Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Address in Detroit at the National Automobile Show Industry Dinner

October 17, 1960

President Colbert, Governor Williams, Mayor Miriani, Directors of the Automobile Manufacturers Association, distinguished guests, and my friends:

Tonight, though we are in the midst of a political campaign in which most of us are not completely disinterested, I want to speak to you in a non-partisan spirit.

I am happy to meet with you, who are among our business and labor leaders in America's productive enterprises. The nation admires the material accomplishments for which you, here, have been so greatly responsible, particularly in your own chosen field. Administrators, scientists, artists, labor, and representatives from a dozen professions have had a part in the marvelous growth of our motor industry. I salute them all.

Yet this evening, I do not address myself solely to this particular part or even all of the American economy. Instead I shall present to you some reflections about our nation, our people, and the world--touching upon truths and trends which, it seems to me, have insistent meaning for us now and for the future.

Around the world, one of the most widely known features of the United States today is its unprecedented wealth. But much less understood abroad is the great spread, throughout the peoples of our nation, of the benefits of the American system. Other peoples find it hard to believe that an American working man can own his own comfortable home and a car and send his children to well-equipped elementary and high schools and to colleges as well. They fail to realize that he is not the downtrodden, impoverished vassal of whom Karl Marx wrote. He is a self-sustaining, thriving individual, living in dignity and in freedom. Annual family income now averages $6,500. The Gross National Product has passed $500 billion, and national income has soared to over $400 billion a year.

In spite of certain localities in which there is economic weakness this level of material well-being stands in startling contrast to that of most of the world's peoples. Yet we confidently expect that our standard of living will continue to rise at a rate of 3 or 4 percent per year, while for millions of others elsewhere productivity will scarcely keep pace with population growth.

In many other areas of the earth, once isolated peoples are acquiring a knowledge of the world in which we live. The poverty-stricken masses of a score of nations cannot fail, with some bitterness, to compare their lot with ours, and to that of the other industrialized and currently prosperous nations. Hundreds of millions of human beings, denied any real opportunity, out of their own resources, to bring their living standards up to respectable levels will certainly, if abandoned by others, tend to develop a feeling of helplessness, hopelessness and despair. Out of these would emerge increasing world tensions and unrest. Vast areas of resentment and turmoil, especially if combined under a despotic and aggressive dictatorship, could destroy the material prosperity we now so freely enjoy and so confidently expect to increase. Freedom would be endangered.

Clearly the economic status of others affects both our own prosperity and world peace. The more intense and widely spread becomes the resentment against poverty abroad, the more serious will become the consequent problems on our own doorstep.

I believe that the vast majority of Americans is aware of these facts and, consciously or subconsciously, is determined to make the world a better place for all.

For us, a free world leader by reasons of size, productivity and strength, the question really becomes "How are we to use our wealth and the strength and influence deriving from it?" Should we merely strive jealously to guard, in a materialistic philosophy and static isolation, the possessions we already have? Or, recognizing the dangers of inaction, are we boldly to strike out for the preservation of our cherished values of freedom, by striving to see that others may, with us, possess and enjoy them?

Since freedom is strengthened by its sharing and can be destroyed by withholding from others the opportunities also to possess it, for us there can be only one response.

How then may we best help in building the kind of world we seek?

In our search for the means by which we can best render help, we must learn more about the economies of others. I suggest, for example, that preliminary surveys should, in each case, try to pinpoint the areas in which a particular nation may be lacking. We know that indiscriminate transfers of materials and money will not suffice. But if each underdeveloped nation can, with competent technical help, discover its own special weaknesses and plan their correction, then outside help can be both effective and economically used. One of the functions of the Special Fund of the United Nations is to help develop such facts.

But complicating the problem of steady reduction of poverty in the free world is the greatest obstacle that our way of life has ever known. The principal and immediate challenger to these values is a government which hates all that we hold most dear. The challenge we face is many sided, and in each of its aspects it is intensified by the never ending threat of the use of force.

The problem is, partly, philosophic--that is, spiritual and moral. We begin all our reasoning about man's destiny and the purpose of social organization with the conviction that man, in his sonship to God, is precious as an individual and has absolutely inviolable rights. The Communists scornfully deny this belief. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev have all, in turn, proclaimed that the religious view of man with dignity is false. They have taught that material factors alone are responsible for man's life and aspirations; that any means, no matter how repugnant, to achieve Communist ends, is acceptable.

