The Fireside Chats of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The problem of the credit of the individual was made more difficult
because of another fact. The dollar was a different dollar from the
one with which the average debt had been incurred. For this reason
large numbers of people were actually losing possession of and
title to their farms and homes. All of you know the financial steps
which have been taken to correct this inequality. In addition the
Home Loan Act, the Farm Loan Act and the Bankruptcy Act were
passed.

It was a vital necessity to restore purchasing power by reducing
the debt and interest charges upon our people, but while we were
helping people to save their credit it was at the same time
absolutely essential to do something about the physical needs of
hundreds of thousands who were in dire straits at that very moment.
Municipal and state aid were being stretched to the limit. We
appropriated half a billion dollars to supplement their efforts and
in addition, as you know, we have put 300,000 young men into
practical and useful work in our forests and to prevent flood and
soil erosion. The wages they earn are going in greater part to the
support of the nearly one million people who constitute their
families.

In this same classification we can properly place the great public
works program running to a total of over three billion dollars–to
be used for highways and ships and flood prevention and inland
navigation and thousands of self-sustaining state and municipal
improvements. Two points should be made clear in the allotting and
administration of these projects–first, we are using the utmost
care to choose labor-creating, quick-acting, useful projects,
avoiding the smell of the pork barrel; and secondly, we are hoping
that at least half of the money will come back to the government
from projects which will pay for themselves over a period of years.

Thus far I have spoken primarily of the foundation stones–the
measures that were necessary to reestablish credit and to head
people in the opposite direction by preventing distress and
providing as much work as possible through governmental agencies.
Now I come to the links which will build us a more lasting
prosperity. I have said that we cannot attain that in a nation half
boom and half broke. If all of our people have work and fair wages
and fair profits, they can buy the products of their neighbors and
business is good. But if you take away the wages and the profits of
half of them, business is only half as good. It doesn’t help much
if the fortunate half is very prosperous–the best way is for
everybody to be reasonably prosperous.

For many years the two great barriers to a normal prosperity have
been low farm prices and the creeping paralysis of unemployment.
These factors have cut the purchasing power of the country in half.
I promised action. Congress did its part when it passed the Farm
and the Industrial Recovery Acts. Today we are putting these two
acts to work and they will work if people understand their plain
objectives.

First the Farm Act: It is based on the fact that the purchasing
power of nearly half our population depends on adequate prices for
farm products. We have been producing more of some crops than we
consume or can sell in a depressed world market. The cure is not to
produce so much. Without our help the farmers cannot get together
and cut production, and the Farm Bill gives them a method of
bringing their production down to a reasonable level and of
obtaining reasonable prices for their crops. I have clearly stated
that this method is in a sense experimental, but so far as we have
gone we have reason to believe that it will produce good results.

It is obvious that if we can greatly increase the purchasing power
of the tens of millions of our people who make a living from
farming and the distribution of farm crops, we will greatly
increase the consumption of those goods which are turned out by
industry.

That brings me to the final step–bringing back industry along
sound lines.

Last Autumn, on several occasions, I expressed my faith that we can
make possible by democratic self-discipline in industry general
increases in wages and shortening of hours sufficient to enable
industry to pay its own workers enough to let those workers buy and
use the things that their labor produces. This can be done only if
we permit and encourage cooperative action in industry because it
is obvious that without united action a few selfish men in each
competitive group will pay starvation wages and insist on long
hours of work. Others in that group must either follow suit or
close up shop. We have seen the result of action of that kind in
the continuing descent into the economic Hell of the past four
years.

There is a clear way to reverse that process: If all employers in
each competitive group agree to pay their workers the same wages–
reasonable wages–and require the same hours–reasonable hours–
then higher wages and shorter hours will hurt no employer.
Moreover, such action is better for the employer than unemployment
and low wages, because it makes more buyers for his product. That
is the simple idea which is the very heart of the Industrial
Recovery Act.

On the basis of this simple principle of everybody doing things
together, we are starting out on this nationwide attack on
unemployment. It will succeed if our people understand it–in the
big industries, in the little shops, in the great cities and in the
small villages. There is nothing complicated about it and there is
nothing particularly new in the principle. It goes back to the
basic idea of society and of the nation itself that people acting
in a group can accomplish things which no individual acting alone
could even hope to bring about.

Here is an example. In the Cotton Textile Code and in other
agreements already signed, child labor has been abolished. That
makes me personally happier than any other one thing with which I
have been connected since I came to Washington. In the textile
industry–an industry which came to me spontaneously and with a
splendid cooperation as soon as the recovery act was signed–child
labor was an old evil. But no employer acting alone was able to
wipe it out. If one employer tried it, or if one state tried it,
the costs of operation rose so high that it was impossible to
compete with the employers or states which had failed to act. The
moment the Recovery Act was passed, this monstrous thing which
neither opinion nor law could reach through years of effort went
out in a flash. As a British editorial put it, we did more under a
Code in one day than they in England had been able to do under the
common law in eighty-five years of effort. I use this incident, my
friends, not to boast of what has already been done but to point
the way to you for even greater cooperative efforts this summer and
autumn.

We are not going through another winter like the last. I doubt if
ever any people so bravely and cheerfully endured a season half so
bitter. We cannot ask America to continue to face such needless
hardships. It is time for courageous action, and the Recovery Bill
gives us the means to conquer unemployment with exactly the same
weapon that we have used to strike down child labor.

The proposition is simply this:

If all employers will act together to shorten hours and raise wages
we can put people back to work. No employer will suffer, because
the relative level of competitive cost will advance by the same
amount for all. But if any considerable group should lag or shirk,
this great opportunity will pass us by and we will go into another
desperate winter. This must not happen.

