Category Archives: New Deal

Henry A. Wallace, America Can Get It

img_0502Continuing in the “America” series.    If you persevere, you will find some interesting observations on how American labor and industry must work to achieve the potential of America.  Again, if you find any part particularly relevant, make a comment.

America Can Get It, Henry A. Wallace.  Delivered at Los Angeles Seattle on Wednesday, February 9, 1944.  From Henry A. Wallace, Democracy Reborn (New York, 1944), edited by Russell Lord, p. 30.

. . . Curiously enough, the full utilization of our resources, manpower and skill is the formula both for our necessity and our blessing. Its application will require a great spiritual strength, and in the process of developing that strength in a practical way we shall bless ourselves and the world. The problem of full utilization of all resources is first economic and second political.
The economic explanation of how civilized nations drifted into practices of scarcity goes back to the rise of factory mass production, the great corporation, vast investment and banker control in behalf of investment security. Modern factory civilization has become highly geared and there is always danger of tremendous over-production unless mass purchasing power is geared to match it. This fear can vanish only if as much imagination is put into the art of distribution as into the science of production. Many who have tried to finance a business in Wall Street have found that scarcity economics is the very heart of the system. The Wall Street financing house will demand control of the most important type of stock issue, and then will want to make sure that a loan to the new concern will not imperil, because of competition and new methods, the loans to older concerns. Wall Street calls this system “businesslike.” I deny that it is businesslike, and say that it is the dead hand of the past trying to make a profit by blocking the progress of business. The day has now come when we must release the business system to act through increased production for the benefit of all the people. Many businessmen now understand this as they couldn’t have understood it in 1929 . . .
. . . The problem is whether we can modernize the backward areas in our present system so as to make it stand from top to bottom for full use of resources, full use of skills, full use of inventions, without the bottlenecks created by cartels, unfair banking control, unwise labor restrictions, or unenlightened farm leadership. As we face the future, the leaders of the great pressure groups must ask themselves continually, “Is my pressure group in its demands helping the general good? Is my corporation in its program doing what it can to bring about full employment? Or are we just trying to get a rake-off by obstructing full activity? Are we fighting for the biggest piece of the pie as it is, or are we also trying to increase the present size of the whole pie?”
One aspect of modern scarcity economics is the belief that men will work only when they are hungry and that they will stop work when they have enough money to keep their bellies full for three or four days. This cynical attitude of exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few has no place in modern civilization. The moment the many are taught to read and write, to build better homes, to eat better food, to see an occasional movie, to listen to the radio, desire is created and markets are enlarged. People want more and are willing to work to get what they want. This increased longing of the people for light and abundance is going an at an increased tempo all over the world. . .
. . . One serious danger of unemployment, for example, is in those industries producing machine tools and machinery for big construction jobs. These industries did a marvelous job preparing us for a magnificent war effort. Their services will be needed all over the world—in China, Russia, India, all Latin America and Africa, and in the United States, building flood control, irrigation and power projects, building roads and equipping factories. At the end of the war we shall have a tremendous surplus of these goods and services. The whole world has a great hunger for them. The question is to discover some sound method by which the world can pay for them. Our young men shall open undreamed-of frontiers which will unleash tremendous purchasing power to keep the world economy revolving for a half century. But these dreams will not come true unless the world can discover some practical method of paying the United States. The basic method of payment is of course through goods. If we keep our people fully employed, we shall require fully twice as much in the way of imports in 1949 as in 1929 in order to keep our factories running. Furthermore, from the standpoint of national security we must purchase certain strategic materials. The United States must build up large permanent stockpiles of those materials of which this country has been proved to be short in time of war and which can be preserved without loss. . .

