Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Annual Meeting of the National Alliance of Business

October 05, 1981

Thank you very much for a very warm welcome.

Your organization is concerned with jobs. I heard of a fellow who had been unemployed for a long time, and a few days ago he found a job at a china warehouse. He'd only worked there a couple of days when he smashed a large oriental vase. The boss told him in no uncertain terms that the money would be deducted from his wages every week until the vase was paid for. And the fellow asked, "How much did it cost?" He told him $300. And the fellow cheered and said, "At last, I've found steady work." [Laughter]

Seriously, I'm aware that the National Alliance of Business was formed to reduce the despair of unemployment, to provide opportunities where they would otherwise not exist. You've set for yourselves a noble and necessary goal. You know that a job at $4 an hour is priceless in terms of the self-respect it can buy. Many people today are economically trapped in welfare. They'd like nothing better than to be out in the work-a-day world with the rest of us. Independence and self-sufficiency is what they want. They aren't lazy or unwilling to work, they just don't know how to free themselves from that welfare security blanket.

After we undertook our welfare reforms in California, I received a letter from a woman with several children who had been on Aid to [Families With] Dependent Children. She wrote that she had become so dependent on the welfare check that she even turned down offers of marriage. She just could not give up that security blanket that it represented. But she said that she'd always known that it couldn't go on, couldn't last forever. So when our reforms began, she just assumed that the time had come and that somehow she would be off welfare. So she took her children and the $600 she had saved from her, as she put it, so-called "poverty," and went to Alaska, where she had relatives. And she was writing the letter now not to complain about our reforms, but to tell me that she had a good job and that working now had given her a great deal of self-respect, for which she thanked me, and then one line that I'll never forget. She said, "It sure beats daytime television." [Laughter]

Our economic program is designed for the very purpose of creating jobs. As I said on Labor Day, let us make our goal in this program very clear—jobs, jobs, jobs, and more jobs. And what is more, our program will reduce inflation so the wages from these jobs will not decrease in earning power.

Part of that economic package also includes budget cuts. Now, some of these cuts will pinch, which upsets those who believe the less fortunate deserve more than the basic subsistence which the governmental safety net programs provide. Well, the fact is, I agree. More can be done; more should be done. But doing more doesn't mean to simply spend more. The size of the Federal budget is not an appropriate barometer of social conscience or charitable concern.

Economic problems or not, isn't it time to take a fresh look at the way we provide social services? Not just because they cost so much and waste so much, but because too many of them just don't work? Even if the Federal Government had all the money it wished to spend on social programs, would we still want to spend it the way we have in the past?

In all my years as Governor, and now as President, I have never found an agency, a program, a piece of legislation, or a budget that was adequate to meet the total needs of human beings. Something is missing from such an equation. I believe that something is private initiative and community involvement-the kind the NAB exemplifies.

There is a legitimate role for government, but we mustn't forget: Before the idea got around that government was the principal vehicle of social change, it was understood that the real source of our progress as a people was the private sector. The private sector still offers creative, less expensive, and more efficient alternatives to solving our social problems. Now, we're not advocating private initiatives and voluntary activities as a halfhearted replacement for budget cuts. We advocate them because they're right in their own regard. They're a part of what we can proudly call "the American personality."

The role of voluntarism and individual initiative has been misunderstood. Federal loan guarantees will not be restored by charity alone, nor will we replace the Department of Health and Human Services. Voluntarism is a means of delivering social services more effectively and of preserving our individual freedoms. John F. Kennedy knew this when he said, "... only by doing the work ourselves, by giving generously out of our own pockets, can we hope in the long run to maintain the authority of the people over the state, to insure that the people remain the master; the state, the servant. Every time that we try to lift a problem from our own shoulders, and shift that problem to the hands of the government, to the same extent we are sacrificing the liberties of our people."

There are hardheaded, no-nonsense measures by which the private sector can meet those needs of society that the government has not, can not, or will never be able to fill. Volunteer activities and philanthropy play a role, as well as economic incentives and investment opportunities. To be certain, we're talking about America's deep spirit of generosity. But we're also talking about a "buck for business" if it helps to solve our social ills.

