Creative Society Speech
Ronald Reagan, 19/04/1966
Each generation is critical of its predecessor. And as the day nears when the classroom and playing field must give way to that larger arena with its problems of inequity and human misunderstanding, it's easy to look at those of us already in that arena and demand to know why the problems remain unsolved. We, who preceded you, asked that question of those who preceded us, and another generation will ask it of you. I hope there will be less justification for the question when it becomes your turn to answer. Don't get me wrong! When the generation of which I'm a part leaves the stage, I think that history will record that seldom has any generation fought harder and paid a higher price for freedom. We have known three wars in our lifetime cataclysmic, worldwide depression--and these events toppled governments and reshaped the map. At the same time, as a result of this, perhaps just because of human frailty, we have downgraded our performance with an attitude sometimes apathetic--sometimes cynical--toward the conduct of public affairs.
We are confused and we have confused you with a double standard of morality. We try to keep alive a moral code for our individual conduct--"Don't cheat," "Promises are sacred." "Your word is your bond," "Serve your fellow men"--but at the same time, we accept double-dealing at government levels, and we've lost our capacity to get angry when decisions are not based on moral truth, but on political expediency. When small men are granted great rewards for political favors, we excuse it with the expression: "Well, that's politics."
I've already established myself now as not of your generation, but I'm aware there are those who go even farther and place me as far back as the Ice Age, or even farther than that--in the period of McKinley. I realize that modern political dialogue concerns itself largely with false image-making, rather than with legitimate debate over differing viewpoints; and no candidate can hope to engage in a political contest without experiencing the deliberate distortions of his positions and his beliefs. But I sometimes wonder if we haven't reached one of those moments in time when the stakes are much too high for this kind of middle-aged juvenile delinquency.
Public officials are elected primarily for one purpose--to solve public problems. You have a right to ask any candidate about his understanding of the problems facing us, his acceptance of responsibility for solving those problems, and whether he has a fresh approach or just offers the same old bargain-basement politics--"We'll do everything the other fellow's been doing, only we'll do it cheaper and better." You have a right to know--and I am obligated to tell you--where I stand and what I believe.
To begin with--I am not a politician. I am an ordinary citizen with a deep-seated belief that much of what troubles us has been brought about by politicians; and it's high time that more ordinary citizens brought the fresh air of common sense thinking to bear on these problems. We've had enough of the wheeling and dealing, and enough of schemers and schemes. I think it's time now for dreamers--practical dreamers--willing to re-implement the original dream which became this nation--that idea that has never fully been tried before in the world--that you and I have the capacity for self-government--the dignity and the ability and the God-given freedom to make our own decisions, to plan our own lives and to control our own destiny.
Now it has been said that nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. This took place some 200 years ago in this country. But there is another such idea abroad in the land today. Americans, divided in so many ways, are united in their determination that no area of human need should be ignored. A people that can reach out to the stars has decided that the problems of human misery can be solved and they'll settle for nothing less.
The big question is not whether--but how, and at what price. We can't accept the negative philosophy of those who close their eyes, hoping the problems will disappear, or that questions of unemployment, inequality of opportunity, or the needs of the elderly and the sick will take care of themselves. But, neither should we unquestioningly follow those others who pass the problems along to the Federal government, abdicating their personal and local responsibility.
The trouble with that solution is that for every ounce of federal help we get, we surrender an ounce of personal freedom. The Great Society grows greater every day--greater in cost, greater in inefficiency and greater in waste. Now this is not to quarrel with its humanitarian goals or deny that it can achieve those goals. But, I do deny that it offers the only--or even the best--method of achieving those goals.
The administration in Sacramento is guilty of a leadership gap. Unwilling, or unable, to solve the problems of California, it has reduced this state to virtually an administrative district of the federal government. This isn't to deny the rightful place of the federal government; but state sovereignty is an integral part of the checks and balances designed to restrain power and to restrain one group from destroying the freedom of another. We can do more by keeping California tax dollars in California than we can by running them through those puzzle palaces on the Potomac only to get them back minus a carrying charge.
Federal help has neither reduced the size of the burden of our state government, nor has it solved our problems. In California, government is larger in proportion to the population than in any other state and it is increasing twice as fast as the increase in population. Our tax burden, local and state, is $100 higher per capita than it is in the rest of the nation, and the local property tax is increasing twice as fast as our increase in personal income.
What is obviously needed is not more government, but better government, seeking a solution to the problems that will not add to bureaucracy, or unbalance the budget, or further centralize power. Therefore, I propose a constructive alternative to the Great Society, which I have chosen to call "A Creative Society." While leadership and initiative for this Creative Society should begin in the Governor's office, it would be the task of the entire state government to discover, enlist and mobilize the incredibly rich human resources of California, calling on the best in every field to review and revise our governmental structure and present plans for streamlining it and making it more efficient and more effective.
