Thank you very much. In the business I used to be in, with a hand like that, I'd have quit now. [Laughter] Can't improve on that. Well, I thank you all very much, and welcome to the Old Executive Office Building.
You know, I can confess to this group that I've been accused of being probusiness. Well, I just have to say: Guilty as charged. [Laughter] That doesn't mean, however, that I think business is always perfect and that things can't go wrong. Like the story of the businessman who called his partner up late at night, sounded very panicky, and he said, "There's $20,000 missing from the safe. What should I do?" His partner said, "Put it back." [Laughter]
But it's you and entrepreneurs and businessmen and women like you around the country who are carrying this economic expansion into its 55th month, an expansion that's created over 13 million new jobs-that translates into an average of 236,000 new jobs each and every month. As I said, this peacetime expansion has been going on for 55 months. The longest one in our national history, so far, was 58 months, so that gives us a little less than 4 months to go till we break the record. What do you say? Let's go for the gold. [Applause]
We know what's made this growth and progress possible. We got government out of your pockets and out of the way. I was once asked what the difference is between a small business and a big business, and I answered, "Well, a big business is what a small business would be if the government would get out of its way and leave it alone." It's economic freedom that brings economic opportunity. And the many of you who have built your businesses up from scratch know that this thing we call economic freedom isn't some fuzzy, philosophical concept; it's a day-to-day reality for you. It's often a question of survival, the difference between making it and not, between regulations and taxes that are just too steep to hurdle over and opportunity that gives you running room and a chance to compete.
That's why on July 3d I stood at the steps of the Jefferson Memorial and spoke of my commitment, for the rest of my political career, to campaign for an Economic Bill of Rights. We saw in the late sixties and seventies how so much of the promise of the civil rights movement seemed to be stolen as our economy faltered, as opportunity was ground down under the heavy hand of big government and the oppressive effects of taxes, inflation, and regulation. Minorities fought a courageous battle to win their rights, to purchase a ticket on the train of economic progress. They won that right, but no sooner had they climbed aboard than they saw that train slow down and grind to a halt. It was bitter irony that meant more decades of frustration and anger—too often, hopelessness and despair.
What went wrong? The civil rights movement was one of the proudest moments in our history, when our nation righted ancient wrongs, when we extended to all Americans God-given rights promised in our Constitution, and we made ourselves live up to our ideals. Those were great achievements in those days, but they just didn't go far enough.
It should not be forgotten that the civil rights movement was in great part a struggle against discriminatory government regulations. That's what Jim Crow laws were. That wasn't anything just dreamed up in a neighborhood; this was under the law. But at the same time that some freedoms were being fought for and won, the laws that violated those freedoms were struck down and removed from the books, the Government was steadily and massively encroaching on other individual freedoms, and the regulatory apparatus reached out to touch and control almost every aspect of our economic life. Civil rights are empty rights if not accompanied by economic opportunity. Our country fought for the right of all to sit at a lunch counter. At the same time, the Government was making it harder and harder to own one. We fought for the right of all Americans to hold whatever job they were qualified for but made it even harder to find any job at all.
When the 14th amendment guaranteed "life, liberty, and property," it was echoing a basic theme of our Founding Fathers, a secular trinity, each of which is an essential component and guarantee of the others. Life, liberty, and property—they are like three pegs holding up a table. Remove one, and the whole thing comes crashing down. It seems almost old-fashioned to talk about property rights these days, but to our Founding Fathers, property rights were part of the natural law, the self-evident rights granted by God. Governments were instituted among men to guarantee them, not to take them away. A man's home is his castle—that is the foundation of civilized order, an ancient statement of individual rights that comes down to us through English common law. But in the last several decades, it seemed that the Government saw a man's home as simply another source of tax revenue. Marginal income tax rates soared as high as 75 and on up—90 percent. They were, to use another old-fashioned term, "confiscatory."
Well, like our forefathers, we rebelled-peacefully, this time. From Proposition 13 in California to Proposition 2% in Massachusetts, the tax revolt spread across America. In 1981 we slashed tax rates nearly 25 percent across the board. And last year we won an historic victory for economic freedom with a reform of our tax code that slashed tax rates once again, and those will all be in effect in the coming year. As part of our economic program, we also undid many burdensome and useful—or useless government regulations and squashed inflation. Forgive me for this, but I knew our economic program was working when they didn't call it Reaganomics anymore. [Laughter]
Yes, it created opportunity for those who had before been economically disenfranchised: the poor and minorities. After the largest increase in history, we first stopped and then reversed the upward spiral in poverty not through growth in government but through growth in the economy, not by creating more welfare but by creating more jobs. In our economic expansion, what the Europeans call the economic miracle, growth in minority employment has substantially outpaced that of the overall population. Still, while opportunities are improving, we won't be satisfied until everyone who wants a job has a job.