The Communist philosophy denies to man the right of self-government, and herein lies another phase of the critical world contest in which we are engaged. Because of our convictions about the nature of man and his natural rights, we adhere to democratic methods. The basic political power resides with our people, and the decisions of government are their decisions. Since, in the Communist view, man possesses no natural rights, in theory all power is vested in the state--in practice, in the hands of a few elite members of the ruling party. The people are regimented. They know only what their rulers want them to know; they do only what their rulers tell them to do. Whether they live at peace or are forced into war is decided by an omnipotent few.

But these two aspects of the struggle, obvious to us, are deliberately obscured by vicious Communist propaganda. Communists know that men and women whose minds have been conditioned by hunger, are tempted to follow any system that promises--no matter how falsely--a better life. Starving people can be brought to look with envious eyes at the Communist system which, hiding the price its people must pay in loss of individual freedom, has made in a few short years violent but effective strides in the production of foods, goods and armaments.

Where individual income may be as little as 50 or 100 dollar a year, where population increases more rapidly than production, where the major rewards of enterprise are reaped by a relatively few, the doctrine of communized production is seductive.

Viewed uncritically by those who allow the great fundamental philosophical and political differences to be obscured, the comparison between the free and the communistic systems assumes a false simplicity.

When impoverished peoples and nations look, with envy, at the economic achievements of the Soviet Union, they make one serious mistake: in their impatience with the slowness of their own progress, they tend to confuse their particular system of private enterprise with that of the United States. They are not fully aware of the basic factors of America's growth. Many things and forces have molded our national experience, and each has often been cited as the touchstone of our success. Yet none of them belongs exclusively to us. America has no monopoly on the prime movers of progress.

An abundance of natural resources, a system of private, competitive enterprise, a physical size and political system that insure a great free trade area, a way of life based on the bedrock of deep religious commitment, a massive dynamic educational system, and the great thrust of a hybrid energy derived from many cultures--all these we have.

Beyond these, one is of special importance. It is our national social conscience. Lack of knowledge, abroad, concerning it, is largely responsible for the erroneous concept that many have of the American system of production and distribution.

Relatively few nations have the socially conscious type of private enterprise that we enjoy. Here private enterprise, with minimal intervention by government, strives to benefit all the people. Now this was not always so but the whole philosophy and spirit of our historic enterprise have led us through evolutionary changes which have given us our present socially responsive, and responsible economic system.

So while we depend primarily upon the initiative of the individual, for economic and social progress, yet what the people cannot do for themselves, they expect their government to undertake in the degree demonstrated as necessary. The share of public enterprise has necessarily increased with the growing complexity of our lives. The costs of national defense, promotion of the general welfare, and other aspects of public effort by Federal, State and local governments mount with the years; government expenditures at all levels now approximate $130 billion a year. This means that nearly one-third of our total national income is taken in taxes and spent for public purposes.

Parenthetically, I should here remark that one of our greatest internal problems is to see to it that we maintain the health and strength of our private competitive system, including always the stability of its currency.

All the public services, with defense in the first line priority, must be financed by our free economy. If government costs become greater than we can meet now, in the most prosperous period of our history, then either we must disastrously go deeper in debt--or take so. much in taxes that the economy will lose the ability to maintain the dynamism that it must have for continued growth. Only a steadily growing economy, and one devoid of harmful inflation and mushrooming debt, can support our ever-increasing number of public services.

Now to return to my theme: in many countries of the free world private enterprise is greatly different from what we know here. In some, a few families are fabulously wealthy, contribute far less than they should in taxes, and are indifferent to the poverty of the great masses of the people. Broad purchasing power does not, therefore, exist, even for the domestic products of the nation. A country in this situation is fraught with continual instability. It is ripe for revolution. The mass of the people want and demand a change for the better, and hence two questions arise: First, will reform come in a peaceful, orderly way, or violently with ensuing chaos? Second, will essential reform be within a system of private enterprise, or will production be socialized?

The Communist propagandists, playing their Pied Piper's tune, tempt the disadvantaged to believe that Communism is the only way. Thus, they boast that the Soviet Union will soon outstrip even the United States in production.