. . . In order to get full employment, together with the maximum of free enterprise and profits for the many instead of the few, it will be necessary after the war to use our taxation system for economic objectives much more skillfully than we have in the past. There is just one basis for judgment of our taxation in the postwar period and that is, “Will this system of taxation over a period of years give us the full employment of people producing the kinds of things which the people of the United States most need and want?”
Undoubtedly we shall have to continue with heavy, steeply graduated taxes on personal incomes after the war. But in the case of corporations it would seem to be wise policy to tax in such a way as to force corporate reserves either into the building of plant and equipment or into distribution as dividends. Huge corporate reserves, beyond legitimate business needs, which are held out of use are subtracted from the purchasing power of the nation. In a time of unemployment each billion dollars stored up as savings means at least half a million men unemployed for a year. Unemployed men mean less goods produced and a smaller market. By our taxation system we must encourage the small and rapidly growing enterprise because such enterprises are the seedbed of the employment of the future. But corporations which have lived far beyond the life of the founding father, and which have huge corporate reserves and which no longer expand, represent the dead hand of the past. They should be prodded awake by the right kind of taxation system so that they will find incentive for putting their money to work instead of letting it lie idle.
To get full utilization of all resources for the benefit of all the people, the most important single economic readjustment is to do away with internal trade barriers. I am referring to those monopolistic practices on the part of some manufacturers, bankers, labor unions, doctors and farm organizations which serve their own welfare without regard to the welfare of the unorganized. I don’t say that each member of each of these groups deliberately practices scarcity economics. But enough of them do it so that there is continually sand in the bearings of the economic machine. There is enough sand so that ten million families are continually living in poor houses with inadequate clothing, without enough to eat. Except in time of war, ten million families, whether living on the land or in the city, are given an opportunity to produce only about one-tenth as much as their more fortunate fellows. The war has demonstrated what these families can do for themselves, and for the entire nation, provided they are given an opportunity to work without the continuous imposition of bottlenecking controls.  It is not necessary to break up the big organizations which have deliberately produced bottlenecks. But it is necessary that in time of peace there be created a moral climate, backed up by a big stick in the Department of Justice, to convince every monopoly group that in the future its welfare can be served only by that all-out production which serves the welfare of all.
Everyone must recognize that it is sound government policy, even in terms of the large monopolistic groups themselves, for government to stimulate the economic activity of the weak on behalf of abundance economics while restraining the economic freedom of the strong to practice scarcity for temporary self-profit. There is a growing and vigorous support of this position within industry itself. . . The leaders of the respective groups must become experts in determining how the activities of any particular group are affected by the public good and how they affect the public good. When the respective pressure groups are led by men who know that the size of the whole pie is more important than the size of the slice they want for themselves, our fear of bread lines and soup kitchens will be over. Then every worker in the United States will have the creative satisfaction of doing his part in helping the common cause.
In many parts of the world there is a small land-owning military clique, composing one percent of the population, sitting on top of the pile exploiting the rest of the population, part of whom are workers and part farmers. The task of the century of the common man is to bring these oppressed people into the market. As their productivity and consumptive power are gradually increased, they will within a few years create for the postwar world new frontiers of unimagined richness—new frontiers of peaceful abundance. It is up to us in the United States to demonstrate by our own example the tremendous productivity and happiness of a general-welfare economy. Latin America will follow our example faster than we think, and as she follows it her economy will benefit ours and our economy will benefit hers. Speaking here in Seattle, I may say the same applies to our relations with China and Siberia. Here at the port which is the closest of all American ports to the Far East, it is important to mention that general-welfare economics and modern technology will make the Far East a market of such vast proportions that eventually there will be as much trade across the Pacific Ocean as there is now across the Atlantic. Private enterprise is dependent upon these broadening markets for its very survival.
The political aspect of getting full utilization of all our powers is more important in some ways even than the economic. By politics I mean the mechanism whereby the people, themselves, thinking in terms of the needs and the welfare of all of the people, make clear their will to the state legislatures and to Congress so that the lawmakers will serve the people more than they do the high-pressure groups which are continually selling the people down the river. The people, standing for just one thing, namely “the maximum use of all our resources in the service of the general welfare,” must guide Congress to stand for that objective at all times and to resist all pressure groups except the one big pressure group—the general-welfare pressure group. In action this means that constituents will have the good sense to re-elect Congressmen more for their national statesmanship than for their service to their local groups which are a minority even in the particular Congressional district.
The general-welfare pressure group must believe in democratic planning and must engage in it at the precinct level, the county level, the state level, the regional level. Wall Street and the Wall Street stooges say that such planning is un-American. I say that it is only by such planning that we can preserve and further develop the American way of life. It is only by such planning that we can prevent American fascists from taking us over. When I refer to American fascists I mean those who believe that Wall Street comes first and the country second and who are willing to go to any length through press, radio and demagogue to keep Wall Street safely sitting on top of the country. American fascists at this very moment are desperately striving to control the delegates to the county conventions so that they may in turn control the delegates to the state and national conventions of both parties.
