Jimmy Carter photo

Interview with John Mashek of "U.S. News & World Report"

May 24, 1976

Q. Governor Carter, what do you regard as the nation's top priority in the field of economics?

Governor Carter. The No. 1 domestic commitment of the next administration will be to create jobs and reduce unemployment. I would set a goal of bringing unemployment down to 3 percent among adults, 4 or 4J4 percent for the whole labor force.

Q. How would you go about doing that?

Governor Carter. We have to pursue an expansionary fiscal and monetary policy in the near future—with some budget deficits if necessary. That doesn't mean spending simply for the sake of spending. It means government ought to take specific steps to cope with the problem, working largely through private industry.

Q. What sort of steps?

Governor Carter. I think that government ought to stimulate industry to hire the unemployed through increased federal funding of on-the-job training programs by business. We ought to furnish incentives specifically geared to hiring young people, those who've been out of work for a long time, and to women entering the job market.

Q. Do you think the government ought to guarantee a job for every American who wants to work?

Governor Carter. I think the government ought to set up public programs to train people for work in private jobs. And it has an obligation to provide money to create meaningful public jobs in the cities and neighborhoods.

Q. Will all this government spending reignite inflation?

Governor Carter. No; I don't think so. For one thing, our economy is performing far under capacity. Also, a lot of the inflationary pressures in recent years have been transient—caused not so much by excessive demand as by dollar devaluations, the big jump in oil and food prices.

In any case, there are far more human and economically sound solutions to curbing inflation than enforced recession, unemployment, tight money, and high interest rates.

Q. How would you deal with inflation, then?

Governor Carter. We need measures to increase the productive capabilities of our economy. We've been virtually ignoring the supply side of our economy. Increase productivity, and we grow without inflation.

I'd like to see a reform of government regulations that tend to drive up costs—for example, the rule prohibiting a truck from carrying goods on its return haul. We ought to have stricter enforcement of antitrust laws and of consumer protection laws. And we need a monetary policy that encourages lower interest rates, so investment capital will be available at reasonable costs.

Q. Do you favor wage/price controls?

Governor Carter. I'm against across-the-board permanent controls, but I do favor standby controls which the President can apply selectively. Right now, though, I don't see the need for use of standby controls.

Q. You mentioned accepting deficit budgets if necessary. Is the idea of a balanced budget out of date now?

Governor Carter. No; I favor balanced budgets over the business cycle. If the economy is managed progressively, we can attain a balanced budget with full employment by 1979—before the end of the first term of my administration. Putting people to work, don't forget, would enlarge the amount of taxes the government collects and reduce what it spends to fight unemployment.

Q. Can you achieve a balanced budget without cutting spending on social programs?

Governor Carter. Yes; when we give our people a better quality of life, when public or private money is spent on things like health care, day-care centers, care for the elderly, education—well, you create jobs and get millions of dollars of new income. So you realize higher revenues for the government, too.

Q. You spoke of the need for lower interest rates. Yet the President doesn't control the Federal Reserve Board—

Governor Carter. We need closer cooperation between the Federal Reserve and the Executive Branch. I think the Board should maintain its independence from the Executive Branch, but I do feel it is important that throughout a President's term that he have a Chairman whose economic views are compatible with his own. So I would propose that the President be given the power— subject to Senate confirmation—to appoint his own Chairman, who would serve a term coterminous with the President's.

Q. There seems to be a campaign in Congress for broad national planning by the government. What are your views?

Governor Carter. I'm a firm advocate of the private enterprise system. I'm against the type of rigid, bureaucratic, centralized planning you get in Communist countries. But I do think we need better general economic planning by the government to get rid of the roller-coaster dips and curves we have faced in the last 8 years

There's got to be some increased interrelationship among government, business, labor, manufacturing, agriculture, science and education in our society. There's just no predictability now about government policy—no way to tell what we're going to do next in the area of housing, transportation, environmental quality or energy. So I favor coordinated government planning to attack problems in these and other fields. '

Q. With a big new bureaucracy?

Governor Carter. No; I think we can do it by extending existing agencies and techniques. The role of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, for example, could be expanded to include this type of planning and to deal with long-range problems to fit individual sectors into an overall plan for the economy.

Q. Turning to defense issues, what is your main concern?

Governor Carter. I don't believe that our basic strategic interests have been reassessed since 1950. That needs to be done in a long-range fashion. We need to have a simplification of the purposes of the military. I think that a singular purpose of the military ought to be the capability to fight, and with that capability will come the best hope of permanent peace.

