Total Recoil

Keynote Address for the annual convention of the National Soft Drink Association

Atlantic City, N. J. on November 20, 1974

Dr. John A. Howard President – Rockford College

I once heard Robert Maynard Hutchins begin an address by saying that the object of his remarks was to bring about total recoil. In a way, that is also the object of what I have to say, but in this case, the recoil I seek is a reaction against a rather massive mess into which we have gotten ourselves and against the tendency toward wishful thinking which has led us into it.

Let me begin with a quotation which summarizes the situation rather well:

“As a (Washington) eye-witness of governmental and other public action through the years, I formed the opinion that the United States merits the dubious distinction of having discarded its past and its meaning in one of the briefest spans of modern history.

“Among the changes are…fiscal solvency and confidence in a stable dollar driven from the national and foreign marketplace by continuous deficit spending, easy credit, and growing unfavorable balance of payments in the international ledger of the United States; the free enterprise system shackled by organized labor and a government-managed economy; the government transmuted into a welfare state subsidized from Washington; and spoiled generations–young and old– led to expect the government to provide for all their wants, free of any of the requirements of responsible citizenship…”

Anyone know who wrote that? No, it was not written by Barry Goldwater or Walter Trohan, but by a three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Washington correspondent of the New York Times – Arthur Krock – in the concluding paragraphs of his Memoirs. It is, I think, true that we have moved from a reasonably solvent, generally self-reliant and self-respecting patriotic nation to a debt-ridden, quarrelsome, self-doubting, meddlesome welfare state in which the militant concern for the citizen’s rights and benefits seems to have overwhelmed and nullified the concern for the responsibilities which the citizen must bear.

How did this fundamental transformation come about? What happened? There is, of course, no simple explanation for such broad changes, but I would like to call your attention to one aspect of our circumstances which had a very important bearing on the change.

The forfeiture of our personal and corporate independence, and our solvency and our pride is undoubtedly, in part, the result of the economic success we have enjoyed. Poverty is a stern disciplinarian. The people of a marginal economy are obliged to work hard just to put food on the table and clothes on the back. Their children must accept responsibility at an early age, contributing their full and regular share to the labors of the household. Laziness, contrariness and self-pity are luxuries that simply don’t fit into the scheme of things.

By contrast, affluence seems to make a people careless, indulgent and improvident. It is only when there is a significant surplus beyond the necessities of life that the children may engage in foolish adventures into a drug culture, or a make-believe revolution, or an identity crisis that takes them off to some remote corner of the earth “to try to find themselves”. Such activities I rate as foolish because they are undertaken largely on an emotional basis without any realistic attention to the probable long-term results, ignoring the track record of those who have already been over the course. It is only the fat purse that can sustain and humor such flights from reality.

The confused youngsters who have gone off into one or another of these blind alleys seeking some glorious breakthrough which never occurred, suffered from hopes and judgments based on romantic theories rather than upon the realities of human nature and human societies.

I would like to suggest that in a similar manner, also seeking impossible breakthroughs, we have tolerated foolish adventures on the part of our government into vast and extravagant programs that were generated largely by wishful thinking. These programs, growing out of romantic theories, have been perpetuated and multiplied without regard to their effectiveness in achieving the proclaimed objectives and despite the clear evidence that they were causing significant harm to the society. The passions generated by the professional consumerists and ecologists in the last few years have given rise to a rapid multiplication of governmental programs of regulation and intervention, for the most part conceived and implemented in response to emotionally inspired political pressure, but without regard to their actual consequences. Your convention has been painfully trying to chart a course of survival for your industry among the hazards and pitfalls created by our own government. I assure you that almost every other industry is undergoing similar agonies in its convention this year. Even our association of private college presidents which meets two weeks hence has allocated the largest time block on the agenda to an attempt to defend ourselves against the newest wave of devastating governmental interference.

If we look back through the last four decades, it is clear that one program after another developed by paternalistic welfare statism has turned out to be counter-productive.