Operating on the precinct level, the people, thoroughly aroused, can at any time they wish throw the American fascists out of control. They can put the man above the dollar and march straight up from the precinct to the county, to the state and to the national convention. They can see that the right men are nominated for Congress and the Senate. They can see that the Congressmen and Senators after they reach Washington are kept informed and eager to respond to Main Street instead of to Wall Street. Dollar principles are all right insofar as they serve human principles, but when they fail in such service they have no meaning except to American fascists.
The issue is very simple. The question is whether the people, keeping themselves fully informed, can operate through democratic government to keep the national interest above the interest of Wall Street. Or will the old-line politicians, financed from Wall Street, again succeed in making Washington the servant of Wall Street. What we need in this country is a new partnership in which Main Street and Wall Street, as well as Washington, will put nothing ahead of all-out production in our America of tomorrow.
The people can come out on top provided they remain continually awake and really believe they can have a higher standard of security and a higher standard of living, and if they will not let up in their fight until they get what they want and must have. They must hold their Congressman responsible for getting that higher standard of living. They must make him feel responsible at all times to the general welfare and above everything to the principle of complete utilization of all resources, all manpower, all skills, in the service of the common man in his search for jobs. In this fight of the people it is quite possible for those who control the big corporations to gum up our system so that it cannot work. It is possible for an incipient American fascism to precipitate a depression which will defeat all the desires of labor and government and most of business. Personally, I think the big corporations are too enlightened today to do a thing of that kind. Statements by the Presidents of the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers indicate that they realize there has been a great change in the moral as well as the business climate. Thousands of businessmen subscribe wholeheartedly to the principle of full utilization. And so I am sure that the managers controlling our great corporations will not deliberately produce a situation where there are twenty million men unemployed. Nevertheless, the people will smash their system unless they are willing to furnish such active leadership in wholehearted co-operation with labor and government as will prevent serious unemployment.
We are in for a profound revolution, partly as a result of the aftermath of two great wars and partly as a result of 150 years of modern technology and democratic thinking about the rights and duties of man. Those of us who realize the inevitability of revolution are anxious that it be gradual and bloodless instead of sudden and bloody. We believe it can be gradual and bloodless if the makers of public opinion, if the politicians, if the pressure-group leaders will only influence their millions of followers on behalf of the public good instead of regional and class prejudices. It would be simple if light could come down from heaven, but we all know that. God helps those who help themselves. The people themselves will have to educate their leaders on behalf of the general welfare, measuring every article in the press, every statement over the radio, every act of Congress by the one yardstick: “Does this help use all our resources, employ all our men, develop all our skills?” If the people everywhere hold these judgments up as a measure, we shall gradually find this principle of “goodness” permeating our national life like a leaven. In no other climate can there be profits for our private-enterprise economy. We must fight with all our might to do this thing. Otherwise we shall have a bloody revolution and slavery. Time is pressing. Victory will bring problems on us so thick and fast that we must be prepared to make instant and correct decisions.
Today we can take the necessary steps. Tomorrow will be too late. We have the resources, both material and human. We have the machines, the tools, and the skills. We have a hundred billion dollars of savings. All we need to do is press forward in confidence, believing in the complete use of all our resources. That confidence must come first; once we have it, the many specific actions on many specific fronts will all add up to a total picture that makes sense.
But if we do not press forward toward total peace in the same complete spirit as we have pressed toward total war, the 100 billion dollars will melt like snow in April and the machines and skills will become a mockery. I can’t over-emphasize the time factor. We must have the full-employment, total-use peacetime system ready to begin its march the moment the wartime system slackens. Halfway measures will produce chaos, and a democracy which is afflicted with pressure-group sickness does not have the vitality to stand that chaos. There is one yardstick by which we can judge those who would lead us in the future. Are they or are they not in favor of using our resources to the utmost? When they oppose this or that specific program, are they ready with a concrete alternative to achieve the same end? It is the job of the common man to ask these questions again and again in the years ahead.
Job, before he could enter into his period of abundance when he was to be twice as rich, had to go through his time of misery and then have a change of heart toward God. We are not yet through our misery, but I have faith that we will have sufficient change of heart in all sections of the country and among all groups of our people to correct our pressure-group sickness. We are eager to save ourselves. It was never easier, and it was never more urgent. If all groups know how vitally important is a complete, full-use peace system, if we put the same energy into the peace effort as the war effort, all the rest will be easy. We are the hope of the world. We must set our own house in order so that our light may shine as a comfort and a beacon to the whole world.

