For years, Augustus Hawkins and I have argued, cajoled, conspired, introduced bills and voted for policies and programs to reduce unemployment, lower inflation and move the economy forward.
Despite our best efforts and those of many of our colleagues, unemployment has remained a staggering social and economic problem for America - a situation unworthy of an economic system that, fundamentally, has served our people well for so long.
As active participants in the fight for full employment over three decades, experience has taught us some lessons.
First, while our current jobs programs, economic-development initiatives and tax policies are important tools, they are, in and of themselves, insufficient to reach the full employment, stable price and steady growth objectives that we must achieve.
Second, uncoordinated, unfocused, on-again, off-again economic policies without specific economic goals and timetables are totally inadequate to the needs of a complex modern economy and a business community that requires more predictability on the part of government.
Third, the intentions of Congress and the President can be frustrated inadvertently and by design, unless all of our economic programs and policies, including those of the Federal Reserve, are moving together in the same direction at the same time.
Fourth, recent experience with simultaneous high inflation and high unemployment clearly indicates that traditional approaches to solving our economic problems are insufficient and that any simplistic inflation/unemployment trade-off theory certainly does not explain how our economy operates in today's world.
It is, therefore, our conclusion that something new must be tried. In our view this new beginning is a restatement of national economic policies, new principles, new goals, new commitments to these goals, and a new process through which to address them.
The revised Humphrey-Hawkins bill, fully endorsed by the President and a broad coalition of labor, minority, church, farm, small business and other groups, reflects this shared conclusion.
I believe that a careful reading of the revised bill, which unfortunately the authors of the recent Washington Post editorial did not have available when they criticized it, clearly shows that it is not the empty promise that some have proclaimed it to be.
The revised Humphrey-Hawkins bill would:
establish as national policy the objective of reducing unemployment to four per cent within not more than five years, three per cent for adults in the labor force, and require that all economic policy tools be designed to reach this ambitious but reachable goal;
require a flexible, but effective, process whereby Congress and the President would determine each year, and for a five-year period, the exact mix of programs and policies needed to reach specified economic goals;
recognize, in law, that unemployment and inflation feed upon each other and that, as a result, methods must be used to reach our goals that reinforce their achievement and do not sacrifice progress on one in the name of achieving the other;
affirm for the first time in law the right of every American who wants to work and is able to work to a job at decent wages;
require the close coordination of all national economic policies, including the policies of the Federal Reserve System, directed toward achieving the goals established as national policy;
place primary emphasis in achieving our employment goals, on encouraging expansion of private-sector jobs;
commit the government to achieve reasonable price stability as rapidly as possible and call for a specific set of significant anti-inflation measures to move us toward this goals;
require the President to establish direct job-creating programs to fill any gap that may exist between the goals established under the bill and the actual performance of the economy; and
require that the federal budget be directed toward the achievement of the economic goals provided under the bill and be fully supportive of these goals.
When enacted, the Humphrey-Hawkins bill will be an ambitious, achievable and binding commitment by our government to move our economy as quickly as possible to full employment. The bill is as tough as is reasonable to require in a measure designed to be a long-term guide to national economic policy-making. And it will create the political climate on which the bold and creative initiatives essential to fulfilling these commitments will be undertaken.
The Washington Post contends that the best we can hope for is to reduce unemployment at some point far in the future to about 5.5 per cent. Unfortunately, that assessment may be correct, unless we determine as a nation that such as concession is politically, socially and morally unacceptable and economically unnecessary. And I believe that it is.
Can we ask several million of our fellow citizens to stand quietly in line year after year without hope or even the knowledge that their government will do whatever it takes to satisfy their fundamental human right to a means of earning their livelihood? Can we ask a permanent underclass of unemployment Americans to bear the heavy burden of our nation's economic failures?
The Humphrey-Hawkins bill is a first step, but an indispensable one, toward an era of full employment, steady economic growth and reasonable price stability. It is no panacea. It is no miracle cure. With it, national economic policy will be required to be directed toward achieving specific, measurable economic goals. Without it, we are likely to continue to flounder, bounding from recession to slow growth and back to recession again, with all of the tragic waste that such a future holds for all Americans.