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U.S. Presidents on the Global Economy

How did past U.S. leaders view the global economy?

April 11, 2001

How did past U.S. leaders view the global economy?

Many people around the world consider globalization to be a synonym for “Americanization.” Although the United States currently is the world’s largest economy, we look at what past leaders thought about globalization — long before it made its way into headlines around the world. From George Washington to George W. Bush, our Read My Lips explores several presidents’ views.

What are the dangers of being the richest nation on earth, Mr. Adams?

“Will you tell me how to prevent luxury from producing effeminacy, intoxication, extravagance and folly?”

(John Adams, 2nd U.S. president (1797 – 1801) to Thomas Jefferson, December 1819)

What is the role of government, Mr. Jefferson?

“A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned — this is the sum of good government.”

(Thomas Jefferson, 3rd U.S. president (1801-1809), first Inaugural Address in 1801)

Mr. Wilson, how can the global economy provide justice for all?

“There can be no equality or opportunity if men and women and children be not shielded in their lives from the consequences of great industrial and social processes which they cannot alter, control or singly cope with.”
(Woodrow Wilson, 28th U.S. president (1913-1921), first Inaugural Address in 1913)

How then should the United States conduct its trade policy, Mr. Washington?

“Our commercial policy should hold an impartial hand, neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences — diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing.”

(George Washington, 1st U.S. president (1789-1797), September 1796)

Mr. Roosevelt, has the world economy entered a critical phase?

“The point in history at which we stand is full of promise and danger. The world will either move forward toward unity and widely shared prosperity — or it will move apart.”
(Franklin Roosevelt, 32nd U.S. president (1933-1945), in his last Message to Congress in 1945)

How important is political and economic stability, Mr. Truman?

“Experience has shown how deeply the seeds of war are planted by economic rivalry and social injustice.”
(Harry S. Truman, 33rd U.S. president (1945-1953), on signing the UN charter in 1945)

Why should the United States care about combating poverty around the globe, Mr. Kennedy?

“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”
(John F. Kennedy, 35th U.S. president (1961-1963), Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961)

What can hinder economic progress, Mr. Carter?

“If you’re totally illiterate and living on one dollar a day, the benefits of globalization never come to you.”
(Jimmy Carter, 39th U.S. president (1977-1981) in 2001)

What is technology’s role in the global process?

“Globalization, as defined by rich people like us, is a very nice thing because you are talking about the Internet, you are talking about cell phones, you are talking about computers. This doesn’t affect two-thirds of the people of the world.”
(President Carter in 2001)

What about the role of the United States in the global economy, President Reagan?

“To paraphrase Winston Churchill, I did not take the oath I have just taken with the intention of presiding over the dissolution of the world’s strongest economy.”
(Ronald Reagan, 40th U.S. president (1981-1989), first Inaugural Address on January 20, 1981)

How important are open trade relations for the United States, Mr. Bush?

“We don’t want an America that is closed to the world. What we want is a world that is open to America.”
(George H.W. Bush, 41st U.S. president (1989-1993), in February 1989)

Mr. Roosevelt, how important is a fair distribution of wealth?

“We continue to recognize the greater ability of some to earn more than others. But we do assert that the ambition of the individual to obtain for him a proper security is an ambition to be preferred to the appetite for great wealth and great power.”
(Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd U.S. president (1933-1945), State of the Union Address in 1935)

Mr. Hoover, what does the U.S. government advise if a country is in depression?

“Economic depression cannot be cured by legislative action or executive pronouncement. Economic wounds must be healed by the action of the cells of the economic body — the producers and consumers themselves.”
(Herbert Hoover, 31st U.S. president (1929-1933), State of the Union Address in 1930)

So, are we all in the same boat?

“In our seeking for economic and political progress, we all go up — or else we all go down.”
(Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd U.S. president (1933-1945), second Inaugural Address in 1937)

What do you think is the underlying problem with globalization, President Clinton?

“The expansion of trade hasn’t fully closed the gap between those of us who live on the cutting edge of the global economy — and the billions around the world who live on the knife’s edge of survival.”
(WIlliam Jefferson Clinton, 42nd U.S. president (1992-2000), in 2001)

And finally, President George W. Bush, how would you describe globalization?

“Globalization causes capital just to stampede throughout the world now like never before.”
(George W. Bush, 43rd U.S. president (2001-present), in 2001)