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Henry A. Wallace, America Tomorrow

Henry Wallace speeches on the possibilities for America. Again, if you find any part particularly relevant, make a comment.

America Tomorrow, Henry A. Wallace.  A speech delivered in Detroit on July 25, 1943.
From Henry A. Wallace, Democracy Reborn (New York, 1944), edited by Russell Lord, p. 238.

img_0502Three months ago in South America I found that the lowliest peon looked on President Roosevelt as the symbol of his dearest aspirations in the peace to come. So it is also in China and occupied Europe. I have known the President intimately for ten years and in the final showdown he has always put human rights first. There are powerful groups who hope to take advantage of the President’s concentration on the war effort to destroy everything he has accomplished on the domestic front over the last ten years. Some people call these powerful groups “isolationists,” others call them “reactionaries” and still others, seeing them following in European footsteps, call them “American fascists.” Sooner or later the machinations of these small but powerful groups which put money and power first and people last will inevitably be exposed to the public eye.
My purpose today is to talk about the America of tomorrow. There are some who want to stick to what they would have us believe are the realities of the present. Their quick comeback to any question on our peace objectives is, “We must not discuss anything except the war.” There are others who want to stick to what they hold are the realities of the past. They have a stock reply when asked about the peace: “Let us wait and see what England and Russia do before we make our plans.”
Both opinions are fighting delaying actions against our destiny in the peace—a destiny that calls us to world leadership. When we as victors lay down our arms in this struggle against the enslavement of the mind and soul of the human family, we take up arms immediately in the great war against starvation, unemployment and the rigging of the markets of the world.
We seek a peace that is more than just a breathing space between the death of an old tyranny and the birth of a new one. We will not be satisfied with a peace which will merely lead us from the concentration camps and mass murder of Fascism into an international jungle of gangster governments operated behind the scenes by power-crazed, money-mad imperialists. Starvation has no Bill of Rights nor slavery a Magna Carta. Wherever the hopes of the human family are throttled, there we find the makings of revolt.
The world was waiting for us to take the initiative in leading the way to a people’s peace after World War I, but we decided to live apart and work our own way. Hunger and unemployment spawned the criminal free-booters of Fascism, Their only remedy for insecurity was war. Their only answer to poverty and the denial of opportunity became the First Commandment of the Nazis: “Loot Thy Neighbor.”
Much of our propaganda after the First World War proclaimed the ingratitude of our Allies. We had given of our best blood and our separate fortunes only to be labeled the land of Uncle Shylock. We changed it to Uncle Sap and said, “Never again.” How many of us after this second worldwide scourge of suffering and death will say; “Never again”? Shall it be “Never again” to joining in seeking world peace? Shall it be “Never again” to living alone on an island of false security? Shall it be our second retreat from our responsibility in world co-operation?
Ours must be a generation that will distill the stamina and provide the skills to create a warproof world. We must not bequeath a second bloodbath to our children.
World leadership must be more concerned with welfare politics and less with power politics, more attentive to equalizing the use of raw materials of nations than condoning the policies of grab and barter that freeze international markets, more interested in opening channels of commerce than closing them by prohibitive tariffs, more mindful of the need for a stable currency among all countries than in high interest rates on loans. World leadership must be more occupied with preventing the political house burners from setting oil the fires of revolt than stopping them after they start.
But world co-operation cannot enforce such standards of international justice and security by paper diplomacy and remote control. Our choice is not between a Hitler slave world and an out-of-date holiday of “normalcy.” The defeatists who talk about going hack to the good old days of Americanism mean the time when there was plenty for the few and scarcity for the many.
Nor is our choice between an Americanized Fascism and the restoration of prewar scarcity and unemployment. Too many millions of our people have come out of the dark cellars and squalor of unemployment ever to go back.
Our choice is between democracy for everybody or for the few—between the spreading of social safeguards and economic opportunity to all the people—or the concentration of our abundant resources in the hands of selfishness and greed. The American people have brought a brave and clear conscience to this crisis of all mankind. Every family, every community, feeling the denials and restraints of war, has been forced to search for a bed-rock of faith. And in that tomorrow when peace comes, education for tolerance will be just as important as the production of television. The creation of a decent diet for every family will take as much planning as the building of new cars and refrigerators and washing machines.
Along with Britain, Russia and China our nation will exert a tremendous economic and moral persuasion in the peace. But many of our most patriotic and forward-looking citizens are asking, “Why not start now practicing these Four Freedoms in our own backyard?”
They are right! A fuller democracy for all is the lasting preventive of war. A lesser or part-time democracy breeds the dissension and class conflicts that seek their solution in guns and slaughter.
We cannot fight to crush Nazi brutality abroad and condone race riots at home. Those who fan the fires of racial clashes for the purpose of making political capital here at home are taking the first step toward Nazism.
We cannot plead for equality of opportunity for peoples everywhere and overlook the denial of the right to vote for millions of our own people. Every citizen of the United States without regard to color or creed, whether he resides where he was born or whether he has moved to a great defense center or to a fighting front, is entitled to cast his vote.
We cannot offer the blueprints and the skills to rebuild the bombed-out cities of other lands and stymie the rebuilding of our own cities. Slums have no place in America.
We cannot assist in binding the wounds of a war-stricken world and fail to safeguard the health of our own people. We cannot hope to raise the literacy of other nations and fail to roll back the ignorance that clouds many communities in many sectors of our own nation. Democracy can work successfully for that future which is its predestined heritage only when all people have the opportunity for the fullest education. The world is a neighborhood. We have learned that starvation in China affects our own security—that the jobless in India are related to the unemployed here. The Post War Problems Committee of the National Association of Manufacturers (businessmen all) has wisely declared that increased production in other countries will not reduce living standards in the United States. Those twisters of fact who shriek that your Vice-President is a wild-eyed dreamer trying to set up T.V.A.’s on the Danube and deliver a bottle of milk to every Hottentot every morning should read that report. No business prospers without prosperous customers. That is plain common sense.
The average American may not be an expert on all phases of our economic and political life. He may not understand completely the complexities of money and markets. He may never feel completely at, home in the intricacies of world trade as they are affected by tariffs and cartels. He may not know too much about parity farm prices and subsidies. But the average American does know what happens when inflation comes—when prices rise faster than wages, and he knows that the worst lie of all is that the way to make money is to produce scarcity. The common man in America, and every American soldier overseas, wants free enterprise and full employment. He wants to see the great new war plants converted into plants producing peacetime goods. He knows that he and others have acquired new skills and they should be put to use. The average man of America knows that we can make and consume all goods which make for a higher standard of living. He wants and he must have a job, enough to eat and wear, decent shelter, his own home and automobile, and a chance to educate his children.
He knows that high tariff protection for our markets leads only to retaliation and boycotts by other countries. He knows that no coalition of nations can weather the innumerable impacts of money and trade monopolies. He witnessed the collapse of sanctions under the League of Nations and the growth of dictatorships that appealed to their. peoples by promising to free them from economic slavery. He is convinced that nations must be organized by something more, than trade pacts and non-aggression treaties. The peace-makers must have more daring and vision than the war-makers.
A year ago I cited the four duties of the people’s revolution as I saw them. They were:
The duty to produce to the limit.
The duty to transport as rapidly as possible to the field of battle.
The duty to fight with all that is in us.
The duty to build a peace—just, charitable and enduring.
Millions of our people from offices and factories, from farms, mines, oil fields and timber lands, have accepted those duties with typical American courage and fortitude. They are making heroic sacrifices to speed the victory. But if war has its duties, peace has its responsibilities. Three outstanding peacetime responsibilities as I see them today are these:
The responsibility for enlightenment of the people.
The responsibility for mobilizing peacetime production for full employment.
The responsibility for planning world co-operation.
The American press, radio, school and church, free from domination by either government or corporate interest, can hold up to our people the vision of the freedom and abundance of the America that is to be. These great agencies of enlightenment can educate us with regard to the fundamental decencies and understandings which are essential if our power is to be a blessing to the world and not a curse.
Labor is beginning to do its part in enlightening the public. It is beginning to make crystal clear that 97 percent of labor has co-operated 100 percent with our government in the war effort. More and more in the future labor will demonstrate that it can co-operate with both employers and with agriculture in those measures which lead to increased employment, increased production and a higher standard of living. The people of America know that the second step toward Nazism is the destruction of labor unions. There are midget Hitlers here who continually attack labor. There are other demagogues, blind to the errors of every other group, who shout, “We love labor, but. . .” Both the midget Hitlers and the demagogues are enemies of America. Both would destroy labor unions if they could. Labor should be fully aware of its friends and of its enemies.
The second responsibility, that of mobilizing the peace for full production and full employment will challenge the best brains and imagination of our industries large and small, our trade associations, our labor unions and our financial institutions.
When the guns stop; America will find itself with the following assets:

Manpower by the million; skilled workers from war industries, military manpower and young people coming of working age.
The largest industrial plant capacity in the world.
The greatest resources both natural and artificial to make peacetime products-and thousands of new inventions waiting to be converted to peacetime use.
The largest scientific farm plant in the world.
The biggest backlog of requirements for housing, transportation, communications and living comforts.
The greatest reserve of accumulated savings by individuals that any nation has ever known.
With such wealth, who says this nation is now bankrupt?
If industrial management can bring the same wisdom in producing for peace that it has shown on many production fronts in the supply, program for war, the horizons we face are bright. We have witnessed many evidences of industrial statesmanship, of co-operation with labor to increase production and cut costs. In hundreds of industries the war has demonstrated that management and labor can be friends in the service of the nation.

Our industries, trade associations and lending institutions will open wider the gates of labor’s participation. They have the choice of approaching the new world of greatly expanded production with new energies and foresight—or they can hold back and fearfully await the stimulus of their government to expand production and consumption.

Whichever choice they consciously or unconsciously make, I believe they want to do their part in keeping this nation on solid ground when peace comes.
If we are to mobilize peace production in the service of all the people we must completely turn away from scarcity economics. Too many corporations have made money by holding inventions out of use, by holding up prices and by cutting down production.

I believe in our democratic, capitalistic system, but it must be a capitalism of abundance and full employment. If we return to a capitalism of scarcity such as that which produced both 1929 and 1932, we must anticipate that the returning soldiers and displaced war workers will speak in no uncertain terms.

The third responsibility—that of planning world co-operation—will stem from the open and full partnership between the people and their government.
We will face combustible realities when this struggle has passed. Even now there are millions in Europe and Asia who have only one thought, one question: “When do we eat?” Peace does not come where starvation stays. Peace is a mockery where millions of homeless and diseased are given only the freedom to die. America will have to fill many breadbaskets, help to restore homes and provide medical care here and in other lands before our own peace will be secure.

We know that a combination of countries seeking to limit our air commerce could shut off our international skyways. We know that a ganging-up by a group of international cartels at odds with us could wipe out our markets and sow the seeds of war. We know that we cannot close the doors on other nations and not expect them to close their doors on us. We know that imperialistic freebooters using the United States as a base can make another war inevitable.

In that knowledge we can create co-operation or conflict; unity of purpose or under-the-table dealing.

We must continue our teamwork with the British. We must become better acquainted with our new friends, the Russians. We can live peacefully in the same world with the Russians if we demonstrate to ourselves and the world after the war that we have gone in for all-out peace production and total consumer use of our products to bring about the maximum of human welfare.

Shouldering our responsibilities for enlightenment, abundant production and world co-operation, we can begin now our apprenticeship to world peace. There will be heartbreaking delays—there will be prejudices creeping in, and the fainthearted will spread their whispers of doubt. Some blueprints and many programs will be tested and found unworkable. Some men with selfish motives will use the propaganda of protest and the sabotage of delay to promote disunity in peace as they have in war.
But the day of victory for humanity will come just as this night of terror and desolation will pass. Nothing will prevail against the common man’s peace in a common man’s world as he fights both for free enterprise and full employment. The world is one family with one future—a future which will bind our brotherhood with heart and mind and not with chains, which will save and share the culture past and now aborning, which will work out the peace on a level of high and open cooperation, which will make democracy work for mankind by giving everyone a chance to build his own stake in it.