With the same energy that Franklin Roosevelt sought government solutions to problems, we will seek private solutions. The challenge before us is to find ways once again to unleash the independent spirit of the people and their communities. That energy will accomplish far, far more than government programs ever could. What federalism is to the public sector, voluntarism and private initiative are to the private sector. This country is bursting with ideas and creativity, but a government run by central decree has no way to respond.

Having been a Governor, Franklin Roosevelt knew something of the dangers of overcentralization. In a message to the Congress, he wrote, "continued dependence upon relief'—it hadn't yet been given the name welfare—"induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fibre. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit ....

The Federal Government must and shall quit this business of relief."

Well, what exactly is voluntarism? I guess Gary Cooper did about the best job describing it in the movie, "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town."

"From what I can see," he said, "no matter what system of government we have, there will always be leaders and always be followers. It's like the road out in front of my house. It's on a steep hill. And every day I watch the cars climbing up. Some go lickety-split up that hill on high; some have to shift into second; and some sputter and shake and slip back to the bottom again. Same cars, same gasoline, yet some make it and some don't. And I say the fellas who can make the hill on high should stop once in a while and help those who can't."

Over our history, Americans have always extended their hands in gestures of assistance. They helped build a neighbor's barn when it burned down, and then formed a volunteer fire department so it wouldn't burn down again. They harvested the next fellow's crop when he was injured or ill, and they raised school funds at quilting bees and church socials. They took for granted that neighbor would care for neighbor.

When the city of Chicago was leveled by fire, urban renewal programs didn't exist; the people simply got together and rebuilt Chicago. The great French observer of America, de Tocqueville, wrote, "Whenever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association of individuals."

The association of Americans has done so much and is so rich in variety. Churches once looked after their own members, and during the Depression, the Mormon Church undertook its own welfare plan based on the work ethic—a plan that is still successful today. With no disrespect intended, one can't help but wonder if government welfare would exist at all if our churches had at that same time, all of them, picked up that task.

Before World War I, the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations together spent twice as much as the government for education and social services—simply because there was a need. The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis set out to conquer polio with dimes—and did it. And in a fitting symbol of America, our own Statue of Liberty was built with the nickels and dimes of French schoolchildren and the contributions of their parents.

We all know countless stories of individual and personal generosity. There was an incident in Los Angeles a couple of years ago involving a man named Jose Salcido, whose wife had died of cancer, leaving him both father and mother of 13 children. In an accident only the Lord can explain, one day the brakes on his truck didn't hold and he was crushed against a brick wall as he walked in front of the vehicle. The children who had lost their mother now had lost their father. But they were not orphaned by their neighbors or even complete strangers, who immediately began collecting contributions. The parish church started a drive. Finally, a fund was set up at the bank and a committee was formed of citizens to take care of it. They also discovered how kind the people of this land can be.

One letter accompanying a cheek said it all. "This is for the children of Josh Salcido. It is for them to know there are always others who care; that despite personal tragedy, the world is not always the dark place it seems to be; that their father would have wanted for them to go on with courage and strength and still open hearts."

Now, I know there are cynics who dismiss the notion of Americans helping other Americans. They say that I speak of an America that never was and never can be. They believe voluntarism is a mushy idea, the product of mushy thinking. They say that our society today is too complex or that we're trying to repeal the goth century.

Well, the cynics who say these things have been so busy increasing Washington's power that they've lost sight of America. Have they forgotten the great national efforts before there ever was a thing called "foreign aid"? The American people organized to help Japan in the great earthquake, famine in India, "Bundles for Britain." The spirit is not dead.

I wish the cynics would visit David and Falaka Fattah in Philadelphia. I don't know whether I pronounced their name right, but the Fattahs decided to put their hearts and minds into reducing the gang violence in west Philadelphia, which killed up to 40 persons a year in the early 1970's. They were instrumental in negotiating a citywide peace treaty among gangs, that reduced the number of deaths from 40 to about 1 a year. This one couple did something that all the social welfare and law enforcement agencies together had been unable to accomplish. They replaced the gang structure with a family structure. They actually took a gang of 16 into their home. Their House of Umoja has helped more than 500 boys now develop into self-sufficient and productive young men. And today, they're establishing what might be called an urban Boys Town.

