Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at a Meeting of the AFL-CIO General Board in Washington, DC

August 31, 1976

As I come to discuss with you the economic life of our nation, I remember the great contribution of Nat Goldfinger. His public statements and written analyses meant a lot to all of us in public life. He had a wonderful ability to express complicated economic facts and theories in a human and understandable way. He was a tough fighter for working families, and he had common sense. As Lane Kirkland said, Nat Goldfinger was the chief economist of the people.

I am proud to meet here with President George Meany and the other great leaders of the labor movement who have fought so many years for a decent life for working Americans and for a government which is fair and sensitive to the legitimate needs of our people. You were always in the forefront in battles for minimum wage, health care, Social Security, public education, fairer tax laws, strong national defense, job opportunities, housing, and the quiet dignity of free human beings.

Ours is a vision of an America which is strong, united and confident, but this vision has been dimmed in recent years.

Our factories have been idle; our workers unemployed.

We have a government limited in ability, timid in leadership, afraid of the future.

We have an administration which uses the evil of unemployment to fight the evil of inflation—and succeeds only in having the highest combination of unemployment and inflation in the twentieth century.

We have an administration which talks about fiscal responsibility—and succeeds only in having the slowest economic growth in 30 years, and the most unbalanced budgets in our 200 year history.

In Kansas City we heard that the Republicans are proud of their economic record.

I have to agree that they have set some records that will live in our economic history books.

The unemployment rate today at 7.8 percent is higher than any time between the Great Depression and the inauguration of Gerald Ford. Neither Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson or even Nixon ever gave us a 7.8 percent unemployment rate. That's a record.

And unemployment has not been going down in the past few months, it's been going up. There are over half a million more workers unemployed today than there were two months ago.

Our 5 percent inflation rate today is higher than any rate under Eisenhower, Kennedy or Johnson. So the last two Presidents can share this entry in the record book.

Our economy is producing $150 billion less than in normal prosperity. That loss of production and income amounts to $2,500 a year for every American family. That's another record.

Under Mr. Ford's budget, the public debt will rise $210 billion. That exceeds the increases under his five predecessors and amounts to more than one-third of the public debt amassed during the entire history of our country. That's also a record.

Starting with a 5.5 percent rate of unemployment in August 1974, the unemployment rate jumped to 8.9 percent in just nine months. That's a record.

In the last eight years, our rate of economic growth has been half as high as our historical average.

Economic stagnation has brought layoffs affecting one-third of the families in our country.

It has brought a tripling in the rate of inflation for food, housing and fuel.

It has thrown the federal budget out of balance because stagnation is expensive. For each one percent rise in the unemployment rate, the government loses $14 billion in taxes that would otherwise have been collected, and at least $2 billion in unemployment and welfare checks to support die unemployed.

Economic stagnation has made the average paycheck worth less today than in 1968.

This administration has indeed set many devastating new economic records.

But it has done something even worse. Our eight years of economic stagnation have changed the spirit and direction of America.

For eight years, this administration has told us what we cannot do. It is time for our leaders to affirm what we, as a united nation, can and must do.

I believe we can grow and prosper again as a country. I believe it is time for national unity, rather than national division. I believe the President and Congress can work together, for a change. Different regions of the country can work together, for a change. Business and labor can work together, for a change.

We reject the Republican dogma that events are entirely beyond our control, that the government can play no creative role, and that the best policy is to do nothing. We also reject the dogma that the federal government can solve all of our problems, or that the government always knows best

We will look toward a philosophy that guides us toward new ideas—and to govern not by confusion and crisis, but with imagination and common sense, for a change.

We will replace stagnation with steady progress.

There are four ingredients necessary for a decent healthy economy. They are balanced, sustainable growth; full employment; stable prices; and a competent federal government working toward a balanced budget.

Ours is a troubled land today because the economic stagnation of the last eight years has diminished economic opportunities and reduced the American worker's standard of living.

We cannot bring health to our economy and society until we move from stagnation to growth and productivity. To achieve this goal will require the forceful leadership of a President and a Congress, working together, who share the belief that stagnation and high unemployment will never cure inflation.

The President should have the authority to appoint the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, the chairman's term to run for the same four years as the President's. While maintaining the Board's independence, the chairman would consult more closely with the President, other executive leaders, and the Members of Congress in developing a consistent economic policy.