The challenge and the opportunity to win the battle of the peace has joined mankind. Victory demands our best thought, our best energies and our everlasting faith.

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Henry A. Wallace, What America Wants

img_0502Henry Wallace served FDR as Secretary of Agriculture, Vice President, and Secretary of Commerce (when Truman replaced Wallace as Vice President on the ticket by act of Convention, not necessarily FDR).  For many historians, Wallace was second only to FDR in creating the vision of the “New Deal,” the post-Depression recovery program that continues to this day to serve as the underlying platform of American domestic policy.  Wallace once wrote of the liberal tradition that created the New Deal, “To me a liberal is one who believes in using in a non-violent, tolerant and democratic way the forces of education, publicity, politics, economics, business, law and religion to direct the ever-changing and increasing power of science into channels which will bring peace and the maximum of well-being both spiritual and economic to the greatest number of human beings. A liberal knows that the only certainty in this life is change but believes that the change can be directed toward a constructive end.” (Liberalism Re-appraised,” May 1, 1953)

Henry Wallace is a voice from the past that bears revisiting.  I propose to offer over the next several days a series of his essays that are interesting and bear relevance to the our current times.  Wallace was a person of eclectic knowledge and wisdom.  These essays will cover a wide range of ideas and challenges to the American reader.  I hope you find them worthwhile.  If you find any part of this essay interesting, post the portion and your thoughts of its importance in a comment.  I am using an online source on the New Deal for the essays that will follow over the next several days.

What America Wants, Henry A. Wallace. Delivered at Los Angeles on Friday, February 4, 1944.  From Henry A. Wallace, Democracy Reborn (New York, 1944), edited by Russell Lord, p. 17.

On this trip to the West Coast, I propose to talk about America Tomorrow. Today I shall speak about what America wants. Later on at San Francisco and Seattle I shall discuss what America can have and how America can get it. We want many different things and some of these are in conflict with others. But let me point out right at the start that the sum total of what we Americans can have is immense. Only a few years ago, when the President said we wanted fifty thousand warplanes a year, some people thought he was being visionary. Today we know that the production of a hundred thousand warplanes a year is a hard reality. So I tell you we can have twice as much for civilian living after the war as we ever had before the war, and you know that is no dream: There are limits, but they are much higher than most people even yet realize.
But we cannot have all these things unless we use good sense and good management. If we try to grab too much, all we shall get is another boom and another collapse. That is why we should think clearly about what each of us wants, and then about how our desires can be made to fit into a practical total, and finally haw to get that total. This is the practical way of planning, creating and enjoying the common welfare.

The first and most important need has to do with the desires of plain folks who have to work for a living in the factories and the stares, in the schoolhouses and the government offices. More than fifty million of these people with their wives and children have just one basic interest in life—the assurance of a steady job. They would like the assurance of an annual salary or, at any rate, the guarantee of two thousand hours of work a year.

Of course labor wants more than a job, wants more than decent wages; it wants to be appreciated, to feel that it is contributing toward making this world a better place in which to live.

The workers of the United States want assurance that they can have jobs when the seven million service men and the ten million war workers, who by their supreme efforts are saving us during this mighty conflict, find it necessary to get back into peacetime work. They want a plan that will solve the problem when there are more workers than jobs. Nowhere is this situation so acute as right here on the West Coast. When men begin to hunt for jobs, the bargaining power of labor begins to weaken and union funds begin to melt away. Workers everywhere know this and therefore are beginning to think in larger terms than merely bargaining for higher wages, shorter hours and better working conditions. They want to have a part in making those decisions which will determine the future prosperity of the nation. They want to influence government and industry to bring about full use of manpower, full use of resources and full use of technological know-how.

With the United States producing in peace as it has been producing in war, the workers know that they can have opportunities for leisure and culture, and above everything else possibilities for the real education of their children.

Workers want better insurance against sickness, unemployment and old age. They want the Wagner Act, not as a substitute for full employment, but as insurance against the accidents to which all of us are subject. When, in the postwar period, contracts are cancelled, American labor wants work, not a dole. The Wagner Act can never be a substitute for jobs, but combined with jobs it is admirable.

Organized labor has come of age. It has taken its place as a responsible partner of management in the operation of industry and trade. It has accepted responsibility in war for maintaining an increase in production. It.has the right to ask for fair and honest treatment from the public.

As a responsible partner, labor wants an opportunity to make creative contributions to industry and to benefit therefrom. During the war, hundreds of thousands of workers have submitted ideas for increasing efficiency, enlarging output, saving time and costs, and improving the quality of the product. Labor during the war has enjoyed cooperating with management in doing a real production job, and we must never again let such a rich source of national wealth go untapped.

