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Excessive profits undermine unity and should be recaptured. The fact that a corporation had large profits before the defense program started is no reason to exempt them now. Unreasonable profits are not necessary to obtain maximum production and economical management. Under war conditions the country cannot tolerate undue profits.
Our tax laws contain various technical inequities and discriminations. With taxes at wartime levels, it is more urgent than ever to eliminate these defects in our tax system.
I stated last year in the Budget Message that extraordinary tax measures may be needed to “aid in avoiding inflationary price rises which may occur when full capacity is approached.” The time for such measures has come. A well-balanced tax program must include measures which combat inflation. Such measures should absorb some of the additional purchasing power of consumers and some of the additional funds which accrue to business from increased consumer spending
A number of tax measures have been suggested for that purpose, such as income taxes collected at the source, pay-roll taxes, and excise taxes. I urge the Congress to give all these proposals careful consideration. Any tax is better than an uncontrolled price rise.
Taxes of an anti-inflationary character at excessive rates spell hardship in individual cases and may have undesirable economic repercussions. These can be mitigated by timely adoption of a variety of measures, each involving a moderate rate of taxation. Any such tax should be considered an emergency measure.
It may help combat inflation; its repeal in a post-war period may help restore an increased flow of consumers' purchasing power.
Excise taxes.-All through the years of the depression I opposed general excise and sales taxes and I am as convinced as ever that they have no permanent place in the Federal tax system. In the face of the present financial and economic situation, however, we may later be compelled to reconsider the temporary necessity of such measures.
Selective excise taxes are frequently useful for curtailing the demand for consumers' goods, especially luxuries and semiluxuries. They should be utilized when manufacture of the products competes with the war effort;
Pay-roll taxes and the social security program.-I oppose the use of pay-roll taxes as a measure of war finance unless the worker is given his full money's worth in increased social security. From the inception of the social security program in 1935 it has been planned to increase the number of persons covered and to provide protection against hazards not initially included. By expanding the program now, we advance the organic development of our social security system and at the same time contribute to the anti-inflationary program.
I recommend an increase in the coverage of old-age and survivors' insurance, addition of permanent and temporary disability payments and hospitalization payments beyond the present benefit programs, and liberalization and expansion of unemployment compensation in a uniform national system. I suggest that collection of additional contributions be started as soon as possible, to be followed 1 year later by the operation of the new benefit plans.
Additional employer and employee contributions will cover increased disbursements over a long period of time. Increased contributions would result in reserves of several billion dollars for post-war contingencies. The present accumulation of these contributions would absorb excess purchasing power. Investment of the additional reserves in bonds of the United States Government would assist in financing the war.
The existing administrative machinery for collecting pay-roll taxes can function immediately. For this reason congressional consideration might be given to immediate enactment of this proposal, while other necessary measures are being perfected.
I estimate that the social security trust funds would be increased through the proposed legislation by 2 billion dollars during the fiscal year 1943.
FLEXIBILITY IN THE TAX SYSTEM
Our fiscal situation makes imperative the greatest possible flexibility in our tax system. The Congress should consider the desirability of tax legislation which makes possible quick adjustment in the timing of tax rates and collections during an emergency period.
BORROWING AND THE MENACE OF INFLATION
The war program requires not only substantially increased taxes but also greatly increased borrowing. After adjusting for additional tax collections and additional accumulation in social security trust
funds, borrowing from the public in the current and the next fiscal year would be nearly 19 billion dollars and 34 billion dollars, respectively. The adjustments are indicated in the preceding table.
Much smaller deficits during the fiscal year 1941 were associated with a considerable increase in prices. Part of this increase was a recovery from depression lows. A moderate price rise, accompanied by an adjustment of wage rates, probably facilitated the increase in production and the defense effort. Another part of the price rise, however, was undesirable and must be attributed to the delays in enacting adequate measures of price control.
With expenditures and deficits multiplied, the threat of inflation will apparently be much greater. There is, however, a significant difference between conditions as they were in the fiscal year 1941 and those prevailing under a full war program. Last year, defense expenditures so stimulated private capital outlays that intensified use of private funds and private credit added to the inflationary pressure created by public spending.
Under a full war program, however, most of the increase in expenditures will replace private capital outlays rather than add to them. Allocations and priorities, necessitated by shortages of material, are now in operation; they curtail private outlays for consumers' durable goods, private and public construction, expansion and even replacements in nondefense plant and equipment. These drastic curtailments of nondefense expenditures add, therefore, to the private funds available for noninflationary financing of the Government deficit.
This factor will contribute substantially to financing the tremendous war effort without disruptive price rises and without necessitating a departure from our low-interest-rate policy. The remaining inflationary pressure will be large but manageable. It will be within our power to control it if we adopt a comprehensive program of additional anti-inflationary measures.
A COMPREHENSIVE ANTI-INFLATIONARY PROGRAM
A great variety of measures is necessary in order to shift labor, materials, and facilities from the production of civilian articles to the production of weapons and other war supplies. Taxes can aid in speeding these shifts by cutting nonessential civilian spending. Our resources are such that even with the projected huge war expenditures
we can maintain a standard of living more than adequate to support the health and productivity of our people. But we must forego many conveniences and luxuries.
The system of allocations-rationing on the business level-should be extended and made fully effective, especially with relation to inventory control.
I do not at present propose general consumer ration cards. There are not as yet scarcities in the necessities of life which make such a step imperative. Consumers' rationing has been introduced, however, in specific commodities for which scarcities have developed. We shall profit by this experience if a more general system of rationing ever becomes necessary.
I appeal for the voluntary cooperation of the consumer in our national effort. Restraint in consumption, especially of scarce products, may make necessary fewer compulsory measures. Hoarding should be encouraged in only one field, that of defense savings bonds. Economies in consumption and the purchase of defense savings bonds will facilitate financing war costs and the shift from a peace to a war economy.
An integrated program, including direct price controls, a flexible tax policy, allocations, rationing, and credit controls, together with producers' and consumers' cooperation will enable us to finance the war effort without danger of inflation. This is a difficult task. But it must be done and it can be done.
THE INCREASE IN THE FEDERAL DEBT
On the basis of tentative Budget estimates, including new taxes, the Federal debt will increase from 43 billion dollars in June 1940, when the defense program began, to 110 billion dollars 3 years later. This increase in Federal indebtedness covers also the future capital demands of Government corporations. About 2 billion dollars of this increase will result from the redemption of notes of Government corporations guaranteed by the Federal Government.
These debt levels require an increase in the annual interest from 1 billion dollars in 1940 to above 2.5 billion dollars at the end of fiscal year 1943. Such an increase in interest requirements will prevent us for some time after the war from lowering taxes to the extent otherwise possible. The import of this fact will depend greatly on economic conditions in the post-war period.
Paying 2.5 billion dollars out of an extremely low national income would impose an excessive burden on taxpayers while the same payment out of a 100-billion-dollar national income, after reduction of armament expenditures, may still permit substantial tax reductions in the post-war period.
If we contract a heavy debt at relatively high prices and must pay service charges in a period of deflated prices, we shall be forced to impose excessive taxes. Our capacity to carry a large debt in a post-war period without undue hardship depends mainly on our ability to maintain a high level of employment and income.
I am confident that by prompt action we shall control the price development now and that we shall prevent the recurrence of a deep depression in the post-war period. There need be no fiscal barriers to our war effort and to victory.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT. JANUARY 5, 1942.