October 19, 2011

Dr. Walter W. Heller - among other things, suggested a War On Poverty to LBJ.

Continuing a sampling of economic figures in various White House Administrations, Dr. Walter W. Heller was an adviser to the Kennedy White House and, after JFK's assassination, adviser to Lyndon Johnson and was one of the contributors early on in the creation of the Marshall Plan for economic recovery after World War 2.

A Keynesian, Heller was an advocate of cutting marginal income tax rates which was credited for boosting the U.S. economy when it was enacted in the Johnson Administration. He also suggested Johnson declare a War On Poverty, which was enthusiastically accepted.

Here is an interview on Meet The Press from September 3, 1961 where Heller discusses a number of topics, including what effect the Berlin crisis was having as well as the domestic programs recently enacted by the Kennedy Administration were going to have on our economy.

Dr. Walter Heller: “When you look at the programs that have been proposed by and carried out by this administration and enacted by Congress you find that a very substantial contribution has been made to recovery. There was a speed-up of many payments, the GI Insurance payments, the speed-up of refunds, speed-up of military procurement and so forth. There was the enactment of extension of benefits under the Temporary Unemployment Compensation Act. We had further an enactment of expansion of the housing programs and so forth. Now most of these will recede just as they have been expanded for recovery they will contract, later on as the recovery proceeds to a satisfactory level of output and employment. So on one hand, as I say, there have been some very definite programs, I didn’t mention area redevelopment, I could mention many others. On the other hand I’d like to stress the fact that many of these programs will more or less automatically shrink, or can be reversed just as you speed up highway construction to fight a recession, then you pull back the program if you run into excessive economic activity and inflation.”

Heller resigned his post as Adviser to LBJ due to the escalation of the war in Vietnam which Johnson insisted on waging without raising taxes to pay for it. After resigning his post, Heller returned to teaching at the University of Minnesota where he became chair of the Department of Economics.

Another in a series of prominent economic voices.

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