DR. BEN CARSON
SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
AT THE MANHATTAN INSTITUTE
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
DECEMBER 12th, 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 with you.
I'd like to thank your President, Lawrence Mone, all the talented men and women working at the Manhattan Institute, and our panelists and moderators for addressing one of the most important questions in our country today. And all of you for braving the cold weather, and threats of terrorism! You know, it takes a lot more than a failed bombing to discourage New Yorkers!
In his 1964 address to Graduates at the University of Michigan, President Lyndon Johnson said:
"We have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society. The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time."
His sentiments were good, and his vision was grand.
The question we face is whether the federal government has succeeded in making this vision a reality, and what it means to families seeking a good life today.
As President Johnson created the programs which would ultimately form a Welfare Industrial Complex, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was being raked over the coals for his dire warnings about the future of the black family.
His famous report warned that the precarious economic situation of black men in America could become a national crisis, with social and cultural fallout affecting families for generations.
Many have heard it said that the black male in America is an endangered species. Why do people say that?
Because in many communities there are more black males incarcerated than there are in college. Because in many of our major cities, the number one cause of death for young black males is homicide.
Anybody who knows anything about education knows that young black male students-kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade-they're good students like everybody else.
What happens? That peer pressure begins to kick in.
They begin to study American history. They noticed there's nobody in their textbook who looks like them, who really contributed much to making America great.
"Maybe next year when I take World History?" Same thing.
Where do I fit in? What did my ancestors do?
And then they come home and turn the TV on. "Oh, there we are."
Playing basketball, baseball, football. Rapping in those baggy pants, acting the fool on some sitcom. You begin to get a very different impression of who you are, and what success constitutes for you. And you think you're going to be the next Michael Jordan, or the next Puff Daddy or whatever.
But it doesn't take long before that doesn't pan out. Next thing you know you're looking at television, six o'clock news, and you see a young man being led away in handcuffs, trying to shield his face from the cameras, having committed some heinous crime.
And you say "That's little Johnny! What happened? He was such a good boy!"
Same thing happens to "little Johnnys" across this nation every single day. And it didn't have to happen. Because anybody could have taken that young man by the hand when he was six years old and walked down the streets of Manhattan and given him a Black History lesson he would have never forgotten.
They could have started by pointing to his shoes, saying, "You know it was Jan Matzeliger, a black man who invented the automatic shoe lasting machine, which revolutionized the shoe industry throughout the world.
And you step on that clean street, and you tell him it was Charles Brooks, a black man who invented the street sweeper, the machine with the big brushes that comes down the street.
And down that street comes a big refrigerated tractor-trailer truck, and you tell him it was Frederick Jones, a black man who invented a refrigeration system for trucks, later adopted for airplanes, trains, and boats.
And it comes to a stop at the red light and you tell him it was Garret Morgan, a black man who invented the traffic signal. And you can also tell him that Garret Morgan invented the gas masks that saved lots of lives during the war.
And while you're talking about the war, Henrietta Bradbury, a black woman who invented the underwater cannon, made it possible to launch torpedoes from a submarine.
And you'll see a beautiful black woman walking down the street-a black man did not invent her!-but you can use that opportunity to talk about Madam CJ Walker, a black woman who invented cosmetic products for women of dark complexion, who was the first woman of any ethnicity to become a millionaire on her own efforts in the United States of America.
And you walk by the hospital and you talk about Daniel Hale Williams, the first successful open-heart surgery. He had an operative mortality rate of less than 1.5 percent. And you look up at the surgical light: Thomas Edison.
You didn't know he was black, did you?
Well he wasn't, but his right-hand man Lewis Latimer was! Lewis Latimer invented the filament that made the light bulb work for more than two or three days. Invented the electric lamp, diagramed the telephone for Alexander Graham Bell, was a tremendous inventor in his own right. You know, most people have never even heard of him.
You walk past the railroad tracks. Andrew Beard invented the automatic railroad coupler, spurred on the industrial revolution. Elijah McCoy, the automatic lubrication system for locomotive trains.
In fact, McCoy had so many inventions, when something new would come out in the industrial realm, people would say "Is that a McCoy? Is that-the REAL McCoy?"
