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Special Message to the Congress: The President's First Economic Report

January 8, 1947

To the Congress of the United States:

As the year 1947 opens America has never been so strong or so prosperous. Nor have our prospects ever been brighter.

Yet in the minds of a great many of us there is a fear of another depression, the loss of our jobs, our farms, our businesses.

But America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.

The job at hand today is to see to it that America is not ravaged by recurring depressions and long periods of unemployment, but that instead we build an economy so fruitful, so dynamic, so progressive that each citizen can count upon opportunity and security for himself and his family.

Nor is prosperity in the United States important to the American people alone. It is the foundation of world prosperity and world peace. And the world is looking to us.

I believe that the American people have the wisdom and the will to use our abundant resources so that all may prosper. I reject, and I know the American people reject, the notion that we must have another depression. I am not referring to minor detours and bumps in the road ahead--these we know we shall have. I am referring to economic collapse and stagnation such as started in 1929. This need not happen again, and must not happen again.

The Congress passed the Employment Act of 1946 by an overwhelming bipartisan vote. This Act wisely provided for a Council of Economic Advisers to the President, men who as a result of training, experience, and attainments are exceptionally qualified to analyze and interpret economic developments, to appraise programs and activities of the Government and to formulate and recommend national economic policy.

The Congress also provided for a permanent joint committee to receive and analyze this annual Economic Report of the President and to submit recommendations concerning it to both Houses.

In transmitting this first Economic Report, I am conscious of its significance as the beginning of a series of reports that will serve the Executive and the Congress as the basis for an orderly and continuing review of the economic state of the union and for integrated and comprehensive steps to ensure the permanent economic health of the Nation.

The Economic Report is an opportunity for national self-examination and self-criticism. It is a challenge to the President and the Congress to determine the causes of whatever problems we face in our economic life and to find the solutions to those problems. It provides an opportunity for all our citizens to judge the merits of the analysis and proposed action. It is a new and splendid tool to help us in our tasks. And like all governmental tools, its effectiveness will increase year by year as we learn by doing.

Prosperity cannot be the concern of one party or of one group. It cannot be attained without the goodwill and the cooperation of all.

To build a greater America we must approach the task with unity of purpose, with patience, with wisdom, and with determination to overcome all obstacles. If we do this--and we must--I have no doubt about the ability of Americans to build, on a firm basis of security and political and economic freedom, a country in which the rewards we enjoy can be doubled within the life span of many of those now living.

I. REVIEW OF 1946

EMPLOYMENT

During 1946, civilian employment approached 58 million. This was the highest civilian employment this Nation has ever known--10 million more than in 1940 and several million higher than the wartime peak. If we include the military services, total employment exceeded 60 million. Unemployment, on the other hand, remained low throughout the year. At the present time it is estimated at about 2 million actively seeking work. This is probably close to the minimum unavoidable in a free economy of great mobility such as ours.

Thus, at the end of 1946, less than a year and a half after VJ-day, more than 10 million demobilized veterans and other millions of wartime workers have found employment in the swiftest and most gigantic changeover that any nation has ever made from war to peace. At its peak during 1946 aggregate employment was substantially in accord with the objectives stated by the Congress in the Employment Act.

PRODUCTION

Total production turned out by the Nation's farmers and workers likewise mounted to new peacetime levels. In 1946 it was about 50 percent above the 1939 predefense level and only 15 percent below the wartime high. However, production is not yet at its peak in relation to our present plant and manpower resources. Bottlenecks, shortages of materials and components, labor-management disputes, and other reconversion difficulties have had their retarding influence.

But with all these obstacles, production in the second half of 1946 reached a higher rate than in any peacetime year. Goods scarce during the war began to fill dealers' shelves. The American people were eating more food per capita than in any previous year, even though in some cases they were unable to buy exactly the kind of food they wanted. In total, people were supplied with more goods and services than ever before. This indicates that when all our resources are fully marshalled for peacetime pursuits, the whole American people will be able to enjoy a standard of living far surpassing any that we have ever known.