I wish the doubters would visit Detroit, where a few years ago hundreds of children awaiting adoption were in the foster care system. Potential black parents were judged by arbitrary income standards and not whether they could offer a warm, loving, secure family to a homeless child. But a community group called Homes for Black Children challenged the adoption practices of the local agencies with astounding results. In its first year, Homes for Black Children placed more kids in permanent homes than all 13 of the traditional placement agencies combined.

There is the DeBolt family in California that began adopting only children who were grievously handicapped—at one time, 19 in their home.

I wish the cynics would call on New York City, the New York City Partnership, an association of 100 business and civic leaders, which this past summer found jobs for about 14,000 disadvantaged youths, the majority of whom would not have otherwise found jobs.

Talk to the Honeywell people who are training prison inmates in computer programing. Those inmates who reach an employable skill level before leaving prison have a recidivism rate of less than 3 percent, compared to a national rate estimated at 70 percent.

Or look at the marvelous work McDonald's is doing with it's Ronald McDonald Houses. These are places, homes, really, usually near children's hospitals, where families can stay while their children are treated for serious diseases. Currently, 28 homes are open and another 32 are in some stage of development. Since the homes are funded mainly by the local McDonald operators and the staff is all volunteer, no taxpayer money is spent.

The cynics should ask the Fattahs if the spirit is dead. They should ask the families who have been helped by the McDonald Houses and the Homes for Black Children if the spirit is dead. They should ask the disadvantaged New York youths who have summer jobs, or the prison inmates who are developing skills for the outside world. Why can't the skeptics see the spirit is there where it's always been—inside individual Americans?

Individual Americans like Father Bruce Ritter. Father Ritter's Covenant House in the heart of Times Square offers youths who are runaway or exploited a sanctuary from the pressures of modern life and an escape from those who would prey on them. With the help of 200 part-time and 65 full-time volunteers, Father Bitter last year aided nearly 12,000 youths.

Perhaps the doubters should consider how empty and gray our society would be right now if there were no such thing as volunteer activity. Erma Bombeek, that witty woman who appears in our newspapers, once wrote a more sober article on what it would be like if the volunteers all set sail for another country. And if you don't mind, let me read a part of what she said:

"The hospital was quiet as I passed it. Rooms were void of books, flowers, and voices. The children's wing held no clowns... no laughter. The reception desk was vacant.

"The Home for the Aged was like a tomb. The blind listened for a voice that never came. The infirm were imprisoned by wheels on a chair that never moved. Food grew cold on trays that would never reach the mouths of the hungry.

"All the social agencies had closed their doors, unable to implement their programs of scouting, recreation, drug control, Big Sisters, Big Brothers, YW, YM, the retarded, the crippled, the lonely, and the abandoned.

"The health agencies had a sign in the window, 'Cures for cancer, muscular dystrophy, birth defects, multiple sclerosis, emphysema, sickle cell anemia, kidney disorders, heart diseases, have been cancelled due to lack of interest.'

"The schools were strangely quiet with no field trips, no volunteer aides on the playground or in the classrooms . . . as were the colleges where scholarships and financial support were no more.

"The flowers on church altars withered and died. Children in day nurseries lifted their arms but there was no one to hold them in love."

Well, her article told a very much unrecognized truth: Volunteer cuts would be much more disruptive to the Nation than Federal budget cuts. Because they are so important, this administration seeks to elevate voluntary action and private initiative to the recognition they deserve. We seek to increase their influence on our daily lives and their roles in meeting our social needs. For too long, the American people have been told they are relieved of responsibility for helping their fellow man because government has taken over the job. Now we seek to provide as much support for voluntarism, without federalizing, as possible.

Today, I am announcing the creation of a Presidential Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives, comprised of 35 leaders from corporations, foundations, and voluntary and religious organizations. Its purpose will be to promote private sector leadership and responsibility for solving public needs, and to recommend ways of fostering greater public-private partnerships. I have asked Bill Verity, the chairman of Armco Steel, to chair the task force and act as my personal representative in expanding private sector initiatives and in recognizing outstanding examples of corporate and community efforts.