In a book entitled The Federal Bulldozer, Professor Martin Anderson has documented the actual results of our urban renewal programs, noting that the poor were preeminently the victims rather than the beneficiaries of the housing changes produced by urban renewal activities. Mrs. Edith Green who, for years, has been one of the most respected members of the House Sub-Committee on Education, has recently told us that the federal efforts to aid education have resulted in a hodge-podge of uncoordinated and overlapping programs, and has stated there are signs that we may be losing ground–that is, that the children may be less well-educated than before the government began its efforts to help. One would suppose at the very least, education would be prosperous as the result of all the federal billions invested, but it appears that education is in dire financial straits.

The minimum wage, another cherished instrumentality of the welfare state enthusiasts, has turned out to be a cruel delusion in that what was supposed to help the people at the bottom end of the wage scale has, instead, hurt many of them. Each increase in the required minimum wage has put thousands of people out of work, with the heaviest toll falling upon the young, the uneducated, the underqualified, and the members of minority groups.

The distinguished British sociologist, Barbara Shenfield, recently completed on our campus a series of four lectures entitled, “The Myths of Social Policy”. During the course of those talks, she analyzed the theories and assumptions which have guided the development of governmental programs in a number of fields including education, assistance to the poor and the elderly, Social Security, housing, wage control and medical care. Let me quote several of her comments on Britain’s nationalized medicine.

“The medical, nursing and paramedical personnel, most of whom accepted the challenge of the (British) National Health Service, and enthusiastically tried to treat patients as patients…are now soured and disenchanted, and militantly organized for their own sectional interest…The more money the (National Health) Service has needed from public funds, the more certain it has been thought necessary to scrutinize every detail of its operation and to multiply the
paper checks and returns of overworked staff. The larger the input of public funds, the more certain that public administrators and managers over-ride the independence of professional medical opinion and the greater has grown the dissatisfaction of the patients…

“Progress raises expectations which cannot be fulfilled. The best physicians and, surgeons are, by definition, few in number. Therefore it is impossible for more than a few to receive the best known medical care. The latest scientific techniques are likely to rest upon the most expensive equipment or processes. Therefore only a few can enjoy their benefits. Neither socialized medicine nor private medicine can change these basic facts, but socialized medicine induces the belief that it can.”

We don’t, of course, need Washington pundits or visiting distinguished professors to inform us that the fabric of our society has been stretched and torn by policies which have often proven to be ineffective, misleading, spendthrift, divisive and/or downright destructive. The question is: Have the popular misconceptions–the myths–, as Mrs. Shenfield calls them–which have guided much of our social policy for decades, been so often repeated and so convincingly phrased that they have become accepted as revealed truth? Can we disengage ourselves from them? Is it still possible for us to seek techniques which will effectively attend to our proper social purposes, techniques which are not ruinous to our economy?

Unfortunately, our political system tends not to reward intelligence, integrity, realism and good judgment, but instead seems to give the prize to seductive oratory, to fast footwork and the talent for tagging the opposition with unpopular labels. It begins to appear that there is little to be hoped for from our political leadership in the way of an honest evaluation of the actual results of the policies we have followed and/or a rethinking of our course of action. For the most part, the promisers, not the thinkers and realists, are in control in our government.

Well, what other resources are available to bring us back from our national trip to never-never land? One thinks, of course, of the academic community and the vast amount of its talent engaged in study and research and the formulation of theories. However, this, too, turns out to be a rather frail reed to lean upon for help in the matters which concern us here. One study after another has revealed the heavy dominance of liberal ideology in the humanities and social sciences, and particularly in those academic fields which are most directly influential in forming public opinion. Furthermore, two fairly recent developments within the academic community tend to reinforce the academic bias in behalf of the political philosophy of the welfare state. The surge of federal funding of higher education through the last two decades has resulted in a condition where a large portion of the colleges and universities are so wholly dependent upon Washington dollars that members of the academic profession are in effect political captives obliged to vote for whichever political candidate promises the largest increase in federal funding, and obliged to work militantly against any political candidate who is less than enthusiastic about federal subsidies of education.

The Congressional Quarterly reported on the emphasis which the million-and-a-half teacher members of the National Education Association placed this year on electing people who are “friendly to education”. In 1972 the NEA concentrated on the re-election of Senator Clayborn Pell, the liberal chairman of the Senate Sub-Committee on Education. After the election, Senator Pell was quoted as saying, “My election is a victory for teacher power. Before the teachers began to help me, I was a 2-1 underdog.”