Yes, we've made historic progress these last few years, in great part because we've begun to return to the principles of our Founding Fathers. But we'd be fooling ourselves if we didn't acknowledge that all that progress is under attack under attack by a profligate Congress that seems to have learned nothing in the last 6 years, a Congress that wants to turn the last few years of the 1980's into a depressing relay—or replay of the 1970's. In speech after speech, I've been detailing the pork-barrel politics, the billions of dollars of waste. Congress is spending at a fever-pace, and they expect the American taxpayer to foot the bill. One Congressman has called for so many tax hikes his colleagues contemptuously refer to his "Tax-of-the-Month Club."
Well, I must have promised a hundred times to veto any tax hike that ever comes across my desk, and that promise still stands, but they keep coming back, calling for more taxes. And I thought I was the one who needed a hearing aid. [Laughter] No, there will be no tax increase while I'm in office. It's time now to institutionalize our gains, to write into law guarantees of our economic rights and ensure our prosperity not only in this generation but in the next. Let's stop overspending with a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Let's cut out the pork and waste with a line-item veto. And let's protect our paychecks by requiring more than a mere majority in Congress to raise taxes.
One of the things I've been talking about as part of the Economic Bill of Rights is the need for a sort of financial impact statement, very much like an environmental impact statement. It would require Congress to notify the American people as to the economic consequences of their programs. There's a perfect example of that coming up for a vote in this Congress, something that hits hardest at minorities, young people, and the poor. It's the effort by some in Congress, under pressure from special interests, to raise the minimum wage.
It's said that if you put 10 economists in a room and ask a question, you'll get 10 different answers. I can make jokes like that, because my degree was in economics. [Laughter] I thought it was honorary when they gave it to me, but— [laughter] —but you know, that story is not the case with the minimum wage; most economists agree that raising the minimum wage reduces employment. Economists call it disemployment, but it amounts to the same thing: fewer jobs than there would have been.
In fact, there are numerous economic studies that make just that point. We've had a lot of years of raises in the minimum wage. Our Labor Department has estimated that every 10-percent increase in the minimum wage will mean 100,000 to 200,000 fewer jobs. Some in Congress want to raise the minimum wage more than 38 percent over the next 3 years. That could mean 800,000 jobs down the drain, jobs that already exist or jobs, hope, and opportunity that will never be created.
This administration wants no part of a bill that will cost hundreds of thousands of teenagers and young adults the opportunity to get a job and to get the invaluable experience that goes with it. We won't be party to jinxing another generation. That's the real cost of the minimum wage legislation before Congress. And if eliminating 800,000 jobs is what some in Congress really want to do, then they should be made to stand up and admit as much to the American people.
Some 20 years ago, I remember quoting one of the leading commentators of the period. "The profit motive is outmoded," he said. "It must be replaced by the incentives of the welfare state. The distribution of goods must be affected by a planned economy." It seems incredible to us now, but he was only parroting the accepted wisdom of the period. I called my speech "A Time For Choosing." Well, the choice is still before us, whether we're going to be dragged back into big government or if we're going to push forward, if we're going to write protections of our economic freedoms into law so that politicians can never again threaten our economy with bankruptcy and stagnation. Yes, we've learned a lot since those days, in great part through the example of men and women such as you, living examples of the American dream. And your kind of businesses have played a major part in creating those 13 million new jobs in these last few years.
So many of you have stories to tell, inspiring stories of courage and perseverance, of triumph against all odds. But there's one story I just have to tell. It's about a young Cuban girl. She suffered from a disease of her scalp when she was a child, and that motivated her, at the early age of 11, to start her own job—business, I should say, as a beautician. She was doing pretty well-well enough that when Castro took over he took away her business, confiscated her bank account, and threw her in jail. Castro doesn't believe in the profit motive either, but then, when was the last thing in Castro's Cuba that ran at a profit? Fortunately, she was able to escape Cuba with her husband and two children. She came here with little more than faith in God and belief in the free enterprise and that system. But now she has a $5 million company selling beauty products. She gives thousands of dollars a year to charity, and she has 16 weekly TV programs in which she talks about drug abuse, the importance of family life, and, yes, the importance of economic freedom. Mirta, will you stand up and take a bow? [Applause]
That's the American dream, a dream that all of you every day are making a reality. In this time for choosing, let's make sure that it stays that way, that the story of America continues to be the story of people like Mirta de Perales, a story of hope, faith, and freedom. Let's complete the civil rights movement by writing a guarantee of the American dream into the Constitution, a guarantee that America will always be, for our children and our children's children, the land of opportunity.
Well, I thank you very much for coming here today and for all that you're doing, and God bless you all.
[At this point, Hector Barreto, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, gave the President a painting depicting minority business professionals. ]
Thank you all. I have a feeling this will be hanging very shortly in a Presidential library. [Laughter]