There is no major problem that cannot be resolved by a vigorous and imaginative state administration willing to utilize the tremendous potential of our people. We have the greatest concentration of industrial and scientific research facilities of any state in the Union. Tens of thousands of successful and highly talented men and women are in our business communities; colleges and universities are rich in possibilities for study and research; charities and philanthropic enterprises are many, and there are innumerable people of creative talent in the professions.
We have attracted the most youthful, the brightest and the best trained people from every state and every nation. We have untapped resources in the retired men and women with lifetime records of achievement in every conceivable area of endeavor. Probably there is more talent prematurely retired in California than in any other state; and these people, I believe, would welcome a chance for meaningful personal fulfillment in community service--if only someone would ask them.
And that is the basis of the Creative Society--government no longer substituting for the people, but recognizing that it cannot possibly match the great potential of the people, and thus, must coordinate the creative energies of the people for the good of the whole.
Now this isn't some glorified program for passing the buck and telling the people to play Samaritan and solve the problems on their own, while government stands by to hand out Good Conduct ribbons. There is a definite and active role for government, but as our numbers increase and society grows more complex, the idea of an economy planned or controlled by government just doesn't make sense. No matter how talented the government is, it is incapable of making the multitudinous decisions that must be made every day in the market place and in our community living. Big business has already replaced autocratic rule from the top with decentralization, and government must do the same thing.
This means the Creative Society must return authority to the local communities--give them the right to run their own affairs. The people in San Francisco know better than anyone in Sacramento where a freeway in San Francisco should go.
A skyrocketing crime rate has given California almost double its proportionate share of crime--crimes of violence--simply because the state, as a result of certain judicial decisions, denies local governments the right to pass ordinances for the protection of the people. Time after time, legislation has been introduced to correct this. Much of it died in committee in Sacramento; but eventually, when it did pass the Assembly or the Senate it was vetoed by the Governor. The legislation will, and must, be reintroduced and signed into law to give our police the power to make our streets safe again. At the same time, government must call upon the best minds in the field of human relations and law and penology for a creative study of our penal and our parole systems.
I propose and urge the adoption of a plan whereby a joint committee of laymen and members of the Bar Association will choose a panel of individuals, based on their personal character and on their legal experience and ability. And then the Governor would be forced to appoint all judges from this panel, taking judicial appointments once and for all out of politics.
A confidential survey of industry reveals that by all the criteria used to establish economic health, California comes off looking like that fellow on TV before he takes the pill. We lead the nation in population increase, but we lag far behind the national average in growth of personal income, retail sales and gross product. When home construction fell off last year in the country, it declined five times more in California than it did in the rest of the nation. Five years ago, we were sixth among the states in our ability to attract new industries; today we have fallen to 13th. And running like a thread through this survey are the reports of government's unfriendly attitude toward business, evidenced by the harassing regulations, needless paper work and regressive tax policies.
The present administration's approach to our deteriorating business climate is always another pill out of the same old bottle. Build another bureau, add another tax, and put the unemployed on the public payroll. The Creative Society will, instead, turn to those who truly have the capacity to create jobs and prosperity. Ask the best brains of industry and the community: What is needed to make California once again attractive to industry? Ask them to evolve the plans for creating job opportunities and a program of on-the-job training--because in the last analysis, employment and prosperity are the function and responsibility of private enterprise. It is government's responsibility to end the harassment, roadblocks, regressive taxation and to offer, wherever practical, tax incentives that will help to provide jobs and a friendly business climate.
No small part of the heavy tax load that is borne by the working men and women of our state is a welfare load, which doubled in the last five years, and is increasing faster than our spending on education. Those who administer welfare at the county and local levels have their hands tied by excessive regulations and red tape imposed by both Washington and Sacramento. A Creative Society would call upon their experience and the thinking of the campus researchers and others experienced in philanthropy and public service to make a study to establish that we are doing all we can, first of all, for those who are disabled, aged and who, through no fault of their own, must depend on the rest of us. Our goal should be not only to provide the necessities of life, but those comforts such as we can afford that will make their life worth living.
Then, such a commission must turn and investigate that part of welfare having to do with those who need temporary help--who are being helped through an emergency period only until they can again play a productive role. We must determine that this is still our purpose and that we have not, instead, settled on a program of perpetuating poverty with a permanent dole. We see today a second generation, and even a third generation of citizens, growing up, marrying, having children, accepting public welfare for three generations as a way of life. The 11th century Hebrew physician and philosopher, Maimonides, said there are eight steps in helping the needy. The lowest of these is the handout; the highest is to teach them to help themselves. By contract, our State Department of Public Welfare has a book out and they explain the guiding philosophy of welfare at the state administration level is redistribution of income. Well, this is a reversal of the carrot and stick philosophy, penalizing the industrious and rewarding the unproductive. Redistributing income does not increase purchasing power or prosperity--only increased productivity can accomplish that. Much of welfare spending could become invested, if we would direct some of that spending toward education and training to prevent people from becoming public dependents in the first place.
