On Full Employment

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On Full Employment

40. My Day

30 August 1945

Hyde Park, Wednesday—The committee in Washington has been holding hearings on what is known as the Full Employment Bill,1 and in reading the papers I gather that there was a great volume of support for the passage of this bill. However, I have also read a considerable number of articles where the authors seem to feel that while full employment is a desirable objective, this bill will do no good. In fact, they say, it is pernicious, because all that we need is to remove all restrictions on private industry and private industry will do the job.2

These people, it seems to me, are unrealistic and have short memories. There were no restrictions on private industry during the depression; and we cannot afford another depression. It therefore seems to me that we should back and fight for a bill which faces the realities of the situation.

Private industry should do all that it possibly can, and it should be given every opportunity to do it. One little practice which existed in the past, however, should not be revived. An oversupply of labor, ready to accept low wages in preference to starvation, should never again be allowed to exist to increase the profits of employers and investors. To prevent this, the government has to see that the conditions under which men work and the returns which they receive for their work are adequate, and that all men who want to work have an opportunity to work, so that they are not held in a forced pool of unemployment for the benefit of employers.

This may mean that investors and the management side of business can claim only a reasonable return on their investments and on their part of the work of industry. That is one of the things which we have to accept if the world is to be a better world for the average man and woman in the future.

If, with these restrictions, industry can do the whole job, then let us be grateful and let them do it. If at any time they can not do it, however, then the government must have in reserve new things to develop for the good of the whole country—things that will provide more opportunities in the future for industry to use more labor.

Some people seem to feel that of necessity this must constantly increase our national debt.3 But that is not a necessity. Many government investments have paid out in the past, and will pay out many times over in the future. The thing for us to remember is that the men who fought this war on the various fronts throughout the world, and in the shops at home, have fought it to obtain a better way of life. They want more security, less fear, greater happiness. This is not communism. This is what democracy must make possible. Otherwise, it will not survive this period of world change.


1. The Senate Banking and Commerce Committee began its hearing on the Keynesian-based Full Employment Bill, introduced by Senator Robert Wagner (D-NY) and seven of his colleagues and supported by 116 members of the House. The legislation required the federal government to commit to "enough compensatory spending to wipe out unemployment." A national coalition of liberal organizations led by the National Farmers Union and the Union for Democratic Action organized to support its passage and Truman called it one of his "must" pieces of legislation. Yet by late August, controversy surrounded the bill and Truman's leadership as liberals worried that the administration had not devised a strategy to secure its passage. The bill stalled in Congress, where the House stripped its right to employment provisions. The bill emerged in final form as the Employment Act of 1946 which, rather than assuring full employment, mandated that the government work to ensure "maximum employment" and established the Joint Economic Committee in Congress and the president's Council of Economic Advisors (Hamby, Beyond, 61-69).

2. For examples of articles appearing in newspapers ER regularly read see "Full Employment Endorsed by Ruml," NYT, 6 June 1945, 26; C. P. Trussell, "House Move Seeks to Prolong Recess," NYT, 22 August 1945, 24; "Full Employment World Peace Need, Byrnes Declares," NYT, 22 August 1945, 1; Frederick Barkley, "'Right to Work' Is Debated," NYT, 26 August 1945, E10; Clarence D. Long, "America's Full Employment: Its Effect on Price Stability," WP, 26 August 1945, B4.

3. At the end of 1945, the national debt was $252.7 billion (HSUS, 664).

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On Full Employment

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