We have sent out to all employers an agreement which is the result
of weeks of consultation. This agreement checks against the
voluntary codes of nearly all the large industries which have
already been submitted. This blanket agreement carries the
unanimous approval of the three boards which I have appointed to
advise in this, boards representing the great leaders in labor, in
industry and in social service. The agreement has already brought a
flood of approval from every state, and from so wide a cross-
section of the common calling of industry that I know it is fair
for all. It is a plan–deliberate, reasonable and just–intended to
put into effect at once the most important of the broad principles
which are being established, industry by industry, through codes.
Naturally, it takes a good deal of organizing and a great many
hearings and many months, to get these codes perfected and signed,
and we cannot wait for all of them to go through. The blanket
agreements, however, which I am sending to every employer will
start the wheels turning now, and not six months from now.

There are, of course, men, a few of them who might thwart this
great common purpose by seeking selfish advantage. There are
adequate penalties in the law, but I am now asking the cooperation
that comes from opinion and from conscience. These are the only
instruments we shall use in this great summer offensive against
unemployment. But we shall use them to the limit to protect the
willing from the laggard and to make the plan succeed.

In war, in the gloom of night attack, soldiers wear a bright badge
on their shoulders to be sure that comrades do not fire on
comrades. On that principle, those who cooperate in this program
must know each other at a glance. That is why we have provided a
badge of honor for this purpose, a simple design with a legend. “We
do our part,” and I ask that all those who join with me shall
display that badge prominently. It is essential to our purpose.

Already all the great, basic industries have come forward willingly
with proposed codes, and in these codes they accept the principles
leading to mass reemployment. But, important as is this heartening
demonstration, the richest field for results is among the small
employers, those whose contribution will give new work for from one
to ten people. These smaller employers are indeed a vital part of
the backbone of the country, and the success of our plans lies
largely in their hands.

Already the telegrams and letters are pouring into the White
House–messages from employers who ask that their names be placed
on this special Roll of Honor. They represent great corporations
and companies, and partnerships and individuals. I ask that even
before the dates set in the agreements which we have sent out, the
employers of the country who have not already done so–the big
fellows and the little fellows–shall at once write or telegraph to
me personally at the White House, expressing their intention of
going through with the plan. And it is my purpose to keep posted in
the post office of every town, a Roll of Honor of all those who
join with me.

I want to take this occasion to say to the twenty-four governors
who are now in conference in San Francisco, that nothing thus far
has helped in strengthening this great movement more than their
resolutions adopted at the very outset of their meeting, giving
this plan their unanimous and instant approval, and pledging to
support it in their states.

To the men and women whose lives have been darkened by the fact or
the fear of unemployment, I am justified in saying a word of
encouragement because the codes and the agreements already
approved, or about to be passed upon, prove that the plan does
raise wages, and that it does put people back to work. You can look
on every employer who adopts the plan as one who is doing his part,
and those employers deserve well of everyone who works for a
living. It will be clear to you, as it is to me, that while the
shirking employer may undersell his competitor, the saving he thus
makes is made at the expense of his country’s welfare.

While we are making this great common effort there should be no
discord and dispute. This is no time to cavil or to question the
standard set by this universal agreement. It is time for patience
and understanding and cooperation. The workers of this country have
rights under this law which cannot be taken from them, and nobody
will be permitted to whittle them away, but, on the other hand, no
aggression is now necessary to attain those rights. The whole
country will be united to get them for you. The principle that
applies to the employers applies to the workers as well, and I ask
you workers to cooperate in the same spirit.

When Andrew Jackson, “Old Hickory,” died, someone asked, “Will he
go to Heaven?” and the answer was, “He will if he wants to.” If I
am asked whether the American people will pull themselves out of
this depression, I answer, “They will if they want to.” The essence
of the plan is a universal limitation of hours of work per week for
any individual by common consent, and a universal payment of wages
above a minimum, also by common consent. I cannot guarantee the
success of this nationwide plan, but the people of this country can
guarantee its success. I have no faith in “cure-alls” but I believe
that we can greatly influence economic forces. I have no sympathy
with the professional economists who insist that things must run
their course and that human agencies can have no influence on
economic ills. One reason is that I happen to know that
professional economists have changed their definition of economic
laws every five or ten years for a very long time, but I do have
faith, and retain faith, in the strength of common purpose, and in
the strength of unified action taken by the American people.

That is why I am describing to you the simple purposes and the
solid foundations upon which our program of recovery is built. That
is why I am asking the employers of the nation to sign this common
covenant with me–to sign it in the name of patriotism and
humanity. That is why I am asking the workers to go along with us
in a spirit of understanding and of helpfulness.

October 22,1933.

It is three months since I have talked with the people of this
country about our national problems; but during this period many
things have happened, and I am glad to say that the major part of
them have greatly helped the well-being of the average citizen.

Because, in every step which your government is taking we are
thinking in terms of the average of you–in the old words, “the
greatest good to the greatest number”–we, as reasonable people,
cannot expect to bring definite benefits to every person or to
every occupation or business, or industry or agriculture. In the
same way, no reasonable person can expect that in this short space
of time, during which new machinery had to be not only put to work,
but first set up, that every locality in every one of the forty-
eight states of the country could share equally and simultaneously
in the trend to better times.

The whole picture, however–the average of the whole territory from
coast to coast–the average of the whole population of 120,000,000
people–shows to any person willing to look, facts and action of
which you and I can be proud.

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