Speeches by John F. Kennedy

From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Weirton, West Virginia, May 1, 1960

This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. One draft of the speech exists in the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers at the John F. Kennedy Library.

No area of our economy has suffered more as a result of recent economic policies than the nation's small businesses. And no area of economic development is more essential to the future of West Virginia than the stimulation of small business.

In the last two years more small businesses have failed - more independent operations have gone bankrupt - than in any two-year period since the great depression - and West Virginia has had one of the highest rates of failure in the country. In 1959 alone, more than 14,000 small businesses collapsed and each of these failures represented disappointed hopes - men out of work - destroyed incomes - and the end of economic independence for another individual businessman.

One of the great challenges of the sixties will be to put an end to this trend - to strengthen the small independent businessman against the large business units which threaten to crowd him from the American economic scene - and to reverse the disastrous policies which are destroying this historic cornerstone of our free enterprise system.

First, we must reverse the high interest rate and tight money policies which have cut off vital credit from small businesses anxious to expand - and from new businesses struggling to survive. Large corporations can finance themselves out of profits. They are the preferred borrowers of the large banks. But the small businessman must be satisfied with whatever credit is left over - and, in a tight money economy, he is too often turned away.

Secondly, we must expand the small businessman's sources of credit. The Small Business Administration has failed badly to pursue vigorously the goal of the Small Business Investment Act to make long-term credit available to the individual businessman. This program - and the loan program of the Small Business Administration itself - must be expanded if small businesses are to get the long-term financing essential to their survival. And West Virginia would greatly benefit from such expansion. For West Virginia - with perhaps the greatest need of small business financing - ranks 45th among the states in Small Business Administration loans - we must put West Virginia at the top of the list, where it belongs.

Third, we must increase the small business share of our defense effort. In 1959 small businesses - the bulwark of our economy - received only one out of every six dollars spent for procurement by the Department of Defense. It is true that much defense work can only be done by large, well-equipped plants. But the fact of the matter is that much of the production and services now supplied by giant firms could easily be handled by the nation's independent businessmen. Our government spending should - and must - be directed toward preserving individual enterprise - not toward strengthening large firms at the expense of all others.

Fourth, we must enforce our nation's anti-trust laws with more vigor. Small business is constantly threatened by the tendency toward concentration and merger now visible in every area of our economy. Only by forceful and dynamic anti-trust action will we be able to preserve the American tradition of free competition which the anti-trust laws were intended to preserve. These are a few of the necessary steps which we must take immediately if we are to preserve the independence and the livelihood of our small businessmen in a world of increasing size and increasing concentration of economic power.

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