The farmer has more wants than the worker because he himself is not only a worker but also a manager, a capitalist, a trader and a debtor. The farmer is exposed both to weather and markets beyond his control. A farmer’s first desire, therefore, is to remove the extraordinary hazards of his business. His first want is the assurance of decent markets, low freight rates and reasonable marketing costs. The farmers want low interest rates, a chance to buy farm machinery and fertilizer at low prices. As a purchaser, the farmer knows that he has long been victimized by monopolies both when he sells and when he buys. Farmers want good roads, goad schools and rural electrification at low cost. Farmers love the soil and want to be able to handle it so as to leave it to their children better than they found it. Above all, farmers want to produce abundantly, to see the fruits of their labor raise the living standards of mankind.

In recent years farmers have become more and more interested in getting legislation which would give them bargaining power equivalent to that enjoyed by labor and industry. Thousands of farmers have become skilled Washington lobbyists. Having learned the Washington lobby game, they intend to use federal power to hold up farm prices after the war. Some false farm leaders use the farm lobbying power to help business against labor, just as some false union leaders use their lobbying power to help business against the consumer. But the best farm leaders realize that farm prices can be maintained in the postwar period only if labor is fully employed at high wages, just as the, best labor leaders realize that good wages and full employment cannot be long enjoyed unless the farmers are prosperous. All farmers, like all workers, want stability and a rising standard of living.

Some, but not all, big businessmen want that type of control which will produce big profits. They want to put Wall Street first and the nation second. They want to put property rights first and human rights second. They will fight with unrelenting hatred through press, radio, demagogue and lobbyist every national and state government which puts human rights above property rights.

To its own conscience this selfish, narrow-visioned branch of big business puts its desires in mild-sounding phrases somewhat as follows: “We must have an economically sound government and a balanced budget. Government spending must be cut down. We must get rid of that ‘so and so’ in the White House. Then with government out of business and with Wall Street running the country again, we can have what we want free enterprise. Yes, the free enterprise of old-fashioned America is what we really want.”

By free enterprise this type of big business means freedom for freebooters. By free enterprise this type of big business means the privilege of charging monopoly prices without interference by the government; the privilege of putting competitors out of business by unfair methods of competition; the privilege of buying up patents and keeping them out of use; the privilege of setting up Pittsburgh plus price-fixing schemes; the privilege of unloading stocks and bonds on the public through insiders who know their way in and out, up and down, backwards and sideways.

Fortunately, not all big businessmen ask for these privileges or define free enterprise in the way I have just mentioned. Some of them are as deeply concerned with the problem of full employment as labor itself. They are anxious to see such modification in taxation laws as will place the maximum incentive on that type of business activity which will give full employment. Some of these larger businessmen have marvelous new inventions which they would like to put into volume production at the earliest possible moment. Such men are oftentimes more interested in increasing production, and thereby serving humanity, than in making money for money’s sake, but they know that even from the standpoint of serving humanity, it is necessary to make a reasonable profit if this private enterprise economy of ours is to survive. Therefore they want the assurance of large and expanding markets.

The small businessman is just as interested in free enterprise as the big businessman, but he means something quite different in his use of the word. Free enterprise to the little businessman means the opportunity to compete without fear of monopoly controls of any kind. The small manufacturer wants free access to markets and the assurance that he will not suddenly find himself crushed by some hostile financial power.

The small businessman in his way is just as much a typical American as the small farmer. Some of his relatives may be workers, some may be farmers or one of them may actually be a big businessman. The small businessman is the source of a large part of the initiative of the United States. The small businessman is humble, ambitious, confused and uncertain. He is not very happy because, in war and in peace, the rate of economic casualties among small businesses is so high.

Moreover, the small businessman is not sure that the situation will be any better for him when peace comes than it is right now. The small businessman wants a fair chance to compete in a growing market with fair access to raw materials, capital and technical research. These desires are not unreasonable but they will require some protection by the government.

Some of the businessmen who most want to serve the world in the postwar period are among those who have rather recently graduated from the ranks of the small businessmen into handling large affairs in the war effort. Because of his unusual capacity, this kind of man has made large sums of money during the war, but has paid nearly all of his profits to the government. He will come out of the war with large plant facilities. He wants to know how to reconvert as fast as possible. His success has often depended largely upon his fine relationship with labor. Appreciating the loyalty of labor, he wants to give his workers jobs in the postwar period, not so much from the standpoint of making money as from the standpoint of doing things both for his workers and for the country. Such men are in some ways the hope of America and of the world. I hope the postwar slump will not be so big when it finally comes as to make it possible for the large static corporations with huge cash reserves to take over the establishments which these energetic men have built so skillfully with the cooperation of loyal labor. Big businessmen must not have such control of Congress and the executive branch of government as to make it easy for them to write the rules of the postwar game in a way which will shut out the men who have made such a magnificent contribution to the productive power of America during the war. We need them to furnish the jobs which are so important both to labor and to agriculture.

