All That Glitters...
Under the aegis of "prosperity," the Republican party sits complacently promising four more years of the same. The GOP proudly points to neatly balanced columns of figures and shinier cars and silver-plated doorknobs, and defies denial that the horn of plenty is overflowing. Although the Republican boast seems at first justified, when the figures are inspected and the plating is scraped away there remains a clouded picture of deception, illusion, and statistical manipulation.
The President boasts of record National Incomes, but fails to indicate that National Income is not necessarily, per se, an indication of prosperity. Examine a year in the midst of the Eisenhower reign, 1954, a year for which there are statistics available and one which hindsight can interpret. In 1954, in the midst of Republican "prosperity," the country produced the all-time record national debt of 275 billion dollars, greater than any during the Second World War. Although the debt is necessary, an abnormally high debt behind great government spending is no base for the national economy. Frantic hacking at the Federal budget and expense juggling failed to reduce that colossal figure by any substantial amount.
A cursory look at the budget reveals the reason for this debts, and also sheds needed light on the National Incomer figure for the year 1954. The GOP revels in the whopping National Incomes over the past four years. In 1954 the total amounted to almost $300 billion. But National Incomes is total of public and private expenditures. The Government's expenditure for 1954 was over $35 billion, the highest it had been since the war year of 1954. This figure excludes military expenditures, which chalked up another $40 billion. These military costs remained abnormally high, despite a complete revamping of our defense policy in order to slice the Army's expenditure.
The other side of the coin, private expenditure, came to an overwhelming $236 billion, which the GOP loudly hearalds as an indication that Rich America is growing richer and the standard of living is skyrocketing. The private debt for 1954, unfortunately, soared to its highest point in history. The non-farm debt reached an all-time peak, and the farm debt exceeded any since the bleak days of 1932. Naturally, the more you borrow the more you can spend. Under this truism, the Government and the public borrowed and spent more than they ever had before.
For the public, debts resulted from frenetic spending and dangerously overextended credit. Corporations rolled up the immense debts of $176 billion, while consumers came close to that total. Business borrowed and built and produced, consumers borrowed and bought. Most consumption and production was of new conveniences, gadgets, and luxury items. This is proved by the 1954 business index, which shows durable good production dropping sharply, while non-durable production rises. Prices of these consumer items also rose to record heights, explaining the record consumer expenditures.
Spending on credit is necessary for the Government, for business, for the farmer, and for the public. But credit cannot be extended to the point where it replaces actual, produced wealth. It cannot, by itself, maintain real prosperity.
Republican "prosperity", then, appears compounded of such vaporous stuff as loose credit, enormous debts, immense government costs, high prices, and a plethora of nonessential consumer items. Upon these deceptive indications of illusory wealth, the GOP now seeks another four years of power. On this record of manipulated facts the Party claims National prosperity.
Whatever prosperity does exist does certainly not apply to the nation as a whole. There are pockets of unemployment, glossed over in Republican campaign speeches; there are farmers whose debts and costs are higher, and whose incomes are lower, than they have been since the Depression; there are innumerbable small businesses that are struggling desperately to stay above water, caught between high taxes and high costs. Thus, while small business strains and the farmer sweats and the unemployed look elsewhere, the GOP shouts of a new era of gliter and polish.
If this be prosperity, it is lying upon far from solid foundations. It smacks of the old formula, Prosperity=Waste, Borrow, Produce, Spend, Waste. It is to be hoped that the President, in his campaign, will speak of "prosperity" in analytical and candid, rather than boastful, terms.