You've got racist people like David Duke talking about "the real McCoy"-they don't even know who they're paying homage to!
And I'm just barely scratching the surface. So you can see, that young man had no reason not to believe that his ancestors played an important role in the development of this country.
And you know there's been so much self-hatred promoted amongst black people-and you're going to be in for a real treat when I get finished, you're going to hear a young man say a poem: "Lord, Why Did You Make Me Black?" It's going to really summarize those sentiments very well.
Well, many people weren't interested in hearing about all the things that I just talked about, unfortunately. In Lyndon Johnson's time, or even now.
But Daniel Patrick Moynihan has certainly been validated by history.
In 1965, more than 75% of African-American children were born to married mothers. This was good.
And now, 50 years later?
In 2015, more than 70% of African-American children were born to unmarried ones.
After half a century and 22 trillion dollars, that massive percentage had flipped on its head.
It is one of the most tragic statistics in America. It represents so much unrealized human potential, and so many families deprived of the educational, moral, and psychological benefits of having a mother and a father.
And it leads to a lot of poverty. The Brookings Institute, many of you may be familiar with, did a study on poverty, a national study, and they concluded that there were three things that a person could do to that would reduce their risk of living in poverty to two percent or less.
Number one: graduate from high-school.
Number two: get married.
Number three: wait until you're married to have children.
Those three things. Less than a two percent chance of living in poverty. We should be thinking about those things when we make our policies.
That's not to say that single mothers can't be successful.
You know, I saw my own mother, by herself, work two to three jobs at a time to make sure that her sons would have a better opportunity than she did.
And she would always say to us: "There are two roads you can take. You can take the road where you sit and spend all your time complaining and concentrating about unfairness and prejudice-or you can take the road of opportunity, and you can put your energy in there."
And I think she was right, because one of her sons became a neurosurgeon, and the other one became a rocket scientist. So I think she may have been on to something.
She succeeded against long odds-odds that many families, through no fault of their own, can't beat.
This trend is one of many indications that we must rethink the Great Society-how it can be achieved, whom it benefits, and which institutions are best equipped to fulfill its promise.
There are indications that some policies, like the so called "man-in-house" rule for welfare, were directly harmful to social stability.
According to Roland Warren, the former President of the National Fatherhood Initiative, "there are systems in place, well-meaning as they may be, that incentivize people to make choices that ultimately don't strengthen the black family."
It also didn't help that The War on Poverty sometimes conflicted with The War on Drugs, which often dealt harshly with non-violent offenders, taking men away from their families, and disproportionately affecting minority communities.
And of course, there is the issue of dependency itself, that our national safety net became a net trapping millions of Americans from rising above it.
But many researchers point out that other factors, like the sexual revolution, changing social norms, and lack of jobs, have had a far greater impact on families, poverty, and crime, than any one government policy.
Which is precisely the point.
More harmful than any single government program has been the presumption that the federal government could manage affairs of human nature in the first place.
It was not capable of replacing the institutions which used to nurture and guide Americans in their social activity and improvement: local government, churches, fraternal organizations, and families themselves.
These were the scalpels and sutures of civil society.
But Lyndon Johnson's Great Society brought a sledgehammer to neurosurgery. To a delicate process.
Of course, countless Americans have been saved from hunger, homelessness, sickness, and extreme deprivation by federal programs. Material poverty has declined, as standards of living, even for those in need of help, has risen tremendously. Our nation deserves to be proud of such accomplishments.
Right now, millions of men and women depend on the federal agency I lead, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for access to safe, affordable housing across the country.
Government efforts have unquestionably helped many people survive. But as we see from the state of families, generational poverty, and the continuing need for assistance, our efforts have not been sufficient to let people thrive.
And it's vital that our people thrive. We have 330 million people in this country. Sounds like a lot, but it's a quarter of what China has. A quarter of what India has. And we need to compete with them in the future, which means we need all of our people to thrive.
We need to develop all of our people, or by sheer numbers, we will not be able to compete into the future.
It is not charity to pull the rug out from under Americans who depend on the programs of the Great Society. But it is equally uncharitable to pretend they have flourished under them.
So, what should we do?
