Warren G. Harding photo

Address in Idaho Falls, Idaho

June 28, 1923

One of the most engrossing problems of our time, confronting all countries and all societies, is the exorbitant cost of living. We realize that the real producer, under our elaborate and costly system of distribution, is not permitted a fair share of his product for his own use and enjoyment. We have become convinced that somehow our system of distribution has grown too cumbersome, too costly, too complex, too indirect, too unrelated to the interests of real producers and legitimate consumers. We must find methods to take up as much as possible of the slack in the long line between producer and consumer; to give the producer a better share in that which he furnishes to the community, and to enable the consumer to meet his requirements at a reasonable cost.

To this end many experiments have been made in cooperative production, transportation, distribution and purchasing. To a great extent, these experiments have proceeded from the enterprise and initiative of the Western people, to whom these problems have presented themselves with especial insistence. But for the spirit of cooperation, the willingness to be mutually helpful, the determination to give first place to the interests of the community, you could not have made your West what it is. Working cooperations on a great scale, practical in operation and adequate to cope with our problems, can never be possible except where there is this spirit, determination and purpose. It is because the West has led so far in devising such workable programs that I have thought to say a few words along this line today.

Developments of the last generation have brought the instrumentalities of transportation, of finance, of corporate organization and operation into a closer harmony with the true public interest than ever before. The Government has sought to make itself helpful, to point the way, to remove ancient barriers of custom or tradition, and to curb the excessive demands of privilege, in order to cheapen for the great public many of the services which formerly were dominated by the private interests and operated with too exclusive a consideration for private profit.

Anything tending to break down personal initiative, to destroy enterprise and ambition, must not enter into any program which can hope for the approval of the American people. Ours is an individualistic society and we want it to remain so. We want this republic to remain always the land of opportunity wherein every man's abilities and usefulness shall measure his personal advancement and prosperity. The kind of a program to encourage cooperation and coordination which I have in mind would not interfere with the freedom of proper opportunity, rather it would enhance the individual's chance to better his individual fortune.

The need of this time is to shorten the bridge between producer and consumer, and to reduce the toll that must be paid for passing over it. We all know a good deal about the various cooperative societies, associations and corporations which have undertaken, in many cases with notable success, to improve the position of the agricultural producers. Such organizations have been successful in all parts of this country and in many parts of the Old World. They have already done a great work and taught us many valuable lessons. Where there are obstacles imposed by unfortunate statutes or public policies, or in the way of expanding such activities as these, they might well be gradually removed through measures of helpfulness and encouragement.

On the whole, I think the agricultural community has been more alive to the promotion of its interests along these lines than has the urban community. The farmers have seen where their interest lay, and have been more prompt and energetic in adopting effective measures to promote them than the people of the city and town have been. There is need to have working and practical cooperative associations of producers in the country, and at the same time to have equally effective cooperations among the consuming communities of the cities and towns; and, finally, to link these two sets of cooperators together in a coordination for mutual advantage to both.

I believe it is possible, and altogether desirable, that systems of credit and finance should be developed, under public auspices, to encourage both these kinds of cooperation; and to draw them together into a harmonious working scheme of widespread distribution at the lowest possible expense.

We have in recent years given much attention to developing a system of agricultural finance, particularly adapted to the needs of American farm producers. Some critics have indeed protested that it was class legislation. Perhaps it was, but as I suggested in discussing the problems of agriculture in Kansas the other day, it was in the interest of a vitally important section of the community which has heretofore had altogether too little consideration.

Not only have I no apology for what has been done in the interest of the agricultural community; not only do I regard it as one of the monumental achievements of the last generation in developing our country's institutions, but I venture that we might with profit to the whole people consider the possibility of effecting an analogous organization to promote and encourage, through measures of credit and finance, a proper organization of the consuming community in both cities and country.

I have not attempted to work out even an outline, much less the details, of such a system; but I believe it is possible, feasible and certain to command the sympathy of men and women who have the true interest of the country at heart. I hope to be able, as the result of studies and investigations, to recommend for the consideration of the Congress measures which shall represent a beginning along this line. It is a big and pregnant subject to which no man or woman ca» deny the fullest and most careful consideration.

My thought is that the Government should give the largest encouragement, consistent with sound economics and proper Government functions, to every effort of the people to help themselves in dealing with the high cost of living and the relationship of incomes to our household budgets.

I have wondered if it were not possible, for example, that a scheme of cooperation among consumers, financed, in part at least, through a carefully organized and supervised adaptation of the principles of the savings bank or the building and loan society, might be made to serve a splendidly useful purpose in this department of our economic life. I think this would be-preferable to having limited sections of the com-munity undertake to establish financial independence and economic solidarity, as some of them have lately been doing.

The development of such a general program into a sound working business scheme would doubtless be found chiefly an affair of the state governments, but one in which the jointure of state and national authorities might prove practicable and even necessary.

I bring this suggestion of a direction which might be given to activities of the kind. I believe the suggestion is worthy of careful examination and consideration. I am convinced that its discussion would be fruitful of good results, and a reminder to some who are disposed to take tolls from both the consuming and the producing public that this public has the right, the power and the ability to devise means to protect itself.

The aim and object of our every policy must be the establishment and maintenance of an independent and self-respecting, reliant and industrious, intelligent and self-helpful American citizenship. We seek to encourage thrift, to promote saving to make the American home the headquarters of an everbroadening culture, a larger understanding of the complex problems of our times and a determined inspiration for the fullest measure of economic and social justice.

Warren G. Harding, Address in Idaho Falls, Idaho Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/329289

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