The other development which also lends strength to the already dominant liberal ideology among professors is the thrust toward unionization of the teaching profession, a thrust which has been accelerated by the job insecurity in the over-expanded education industry. The teachers’ unions are no exception to the general commitment of organized labor to increase and multiply welfare state programs.

We have in higher education today a large and very powerful segment of society which seems to be locked into a dependence upon the federal government and with the exception of a few maverick professors here and there, is heavily committed to the social philosophy we have been following since the 1930s.

Where, then, must we look for help? Where can we find leadership that is accustomed to making its policy decisions on factual and practical rather than theoretical and emotional bases? Who is accustomed to making plans in light of the production statistics of the last quarter and the last two years? Where can we find those people who have been trained to recognize a failure as a failure, take their losses and move forward–in short, leaders with their feet firmly planted in reality?

The answer seems to point in only one direction–the leadership of the business and industrial community. The businessman, if he operates on erroneous theory, goes bankrupt. He cannot escape the actual results of his decisions. The marketplace disciplines him. There has been virtually no such restraining force upon most of the vocations which actually mold and alter public opinion. The professor, the clergyman, the news analyst, the politician, the columnist, the playwright, the people in the entertainment industry, all operate in circumstances in which, if they are mistaken, they can nevertheless go on eternally espousing erroneous theory without ever being called to account for the effectiveness of that which they promote. Unfortunately, a very large portion of them have been thinking with the heart. Now, it is altogether impossible to pump blood with your brains– I don’t care how hard you try. It is equally impossible to think with the heart, but that is what has been going on for a long time, and we are now looking at the shambles that has resulted from well-intentioned non-thought.

The citizenry, nationwide, is restive and is trying in small groups here and there to counteract the circumstances which the welfare-state-thinking has created. There are people trying to resist the costly and ill-conceived busing of school children, or to reverse the rapid increase in crime which has been fostered by a weak-toothed criminal justice system, or to withdraw from the schools certain textbooks that defy the basic tenets of morality, and above all, to diminish or restrict the ever-growing tax burden required to support the enormous apparatus of government. Still, their efforts are small, uncoordinated, and the people really don’t know what to do, or how to go about it. We have an army facing the right direction but their feet don’t move.

What is needed is leadership and, as I said, the one reservoir of competent and realistic leadership available seems to be the corporate executives. Yes, I know the company officer has his hands more than full trying to carry out his primary responsibilities amid the ever-increasing governmental intervention, regulation and interference, not to mention the difficulties imposed by inflation and recession. The last thing the corporate executive needs is another set of demanding responsibilities, but, BUT if the business community does not rise to defend itself effectively against the forces of socialism, federal regulation and the welfare state, then we will continue at an accelerating pace toward the elimination of private property, private enterprise, and the private determination of one’s own destiny.

Well, what are some of the specific courses of action that might have the most effective and far-reaching results in turning things around? The primary seat of trouble is to be found among the forces which shape public attitudes. Let us consider further the academic community. It is, after all, the principal training ground for the leadership of our society and certainly the main supplier of people who go into the various fields which influence public opinion. In recent years, there has been a growing recognition that professors, by and large, are opposed to the profit motive and suspicious of, if not outright hostile to, the private enterprise system. Some effort has already been invested in trying to counteract this particular aspect of the dominant academic ideology. The Campus Studies Institute has developed some excellent literature which it places in the hands of college students. Increasing numbers of business executives have made themselves available as guest lecturers in the classroom, or for campus panel sessions about our economic system. A number of projects have been undertaken to try to establish a chair of private enterprise on specific campuses here and there. Each of these endeavors is a step in the right direction, and some of them are reported to be quite effective.

Nevertheless, given the size of the problem and the urgency of bringing about major change, these efforts are like trying to mop up the ocean with a sponge. I believe we must direct our attention to those points where the results could be achieved on a much larger scale. I refer to the boards of trustees and the chief administrative officers who make the policies which govern the educational program. Let us begin with the private colleges and universities. In almost every instance, the private institutions make a case to their alumni and other donors for gifts which will enable them to continue as private institutions. It seems to me that if there is to be anything that is, in fact, a private college or university, its existence is totally dependent upon the success of private enterprise. Without private enterprise–and very successful private enterprise–where will the private university get its operating subsidy? Only from the government, and then, as we have lately discovered, it will not be private.