Now the military duplicates. There's an unbelievable bureaucratic hierarchy that's been established since the Second World War. We've got an overloaded number of high officials—admirals, generals, and their immediate subordinates. We've got too many support troops for combat troops.

Some management improvements, I think, would restore to a great degree the confidence of our people in the military. It would also let the President and the Congress play a much more legitimate and continuing role in the planning and evolution of new weapons systems, which quite often have been wasteful.

Q. Do you think the defense budget can be reduced?

Governor Carter. Yes. I think these management improvement efforts would result in roughly a $5 to $7 billion dollar decrease in the defense budget. I might add, however, that the No. 1 responsibility of any President is to guarantee the security of our country. I would never permit our nation to be subjected to successful attack, threat of attack or blackmail. And I would keep our defense capabilities adequate to carry out a legitimate foreign policy.

Q. What changes would you make in our policy of détente?

Governor Carter. I would continue the effort to be friendly with Russia, trade with Russia, have student exchange, tourist exchange, and consultations. I recognize that we will never have permanent peace, or an end to the threat to South Korea, a solution to the Middle East question, a substantial reduction in atomic weapons—none of these things—without the cooperation of the Soviet Union.

I think, though, that we've come out second best in every negotiation with the Soviet Union. We've been so eager for some sign of agreement that we've yielded. That includes the Helsinki Conference, the Vladivostok Conference—agreement on nuclear-arms limitations—the wheat deal in 1972, even the space flight last year.

I would be a much tougher negotiator and make sure that, whenever the Soviet Union gets an advantage, we get an equivalent advantage from them. I also would not neglect our natural allies and friends, as we have in recent years. I would strengthen those ties, consult with them frequently, let our own positions be predictable.

Q. How would you work for peace in the Middle East?

Governor Carter. I don't believe anybody has the instant solution to the Middle Eastern crisis. I would make it clear that our nation's commitment is to the preservation of Israel; its right to exist in peace. This ought to be unequivocal.

Also, we ought to constantly probe for ways to find mutual agreements to implement United Nations Resolution 242, including bilateral discussions between Israel and its neighbors. [U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 called for a cease-fire, troop withdrawals and peace negotiations.]

Q. Would you recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization—the PLO?

Governor Carter. The legitimate interests of the Palestinians have to be recognized. But I would not personally favor recognition of the PLO or other government entities representing the Palestinians until after they have convinced me that they recognize Israel's right to exist in peace.

Q. Closer to home, how can the federal bureaucracy be made more responsive to the people's needs?

Governor Carter. If I'm elected, one of my major commitments will be to completely reorganize the Executive Branch of government—to make it efficient, economical, purposeful and manageable for a change. I know how to do it, I believe. I've done it successfully as Governor of Georgia, and I believe the Congress is also ready to see this done.

Second, we need to have a budgeting technique that really reassesses priorities annually. I used one in Georgia throughout the time I was in office as governor. This is zero-based budgeting. You strip the government down every year to zero and start from scratch. Every program that spends the taxpayers' money has to rejustify itself annually. You have an automatic weeding out of obsolete programs, an automatic detection of overlapping and duplication within government agencies. There is an automatic reassessment in priorities, so you spend your money next year on things that are needed next year—not 45 or 50 years ago.

And the third thing would be to have a minimum of secrecy and a maximum dependence on long-range planning. We need to spell out what we hope to achieve as a government at the end of a year, 2 years, 5 years, even 20 or 25 years, with approximate cost figures estimated for the near term.

Q. Do you favor busing to achieve school integration?

Governor Carter. Mandatory busing, no. Voluntary transfers, yes. I do see a need, however, which I would honor, for the President to support the federal courts. And if the courts should rule differently from my own personal beliefs, of course I would support the federal courts. I do not favor a constitutional amendment to prohibit busing.

Ultimately, I think the best solution is voluntary transfers for students who want it, and adequate representation of minority leaders in the administration of a school system.

Q. Does the welfare system need overhauling?

Governor Carter. Absolutely. It's not one of the greatest needs that I know of. This is one advantage in having served as governor. I've seen the almost unmanageable characteristic of the welfare system. We now have roughly 12 million people who chronically draw welfare. We've got 2 million welfare workers—that is, a worker for every six recipients. They don't spend their time alleviating suffering or unemployment or old age or blindness. They spend their time shuffling papers, bogged down in red tape, trying to administer about a hundred different federal programs.