We must continue to try to get the underprivileged to look behind this claim.

It is not surprising that productivity is now increasing at a faster rate in Russia than it is in the United States. Indeed, it would be surprising if this were not so, for the Bolsheviks started, some forty years ago, at a very low level, and since then have channeled all production according to political need. By imitation and seizure, the Kremlin has been able to use many advanced practices developed over the years by free world scientists and technologists. But even so, with three times as many people engaged in agriculture, for example, Russia is producing less food and fiber than is the United States. Russian industrial production is less than half as great as ours. Only in defense production does Russia approach us-and let me emphasize: even in this, she does not exceed us.

Yet even if we accepted the claim that a communized system will eventually equal our productivity--which, of course, we do not--we would still reject it. For a complete communization of the means of production will succeed only under a dictatorship. We would prefer poverty in freedom to riches in slavery.

But, my friends, how fortunate it is that this is not the choice.

If the free nations will recognize the need for, and practice effective cooperation among themselves, they can make certain of their common security in freedom and advance their common prosperity.

Not so many years ago we felt we could keep safely to ourselves. But now our economy has become interdependent with that of many other nations. Modern transportation and communication have narrowed continents and oceans, and modern capabilities for destruction have wiped out the last shreds of safety in isolation.

Understanding these truths, the United States since World War II has devoted much of its time and energy, and has given with unprecedented generosity of its resources, in helping to protect freedom and to promote rising levels of well-being in all nations wishing to be independent and free.

There can be no retreat from this course.

But changing situations call for new thinking and action, more study of priorities.

First, it becomes urgent that every nation of the free world do all it can to advance itself and bear its own appropriate responsibility to all the other nations of that family. This means that there must be a new, true spirit of common dedication to freedom pervading the relationships of all free nations.

It has no doubt been necessary in the postwar years that the United States be the leader in providing assistance to the free world. But all these nations must realize that our resources are not unlimited; yet more must be done.

If the Free World Community is to persevere and prosper, every one of the nations must contribute to the total cooperative enterprise to the utmost of its ability. No nation is so rich or strong that it dares to stand aloof. No nation is so poor that it cannot make a vital contribution. All must share in forming the principles and carrying out the total program for the search of peace with justice and ever-rising levels of human well-being. While all will properly work in their own self-interest, they must also act on a commitment for the common good.

Another new action is called for: as each of the nations of the free economy examines its own actions and unflinchingly takes the greatest possible responsibility for its own economic advance, it must make certain that the blessings of production benefit all its people, not only a favored few. The internal revisions found necessary must be undertaken by each nation promptly and peacefully. Delay incites violence, and not only retards the achievement of domestic goals, but also causes damage to all free nations, as we have lately witnessed.

I do not say these things complacently. I know, as you do, that we in the United States have many improvements to make, and we know the dangers inherent in being self-righteous and content. We do not preach-we cooperate to produce the moral, intellectual and material strength needed in the free world.

Since time began, opulence has too often paved for a nation the way to depravity and ultimate destruction. Rich, sluggish societies have put comfort, ease and luxury ahead of spiritual vigor, intellectual development and the energetic pursuit of noble goals. The ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, Rome and more recently the splendid court of Louis XV fall thus, each having developed a false sense of values and its people having lost their sense of national destiny.

This could be a threat to the United States but for the fact that we are not motivated by materialism. We hold dear the things of the spirit and the intellect. Our ideals of freedom, democracy, human dignity and social justice shine through all our institutions. These are the supreme purposes of our people and the motivating force of our government.

Our own weaknesses must be understood and corrected. We have problems of crime, juvenile delinquency, physical and mental health, deficiencies in education, slum housing, and racial and religious discrimination--all of which call for massive attacks. This we shall always try to do, but not by government alone, rather by localities and by an informed and aroused citizenry. These matters are peoples' problems and must be met by a broad peoples' effort.

The stop-watch of history is running. The race is on to see whether the material and spiritual needs of the world will be better met through dictatorial control, communized enterprise, immorality and inhumanity, or through freedom, private enterprise, and cooperative action, inspired by the concepts of morality and respect for human dignity. This emphasizes the necessity in every free nation to have leaders of integrity, understanding, strength, compassion, and patience.