I think it is time alumni and individual and corporate donors called this fact to the attention of the people responsible for the policies and programs of the private colleges. Given the fact of dependence upon private gifts; it seems to me not inappropriate to suggest that the private college adopt a policy that the institution shall try to teach its students the basics of our economic system, helping them to understand the success private enterprise has had in producing the research needed to solve problems, and in delivering goods and services, a success far superior to every other economic system that has been tried. As a matter of self-preservation, the private college, if its privateness is really important to it, has a major obligation to try to help all its students and everyone else understand and be sympathetic to the economy which sustains it. Certainly a corporate donor or an individual cannot be blamed for wanting the youth of the nation to have an accurate appreciation of the economic system in which he earns his livelihood and through which he has been able to accumulate the funds for his gift. To donate to a college whose graduates are predominantly hostile to private enterprise is economically naive, or perhaps an economic death wish.

This kind of suggestion is easier phrased than carried out. How does a mere businessman do battle with the powerful, enigmatic dragon of academia, protected in its lair by the impregnable, magic shield of academic freedom? Well, my friends, the business community is about the only segment of society which has believed those claims of magic and refrained from trying to bend higher education to support its purposes. Government has given up any pretense of not exercising control over the educational process. Indeed, government has now violated academic freedom at its most critical point–the hiring, promotion and tenure of faculty. Government has imposed its own policy which says that the academic competence of the faculty member shall no longer be the supreme determining factor in faculty appointments. Affirmative action must now take precedence. I don’t know if a non-academic audience can appreciate the enormity of that invasion of institutional decision-making, but if academic freedom once existed in this country, it is now a thing of the past and federal subsidy has been the bludgeon employed to demolish it.

Still, it isn’t only the government that has been forcing change upon the colleges. Every zealot espousing a cause has recognized the campus to be the one fulcrum where the greatest leverage can be exercised upon public opinion and social change. If one can gain the sympathy of the intellectual community for his endeavors, the battle is half won. Therefore, the spokesmen for the whole spectrum of special rights have converged on the campuses to press their demands for sexual freedom, the legalization of pot, revolution, exotic religious cults, the third world, homosexuality, women’s liberation, etc., etc. These zealots have not been slowed down in any way by the presumed barriers of academic freedom. On the contrary, as a result of their militant pressures and demands, formal courses and, in some instances, whole curricula have been developed in Third World studies, sexual liberation, [editor add: White Privilege] and other fields championed by these forceful advocates.

And the business community? What about their efforts? They have politely requested permission for panel presentations about our economic system, or offered to endow a private enterprise professorship, sometimes with success, but more often, in the case of professorships, the academic freedom dragon has breathed its mighty flame, asserting a private enterprise chair is an infringement of academic freedom not to be tolerated, and the businessman sees how powerful the magic really is, and politely withdraws. Out in the marketplace, the businessman is accustomed to moving vigorously to accomplish what he believes to be right and necessary, but too often when he is dealing with academic personnel or other elements of the intellectual community, he seems to have an inferiority complex, apparently the victim of the propaganda that has been so effectively and so massively directed against him. The tiger in the executive suite becomes a meek lamb when elected to the board of trustees of his Alma Mater and the college president lectures him on academic freedom.

I have spoken of the private colleges and universities, but a word about the public ones. I recently received a letter about one of the state universities in the Midwest, where there is an effort in progress to establish a chair of private enterprise. The fact that it should be necessary to try to arrange for one economist who is a permanent resident spokesman for private enterprise suggests rather dramatically how bad the situation is. Isn’t it a little ridiculous that this nation whose economy is still fundamentally one of private enterprise should have to negotiate with its tax-supported institutions for the privilege of having one lone voice present the case for our own economic system? If the public universities were really serving the people on whose taxes they operate, it should be the socialists and communists who must negotiate for the privilege of one professor, not the representatives of the vast majority of the citizens. The public institutions, I believe, are at least as remiss as their private brethren in their policies which have given rise to or tolerated a pervasive hostility to private enterprise.

