Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

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Harry S. Truman
1945-1953


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Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.
  122. Address in Pendleton, Oregon  
May 10, 1950

THANK YOU very much. It is certainly a pleasure to be here in Pendleton today. As I came over that divide on the railroad into this beautiful valley, I wondered what the first man who saw the valley in which Pendleton is situated thought when he saw it. I think he must have thought, after that rough passage over the mountains, that he had arrived in Heaven. And I am told that is just what it is here.

I am always happy to visit the Pacific Northwest. You know, I have come out here to dedicate Grand Coulee Dam tomorrow. On the way out, I have been reporting to the people on some of the problems that our Nation faces, and the progress we are making in solving those problems.

At different towns and cities, I have talked about world peace, and the farm program, and the development of our natural resources. And all these things are tied together, because we need to build a strong United States--strong morally, strong materially-as a basis for our expanding future, and as a basis for world peace.

Today, I want to talk with you about the economic progress of this great country of ours.

The growth of the Pacific Northwest is a symbol of the breathtaking economic progress of the United States.

In one century, you have grown from a few people pushing back the wilderness to thriving States with several millions of people. One hundred years ago ox teams were the power for covered wagons. Today, you use the energy of the Columbia River--and in a few years more you may be harnessing the tremendous force of the atom for peaceful work.

These changes did not come about by themselves. They are the result of the daring and independent spirit which has always characterized this area.

The people of the West have always looked ahead. In their private actions, and jointly through their local, State, and Federal governments, they have been eager to take bold and imaginative steps toward a better future.

So long as we hold fast to the frontier spirit of the West, we need never fear the greatest danger that could overtake a nation. That is the danger of timidity--of being satisfied with things as they are-of failing to seek ever higher goals.

Throughout our history, there have been timid people who have been afraid to move forward. They opposed all the progressive measures we now take for granted. These timid folk once tried to reverse the trend toward free education and political democracy. They called that trend towards free education and political democracy "mob rule."

Today the spiritual descendants of this timid group are afraid of bold, progressive measures to achieve an abundant and expanding economy and to distribute its products more fairly among all our people. They call these measures "statism" and "socialism."

The use of the powers of Government to achieve a higher living standard and a fair deal for all the people is not statism and it is not socialism.

It is a part of the American tradition.
Every day, we should thank Almighty God that the progressive trends of American life and progress have never been stopped for long. We have moved steadily toward a higher conception of human needs and human freedoms, and a greater appreciation of the rights of the average man.

This progress in American life has not been accomplished without a struggle. It cannot be continued without a struggle. Repeatedly, the commonsense of a majority of the American people has had to assert itself in the face of the opposition of those who wanted to cling to the past.

Much of this struggle has dealt with whether our vast country with its wealth of resources should be developed for the benefit of the many or for the benefit of just a few. The issue has been whether we should stop trying to provide all our citizens with a good standard of living just because a few people already had more than enough.

The timid minority do not believe that prosperity for all of our people is a goal that we should fight for. That timid minority, many of them are sincere and well-meaning individuals; and that is about the meanest thing you can say about a man, that he means well. The trouble has not been always with their hearts; it has been with their eyes. Not only were they blind to the prospects of the future; they could not even see backward clearly enough to understand what had already happened.

Let us look at some of the recent progress of the United States of America.

Twenty years ago we had entered upon the greatest depression in our history. We suffered huge losses for more than 3 long years. Then we began vigorous policies of recovery and reform. Our recovery was so successful that, by 1939, our total national output of goods and services was actually higher than it was in the last boom year before the great depression.

Since 1939, we have gone on to make further gains--tremendous gains.

I am going to give you some of the facts. It is awful hard to get these facts, because there are a lot of people that don't want you to know the facts, and that is the reason I am making this tour, so I can tell you what the facts are, and then you can judge for yourselves.

The calamity howlers don't like to look at the facts because the facts prove how wrong they are when they tell you what a terrible fix the country is in. They have been saying over and over again, for years, that the country is being ruined. But the facts show that things have been getting better. So, what do they do? They just ignore the facts.

Well, we are not going to ignore them. We are going to keep the record straight. We are going to see what has actually been happening to our economy.

The best overall measure of a nation's economy is its annual output of goods and services. In the United States, the annual output of goods and services has increased in the last 10 years about 60 percent.

