Harry S. Truman photo

Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Need for Extending Inflation Controls.

June 14, 1951

[Broadcast from the White House at 10:30 p.m. ]

My fellow Americans:

I am going to talk to you tonight about a real, practical, down-to-earth problem that affects the daily life of every American citizen. It affects your savings, your pocketbook, and your standard of living.

This is the problem of inflation and high prices. We have to keep prices down. This is hard to do. It is going to get a lot tougher as time goes on. The problem is going to be with us for 2 more years at least. It is important for us to face these facts, and do what has to be done to keep inflation under control.

Right at this time the Congress is considering a bill to extend and improve the laws under which we are controlling prices, wages, credit, and rents. This is a bill to extend and amend the Defense Production Act.

Some of you may not realize that our present powers to control high prices are due to expire in about 2 weeks--on the 30th of this month. That leaves just 16 days--14 working days--for the Congress to pass a new law. I repeat--if the Congress does not pass a new law, price controls will expire on June 30th.

Last April I sent to the Congress recommendations for improving and continuing our laws for controlling inflation. For the last 6 weeks committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives have been busy holding hearings on that problem. Now, both committees are hard at work deciding what kind of a bill to recommend. And very soon both the House and the Senate will start to debate and then vote on the measure.

This will be one of the most crucial debates that the Congress has had in a long time. The way the issue is decided will have a direct, personal effect on every American-and it will affect the whole future of our defense effort and our chance to have peace in the world.

There are millions of families in this country living on low or fixed incomes. A lot of people live on salaries or pensions. And above all we must remember the families of the men in our Armed Forces. These people simply cannot keep up with the cost of living if we let inflation controls go out the window. They know this and they are worried about what is going to happen. I am getting hundreds of letters from them.

Here is one from Mrs. David Green, of Brooklyn, N.Y. Mrs. Green writes:

"Dear President Truman:

"I am a homemaker. My husband earns a fixed salary. During the past year my standard of living has declined, as prices went up.

"I know that I am expressing the sentiments of millions of homemakers when I write you to continue the struggle against inflation.

"... Please continue this struggle for a high American standard of living."

Here is another letter, from Mr. J. A. Pels, of Cincinnati, Ohio. Mr. Pels writes:

"Dear Sir:

"I am writing this in reference to controls . . . I am in my 79th year. I am retired. I have a fixed income ....

"When controls were taken off the last time, the Wise Men"--by that I think he means the "know-it-alls"--"stated that everything would be cheaper. On the contrary, the prices jumped up so that it hurt. A $2.00 shirt cost $5.00 ....

"God help the many thousands who are in the same position I am in ....

"Please, Mr. President, I beg of you to keep the controls, all of them, in force for the sake of us who need this protection."

Now I want Mr. Pels and Mrs. Green and all the others who have written me to know that I am doing everything I can to keep controls in force.

The other day I called in a group of Senators and Congressmen--leaders of both parties in the committees that are working on the defense production bill. I told them how important it is for the country that we get a good bill passed. I think they all agreed. But some of them told me they were under a lot of pressure from the special interests to do away with controls, and that the consumers were not making themselves heard.

Well, I told them that I represented the consumers and that I was speaking for them. And I am speaking for you and working as hard as I can to convince the Members of Congress that we must have a strong anti-inflation law. But I can't do the whole job by myself.

This is something the whole country should support.

It's up to all of us.

It's up to us, not as Democrats or Republicans but as Americans concerned about our welfare and our country's welfare. This fight we have to make is not a partisan fight. Inflation is not partisan. It strikes all the people in all parties. This is a fight for everyone to join--a fight for the very life of this Nation.

We all know what inflation can do to people. It can take their savings away from them. It can take the food right out of their mouths. It can cause widespread suffering and despair to us and to our families.

In addition to what inflation can do to us in our everyday lives, it can also wreck our program of national defense.

The other day General Marshall told the Congress that the price increases have added about $7 billion to the cost of the military equipment we have bought since the Korean outbreak. This means inflation has cost us $7 billion for arms alone in 1 year--that is, now we pay $7 billion more than we would have paid last June--and we still have most of our military equipment to buy.

Think what this means in terms of taxes we must pay. Think what this will mean in the future if we let inflation run wild after June 30th.

We've got to have a good, strong inflation control law on the books if we are going to get through this emergency successfully.

Some people have the idea that if the fighting stopped in Korea we could cut down our defense effort enough to do away with the danger of inflation. That is not true.

