the law. If they'd enforce these laws—I don't care whether they're city ordinances, whatever—I think the people would be so damn mad that you wouldn't have a lot of them. But the trouble is, they don't get enforced until somebody complains, as is so with the criminal law. If I'd shoot you, they wouldn't indict me unless your wife or your family said, "Mr. Cone shot my husband." They automatically would go to work on you if I shot you; your people wouldn't have to complain. But that's not true on all these… Now for instance, several years ago there were some complaints. There was a tree house behind this house where these kids used to play. As they got a little bit older, I think they started drinking a little beer up there and raising hell, so some of the neighbors complained. The cops went out there and made them tear the tree house down. "Oh, this is a single-family lot, and you can't have but one house on a lot." Well, there was more hubbub around here about "Isn't that a shame that the poor kids can't play?" so they changed the ordinance a little bit. But the point I'm making is, people have lost respect for the law. There are too many laws. Hell, you can't go to the bathroom, hardly, today without running into possibly breaking the law. All these laws now they've passed, I don't know, city ordinances or Washington or what, cutting the curbs for wheelchairs, making the busses for wheelchairs, special parking out in front of all these public buildings for wheelchairs. You build a public building now, you've got to have a special lavatory or toilet for people that are lame or halt so they can get onto the toilet and all. To me, it's just inhibiting the development of anything.