I was reading something recently which I thought was tremendously interesting. It was a little pamphlet called “Facts & Figures,” sent to me by a listener. It reminded me that:
When the U.S. economy ran out of steam back during the depression of the 30s, many pessimistic observers believed that we had reached the end of the line.
In their opinion, our ability to produce had exceeded our capacity to consume. Moreover, that particular school of theorists was firmly convinced that we could expect no future expansion. We had, they said, reached the point of economic maturity. In short, after 150 years of pell-mell growth and development, the nation was full grown. We could no longer expect to keep outgrowing our britches.
These gloomy prophets painted a fairly convincing picture. They were able to prove — at least to their own satisfaction — that our population would remain static at about 140 million persons. That we wouldn’t find any rich new reserves of oil, gold, or other metals to add to our wealth. And that all of the land worth using for agricultural purposes was already cultivated.
What all this added up to was the foggy prediction that there would be only slight, if any, future need to increase our output of foodstuffs, steel, automobiles, petroleum, housing, transportation, and just about everything else.
The trouble with the depression-born theory of economic maturity was that a great many people balked at the idea of living in a country suffering from its own hardening economic arteries. So, they went right on about their business of tinkering with such things as radio and television, electronics, air-conditioning, passenger-carrying airlines, diesel locomotives, plastics, nylons, supermarkets, sulfa drugs, designs for better housing, and better appliances to go in these new houses. Other men snooped around for new oil fields, while others, in their research laboratories, sought ways to make synthetic raw materials, light-weight metals, and life-saving medicines. And families went right on having children.
No single group can claim the major share of the credit for the rejuvenation of the U.S. industrial system. All of the people helped by using their brains and ingenuity, by putting their savings of capital to work, and working hard themselves; and by their possession of a boundless faith in the future.
That’s why we’ve progressed instead of pulling up short.
So, the individual in this country consumes in goods and services 50% more than an individual in Great Britain, 100% more than most western Europeans, 200% more than an Italian, and from 250% to 500% more than a Russian.
Today, you’ll occasionally still hear the harbingers of gloom. But we know now that a dynamic enterprise system need never reach the limits of its growth and opportunity. The pie-in-the-sky has become a reality. And the pie is getting bigger and better all the time.
The thing we have to keep reminding ourselves of is not to make the same mistake made in the past by other once-powerful nations. The mistake of complacency. The mistake of sitting down and saying, “We’ve got it made now; we can relax.”
We must never confuse having achieved success with keeping it.
You might ask yourself what it is you really want. And remind yourself that if you can’t make it here, you can’t make it anywhere. But you’d be surprised at the number of people who still can’t see the opportunities by which they’re surrounded.