We would need controls even if the fighting in Korea stopped tomorrow. The threat of Communist aggression is worldwide, and must be met with worldwide defenses. We are carrying on a tremendous mobilization program which is absolutely necessary to prevent Soviet rulers from starting a third world war.

Government spending for defense will increase very fast in the next few months. Anti the more money the Government spends on defense the greater the danger of rising prices. Controls are absolutely necessary, for at least the next 2 years, no matter what happens in Korea.

Everybody should understand that the price rises we have had so far are only curtain raisers to what will come along if the Congress fails to pass a strong price control law.

Up until now there have been no real shortages of civilian goods to push prices up. Price increases so far have been due mostly to the wave of buying by businessmen and consumers who were afraid of shortages and wanted to get in under the wire.

This buying wave pushed prices up so rapidly that in January the Government had to put on a general freeze of prices and wages. This was a rough, emergency step, but it did check the price rise. As price controls took hold, people gained confidence and the buying wave subsided.

Since February we have been building up our price and wage control organization and improving our emergency controls. Most prices have held steady. A few have gone up slightly, but many have gone down. Many retailers, caught with overloaded shelves, have been starting bargain sales to get rid of the merchandise they acquired in the buying rush last winter.

Prices look steadier now than at any time since last September. This makes some people think the worst is over. But that just isn't so.

The full force of inflationary pressure is still to come.

Military production is just now getting underway on a big scale. The output of civilian goods is just now beginning to be seriously cut back.

In the next few months, as shortages of civilian goods develop, the danger of inflation will become more and more serious. It will take the hardest, toughest kind of controls to keep prices from going through the roof. Unless we have a good strong law, we won't have a chance.

Some people are telling the Congress now that we can get along without price, or wage, or rent controls. They call them "direct" controls and say they are bad and should be wiped out.

That's the way the National Association of Manufacturers is talking these days. That's what its representatives told congressional committees working on the defense production bill. These lobbyists say that we can curb inflation without price control simply by tighter credit controls and higher taxes. But, strange to say, when it comes to taxes, these same people are going around urging another committee of Congress to go easy on raising taxes on corporate profits.

These people who say we should throw out price controls and rent controls are all wrong. They are just as wrong now as they were back in 1946. They told us then that if we would just put an end to price controls, everything would be rosy and prices would stay right in line. Do you remember that ? The National Association of Manufacturers put full-page advertisements in the papers all over the country, saying if we would just take off price controls there would be plenty of things to buy at reasonable prices. The National Association of Manufacturers had its way in 1946. The Congress failed to pass a good price control law. And then we had the biggest wave of price increases in modern history.

Do you think the National Association of Manufacturers has learned anything from that? They haven't learned a thing--not a thing! Here they are again giving us the same old song and dance: take off price controls and everything will be just dandy.

These people were wrong before and they are wrong now.

In fact, the danger of price increases today is much worse than it was in 1946, and the situation is much different. Whatever difference of opinion there may have been about the need for price controls then, there is no possible doubt that price controls are needed now. Now we are in a great mobilization effort. Requiring 20 percent of our national production is defense. Now our men are fighting in Korea. This is no time to yield to selfish interests who scorn equality of sacrifice.

Fortunately, most businessmen--especially small businessmen--do not agree with the National Association of Manufacturers. Most of them know that their future prosperity and the prosperity of the country depend upon good, strong price controls at this time.

Small businessmen, like working people and consumers, know what this country is up against. They know we must have controls that bite down hard if we are to succeed.

Your Government is getting ready to meet the inflationary wave that is coming this fall.

The Office of Price Stabilization has put controls on the prices of most commodities. It is now working out dollar and cents ceilings to be posted in retail stores. Posters are going up at every meat counter showing the legal price for beef. The OPS will soon have a lot more food prices posted in grocery stores; and more and more goods of other kinds are going to be tagged with the legal price.

All along the line we are working to tighten up our control system and to get it in shape to meet the big test that is coming. That's what Charlie Wilson and Eric Johnston and Mike DiSalle and others are doing. And I am keeping after them to keep on improving their operations.

We are getting results now--good results. You can buy work shoes in Philadelphia now for the same or less than you had to pay last January, when the price freeze was ordered. You can buy cotton house dresses in Los Angeles for less than they cost 5 months ago. You can buy those little jars of baby food in Boston or Chicago for less than they cost last winter.

This is not perfect--a lot of these prices were high to start with--but it is real progress.

All of this will be wasted if we don't get the right kind of control law from Congress. If we get no law, or if we get the wrong kind of law, we will not be able to keep the prices from running wild.