Fortunately, we have an answer, which has awaited rediscovery for fifty years, in the same speech that Lyndon Johnson gave at Michigan. He said the following:
"The solution to these problems does not rest on a massive program in Washington, nor can it rely solely on the strained resources of local authority. They require us to create new concepts of cooperation, a creative federalism, between the National Capital and the leaders of local communities."
That's what he said, fifty years ago. The "new" model. Nothing new under the sun because that's what we're talking about today. But now we need to enact it.
It applies just as clearly to our current times. The path forward is a return to a cooperative model for social improvement, which promotes local solutions, private enterprise, and the initiative of Americans in their own communities. Public-private partnerships.
We must recognize that a strong economy, strong families, and strong values are the key to permanently defeating poverty, and that these conditions are fostered primarily by Americans themselves, in their voluntary associations, rather than the federal government.
We should-we must-continue to do our duty for those who have come to depend on public assistance in its many forms, while refocusing this assistance to lead our countrymen back to self-sufficiency and self-determination.
We will know we've succeeded when fewer and fewer Americans need our services.
It will mean something different at every government agency, from more school choice at the Department of Education, to unleashing free enterprise at the Department of Labor.
At HUD, it means expanding job training and employment opportunities for those in low-income housing, and in areas where affordable housing is being constructed.
It means we need to empower Section III, which says if you're getting HUD money, you need to hire local, low-income people, you need to train them, you need to give them contracts. It's been on the books for forty-nine years, hardly ever used because people say there's a gap-a skills gap. "These people don't know how to weld, they don't know how to how to lay bricks, they don't know cement work."
But guess what? We have a brain, with frontal lobes, with the ability to think ahead, which means we know a year, two, or three ahead of time that we're going to do that, why not train the people then and have a workforce with skills that will allow them to escape poverty. We can do that. We're focusing on that now.
It means founding EnVision centers across the country, which leverage private-sector investment and provide education training and counseling to young people climbing upward. Envision Centers will become hubs for mentorship, because many studies have shown that low-income children who are mentored finish high school at a much higher rate than those who have not.
Put people in contact with childcare facilities, so that those young women who interrupted their education can get their GED, and their associate's degree, and their bachelor's degree, and become self-sufficient. But more importantly, teach that to their children, so we can break the ever-growing cycle of dependency.
It means providing local healthcare so people don't use emergency rooms that cost five times more and don't provide appropriate care, so you end up with all these Stage Four diseases that don't need to be there.
It means exposing children to the myriad jobs and careers that they've never heard of, that many of them would be so good at.
By helping Americans in diverse areas of their lives, we can start to fully and permanently raise families from poverty by engaging communities and private enterprise to help families build their own futures.
Giving them ownership of their futures is the first step toward the goal of self-sufficiency we desire for all Americans. The EnVision Centers are going to be there to help them at every step. Not with big government programs, but locally grown and driven solutions.
It means reforming FHA policies and other forms of government assistance to provide a path to responsible homeownership to as many Americans as possible. This cornerstone of the American Dream is a major step to independence, an equity passed down through generations.
And it's important to note that renters, in general, have a net worth of about $5000, homeowners, about $200,000. It's a forty-fold difference. We need to concentrate on getting people out of a rental situation, but it has to be done responsibly.
Because the last time, it was not done responsibly, and it doesn't do anybody any good to put them in a home they can't afford. They lose their home, their credit, and their future opportunities. We're looking at responsible ways of being able to do that.
And it means embracing President Trump's executive orders to reduce the regulatory burdens on Americans and their businesses, especially those who provide jobs and housing to their fellow citizens.
I cannot presume to speak for my fellow Secretaries, nor members of Congress. But I believe this is the way forward. Not just for black Americans, but all Americans.
When we realize our opportunities and limitations…
When we empower our countrymen to determine their own futures…
When we preserve a culture where family, faith, and friendship flourish, and they preserve us in turn…
When we ignore the purveyors of division and hatred, and recognize that no divided society can flourish for long, as has been proven by history…
And when we recognize that we have a choice about what kind of people we're going to be-are we going to allow ourselves to hate each other because we may have a difference of opinion, or do we choose to sit down with each other, and openly communicate, and resolve our issues?
That's going to determine whether indeed we have a Great Society.