I'm instructing the Cabinet to review agency procedures and regulations and identify barriers to private sector involvement. We want to deregulate community service. For example, mothers and grandmothers have been taking care of children for thousands of years without special college training. Why is it that certain States prohibit anyone without a college degree in early childhood education from operating a day care facility?

I'm also asking the Cabinet to develop pump priming and seed money programs that offer incentives for private sector investment. In addition, the Cabinet will provide technical knowledge to develop private incentives. Furthermore, existing programs will be examined to determine those which could be more productively carried out in the private sector.

Voluntarism is an essential part of our plan to give the government back to the people. I believe the people are anxious for this responsibility. I believe they want to be enlisted in this cause. We have an unprecedented opportunity in America in the days ahead to build on our past traditions and the raw resources within our people. We can show the world how to construct a social system more humane, more compassionate, and more effective in meeting its members' needs than any ever known.

After I spoke of volunteerism several days ago, I received this mailgram: "At a breakfast this morning, 35 chief executive officers of the largest employers and financial institutions of San Antonio met and committed to: 1) support of you and your commitment of returning the responsibility of support of many worthy, previously federally funded programs to the local level; 2) committing themselves individually and corporately to do more in being a part of continuing or establishing that safety net of services each community needs; 3) as a first step, committing to achieving a minimum 20-percent increase in our local United Way campaign which represents 60 agencies included within that safety net; and finally, committing themselves that the programs supported are needed and efficiently and effectively administered. You have our support." And it was signed by Harold E. O'Kelley, chairman of the board and president of Datapoint Corporation, Tom Turner, Sr, chairman of the board and president of Sigmor Corporation, Dr. Robert V. West, Jr., chairman of the board of Tesoro Petroleum Corporation, and H. B. Zaehry, Sr., chairman of the board of the H. B. Zachry Company.

And just this weekend, I received a letter from the insurance industry promising to undertake new budget initiatives to reduce unemployment, especially among minority youths. The insurance companies plan to direct their financial resources—which are in the hundreds of billions of dollars, as we know—to further this goal. They also plan to increase their dollar contributions to these programs affecting basic human needs.

The private sector can address the tough social problems of special concern to minority Americans, and I believe that we will soon see a torrent of private initiatives that will astound the advocates of big government.

The efforts of you at this conference also show what can be done when concerned people in businesses join in partnership with government. You are a model of future action, and I'm calling upon you today to help in the cause to enlarge the social responsibility of our citizens. The spirit that built this country still dwells in our people. They want to help. We only need to ask them.

All of us, and particularly we who are parents, have worried about whether the youth of today have absorbed some of the traditions with which we're so indoctrinated. Well, a few years ago, in Newport Beach, California, there were some lovely beachfront homes that were threatened by an abnormally high tide and storm-generated heavy surf—in danger of being totally undermined and destroyed. And all through the day and the cold winter night—and it does get cold in California at night; sometimes in the daytime—the volunteers worked filling and piling sandbags in an effort to save these homes. Local TV stations, aware of the drama of the situation, covered the struggle and went down there in the night to see what was happening, catch the damage being done and so forth.

And it was about 2 a.m. when one newscaster grabbed a young fellow in his teens, attired only in wet trunks, even at that hour. He'd been working all day and all that night—one of several hundred of his age group. And in answer to the questions-no, he didn't live in one of those homes they were trying to save; yes, he was cold and tired. And the newscaster finally wanted to know, well, why were he and his friends doing this? And he stopped for a minute and then he answered, and the answer was so poignant and tells us something so true about ourselves that it should be printed on a billboard. He said, "Well, 1 guess it's the first time we ever felt like we were needed."

Americans are needed. They're needed to keep this country true to the tradition of voluntarism that's served us so well. And they're needed to keep America true to her values. In the days following World War II when a war-ravaged world could have slipped back into the Dark Ages, Pope Pius XII said: The American people have a genius for great and unselfish deeds; into the hands of America, God has placed an afflicted mankind.

Let those words be true of us today. Let us go forth from this conference and say to the people: Join us in helping Americans help each other. And I assure you, I'm not standing here passing this off to you as solely your task, and the government will wash its hands of it. We intend a partnership in which we'll be working as hard as we can with you to bring this about.

Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:35 a.m. at the Sheraton Washington Hotel.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Annual Meeting of the National Alliance of Business Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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