It is essential that we have fully coordinated credit and budget policy, prudent and wary of inflation, but firmly directed toward restoring job opportunities, a fair tax system, and steady economic growth.

Today, the economic policies of the federal government are too often without purpose, coordination and efficiency. Carefully coordinated and sensible budget and credit policies, that, will permit lower interest rates, will enable us to build the homes, schools, and plants that are part of a good life that we seek.

Our economic policies will also be more consistent and purposeful if we begin to look and plan ahead, instead of staggering from crisis to crisis. A more coherent set of long-term economic goals can help us eliminate the wild roller coaster dips of the last eight years.

Our goals of balanced growth and full employment cannot be separated.

Our goals are our most precious asset. We cannot afford to waste the talents and abilities of any person. We cannot afford the waste, especially, of our women and young people, and minority group members, who have been made to feel unwelcome in this stagnant economy. Half of the people who are now unemployed are less than 25 years old. The unemployment rate among teenagers is 18 percent. Among some minority groups, it is 34 percent

We have seen the demoralizing impact on a family whose breadwinner cannot find a job. We understand the frustration of young people whose first encounter with the economic system consists of closed doors and dead ends. We are aware of the special impact on minority families who find that although the law is on their side, the economy is not.

It comes down to this: Will we as a nation force one group of our people to pay the price for the incompetence of their leaders? The Republicans say yes. I say no. I say that any economic philosophy which relics on keeping people out of work is morally, economically, and politically bankrupt

To end this waste, we must rededicate ourselves to providing jobs at decent wages for all those who are able to work. My commitment during the next administration, and I know you share it, is to concentrate on putting our people back to work.

To do this, I will propose a comprehensive set of policies carefully targeted to meet this broad national need, and also carefully targeted to reduce unemployment among those groups and in those geographical areas where it is highest. By targeting our efforts to pockets of high unemployment, we will be able to reduce unemployment much lower without accelerating inflation.

I believe in the work ethic. This administration once talked about the work ethic instead of welfare. The work ethic is very simple. It means people at their jobs. In its economic mismanagement, this administration has done more harm to the work ethic than any other in the last 40 years.

If I am elected, I intend to run an efficient government, and efficiency requires investment as well as savings. When the Republicans say that it costs too much to put people back to work, I say it costs too much not to. This year, the government is paying $17 billion in additional welfare payments and unemployment benefits because of the recession. I believe we can make a better investment.

It is wiser to invest in our youth than to let them run aimlessly over the streets of every community in this nation.

It is wiser to invest most of our new incentives to encourage the private sector to hire the unemployed. Private enterprise is the major supplier of jobs and skills in our economy, and we will need the full participation of American business management if we are to achieve full employment

It is also wise to provide productive public jobs for those who are unable to find work in the private sector.

Our people want work, not welfare.

For eight years, the Republicans have given us the worst economic mismanagement since the days of Herbert Hoover.

We've heard a lot of tough talk from the administration on inflation, and we're going to hear a lot more during the campaign. But tough talk cannot cover-up their disastrous record. Campaign talk cannot cover-up the 70 percent jump since 1968 in every family's food bill.

Campaign talk cannot disguise the 60 percent jump in health costs.

Tough campaign talk cannot disguise the 70 percent rise in the cost of owning a home, or the 30 percent increase in mortgage interest rates. High inflation and high interest rates have put the housing industry, which provides the jobs and the housing we need, into a depression. The unemployment rate among construction workers is now 17 percent.

Since 1968, when Nixon was elected, the average cost of the same new house has leaped by $16,000, which puts the dream of a new home out of the reach of many American families. This helps to explain the recent 9 percent drop in new housing starts last month.

Campaign talk cannot hide the fact that prices rose three times as fast during the past eight years as they did under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

That's what all this tough talk about inflation really comes down to—the worst inflation in over half a century. And a 1968 dollar that's worth about 60 cents. No wonder the Treasury now issues $2 bills and no wonder the public doesn't seem to like them.

I pledge to you and to the American people that, if I am elected, we will never use unemployment and recession as a tool to fight inflation. We will never sacrifice someone's job, his livelihood for the sake of an ill-advised economic game plan.

After the record of the past eight years, we almost forget that inflation is not inevitable and we don't have to sit back and give up on it. We should remember that from 1961 through 1968 in a period of rising prosperity, inflation averaged about 2 percent. It was not a coincidence that those were the eight years out of the last 24 when Democratic Presidents were in the White House.