PURCHASING POWER

The Congress, by setting maximum purchasing power as an objective of National policy in the Employment Act, pointed to the importance of purchasing power in keeping our economy fully employed and fully productive. When people stop buying, business stops producing and employment drops. It is therefore of the utmost importance that at all times we be concerned as to the volume of purchasing power of the Nation and its relation to the volume of production of goods and services.

Purchasing power, of course, depends upon current cash income, the use of savings, and the use of credit. It also depends upon prices. As we all know, when prices go up the purchasing power of the dollar goes down.

In 1946 the problem of linking maximum purchasing power with maximum employment was not completely solved. To be sure, cash and credit were available to purchasers in extraordinary amounts. This was due to high agricultural and industrial earnings, large accumulated savings, considerable extension of credit, and the payment of veterans' allowances and mustering-out pay. In the face of continuing shortages of many kinds of goods and services, this led to an inflationary pressure. When price controls were relaxed and finally dropped, this pressure resulted in a substantial increase in the general price level.

The rise in prices that occurred in the latter half of 1946 greatly reduced the purchasing Power of the current incomes received by the large majority of people. It is true that some groups in the population received increases in income that for them balanced or more than balanced the rise in prices. But the large mass of consumers did not enjoy such offsets. How to effect a mutual adjustment of incomes and prices which will provide purchasing power adequate to sustained maximum production in the years ahead thus becomes a central problem for private enterprise and Government.

II. PRICES, WAGES, PROFITS IN 1946

The relation of wages, prices, and profits is the key to the maintenance of purchasing power. If prices are too low in relation to wages, they squeeze or eliminate profits, stifling the initiative of business, interfering with production, and reducing or retarding employment. If prices are too high in relation to wages, they restrict the market and reduce employment, as well as causing suffering to individual consumers.

PRICES

During the war years prices were on the whole successfully kept in check under the "hold the line" policy, with farm and food prices rising somewhat more than most others. Between VJ-day and the middle of last year when the lapse in price control occurred, prices rose moderately, chiefly due to price increases granted to speed production or to take account of wage rises. The average increase in wholesale prices from VJ-day to mid-1946 was 7 percent, and in retail prices was 3 percent, although textiles and clothing rose considerably more than the average.

But between June and December wholesale prices jumped an additional 24 percent, while the consumer price index climbed 15 percent. The sharpest increases were for the most part in farm and food products, textiles, clothing, and in residential construction.

The Congress made clear its intent that decontrol be speeded. In fact, after the new price-control law was passed, the direct control of prices soon became virtually impossible. It was no longer a question of whether it was in the interest of the workers, businessmen, farmers, and the public to control prices; it was a question whether price controls were any longer workable. It was the advice by late fall of labor, business, the farm groups, and my Cabinet that general price control be dropped.

Two things immediately happened. Prices rose sharply. Goods that had been produced under price control but withheld in the hope of decontrol appeared on shelves.

The increase in consumer prices has substantially reduced the purchasing power of the great majority of consumers.

WAGES

After VJ-day, direct wage controls, with the exception of those in the building trades, were dropped in order to permit a return, so far as possible, to collective bargaining. Indirect wage controls were, however, maintained until general price decontrol.

Between July 1945 and July 1946 the average wage-rate increase in manufacturing was about 10 percent. Nearly half of this increase was offset by reductions in overtime, declines in piecework earnings, and the shift of workers from higher-paid wartime to lower-paid peacetime jobs. Thus, for manufacturing as a whole, the average hourly earnings of labor last July were 6 percent above what they were the year before.
cause of the reduction in the workweek during 1945 and 1946, weekly take-home pay declined in many industries and rose but moderately elsewhere in spite of the increase in wage rates.

Since July 1946 there has been some further increase in wage rates, average hourly earnings, and average take-home pay, but less than the increase in prices. Thus real earnings have fallen.