Now, how does this affect the individual citizen? You know, a favorite theme of the boys who are always trying to run the country down instead of trying to build it up, is that the Government takes all our gains away by high taxes. But the truth is that the annual per capita income of our citizens-after taxes--has increased in the last 10 years by more than 40 percent.

And some of the people who are doing the loudest yelling are the very people who have got the biggest increases. Most of them are better off now than they have ever been before in their lives.

However--and for this I am very thankful-the increased incomes have not been confined to a favored few. Annual wages and salaries of employees increased almost 75 percent in the last 10 years.

The income of farmowners, although it has fallen off in the last 2 years--and has fallen off more than it should--is still more than 50 percent higher than it was in 1939.

You would think all this would be enough to convince anybody that the country is doing very well. But some people are hard to convince. They say this administration looks after labor and looks after the farmer, but it just doesn't give the businessman a chance--that business is being taxed to death.

Well now, let's examine that. The fact is, that the annual income of corporate businesses, after taxes--I say, after taxes--bear that in mind--has increased about 100 percent since 1939. That's right, it has increased 100 percent--after taxes. I don't think the country is going to Hell.

It seems to me that free private enterprise is doing all right.

I am glad it is. I want business to be prosperous; and I am going to do all I can to see that it remains prosperous.

There are some diehard reactionaries who won't give up even when the facts I have mentioned are pointed out to them. So they say, "Well, maybe so, but the dollars people have won't buy as much as they used to." That argument is just as phony as all the rest of the arguments the pessimists use.

In all the figures I have given you, allowance has been made for changes in the purchasing power of the dollar. The increases I am talking about are real increases, not just dollar increases. In dollar terms, the gains would be much larger.

During the last 5 years, we have successfully met one of the greatest economic tests that can ever confront a nation: we have come through the adjustments following a great war without a depression. We have had depressions after most other wars, and a good many people expected that we would have one this time.

Instead, we have weathered the readjustment period with relatively few hardships. And now, we have good prospects for continued prosperity. Almost every newspaper you pick up gives new evidence of increasing business activity. I saw an advertisement in a Denver paper the other day, advertising for miners to go up to Montana. That hasn't happened for quite a while, but it seems that things are on the mend and going up all the time.

We have avoided the calamity of a postwar depression because our whole economy has been strengthened by a program of action which began 17 years ago--17 years ago, that was March 4, 1933, if you remember. This program has been directed toward the humanizing of our economy and toward the humanizing of the Government. This program has been marked by such measures as bank deposit insurance, regulation of the security markets, old-age and unemployment insurance, minimum wages, slum clearance and low-rent housing, resource development, and protective farm legislation.

We have had a Government that was-and is--working for the people, and not for the special interests.

These measures have helped to distribute buying power more widely among the people. They have provided larger markets for the increasing products of our factories and our farms. They have protected our economy against shock. They have provided business with a stronger banking structure and a more flexible credit system. They have helped to sustain farm income.

Now, we haven't had a bank failure for so long that we don't know what one is like; and we don't want to see anymore.

These results have not been achieved through public action alone. In private enterprise as well, employers and workers have placed more emphasis upon the human element. They have learned more about how our economy functions. They have constantly adopted more enlightened and progressive policies.

There is a great lesson to be learned from what we have accomplished. We have learned that it is within our power as a people to make full use of our tremendous resources of farm, factory, and human skill.

We can use that lesson--and we must use it--to build for the future.

There are two conflicting schools of thought about the future of our economy, just as there are about its present condition. Those who can see nothing but evil in the present situation, can see nothing but gloom for the future.

They have been saying all along that our programs could not succeed--even though the programs were succeeding, at the very time they were denying it. Now they are saying the same old thing--that the country is going bankrupt, that depression lies ahead, that the only thing to do is to pull in our belts and save what we can from the wreckage.

I don't agree with them. As I have said time and again, I am a fundamental optimist. I believe this country never will go back. I think it is always going forward.

I believe that we know more now than ever before about how to keep our economy strong and prosperous. I believe that we can continue to rely on the programs that have served so well for the last 17 years-use them and improve them. I face the future with confidence that our Nation will continue to grow in freedom and in material and moral strength.

I am sure that the people of Oregon and all the Pacific Northwest share that confidence. It is the character of those of you who live in this region to dream big dreams and plan big plans. You will not join with the little men who throw up their hands and cry, "It can't be done" when we set up our goals for future prosperity.

