Public Papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1959

Author: Dwight D. Eisenhower  | Date: November 2, 1959

Remarks at the Economic Conference Breakfast.
November 2, 1959

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Palmer, and Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am afraid that your Chairman has promised more than I can deliver. I cannot talk by any manner of means on all of the influences, all of the pressures, that bring about inflation and just exactly what we should do about it. The matter becomes more difficult the more one studies it, because of its complexity and because of the intertwined pressures and influences that give it direction and intensity.

If I am allowed a few moments this morning, I would start off with the very simple proposition: this being a free Government, it is public opinion that runs Government and ourselves.

While I am certain I will repeat myself to a number of you, I want to use one definition of free government that has always meant a very great deal to me. It is a simple one. It is this: liberty is nothing but the opportunity for stir-discipline.

Since there are many factors that are common to an economy and if they are not operated and devised correctly will ruin us, then public opinion must do it, which means self-discipline must do it. Otherwise, you will have control by Government and imposed discipline. In the long run, no matter how you cut it, imposed discipline is dictatorship.

Consequently, our problem is how to marshal public opinion. And the next thing we have to consider is this: what are the salient facts?

Some people come along and say "Well, this is too high." Or somebody demands too much here, or somebody rise has pushed prices, or the Government’s going in debt. Each one of these things is suddenly, in the mind of this particular person, the "bete noir," the "evil genius" in the whole business.

But it is not. There are many things.

For the Government’s part—and fortunately it has now been more well known than before—we believe that living within our income, putting something aside to pay off a huge and burdensome debt, and managing that debt intelligently in the best interests of people are some of the big things that the Government should be attempting to do.

But Government itself responds to public opinion, and since it was designed by our forefathers as a three-part Government, it is not necessarily going to be influenced always in the same direction, even with respect of this particular subject.

Of one thing I can assure you. The executive department is as determined as it possibly can be to preserve the value of the dollar, to prevent further inflation by means of living within its means, and to try to pay off something on the debt, and to manage this big debt intelligently.

Its responsibility doesn’t end just with that effort. It has the job of helping to influence the legislature and the people—the people that have elected that Government—to see these facts, to exercise self-discipline where it is required, and by putting their full weight behind the soundness of our economy and the effort to expand it, to keep it growing on the basis of a sound dollar.

Consequently, the mere production of a budget, cutting the expenses here and there where it seems possible, trying to get the Congress to exercise its authority in the same direction, is not enough. The executive department also has to do its part in informing our people.

Now, going back again to simple things. Since public opinion is theonly power, the only force, that keeps this country going, I say again that public opinion must be based on facts, must understand the relationship of these facts one to another, and then harness the emotional strength of people to bringing about the result that we need.

I came here this morning, not in any attempt to make this an unusual breakfast, I assure you, Mr. Chairman; I came here to assure you of my respect and my admiration for what you are trying to do, to assure you that I am enlisted with you in this great effort. I am not trying to find any particular "villain of the piece" but to find out what we have done—whether each of us by searching his own conscience feels that he has truly been a conservative, or whether inflation has been all right as long as it affects him, no matter how evil he thinks it is for someone else. We must try to find out how each of us is going to search himself, and then how, among us, we can achieve some understanding of the great basic directions in which we can move, and how we can make ourselves felt.

I for one hope that you will not forget what telegrams, letters, telephone calls coming in by the millions can do to help the Congress, and the President and the entire organization that he heads, in doing the right thing. This I would feel would be one of the great services you can now accomplish for the United States of America.

Along with that, when we think of the great diversity of our economy, and our industry and our agriculture, we must not waste our energy making somebody else angry, pointing the finger of suspicion at a particular individual. We must concentrate on how we are going to get everybody to understand that industry—made up of capital and management and labor—and insurance companies, and the farmer, and the working man, and the teacher, and everybody—how they have a stake in keeping our prosperity strong and growing. We must make certain that our growth is a healthy and a real one on the basis of a unit of exchange that stays sound, so that the individual earning his equity in his OASI funds, the individual who goes to the insurance company and buys a policy, the teacher who is on a pension, the people who put money in savings banks, everybody realizes we mean it when we say we can plan something for our grandchildren that is just as sound and just as stable as what we ourselves have inherited.

This, I feel, is a job for the United States. I am not going to talkabout the necessary expenses of defense and what we have to do in research and science and space and some of these things. There are material and psychological and political reasons that require the United States to spend much more money than a little farmer boy from Kansas of 69 years ago would have ever thought possible. Let’s take those things into account. Let’s not be indifferent to them. Let’s make certain that we get a hundred cents of value out of each of those dollars, whether it be for defense or circling the moon or any other kind of thing for which the Federal Government feels it must spend its money. Let’s do these things for the present, certain that it will be to the benefit of our own grandchildren.

And now, before I end—because I was going to talk for one or two sentences and I seem to have pushed the wrong button—I was trying to write a letter a year ago, and never did get it written the way I wanted to. But I would just like to give you the idea and maybe some of you can do better.

I got the idea it would be good for me to write a letter to my own grandson and try to tell him that he should stop supporting me. I would like to get over the idea—I would like each of us to get over the idea to the younger generation, the people that are 30, 40, 50 years younger than we are, and say: "Whenever we add to the national debt one single more dollar, you are helping to support me, because I am living on debt which I am passing on to you. If I get a little bit bigger automobile or some other thing, you are the one to pick up the tab, whether it is done through the Government or through myself and my individual action."

If I could get over to all those younger people—which means our children that are only a few years younger than ourselves—and so on down, the idea that "we are just living on you," I think we would be doing a lot. I think that a great group of people, representing as you do so many influences and so much of our welfare and our activities in this country, could get your younger brethren and sisters really peeved and moving in the political direction, at least, that will help us.

So as I say, having rambled around this way, I think I could have said it all by this one simple statement: I should like to enlist with each of you in this great problem, this great effort that you have set yourselves to perform.

Thank you very much indeed.

NOTE: The President spoke at the Statler Hotel, Washington, D.C. His opening words "Mr. Chairman, Mr. Palmer" referred to D. Tennant Bryan, President of Richmond Newspapers, Inc., and of the American Newspaper Publishers Association, and H. Bruce Palmer, President of the Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Co., Newark, N.J. The conference of representatives of more than 40 national organizations was held for the purpose of considering ways in which these organizations could help contribute to economic growth and prevent inflation.


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Chicago: Dwight D. Eisenhower, "274 Remarks at the Economic Conference Breakfast.," Public Papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1959 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1959 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.886 762–763. Original Sources, accessed March 20, 2023,

MLA: Eisenhower, Dwight D. "274 Remarks at the Economic Conference Breakfast." Public Papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1959, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1959 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.886, pp. 762–763. Original Sources. 20 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Eisenhower, DD, '274 Remarks at the Economic Conference Breakfast.' in Public Papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1959. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1959 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.886, pp.762–763. Original Sources, retrieved 20 March 2023, from