DR. BEN CARSON
SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
AT THE WHITE HOUSE FELLOWS ANNUAL LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE
OCTOBER 26th, 2017
As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.
Good morning! It's a great pleasure to be here.
I had a wonderful discussion with the current class of White House Fellows back in July-so if my ideas today sound familiar to some of you, it just means I haven't found any reason to change my mind since then!
But I'm going to try to keep things interesting anyway.
And to do that I'm going to start with a boring question.
It's one that lots of people in government or public life get asked. I expect many of you have. I know I have:
"Why did you want to get into government?" Or, "what attracted you to public service?"
Our answer is as true as it is dull: "I want to help people."
I'd say 99% of everyone in Washington agrees on that. If nothing else, it should be a lesson that we're more united in our hearts, and less partisan, than the news media will admit. That's a big thing to recognize right there.
But it's the next question that is more interesting:
"What's the best way to help people?"
That question has 323 million answers. They have created and destroyed big parties, started and ended campaigns, made laws and repealed laws, and spilled enough ink to flood Washington!
Namely, that question causes politics. Politics is the struggle to get your answer to be the official one.
In this room, there are some incredibly smart and talented people with backgrounds in law, defense, economics, education, medicine, science, and all sorts of other impressive fields.
I'm sure that each one of you has been formulating a great answer of your own, over the years. That's why you're here.
And if my approach as Secretary of HUD might add to this ongoing formulation, I hope I will have done my job here today.
In America, it seems clear that personal liberty has always been considered the guiding star of our Republic, something that is worth fighting and sacrificing for. The most important thing our government is supposed to protect.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote that all people have "the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," it was an amazing rebuke to a monarchy that didn't fully recognize these rights, and wasn't allowing Americans to flourish.
For Americans to truly exercise their God-given rights, independence was necessary. Self-sufficiency.
Our social upheavals through the years have centered around expanding this liberty to everyone who should have it-from the Revolution, through the Civil War, to Women's Suffrage, to the Civil Rights movement, to the youngest, most vulnerable future Americans.
Over two centuries later, the same is true today. Our highest dignity and pride is our liberty.
And if we wish to use that liberty for the best purpose, to serve our countrymen, then what's the best thing we can give them?
It's more independence. More freedom. More self-sufficiency.
But, as I think everyone here would agree, we also have a moral duty-not just a political duty-to serve our fellow man. We are called by a spirit of charity, whether recognized as God's eternal truth or simply an extension of natural law, to help those whom Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell once called "the least, the last, and the lost."
There are some, then, who must depend upon us.
This might seem to be a problem. Can real liberty exist in a society which must also take care of those in need?
There have been quite a few answers to this question over the years.
Some thinkers have said that its every man for himself-that any attempt to recognize a duty toward our fellow man infringes on the rights of the individual.
Others have said that our liberties are an old-fashioned concept; that we must diminish, and government must increase, in order to take care of people.
Of course, I disagree with both camps. I think our two missions can be reconciled.
In order to do so, our necessary efforts on behalf of the poor and the downtrodden must always be aimed at fixing underlying problems, guided by the self-determination of the American people, and leading to the ultimate gift of self-sufficiency and independence.
Social services, programs, and charities which allow a trickle of resources-like an IV drip-continue for three generations, without actually pulling families out of bad conditions, aren't curing poverty or homelessness or joblessness. They're just helping people survive in it, and depriving them of the greatest promise of America in the process.
This happens too often. And it's because somewhere down the line, we mistook the process of fighting poverty-the money, the systems, and the institutions-with the goal. The goal of restoring their ability to help themselves.
So it is important to realize that when we talk about the problem of dependency, we're really talking about a problem with the government-not with the people we want to serve. It's our job to serve them better.
As they say, "physician, heal thyself."
So that means reforming the way we do things, HUD included.
After trillions of dollars spent since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs, it's clear that more taxpayer dollars don't necessarily translate to better outcomes.
We have made progress in a lot of areas. But there are still half a million chronically homeless Americans. Forty thousand of them are veterans of our armed forces. And millions still depend on some form of government assistance, for housing or food or many other things.
Again, this is not a failing of our fellow Americans. It is a failing of our federal institutions to construct a society where these men and women may naturally prosper.
But we're taking steps to serve them better at HUD.
We're prioritizing work and job training, for those who are able, through Section III programs and other areas.
In various cities, we're planning Envision Centers-designed to be hubs for communities and private enterprises to directly address the educational and economic needs of families, while putting government in a supporting role, not a commanding one.
We're promoting the idea of Housing First when it comes to homelessness, because underlying problems like addiction, mental illness, and unemployment are far harder to solve on the street, than from a home. Once we give someone an address, and a personal stake in their future, permanent change is possible.
We're rolling out our FORWARD Initiative at HUD, a three-part reform plan. The first goal is to Reimagine How HUD Works-that means internal improvements, better working conditions, and more efficient internal processes.
The second is to Restore the American Dream-this is very closely related to what I've been talking about today. Tailoring our programs to permanently improve lives, and expand economic opportunity, so that people can become self-sufficient again.
The third is to Rethink American Communities and how we make them thrive. This means recognizing that active charities, religious institutions, and private groups are often better at achieving their mission than heavy-handed government interventions. Restoring local control, and promoting home-grown solutions, is also very tied to what I've been speaking about today.
All this has been planned and started in a slim eight months, along with providing disaster relief, beginning conversations on housing finance reform, and other regulatory changes.
I'm very proud of my team, and we all have a lot more work to do in the months and years to come.
As we meet these future challenges, we will be guided by a vision of what it means to really help our fellow Americans:
To care for their physical needs, with an eye to their future prosperity and independence-and never give up that goal.
To look at them as holistic persons, and recognize that education, faith, family, health, work, and so many other things are vital components to their well-being, in housing and beyond.
To empower communities, families, and individuals to tell us what works best for them, and give them a stake in their futures, instead of federal agencies riding roughshod over their own initiative.
This is my answer. I believe this is the answer of many at HUD, and thousands of amazing men and women across this administration.
But we need all the help we can get-from within government and without.
And it just so happens that I'm standing in a room with some very accomplished, intelligent people, from both the public and private sector.
So I will ask you: if you would make common cause with us-if you are compelled by our "answer" about the meaning of helping our fellow Americans-what new and amazing ways can be found to use your skills?
What talents have you been blessed to possess, and what opportunities exist for you to join the fight, to lift up your countrymen?
How will you strengthen them to liberty and independence, while serving their basic needs?
Now that's an interesting question!