The Economy: The Pragmatic Professor

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In protocol status, Walter Heller, 45, ranks way down the list of Kennedy appointments, but in potential influence on the course of Administration policies, and on the Administration's success or failure in living up to its promises, he ranks close to the top. The chairman of the CEA wields no policymaking powers. His authority extends no further than the drab CEA offices on the third floor of Washington's ornately ugly Executive Office Building. But he has the ear of the President of the U.S. on public issues as momentous as any the nation is likely to face in the early 1960s, aside from the vital decisions of defense and foreign policy.

Sweeping Shift. Kennedy made economic issues—the recession, rising unemployment, the lagging growth rate—a central theme in his campaign for the presidency. Economic policy is the heart of his New Frontier program, the core of his oft-repeated campaign promise to "get this country moving again." The Administration is relying on speeded-up economic growth to reduce unemployment, to provide extra funds for national defense, and to pay for new and expanded education and welfare programs. The most drastic change that the New Frontier has brought to Washington is a sweeping shift of economic goals and approaches.

Dwight Eisenhower believed passionately in Abraham Lincoln's credo that the legitimate object of government is "to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, by themselves." Even in recession he warned of the dangers of inflation, crusaded for a balanced budget with homilies about a well-run household and the future freedom of his grandchildren. In practice, Eisenhower budgets got bigger and taxes stayed high, but that was in spite of the Administration's ideals, not because of them.

The economic planners of the new Administration believe that much has been lost because government has not done some basic things that the people, unless acting together in government, cannot do for themselves. During the campaign, Jack Kennedy told a Labor Day audience in Detroit that each working man had been cheated of $7,000 in the past eight years because the U.S. growth rate had been allowed to lag. Kennedy's economists hold the Federal Government responsible because it did not act with sufficient vigor to get the U.S. out of the 1958 recession. In the long run they would run the risks of mild inflation—and, if necessary, even impose controls intended to keep it mild—to guarantee continued growth and full employment. But, more important, their theories range to the level of ethical national choices. They hold that the quality of American life—the level of education, the extent of unemployment and poverty—is a prime responsibility of government. Thus they see taxes and budgets not as evil or good in themselves, but as instruments for doing the things that they think government ought to do.

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