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Grounds for economic optimism in the 1980s

By William M. Batten / January 11, 1982



From an address by the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange to the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco.

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Today the prophets of gloom and doom surround us. In the media, we are literally bombarded with pessimistic comments: ''The President's economic program is in a shambles.'' ''Supply-side economics won't work.'' ''We are in a recession that will be long and deep.'' And so on. That we are in a recession, there seems to be little doubt. And no one can predict with certainty its duration and depth at this point.

I suggest we look beyond the valley to some very important positives for the future. And I would be so bold as to suggest there are sound grounds for optimism about our economic outlook in this decade.

Perhaps the most important positive factor is a major attitudinal change regarding how much economic growth we need and should work toward in the years ahead. Let me share with you the following quotation from a prominent American: ''I join the advocates of high sustained economic growth. The alternative is totally unacceptable. Twenty million Americans are expected to enter the work force during the next 10 years. What will they do? Do we plan to offer them work in moribund industries whose only hope for survival is a government-installed life-support program? Or (in) a reinvigorated, healthy and productive economy eager for the input of their time and talent? Real economic growth must be our nation's goal.''

The author of those thoughts is not the president of the United States Chamber of Commerce or the president of the National Association of Manufacturers. It is Barbara Jordan, the distinguished former Democratic representative from Texas who is now a professor at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs.

Her statement, made in December (1980), reflects the breadth of understanding by a broad cross-section of Americans that sustainable real economic growth is the primary requisite for improving the quality of life of all Americans.

A second reason is that in the 1980s, we have a good chance to slow the explosive pace of government growth that was recorded in the '60s and '70s.

Another reason for optimism is the greater bipartisan consensus on sound economic policy. Despite the rising crescendo of criticism and disagreement dinning our ears today, I still believe we have a stronger, bipartisan agreement on our fundamental economic goals, including economic growth, than we have had for decades.

Note that both parties have agreed on the need to encourage savings, risk-taking and investment in order to create productive jobs in the private sector. Evidence of this consensus can be found in the last two tax bills.

The increasing cooperation between the private sector and government on economic policy is mirrored within the private sector itself. That is another hopeful sign. Management and labor are reexamining their own traditional adversarial relationship, and as a result we may be at the early stages of a major change in management-labor relations in this country.

The biggest if, of course, is whether or not the identifiable forces and trends will continue long enough to have a chance to prove their validity and accomplish the objectives claimed for them.

We have a country with tremendous resources - spiritual, natural, capital, and human. While we have lost ground competitively in recent years, we have not lost our competitive spirit. It is being reawakened, and the imagination, innovative capabilities, determination, and pride of the American people will once again, I am sure, move our country forward to a stronger economic position.