The Big Three—Big Business, Big Labor and Big Agriculture—if they struggle to grab federal power for monopolistic purposes are certain to come into serious conflict unless they recognize the superior claims of the general welfare of the common man. Such recognition of the general welfare must be genuine, must be more than polite mouthing of high-sounding phrases. Each of the Big Three has unprecedented power at the present time. Each is faced with serious postwar worries. Each will be tempted to try to profit at the expense of the other two when the postwar boom breaks. Each can save itself only if it learns to work with the other two and with government in terms of the general welfare. To work together without slipping into an American fascism will be the central problem of postwar democracy.

Let us consider for a moment what the Far West wants. It is prodigiously rich in natural resources which promise a greater future development for this region than for any other in the country. To accomplish this development expeditiously, the West will require investment capital, additional transportation facilities and more workers. It will require lower and non-discriminatory freight rates and access to technologies. It will need development of its hydro-power resources and great increases in irrigation to take care of the food requirements of a growing West and a wealthier country generally. The West looks forward to a future in which the trade of the Pacific will rival that of the Atlantic. The West wants and is entitled to more influence in Washington, D. C.

In the broader interests of the nation, it is apparent that what is wanted is a balanced development of all the economic resources of all regions, for whatever raises the economic level of one region creates new markets for other regions.

As citizens, the most urgent want is to be accurately and intelligently informed on all the issues which confront us. There must cease to be secrecy in public affairs, except where military necessity requires. In a democracy public officials must trust the people. The greatest responsibility, however, rests on the press and the other agencies of public information, a responsibility which the workers who gather and prepare the news will enjoy discharging if they are given the opportunity. The press, the radio and the other agencies of public information must take the lead and carry the major responsibility for our greatest assignment in mass education—the education of our people for political and economic democracy.

As citizens of a democracy, we must all be vitally concerned with the adequacy of the education available. Many adults want opportunities to complete their educations, to prepare for better jobs, or to develop new interests. The training of our citizen army has demonstrated the potentialities of adult education to millions; when demobilized, they will demand comparable opportunities in peace.

The wants of the returning service men mean more to us right now than the wants of anyone else. In this year 1944 a grateful nation is determined not to let the service men down. These men are entitled to job priorities and mustering-out pay. They will want the same things as workers and farmers but they will want more. During the war millions of them have learned to walk with death, pain and severe physical hardship. They have learned to love their country with a fierce patriotism. They forgot about money. Big profits, higher wages and higher prices for farm products meant nothing to them. Therefore they learned to hate pressure group warfare. They may return to private life and become a pressure group for the general welfare. Their disgust with pressure group politics, wrongly channeled, could lead to a new kind of fascism, but rightly directed it may result in a true general welfare democracy for the first time in history. These young men will run the country fifteen years hence.

As citizens we want competent and honest government all the way from the local community to Washington. We want a government that uses its powers openly, intelligently and courageously to preserve equality of opportunity, freedom of enterprise and the maximum of initiative for all the people. We want a government which will recognize those things which it can best provide in the interests of all—security of persons and property, freedom of religion, of speech and of thought, education, public health, social insurance, minimum labor standards and fair standards of competition—and then effectively discharge its responsibilities.

As consumers, our wants merge into the general welfare. Our dominant want is for an efficiently functioning economy—full employment of labor, capital and technologies, a balanced development of all regions, the preservation of genuine free enterprise and competition to assure progress and a rising standard of living, the avoidance of business ups and downs, and no exploitation of labor, capital or agriculture.

We all want jobs, health, security, freedom, business opportunity, good education and peace. We can sum this all up in one word and say that what America wants is pursuit of happiness. Each individual American before he dies wants to express all that is in him. He wants to work hard. He wants to play hard. He wants the pleasures of a good home with education for his children. He wants to travel and on occasion to rest and enjoy the finer things of life. The common man thinks he is entitled to the opportunity of earning these things. He wants all the physical resources of the nation transformed by human energy and human knowledge into the good things of life, the sum total of which spells peace and happiness. He knows he cannot have such peace and happiness if the means of earning peace and happiness are denied to any man on the basis of race or creed.

The common man means to get what he is entitled to. Any failure to utilize our resources to the full will cause him to throw over any system which he thinks stands in his way. The impulse of humanity toward full use and full expression is now so intense as to be identical with life itself. We who love democracy must make it politically and economically a capable servant of the irresistible instincts of man and nature.

All of us want to be needed and appreciated. We want to feel that the world would be a poorer place if we died. We want to enjoy the world, contribute to the world and be appreciated by the world each in his own little way.

The bitterness of the depression was that so many millions were cut off by unemployment. That is the bitterness we do not want to see again, when the war is over and the boys come home. We want reasonably full employment so that every American can feel himself a member of his country.

We have the materials to work with. We have the science and technical skills to direct our work. We have innumerable desires for goods and services that we are able to supply. All we need is good management and harmony, less grabbing for ourselves, and more cooperation for the general welfare. Legitimate self-interest can be realized in no other way. By working together for victory in war we have made a resounding success. By working together for the common good in peace we can get results beyond what most Americans have dared to hope.

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Filed under Henry A. Wallace, history, Justice, labor movement, labor unions, New Deal, patriotism, Susanna and the Elders, US History