I have been told there is work in our public institutions, some of which could be performed by unemployables, even illiterates--enough to give jobs to 50,000. Such work should be part of a welfare rehabilitation program. Somewhere, every problem that faces us is being solved economically and efficiently by citizens who didn't wait for the slow growth of bureaucracy. The Creative Society would encourage the expansion of these voluntary efforts instead of competing them out of existence with free federal handouts which turn out not to be very free at all.
A Californian concerned with needy college students and their problems aroused the interest of bankers and other interested citizens and today, through the United Student Loan Fund, some 65,000 students, on 700 campuses, have borrowed $35 million from banks which will be repaid after graduation. Private citizens underwrite every dollar voluntarily with government playing no part whatsoever.
Following the tragic disturbance in Watts last summer, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce mobilized hundreds of industrial concerns in this area and they agreed that unemployment was their responsibility. Working with a committee of fine, responsible Negro businessmen in that area, they set out to establish an employment and job training program and so far, they have put 5,000 of the citizens in that area to work or in on-the-job training spots. This is almost as many people as there are poverty program administrators in the area.
A businessman in Texas brought up in poverty--now successful--founded a boys ranch. He and his wife worked tirelessly--just the two of them--and they have developed what J. Edgar Hoover has called a "blue print for the prevention of crime." Three hundred boys, ranging in age from 4 to 17, are cared for at a per capita cost of about $1,600 a year. Compare this with the $3,600 a year it costs us to maintain a boy in Juvenile Hall.
Here in California, a B'nai B'rith Lodge adopted one of our youth probation camps. Just by lending a helping hand--showing an interest--being willing to listen to these young men, they have reduced the period of time the boys must stay in this camp by a full one-third. It would be easy to establish what that means to the taxpayer in dollars and cents. And all it took was a little time and a little human compassion.
Have we in America forgotten our own accomplishments? For 200 years we've been fighting the most successful war on poverty the world has ever seen. We built the West without waiting for an area redevelopment plan. San Francisco, destroyed by fire, was rebuilt by Californians who didn't wait for urban renewal. We have fought our wars with citizen-soldiers and dollar-a-year men.
At the end of World War I, American citizens cooperated with government in a voluntary program of Belgian Relief that saved millions of lives. As World War II drew to a close, Jesse Jones, Secretary of Commerce, alarmed at the plans he saw on bureaucratic drawing boards in Washington, appealed to corporation heads and businessmen and asked them, instead, to plan the transition from a war- to a peace-time economy. The Council of Economic Advisors was born. Fifty thousand business leaders, through 2,000 community organizations, performed what is still viewed as an economic miracle--and no tax dollars changed hands.
Farming is California's greatest industry, responsible, directly or indirectly, for one-third of our employment and 70% of all the cash business transactions that take place in the state. We produce a greater variety on California farms than any other state--some 200 crops--and 98% of our farming is out on the free market, unsubsidized by the federal farm program. But our farmers have very little voice in our state capital of Sacramento. Last year they were made into guinea pigs for a sociological experiment by the federal government, aided and abetted by our state government. They, and representatives of associated industries, should be called in and they should be asked, in a Creative Society, for common sense answers to their problems and the voice of California government should be raised in their behalf.
Control of education should remain, as much as possible, at the level of the local school boards and unwanted unification should not be imposed from above, but should only take place if it represents the will of the people directly involved. Increased autonomy should be granted to our state colleges and universities and the management of the people's affairs should be kept, as much as possible, at the local level.
The Creative Society, in other words, is simply a return to the people of the privilege of self-government, as well as a pledge for more efficient representative government--citizens of proven ability in their fields, serving where their experience qualifies them, proposing common sense answers for California's problems, reviewing governmental structure itself and bringing it into line with the most advanced, modern business practices. Those who talk of complex problems, requiring more government planning and more control, in reality are taking us back in time to the acceptance of rule of the many by the few. Time to look to the future. We've had enough talk--disruptive talk--in America of left and right, dividing us down the center. There is really no such choice facing us. The only choice we have is up or down--up, to the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down, to the deadly dullness of totalitarianism.
Do we still have the courage and the capacity to dream? If so, I wish you'd join me in a dream. Join me in a dream of a California whose government isn't characterized by political hacks and cronies and relatives--an administration that doesn't make its decisions based on political expediency but on moral truth. Together, let us find men to match our mountains. We can have a government administered by men and women who are appointed on the basis of ability and dedication--not as a reward for political favors. If we must have a double standard of morality, then let it be one, which demands more of those in government, not less.
This is a practical dream--it's a dream you can believe in--it's a dream worthy of your generation. Better yet, it's a dream that can come true and all we have to do is want it badly enough.