I suppose a lot of people think it's a sure thing that Congress will agree to the right kind of law. But we just can't take that for granted. After the representatives of the administration testified in favor of a good, strong law, the congressional committees heard some 124 witnesses, representing all sorts of private organizations. And do you know how many of them came out for the bill? Twenty--just twenty. All the rest were against the whole anti-inflation program, or they opposed very important parts of it, or they were trying to get special exemptions for themselves.

At a time like this, when men are fighting and dying for our country, and for the peace of the world, it is wrong for any of us to place private interests above the national interest.

Price controls put some burdens on all of us. We may have to forgo profits or wage increases or keep some extra records that we wouldn't ordinarily keep. But the burdens are small compared to the benefits for all of us. A strong control law will be good for the workers, good for businessmen, good for farmers, and good for consumers.

In that connection I should like to say a word to the farmers and ranchers who grow beef cattle. You know I am a friend of agriculture. I have worked long and hard to hold farm prices up when the farmer was getting hurt. I was for fair prices for the farmer then, and I am for fair prices for the farmer now.

Recently, as you know, Mike DiSalle put out an order that will bring down beef prices to the consumer. That order was put out with my approval. That order will bring beef cattle prices down from about 150 percent of parity to about 125 percent of parity. I think that's fair enough in a time of national emergency. I think most farmers and ranchers would agree that is a fair price.

But certain lobbyists claiming to represent cattle growers have put on a terrific hullabaloo down here in Washington. These lobbyists are saying that the cattle growers and the cattle feeders of this country won't be satisfied with a fair profit. And these lobbyists say if they can't get what they want the cattle growers and feeders will go on strike against the Government and the people of this country. These lobbyists are actually threatening us--all of us--that if they don't get big profits at the consumer's expense we won't get any meat. They say the cattle will be held off the market and the American people will be starved out until the Government gives in. The Government is not going to give in.

Now, I don't believe for a minute that most of the cattle growers or cattle feeders in this country feel that way or would conspire to do that sort of thing against the public interest.

I don't believe these lobbyists here in Washington really speak for the cattle producers of the country. In fact, I am very sure that they don't. I do not believe our cattlemen would keep meat away from our soldiers and defense workers. I don't believe they would cut off the supply of leather to make shoes for our Armed Forces in the field.

I think they are just as patriotic as the rest of us and want to do what's fair and right.

Many of them have told me that they realize that beef prices have been too high. They are willing to accept some reduction if they can be sure that the burden will be fairly distributed and the benefits will be passed on to the consumer. That is what's bothering most of the cattle feeders.

If the Congress makes it clear that price controls are going to stay in effect, then the growers and feeders will ship their beef cattle to market in the normal way. Once they are convinced that the controls are going to stay on, and that the controls are fair, I am sure the cattlemen will go along. I just do not believe--no matter what some people who claim to speak for the cattlemen are saying--I just do not believe that the cattle growers and feeders of this country are going to strike against their country and their fellow citizens.

The situation we face is far too serious for that.

This is a time of national danger. The welfare of all of us is at stake. If inflation gets away from us, and wrecks our savings and ruins our economy, it would be the easiest victory the Kremlin could ask for. Communist Russia would win the whole world to totalitarianism without firing a shot.

That is what the Communists have been hoping for. They have been hoping for years for the collapse of the American economy.

For years we have been proving the Communists to be wrong. We have prevented depressions. We have proved over and over again--to the Kremlin's confusion and dismay-that instead of collapsing, our economy is growing stronger and stronger.

We must keep right on proving that.

And the way to do it is to have an anti-inflation program, including price controls, wage controls, rent controls, credit controls-controls that really hold down prices and the cost of living. When some of us have to take a cut in profits, or pass up a wage increase we might otherwise get, let us remember that we are making a contribution to the peace of the world. The men who are fighting in Korea would tell us it's a very small contribution after all. And they are right. They are not here to speak for themselves, but we know what we ought to do to back them up.

The people of this country, acting together, are stronger than any special interest. If we work together as a team, if everyone does his part, we can beat inflation, we can secure the defenses of this Nation and keep down the cost of living for the average family.

Nothing is more important to the long-run strength of our economy and to our work for world peace.

Peace in this world is what every thinking man and woman is praying for. It is what I am working and praying for.

It is up to the Congress to pass a strong anti-inflation law so this country can do its full part in the fight for world peace.

Harry S. Truman, Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Need for Extending Inflation Controls. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231168

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