Sunday, November 15, 2009

I LIKE Ike! (sort of)

There is in certain quarters the view that national prosperity depends on the production of armaments and that any reduction in arms output might bring on another recession. Does this mean, then that the continued failure of our foreign policy is the only way to pay for the failure of our fiscal policy? According to this way of thinking, the success of our foreign policy would mean a depression.
On September 23, 1952, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Republican Party nominee for the office of President of the United States, was scheduled to give a speech in Cleveland, Ohio. That speech was preempted, however by Richard M. Nixon's Checker's Speech. Instead of delivering his prepared speech, Eisenhower presented a his reaction to Nixon's defense of his finances.

Nevertheless, the text of Ike's unspoken speech was published in the Washington Post and New York Times. It's theme was to have been "Prosperity without War." Fifty-seven years later, that theme resonates in the title of the Sustainable Development Commission report, Prosperity without Growth?, first published last March, with a revised, second edition (sans question mark) published last week.

Eisenhower's speech was a sustained polemic expressly directed at the Truman administration policies conceived by Leon Keyserling. Although Ike didn't name Keyserling in the speech, he did the next best thing. He cited the protest resignation of the Edwin G. Nourse, whom Keyserling succeeded as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. To anyone familiar with Keyserling's conceptual role with regard to the economics of NSC-68, several passages in Ike's speech stand out as direct indictments.
The inflation we suffer is not an accident; it is a policy. It is not, as the Administration would have us believe some queer and deadly kind of economic bacteria breathed into the atmosphere by Soviet communism...
Now, Ike's feeble prescriptions were woefully inadequate to the magnitude of the problems he so acutely critiqued in his speech. That's why I only sort of like Ike. It's not as if Truman and his advisors didn't have some pretty wicked problems to try to manage. And the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned about in his farewell address didn't exactly evaporate during his term in office.

My own favorite part of Ike's undelivered speech is where he quotes Thomas Jefferson: "If we can prevent government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them, they must become happy." Sounds almost like Ronald Reagan, eh? But not quite. Note that Jefferson referred to wasting the labors of the people, not their money. It's a short, sweet paraphrase of a more convoluted formula given by Jefferson's friend, the Marquis de Chastellux:
First: how many days in the year, or hours in the day, can a man work, without either incommoding himself, or becoming unhappy? One may perceive, at the first glance, that this question refers to the nature of the climate; to the constitution, and to the strength of men; to their education, to their aliments; &c. &c. all cases, which may be easily resolved.

Secondly, how many days must a man work in the year, or, how many hours must he work in the day, to procure for himself that which is necessary to his preservation, and his ease? Having resolved these questions, it will be no difficult matter to determine how many days in the year, or how many hours in the day, may remain for this man to dispose of: that is to say, how many may be demanded of him, without robbing him either of the means of subsistence, or of welfare; so that now, the whole matter rests upon an examination, whether the performance of that duty, which the sovereign exacts from him, be within, or beyond the time, which each man can spare from his absolutely necessary avocations.
For an opposing view to that of Chastellux and Jefferson (and the US Declaration of Independence), see Larry Summers: "It may be desirable to have a given amount of work shared among more people. But that's not as desirable as expanding the total amount of work."

Time for Summers vacation (thanks to Peggy Dobbins for the slogan). School's out.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is really good Tom.

Walker said...

That's what they all say -- until they realize they're living in a Philip K. Dick novel.

CZHA said...

Does this mean that you are becoming sane? What will the rest of us do?

(Anonymous is right, by the way. Take the compliment.)

buermann said...

Is the unspoken speech actually available anywhere? The NYT has a paywall in front of the words of the notorious Russian spy.

Walker said...

I've downloaded a copy and will scan, OCR and post it when I have a minute (actually several). So keep checking back to EconoSpeak.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Of course, Ike's speech on the dangers of the military-industrial complex before he left office remains one of the most insightful presidential addresses of the last half century and more, with the old line of "it takes one to know one" very relevant in this case.