Henry 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.