In our nation we want men who keep us alert to the priorities toward which all efforts should be directed. They must sustain policies needed to keep our economy strong, while at the same time fulfilling the nation's domestic and foreign responsibilities--especially that of defense. Such leaders are needed in governmental, industrial, labor, political, educational, cultural and moral areas.

Of special concern to this audience is leadership in industry, including particularly, labor-management relationships and responsibility.

We properly cherish the American system of labor-management relations and collective bargaining. It has many unique characteristics, not the least of which is its virtual independence of governmental interference. This is a great strength, for it constantly encourages labor and management to grow in self-reliance and responsibility. These are important factors in our national greatness.

But just as some other elements of our national life are today being sorely tested, so is our labor-management system on trial. Questions have arisen as to whether it can continue effectively to meet the complex problems of modern industrial society; whether it can provide the necessary acceleration in vital production areas; whether it can control the wage-price relation in ways that will permit world competition and are fair to labor, management, consumers, and the nation; whether it can use with maximum efficiency the increasingly complex technology our scientists and engineers are designing; or whether because of self-interest labor and management, unmindful of the general good, and the essentiality of constantly growing strength, will fail to do what must be done.

My friends, only yesterday I read in the newspaper a statement made by a professor--an economist, I believe--at least he is said to be one-- and he made this statement: "Capitalism as we know it is merely a step in the inexorable march from feudalism to socialism." I do not pretend to quote him exactly, but that was the tenor of his words.

We have gone through several phases in the development of labor-management relations.

The phase we are in now calls for a supreme effort on the part of both to conduct their affairs with ever-increasing responsibility for the national welfare.

We can, we must banish poverty.

But we cannot, if labor and management behave as adolescents instead of adults--not if they ignore the national welfare by deadlocking for protracted periods with painful effects upon the economy before composing their differences.

No longer can this nation permit either group to drag its feet in adopting preventive measures for the prompt settlement of industrial disputes.

Two Irishmen were riding up a hill on a tandem bicycle. When they barely made the top, the front rider jumped off, mopped his brow, and gasped about the ordeal of the climb: "Begorrah," he said, "it was so steep I thought we'd never make it." Whereupon the rear rider added: "And faith if I hadn't kept my foot on the brake, I think we'd have rolled backwards."

The obvious point is that the task of climbing above the lower slopes of human achievement in our highly industrialized society calls for a communion of purpose and effort, not mutual antagonism.

For the American people, I say to you of management and to the leaders of labor that there must be an ever-increasing understanding of the total national interest, of its vital needs at each moment in history, and of the historic mission in which it is engaged. Differences of opinion are natural and good, but there is no room for mutual distrust, or bitterness. Labor and business leaders must sit down in a calm atmosphere and regularly discuss--far removed from the bargaining table--their philosophy, their needs, and, above all, their common responsibility to this free nation.

Your future and the future of our country are dependent on the success you of business and of labor have in this matter. Labor-management statesmanship is today as imperative as labor-management bargaining.

In speaking this way, I assure you I don't mean to scold. Frankly, I have been amazed and highly delighted at the progress that I have seen made in the last few years in the fields I have been discussing. I say to you that no single one of us can escape the responsibility, though, for bettering this relationship.

Finally, in a larger sense, our nation's leaders in all fields must deeply believe in the brotherhood of man--the nobility of a democratic people exercising the political power. They must have the vision and stature neither to give up our national commitment to the tightness of freedom nor--even under great duress--to forget that the freedom of the individual is an essential source of our vitality.

I am grateful that in these past eight years our nation has been spared war, has been steadily growing in its total strength, and, under the most trying circumstances, has been working for world order. Moreover, as I peer down the lane of years ahead, I express my unshakable faith that new leaders will, through their character, experience, judgment and ability, lead our nation steadily to greater heights and closer to a cooperative and just peace in freedom.

Good night--and thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:30 p.m. in Cobo Hall in Detroit. His opening words referred to L. L. Colbert, President of the Automobile Manufacturers Association, Governor G. Mennen Williams of Michigan, and Mayor Louis C. Miriani of Detroit.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Address in Detroit at the National Automobile Show Industry Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/235610

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