In the United States election campaign of 1964, President Johnson was the candidate of the Democratic party. His Republican opponent was Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who was known for his controversial stand on many issues. Goldwater called for a radical change in the Policies of the government. He opposed the reforms enacted since the early 1950’s, as well as attempts to match agreement with the Communist nations, arguing that Communists understood nothing but force. He deplored United States recognition of the Soviet Union and on occasion, even advocated that the United States withdraw from the United Nations.
In answer to these attacks, Johnson began to speak of creating “the Great Society” in America. He did not give details of his plans, but what he meant, evidently, was a society in which poverty would not exist, the aged and the sick would be cared for and opportunity would be open to people of all races and nationalities. All men would be free to develop their minds and cultivate the arts and beauty would grace the cities and the countryside.
The strategy of the Democrats was to show that President Johnson represented the broad centre of American public opinion, while Senator Goldwater represented a smaller group, mostly on the right. Democrats even denied that Goldwater was a genuine conservative, for conservatism, they claimed, meant ”to conserve” and not to retreat into the past.
The returns of the election, in which President Johnson received forty one million votes to Goldwater’s twenty six million, gave the Republican party its most serious defeat since the great depression of the 1930’s. President Johnson received close to sixty two percent of the total vote — the highest percentage of any candidate in American history. The Democrats also won control of the House of Representatives and the Senate by margins of more than two to one.
The people of the United States had overwhelmingly approved President Johnson’s ideal of the Great Society — but such an ideal could not be achieved in isolation from the rest of the world. The greatest obstacle to a Great Society for all men was the division of the world into rich and poor nations. By the 1960’s, a clear pattern had emerged. The industrial nations of North America, Eastern and Western Europe and Japan were growing richer, while the agricultural nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America were growing poorer. The rich nations made up only twenty-two percent of the world’s population, yet they owned about seventy-five percent of the world‘s wealth. The rest of mankind lived in misery. The difference in living standards was tremendous. The average Western European, for example, earned as much in one week as the average Indian earned in a year.
One reason for the widening gap between the world’s rich and the world’s poor was that the population of the poor nations was increasing faster than their productivity. In the past, the population had been kept low by diseases which struck down the young. Now science had wiped out many of these diseases — but science had not yet found a way to support the lives it saved. In 1960 there were three billion people in the world. If the increase in population continued at the same rate, that number would double in fifty years and poverty would become still worse.
The industrial nations also enjoyed definite trade advantages over the agricultural nations. The prices of agricultural products and raw materials were set on the world market. Since so many countries produced the same products for that market — coffee, cocoa and copper, for example prices remained low, but the prices of manufactured goods which the agricultural countries bought from the industrial countries remained high, for there was no world market to set those prices. As a result, the agricultural countries owed more and more money to the industrial countries. A new situation arose in which power was based not on military force, as under colonialism, but on economic advantage.
There were also other and more complex reasons why the world was divided into rich and poor nations. One thing was certain: if such a situation continued, dangerous conflicts would arise. The poor of the world were no longer content to accept their lot in life. If their condition did not improve, they would take drastic measures, resorting to violent revolution and dictatorship. This had already happened in China and Cuba. Unless the poor countries received large amounts of assistance, unless they were given the means to help themselves, it was likely that there would be more revolutions in the future.
Recognizing this, President Kennedy had, in 1961, launched the “Alliance for Progress,” a vast new program to aid Latin America. The Alliance planned to spend twenty billion dollars in ten years building houses, schools, roads, factories, clinics and technical facilities throughout Latin America. The aim was to enable the Latin American countries to develop stable, prosperous and democratic societies, so that they would no longer be subject to the rule of rich land owners, industrialists and military dictators.
However, no similar programs were set up for Asia or Africa and meanwhile the industrial nations had problems of their own. The kind of problems they faced depended on whether they were Communist or capitalist nations.
The Soviet Union boasted that it had solved the problems of industrial civilization because its industries were run, not for the profit of the owners, but for the good of the whole society. Russian industries operated on the quota system; each factory had to meet a production quota set by govern ment officials in Moscow. While the system worked well enough in producing heavy machinery and raw materials, it did not work nearly so well in producing consumer goods. A shoe factory, for example, might meet its quota and turn out thousands of pairs of shoes, but the quality of the shoes was something else again.
After Stalin’s death, however, conditions gradually improved. The Russian people began to choose their purchases carefully. They rejected goods of poor quality and even complained in public. More and more goods went unsold and inspite of the quota system, production dropped. Finally, in 1964, the leaders of the Soviet Union made an important decision. Instead of meeting quotas set by government officials, factories would have to show a profit by manufacturing goods that people wanted. The first Communist nation in the world had begun to experiment with capitalist ideas.
The Russians were also having trouble with their system of government owned farms. After World War II, farm production in the West rose spectacularly, but in the Soviet Union there was little if any rise. By 1963 the situation was so bad that the Soviet Union, once the world’s foremost exporter of wheat, was forced to import wheat from Western countries, including the United States. Again, the Russian leaders made a decision. They would permit farmers to increase the size of their privately owned plots and to sell the products grown on them on the open market. In agriculture as well as industry, the Russians were experimenting with capitalist ideas.
The Soviet Union’s economic problems were so serious that they brought about a sudden change in the government. In October of 1964, Premier Khrushchev was ousted by the men who, until then, had been his followers and assistants. They claimed that they had removed him because he was turning into another Stalin, but later they criticized him for his “hair-brained schemes” in farming and industry.
Khrushchev’s ouster again showed the lack of democracy in the Soviet Union. The people played no part in deciding who would govern them or what kind of economic changes should be made. These decisions were made by a small group of men in the Communist party, and the people were expected to obey orders. The reforms that had been made since Stalin’s death, modest as most of them were, could be done away with at any time.
Curiously, in the capitalist West it was the United States, the wealthiest and most advanced industrial country, that faced the most serious problems. In fact, one of the chief reasons it faced such problems was that it was so advanced. By the 1960’s American industry had reached the stage of automation — the large-scale use of electronically controlled machines and even entire factories. The purpose of automation was, of course, to produce more goods with fewer workers. A fully automated factory or office required only a small number of technicians to man the controls.
Between 1961 and 1965, total American production rose by nearly fifty per cent and the nation knew a period of extraordinary prosperity. Whilst the majority of Americans benefited by automation and steadily improved their standard of living, a surprisingly large minority remained poor. In the midst of the great prosperity, one out of every seventeen working men could not find a job and one out of every five persons remained poor. The vast and growing wealth of the nation was barely trickling down to the bottom fifth of the people. They lacked training, education and even when they did find work, it was at low rates of pay. In an age of automation, a permanent class of poor and unemployed was growing in the United States.