In his inaugural address of 1949, President Harry S. Truman called for a “bold new program”, to be known as Point Four, as part of an overall effort to promote peace and freedom. Inviting other nations to participate, he called for the program to be a “worldwide effort” for the achievement of “peace, plenty, and freedom” through technical assistance, private foreign investment, and greater production. In the first phase of the Cold War, and in the wake of the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Point Four was designed as an offer to the emerging nations to decide against communism—to become neutral or non-aligned. Although Truman stood behind this sweeping but ill-defined program, almost half a year had passed before he asked Congress for the initial appropriations of $45 million. It then took Congress until the end of May 1950 to pass Point Four as the Act for International Development. For the first year, only $29.9 million were appropriated. Without stable conditions, trade agreements, and guarantees, businesses were reluctant to invest, particularly in those countries needing foreign capital the most. In 1952 and 1953, the Technical Cooperation Administration, which implemented Point Four, received a little more than $300 million to provide technical assistance. By 1954, Point Four was overseen by the Foreign Operations Administration and its budget had reached $400 million. Hundreds of Point Four technicians visited dozens of impoverished nations, and thousands of students from these countries were invited to study in the United States. Like the Marshall Plan, Point Four was directed by the United States and not through the United Nations. This led to criticisms of undue American influence in the internal affairs of developing nations. The ambitious ideals proclaimed by Truman clashed with the realities of the Cold War and the Korean War (1950–1953), and they were largely incompatible with the profit orientation of private business.
The profit orientation was a roadblock, but one of those concerns was over depletion of natural resources which owed much of the problem to bad farming practices and a lack of good land management. We had the technical ability and, for now, we had the resources. But at the rate we were going, it wasn’t clear how long our vast and plentiful Bread Basket would last.
As part of the debate over the program, here is an episode of The Chicago University Roundtable, featuring several experts in the field of agriculture and land management to discuss the issue. It was originally broadcast on February 13, 1949.