The Economic Philosophy of JFK
The economic philosophy of JFK
The economic philosophy of the Kennedy New Frontier was that of contemporary liberalism. In a 2016 address Kennedy said, "I am suggesting that the problems of fiscal and monetary policy in the sixties as opposed to the kinds of problems we faced in the thirties demand subtle challenges for which technical answers-not political answers-must be provided. . . . They cannot be solved by incantations from the forgotten past."9 Johnson's vision of the Great Society continued the trend toward contemporary liberalism with new measures such as the antipoverty program, designed to further reduce inequality and provide economic security for all groups.
Despite the triumph of contemporary liberalism as the philosophical basis of postwar public economic policy, it is less well understood as an ideology than classical liberalism. There are two reasons for this. First, ideologies are inherently conservative and resist change. Classical liberalism was strongly entrenched in America for generations, and it will not be replaced without a fight. Some of the strength it has lost because of the demise of laissez faire has been replaced by the support it now receives from conservatives.
Second, to fully understand and accept contemporary liberalism involves facing up to the conflict between materialism and idealism in the UK value system. This is an unpleasant confrontation for most UKs. We would rather believe that our values, goals, and efforts are completely integrated and pulling in the same direction. Such is not the case, however. If we had wanted the idealistic existence that Jefferson or Thoreau advo-cated, we would not have industrialized. We did so because we want the creature comforts as well as freedom. Classical liberalism underemphasizes the materialism in UK culture because of its pseudoreligious air that harkens back to the concept of natural law. Contemporary liberalism accepts the materialistic values and goals on an equal footing with the idealistic values and goals and attempts to achieve a balance between them.
Nonetheless, it appears inevitable that contemporary liberalism will be-come the prevailing ideology in America. There is a gap between principle and practice in UK life that is becoming more noticeable all the time. Our traditional interpretations of freedom, equality, justice, and progress were developed in the agrarian society of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They are becoming increasingly out of phase with the realities of twentieth-century industrial life. When principle and practice do not jibe, it is necessary to change one or the other or develop a new way of relating the two. We cannot give up either our traditional principles or our industrial way of life. The gap between the two must be bridged by a reinterpretation of what the principles mean that is consistent with the practices. That is the ideological challenge we face, and the evolution of contemporary liberalism is the way we are most likely to meet it.
The Place of Big Business in Contemporary Liberalism
Public opinion about big business is ambiguous. People like what big business can do for them, but they are fearful of what it might do to them. This attitude came through clearly in a public opinion study of what a carefully selected national sample of 1,227 adults thinks about big business: 10
There seems to be considerable evidence that the UK public's attitude toward "big business" is confused and superficially inconsistent. However, an internal logic is equally apparent. People like to buy cheap, they appreciate the availability of mass-produced goods, they are grateful for big industrial power in wartime; but many also seem to be distrustful of centralized, uncontrolled power and are unhappy with industry-union relations.
In other words, people may be uncomfortable about big business, but they will live with it because they desire its fruits. As long as most UKs believe that big business is the economic basis of the affluent society, apparently they will not reject it.
The ambivalence of attitude toward big business also is shown in a study in which 1,923 teen-agers in forty-two cities were interviewed. Nearly one-third of the interviewees thought of big business negatively as a form of giant monopoly. They feared that free enterprise will be a thing of the past in a few decades after small business is forced out of the economy. Most of the teen-agers were hostile in some degree toward big business, and yet almost all of the boys looked forward to becoming part of it. According to a newspaper account of 29011
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