Let us turn now to another major source of opinion-making–the politicians who also, alas, have the power to convert opinion into law. Will Rogers once said, “When I make a little joke, it doesn’t hurt anybody, but when the Congress makes a joke, it’s a law”. We have been immersed in a tidal wave of oratorical outrage over the deceit and cover-up of the whole sordid Watergate thing, but it seems to me that some of the Congressional voices that have been so loud in their criticism of dishonest government officers are themselves highly vulnerable on the honesty scale. To campaign in behalf of projects which have tremendous drawing power at the ballot box, but which are hopelessly ineffective in actuality, is a type of dishonesty which in the long run may do far more damage to the nation than anything or everything involved in the Watergate saga.

Take, for instance, a proposal which is now receiving a lot of support from some of the most prominent members of our Congress–the re-imposition of wage and price control. The Senators and Congressmen who are leading this move should be requested, publicly and repeatedly, to cite any single instance in the history of government where wage and price control has done anything but damage the economy, except, of course, in time of war. England has been in and out of this bit of economic sleight-of-hand a number of times, and has always found it counter-productive. Our own recent experience with it echoes the British experience. On what grounds do these legislators suppose it will be any better next time around for us?

It seems to me that the business community is asleep at the switch in not recognizing the critical necessity to be powerful and active in the political process where so much of the future of our society is determined. It doesn’t take a national coordinating team to confront the officer-holder on the issues that he or she has chosen to espouse. Any intelligent person with some imagination and persistence should be able to find a way to insist upon some accountability on the part of the governmental officers as to the positions they have taken, challenging them in a public forum, a television program or a letter to the editor, to explain the grounds on which they support one wishful-thinking project or another.

Obviously, one cannot present in one talk a complete blueprint for re-ordering the thinking and the policies of our society. What I have tried to do is to register the thought that our economic success has encouraged our citizens to be careless and heedless about many governmental decisions and activities in recent years. In much the same manner that a number of young people have let their emotions persuade them to engage in foolish and destructive lifestyles, the general citizenry has let its emotions persuade it to vote for an ill-founded and counterproductive government-style. In both instances, the fundamental decisions have been made without regard to the facts that ought to be considered and the probable outcome.

The time has come when rationality must be reasserted as the guide for major decisions in both private and public life. The one large segment of leadership in our society where judgments have continued to be made on the basis of past performance, logic, and realistic projections is the business community. I have tried to register a plea for business management to step forth and meet this pressing needs, indicating in some detail how the individual might proceed in exerting influence upon the most powerful single source of opinion-makers in our society, the academic community, and I have offered one illustration of how the individual might take action to slow down some of the foolishness that is so prevalent in the political arena.

Much of the analysis has already been done contrasting the economically disastrous, personally demeaning policies of the welfare state with the counterpart policies of a society built on self-reliance, self-discipline and private initiative. We at Rockford College have been involved in this effort for some time. If you would like to be on the mailing list for the materials we publish periodically, just send your address. There are, in fact, quite a number of responsible sources of helpful information. I would particularly commend to you any one of four primers which present the case in general: Lemuel Boulware’s What YOU Can Do About Inflation, Unemployment, Productivity, Profit and Collective Bargaining. The Incredible Bread Machine, published by Campus Studies Institute Div. of World Research, Inc., Antony Fisher’s new book, Must History Repeat Itself?, and the recent lectures on “The Myths of Social Policy” by Barbara Shenfield which Rockford College will be publishing. They are all fairly brief, and intelligible to the layman.

Our nation, happily, is still possessed of vitality and ingenuity and courage generously spread throughout the population. We can disengage ourselves from the mess we have gotten into, but it will take thought and study and sustained consistent action on the part of many people. The resources are available for the layman to learn what must be done. The big problem is to get the individuals into action. We must recognize that those individuals are not a whole lot of somebody elses, but are in fact you and me. Perhaps if each of us conceived of the situation as having invested all our assets in a corporation called the United States of America, and if each of us understood that the future worth of all our assets depends upon our applying our own efforts to influence the USA corporation to follow sound policies, that concept might motivate us to keep active in this effort. That, of course, is not an imaginary circumstance, but the actual situation in which we find ourselves.

It will not be an easy task to turn the whole thing around, but then what task of profound importance is ever easy? There are already a good many of us at work on building a sound future for America, based on facts and reality rather than wishful thinking. Will you join us?


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