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Sidebar: On Man Controlling Trade

Almost 250 artists submitted models in a competition for public sculptures to accompany the Federal Trade Commission. Works Progress Administration artist Michael Lantz (1901–1988) won the “Apex Competition,” named so because the statuary would be placed at the apex of Federal Triangle. Lantz, surviving on a $94/month job, won $46,500 for the competition (about $750,000 in today’s dollars), sparking media attention and even an offer to marry from a California woman.

The Constitution Avenue sculpture evokes sympathy for the horse.

The Constitution Avenue sculpture evokes sympathy for the horse.

Lantz’s two statues depict a powerful man restraining an enormous horse, and stand alongside the FTC building. Titled “Man Controlling Trade,” the works have received varying interpretations by observers of the Commission:

“The horse, representing big business, with its dynamic energy suggests that it could easily go on a rampage and leave a path of destruction behind it, oblivious to its own actions. The muscular man stripped to the waist standing beside the horse and gripping its reins symbolizes the federal government, which through intelligence and restraint forces the horse to submit its power to a useful purpose. This 1937 monument is an insightful interpretation of what George Rublee and the Progressive Party sought in an antitrust program. Had the New Freedom platform as originally proposed by Louis Brandeis succeeded, there would be no such monument–there would be no such horse.”

[1]

“Had [Lantz] accepted Congressman Emanuel Celler’s animal symbolism, he perhaps would have depicted the FTC restraining a goat labeled the consumer. But he apparently took his inspiration from what Congress intended in 1914 rather than what the FTC has become.”[2]

But the Pennsylvania Avenue version (the one most visitors encounter) presents business as an uncontrollable, sinister force.

But the Pennsylvania Avenue version (the one most visitors encounter) presents business as an uncontrollable, sinister force. Photos by Rachel Lincoln.

“The FTC has become the horse and consumers the man…So powerful and harmful an agency must be constrained. Consumers simply cannot afford otherwise.”[3]

“It is said that the artist intended to portray the application of reins upon the wild practices of industry. It is equally symbolic, however, of business as a dumb animal being subjected to the arbitrary will of its master.”[4]

Looking carefully, one notices that the statuary are different. In one, the Pennsylvania Avenue version, the horse has a sinister look. It appears to be biting the man, and the man’s weak positioning suggests that he will fail to bridle the menace. In the other, on Constitutional Avenue, the man appears sinister, and he has a more powerful hold upon a more elegant and sympathetic animal. Perhaps Lantz’s statuary captures our ambivalence about the regulation of trade.

[1] Marc Eric McClure, Earnest Endeavors: The Life and Public Work of George Rublee (Contributions in American History)(2003).[2] Louis M. Kohlmeier, Jr., Regulators: Watchdog Agencies and the Public Interest(1969).[3] Timothy J. Muris, What can be done? in The Federal Trade Commission since 1970: Economic Regulation and Bureaucratic Behavior(1981).[4] Willis W. Hagen, The State of the Collective Liver of the Federal Trade Commissioners, 47(3) MARQUETTE L. REV. 342 (1963).
2016-10-23T03:25:56+00:00 August 12th, 2014|History|

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