Q. What would you do about it?

Governor Carter. First of all, I understand we've got about 1.3 million people drawing welfare who are able to work full-time. They don't have anything wrong with them physically or mentally. They don't have dependent children. They ought to be taken out of the welfare system—trained for a job and offered a job. If they don't take a job, I would not pay them any more benefits.

The other 90 percent can't work full-time. There ought to be one fairly uniform, nationwide payment to meet the basic necessities of life, varying in amount to accommodate cost-of-living changes from one community to another. There ought to be a work-incentive aspect built in, so that welfare recipients who can work part-time are encouraged to do so without having all their welfare payments confiscated.

We should remove laws that now force or encourage a father to leave the home. In fact, everything the government does ought to be designed to draw families together. And instead of having a hundred different programs, we ought to have one or two basic programs. Those changes need to be made, and I'm going to pursue those changes very aggressively as President.

Q. Do you have any plan for reducing crime?

Governor Carter. Yes. We need judicial reform, a much better administered court system, merit selection of judges and prosecutors, briefer trial periods, recodification of the criminal codes.

Next, we need to allot crime prevention funds in areas that can actually prevent crime, and not just to build jailhouses, or to buy helicopters, and so forth. We need to concentrate police officers in high crime areas. We need to have full backing for police officers from all public officials. We need to have better street lighting. We need to have surer—and perhaps briefer— sentences for those who commit crimes, so that there's a fairly good certainty that if someone is convicted, they'll be punished.

We also need to understand the major causes of increases in the crime rate. I think that the major contributing factor has been high unemployment. That's not an excuse for crime, but it's a cause of crime. We've got about a 40 to 45 percent unemployment rate among our minority young people, and if they could be gainfully employed, their tendency toward crime would be reduced.

Q. Do you believe that the federal government should finance a national health insurance program?

Governor Carter. I favor a nationwide, comprehensive, mandatory health insurance program. It ought to be financed partially from federal funds. Also, employees and employers ought to contribute to the cost of the health program. Patients should retain the right to choose their doctor and place of treatment. I want to keep the personal relationship between doctors and patients.

The plan should be designed to minimize unnecessary medical costs. We now have a wide disparity of length of stay in hospitals, a wide disparity of charges for the same services, a wide difference also in the chance of one's undergoing an operation. It depends on what geographical area in which the hospital might be located.

We need to have an emphasis on preventive health care, and an increased use of other medical personnel in addition to physicians, under the supervision of medical doctors.

Q. What, if any, presidential or congressional action do you favor to resolve the controversy over abortion?

Governor Carter. The only thing that I can see that can be done effectively—and one that I will pursue—is to have an affirmative program established by law to minimize the need for abortion. This would include family planning, better sex education, access to contraceptives for those who believe in their use, and better adoptive procedures.

I do not favor using federal moneys for abortions, unless mandated by the federal courts. I think abortion is wrong. I don't think the government ought to do anything to encourage abortions, but I don't think it's advisable to have a constitutional amendment to totally prohibit abortions, nor to give states that option.

Q. Do you want the largest oil firms broken up?

Governor Carter. I haven't taken on the oil companies as scapegoats. When competition inadequate to insure free markets and maximum benefit to American consumers exists, I will support divestiture.

At present, I support restrictions on the right of a single company to own all phases of production and distribution of oil. However, it may not always be in the consumer's interest to limit a company to one single phase of production. Such a restriction, for example, might make it illegal for the same company to explore for oil and then extract that oil from the ground once discovered. That would clearly result in tremendous price increases to the consumer.

I support legal prohibitions against ownership of competing types of energy—oil and coal, for example. However, I cannot promise to oppose any joint responsibility for any phase of production of competing energy sources. Fuel oil and some propane, for example, are produced from crude oil. Their production clearly cannot be separated until after extraction and refining take place. It may not be beneficial to the consumer to separate control of these two competing energy sources until even further down the distribution line.

Q. What do you regard right now as the single most important issue this election year?

Governor Carter. I would say that people are looking for three things:

Competence—can my government perform the functions for which it's designed? Sensitivity—does my government and the officials in it understand my special needs, my hopes, my dreams, my aspirations? And third, integrity—can I trust my own government?

Those three factors are the ones that will determine the outcome of the election this year.

Jimmy Carter, Interview with John Mashek of "U.S. News & World Report" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347612