PROFITS

Business profits began to rise in many lines of nondurable goods and in most trades and services soon after VJ-day. This rise reflected the increased volume of civilian sales. Price increases during the past year and removal of the excess-profits tax added still further to profits after taxes. In most of the soft goods and service lines, profits after taxes in the second quarter of 1946 were already above the levels of 1944 and
1945. Further increases were reported for the third quarter.

But profits have been extremely uneven as between industries. In many of the reconversion industries, especially where volume was slow in getting underway, profits at first were low and in many cases there were actual losses, many of which, however, were alleviated by the carry-back provision of the tax law.

Third-quarter reports showed increased profits in most of the durable-goods industries, although price ceilings had not yet been generally removed. Profits increased further during the fourth quarter with the removal of price control.

We should not infer that all industries or all firms in a given industry were operating at a highly profitable level or that none were incurring losses. We must also remember that the purchasing power of the business dollar as well as the consumer dollar has been diminished by the price rise. Nevertheless, taking account of all of these considerations, it is plain that business in general is receiving exceptional profits.

III. THE NATION'S ECONOMIC BUDGET

The volume of employment and production in any given period depends upon the volume of expenditures. These expenditures are of four types:

1. Consumer Buying.

2. Business Buying.

3. Foreign Buying.

4. Government Buying (Federal, State, and local).

In order that we may have a better idea of the size of the job ahead and the relative proportion of our goods and services going to consumers, business, foreign markets, and Government, I here set forth the Nation's Economic Budget.

The Nation's Economic Budget shows the distribution of income and expenditures among consumers, business, and Government, and imports and exports. It sheds light upon whether price and wage policies and other public policies are encouraging an alignment among these four component parts which is favorable to sustained high levels of economic activity, or which threatens us with an economic decline. The Economic Budget also indicates whether a given level of economic activity is being achieved mainly by private expenditures, or by public expenditures, and in what proportion. By comparing budgets for different periods, we can discern favorable and unfavorable trends.

The Nation's Economic Budget is primarily a device for the measurement of our economic activity. Use of this device is not wedded to any particular economic theory. The Economic Budget is an objective summary statement of our economy in action at a given time, as reflected by the income and expenditures of its major parts. It reflects the aggregate actions of millions of consumers and businesses and of the Federal, State, and local governments.

By way of illustration, Table I contrasts the Nation's Economic Budget during the last pre-defense year 1939 with the Budget during the war year 1944, and with the Budget during the transition year 1946.

POSTWAR TRANSFORMATION

The figures for the years 1939, 1944, and 1946 show that a transformation has taken place in our economy since the last predefense year. The great increase in the total Economic Budget reflects the change-over from an economy of substantial unemployment and moderate production to an economy of unparalleled employment and production. Great significance lies in the fact that the Economic Budget for the year 1946 was almost as high as during the war year 1944, and more than twice as high as during the predefense year 1939. Even allowing for price changes, we have made such great strides forward in wealth and productivity that our thinking for the future can no longer be bound by the distant past.

The changes in the composition of the Nation's Economic Budget during these years also deserves attention.

During the war year 1944, Government expenditures were more than half the total Economic Budget.

Business responded to the Government's demand with record production.

Private income derived from production doubled the predefense level, even after allowance for the increase in taxes.

Consumer expenditures increased, but due to the shortages of civilian goods, effective price control, and patriotic motives for saving, they did not increase nearly as much as they otherwise would have, the difference going into savings.

In the transition year 1946, the expenditures of business and consumers once more took the lead, as the Government's wartime expenditures were drastically reduced. Business spent large sums for reconverting, overhauling, and modernizing plants and equipment and for replenishing depleted pipe lines of inventories. High business activity resulted in high levels of consumer income and expenditures. Consumer spending was further increased by the use of wartime savings and expanding installment credit, and in the case of veterans by mustering-out pay and readjustment allowances.

TABLE I.--THE NATION'S ECONOMIC BUDGET, 1939, 1944, AND 1946

[ Billions of dollars; current prices ]


Predefense Calendar