I want to tell you about some of those goals--and I assure you that there is nothing fantastic about them. They are merely based upon the belief that we can improve as rapidly in the future as we have in the past. That's the optimist again. I am sure we can do that well and even better if we follow wise policies that are for the benefit of all the people and not for just a special few.

Here are some of the things we can do. In the next 10 years we can reach toward higher standards of living for everybody in the country.

We can lift our annual output of goods and services to more than $350 billion by 1960--one-third increase within 10 years. And I am talking about real output, measured in dollars of today's purchasing power.

We can increase real wage and salary incomes, and farm incomes, as our economy grows. We can increase the profits of business, not through higher prices or higher profit margins, but through increased volume in a growing economy.

I have said before, and I repeat, that by 1960 we can and should achieve a far better standard of living for every industrious family in the city and on the farm.

Now, I want to tell you about some of the things we must do to achieve those goals.

First, the efficiency and capacity of our industries must be increased. Despite the large investments which industry has made since the war, there is urgent need for further investment and improvement, to meet expanding markets and to take advantage of the rapid gains in technology.

This is a job for private owners and managers--in manufacturing, in power, in transportation, in many other industries. It is also a job in which the Government must participate--through resource development, sound tax policies, housing and small business programs, and in many other ways.

Second, purchasing power must be expanded to develop and maintain markets for our increased production of goods.

The final market for all products is the ultimate consumer. Our economy cannot expand as fast as it should as long as we have a large number of families with substandard incomes. One out of four American families now has an income of less than $2,000 a year.

Our goal over the next decade should be to lift every hard-working American family to an income of $4,000 a year--not a mere dollar increase, but an increase in the real standard of living. We have the resources to do this by balanced national growth.

Raising the standards of our poorest families will not be at the expense of anybody else. We will all benefit by doing it, for the incomes of the rest of us will rise at the same time.

Third, we must maintain a sound balance in the programs of our Government, faced as it is with huge and unavoidable responsibilities.

Most people realize, now, that more than 70 percent of the Federal budget is required to pay for past wars and our work to prevent another war. However, they often fail to realize just how vital the other 30 percent is to our welfare and progress. The costs of sound programs to improve the Nation's health and education, to stabilize agriculture, to develop resources, are sensible investments in a better future.

I want to balance the budget of the Federal Government, just as much as anybody else does. I would like to see taxes reduced. We will do both of these things just as soon as we safely can--and not sooner. Nobody can do it any sooner than that.

We must continue to strive for every true economy in national affairs. But I will not join in slashing Government expenses at the cost of our national security and our national progress.

Fourth, we must continue to improve our economic relations with the rest of the world.

We must develop a larger flow of international trade and international investment, on a sound basis. This will result in larger markets for ourselves, and larger markets for other free countries.

Just as our Nation has grown through enlarged production and trade, from which all sections of the country have benefited, so the expansion of world production and trade can strengthen all free countries. This is an essential step toward world peace.

We must not be turned aside or slowed down in our efforts to help the other free nations get back on their feet by those who would retreat into isolationism in order to save a few dollars. We would pay for that folly many times over. It would greatly increase the chances of a third world war.

As long as I am President of the United States, we are not going to put dollars above world peace.

The things that I have been talking to you about--the growth of our economy and the policies needed to make that growth possible--have a very definite meaning for you folks here in Pendleton, as they do for people all over the country. They are not just abstract theories. They are matters that will have a very important effect on your daily lives.

Your wheat and livestock growers cannot prosper without good incomes and high consumption in the rest of the country, and in other countries too. The same thing is true of the Columbia River fisheries. Oregon's lumber industry will have good times only if our Nation builds the houses our people need.

And it works the other way, too. The Nation needs the products of your agriculture, your forests, and your fisheries. The whole country becomes stronger when Oregon and the Northwest grow and prosper.

We are a Nation that advances by cooperation and mutual benefit. We do not want any State, or any group, to grow at the expense of another. Our strength--and the strength of free men--is in a society that works to bring better living to all the people.

We have demonstrated in our country that we can all move forward together. I believe profoundly that this forward movement is going to continue.

I believe that ultimately it will extend to the farthermost corners of the earth, and that, with the United States as a shining example, we shall succeed in bringing greater welfare and freedom to all mankind the world over.
Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 6:30 p.m. from a platform erected near the train station at Pendleton, Oreg.
 
Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.