If I am elected, we will establish a comprehensive program to fight the many causes of inflation. Our goal is to reduce inflation to 4 percent or less within four years. I will make sure that every person who serves in our administration will join with Congress and other leaders to reduce the impact of debilitating inflation.

We will fight inflation through increased productivity which will result from our policy of strong steady growth, at least twice the 2 percent rate maintained under this administration.

We will fight inflation by anticipating bottlenecks and capacity shortages and moving in advance to prevent them.

Whenever inflation reflects an imbalance between supply and demand, we will choose strategy that first expands supply rather than restricting demand.

We will fight inflation by creating agricultural production policies which will both maintain the income of our farmers and ensure stable food prices for our consumers.

We will fight inflation through a vigorous antitrust policy which will help push efficiency up and non-competitive prices down.

We will fight inflation by eliminating governmental regulations which drive up prices and serve to protect only the industry being regulated. It takes more than talk and study in this area—it takes presidential leadership and a partnership between a President and a Congress that trust each other and can work together.

But above all, we will fight inflation by putting our people back to work.

Nowhere is unity and cooperation more important than in this fight against inflation. During the recent crisis years, American labor has shown remarkable moderation in the face of inflationary pressures which were not of your making. I will not ask labor to do anything that would jeopardize the purchasing power of the average worker. But I will honestly ask you and business to cooperate with me, in a voluntary effort to get our people back to work, and inflation under control.

For my part, I will do everything I can to give the American people the kind of well managed, efficient, cost-conscious government they want and deserve.

Every year the average American taxpayer works at least three months for the government, but each year many rich Americans don't pay any taxes at all. Comprehensive tax reform is a necessity; and if I'm elected, we'll have it!

Steady growth, full employment, and stable prices will enable us to achieve our fourth goal—competent government with a balanced federal budget by 1980.

The Republicans are always calling themselves the party of fiscal responsibility. But we have to look at what they do, not what they say.

The deficit for the year ended was $65 billion. That is the largest deficit in our entire history.

In fact, during the last eight years, this administration has piled up a total deficit and national debt—on which we all pay interest—almost as great as the total for all other administrations, in war as well as peace, in our 200 year history.

The interest charges alone on the $270 billion public debt created in the last eight years will amount to $19 billion per year. That is a perpetual charge of $350 a year, every year, for every family in the country.

The Republicans have never realized that the government cannot balance its budget by unbalancing the budgets of American families. A family out of work cannot pay taxes. A family out of work requires public support.

The American people know that there is a better answer. We know that in a well managed and steadily growing economy we can create jobs, maintain stable prices, meet our people's needs, and achieve a balanced budget. And we can accomplish these goals while restricting the government to the same share of our national output that it now has.

Living within our means will require discipline and efficiency. Working people follow those guidelines within their own budgets. Through a continuous, zero-based budgeting review of our expenditures, we can make the federal government follow those guidelines, too. New services will be phased in gradually and prudently and predictably, as we can afford them.

Unlike this administration, we see no conflict between a government which is responsive and compassionate and one which is efficient and careful in its use of the people's money.

Today, I have outlined some of the things we can do to end economic stagnation and meet our national economic problems. There is a lot more we can do, too.

But first, we need a President to pull us together and give us a new sense of purpose. A sense of purpose that rests on the belief that, if we work hard together, with some imagination and common sense, we can do a better job. That is the promise of America—to grow, and improve, and to do better than what we have done in the past.

There is no greater obstacle to improving our economic performance than the thinking of this Republican Administration that things can't change, that we can't solve our problems, and that we can't do better.

That's wrong. That's a denial of the promise on which this nation was founded.

It is a denial of our capacity—our spirit—to evolve and to grow, to develop new solutions to old problems.

And it is a denial of the spirit which flourished in another Republican Administration—112 years ago.

"The dogmas of the quiet past," said President Lincoln, "are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our cause is new, so we must think anew and act anew."

To act anew we must to solve the problems of inflation and unemployment, too. To restore economic prosperity that is justly shared among all of our people.

And solve these problems we will, with your guidance, your support, your spirit, and your faith.

Thank you.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at a Meeting of the AFL-CIO General Board in Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347650

Simple Search of Our Archives