Remarks at the Business Roundtable Annual Dinner
Well, thank you, Roger, and thank you all. By the way, Roger, the Presidential limousine is running just fine. [Laughter] But I have to tell you, I think you fellows went a little overboard when I said I wanted the car to be absolutely worry-free. The other day my Secret Service driver pulled into a gas station, and I leaned forward and said, ``But the gas gauge still shows `full.''' And the agent said, ``Yes, that doesn't matter. Mr. Smith painted it that way.'' [Laughter] And one other thing, Roger. Does everybody who buys that kind of a car get a warranty that reads, ``Good until whichever comes first: 60,000 miles or 2 terms''? [Laughter]
Roger, ladies and gentlemen, it's an honor to be able to speak to you this evening. I've come here at a time when the creative energies of the American people have carried our economy into the midst of the longest peacetime expansion -- as Roger told you -- in our nation's history, at a time when world trade is strong and growing, when we see all around us technological breakthroughs that promise to carry us forward into a dazzling new era. Yet even today there is still work to do, a great deal of work, to make the economy of our nation and the world all that we would like them to be.
of that work our administration can do in the coming months. And let me
interject here that one item of unfinished business that I know you're
particularly concerned about is product liability law reform. Outlandish court
awards have placed tremendous burdens on
First, if I may, I'd like to establish the scope of the topic under discussion. For when we speak about the economy, we're dealing with more than mere numbers, more than statistics about productivity and employment. We're dealing instead with one of the most basic aspects of human existence: We're dealing with the way the great majority of men and women spend most of their hours, most days, throughout the most productive years of their lives.
The historian William McNeill described the rise of social organization in the ancient Middle East this way: ``Only on irrigated land could rich crops be harvested year after year from the same fields, and only where irrigation was needed did large numbers of men find it necessary to cooperate in digging and diking. An agricultural surplus that could support specialists, together with habits of social organization embracing large numbers of men, this could and did emerge in the flood plains of the principal Middle Eastern rivers, and, until much later, not elsewhere.'' In other words, there was a surplus of goods to be traded, and that is economy. There, and only there, did civilization arise.
Now, it's not my intention to give a history lesson. But I believe it's important to remind ourselves that in dealing with the economy we're dealing with human creativity. This insight has represented the underpinning of our economic expansion. We cut tax rates, reduced government regulation, and restrained Federal spending; and we unleashed the creativity of individuals and businesses. We gave them freedom to create; to keep the rewards of their own risktaking and hard work; and to reach for new, bold ideas.
I noted a moment ago, today we're in the midst of our nation's longest
peacetime expansion. Real family income is up. Twice as many new jobs have been
created here in the
lesson that we've learned about releasing the creative energies of private
firms and individuals is one that's being taken up around the world. From the
early days in 1981 of skepticism to today, nation after nation has moved toward
a free enterprise economy. Using high inflation to pay for expanding government
spending has halted. And most of the industrialized democracies have either cut
their top tax rates or are now in the process of doing so. And why has this
happened? Well, I quote: ``The reason for the
worldwide trend toward lower top rates of tax is clear. Excessive rates of
income tax destroy enterprise. By contrast, a reduction in the top rates of
income tax can, over time, result in a higher, not lower, revenue yield.''
Those were the words of
greatest historymakers in our time are not
politicians and statesmen, but inventors, entrepreneurs, and others who are
transforming the technological base of civilization and whose search for new
markets is leading us into a more global economy. These people are making the
world anew and knitting all of our nations together in ways more diverse and
wonderful than we can fully comprehend. So, by flexibility, I mean, in a
greater sense, humility -- humility of governments before the vastly diverse
creativity of their peoples. At the
world trade, there are some substantial inequities, but the answer is not to
close American markets: The answer is to open foreign ones. And that's why we
leaders used this summit to encourage the international trade negotiations,
what is called the
Opening, not closing, markets is why a new trade bill at home must encourage free and fair trade and not establish barriers that will lead to retaliation. Our goal, the goal of both the executive and legislative branches, should be sound, coherent, consistent trade policy, a trade bill that does not seek short-term political gains but long-term economic prosperity for all Americans in a market-driven world economy. What Thomas Jefferson said long ago still applies: ``Our interest will be to throw open the door of commerce and to knock off all its shackles, giving perfect freedom to all persons for the vent of whatever they may choose to bring into our ports, and asking the same of theirs.'' Clear back then -- Thomas Jefferson. And by the way, that a 20th century President can quote Jefferson on trade says a great deal about America's abiding interest in free markets, even from our earliest days. I told Tom that when he said it. [Laughter]
We also talked about how we coordinate our economic policies. I know many people question the summit process. What do the summits do? Are they just so much sound and fury? Well, not on your life! Today, all year round, the summit countries are working more closely together than ever before, and the summits are a key reason why. One payoff is that last October, when the world markets began to shake, the international economy stayed steady. Working together, we guided the world ship through the storm.
Finally, we talked about East-West relations, terrorism, regional political issues, and something I know every American family will cheer, the Bush initiative to stop drug-money laundering. Thanks to Vice President Bush, the major industrial democracies have committed themselves to hanging up ``Gone Out of Business'' signs in drug-money laundries all over the world.
Now, I've spoken of economic freedom and of the practical way to put that lesson into effect. Permit me to close now with one other practical matter, one that will put the great lesson of free markets into effect in an especially dramatic and historic way: the U.S.-Canada free trade agreement. Prime Minister Mulroney and I entered into this agreement in January of this year. It presently awaits enactment of implementing legislation by our Congress and the Canadian Parliament.
as we await this final approval, the
enactment of the implementing legislation, the agreement will make
confident that final approval of this free trade agreement will be completed
during my own term in office. But I'd hope that those who'd follow me will not
view it as an item of finished business, but rather as only a beginning. In
That's the thought that I would most like to leave you with: that even in economics -- the subject we're so often tempted to think of merely in terms of numbers and techniques -- even there, men and women are moved by the power of vision, by the power of dreams. Just a few decades ago, who would have thought that sand, mere sand, possessed the power to change the world? And yet today silicon, the stuff of sand, goes into the microchips that are ushering in the profoundest economic changes since the Industrial Revolution. Vision at the high technology firms like those so many of you represent -- vision has made it so.
We've done much during these 8 years to act upon the vision of economic freedom. Well, I'm convinced that today we stand on the verge of an economic and technological future of vast promise. We've embarked on an economic course that has led to new jobs, lower taxes, steady growth. And the challenge now is to recognize those voices that would construct barriers on this road to economic prosperity. These are the decisions that will be made over the next several months: individual opportunity and incentive or renewed government restriction and burden.
we've seen new prosperity throughout the democratic world. And after my visit
I can't leave you and resist exposing my latest hobby, which has become
discovering stories that are told between the citizens of the
Thank you, God bless you.
Note: The President spoke at in the Capitol Ballroom at the J.W. Marriott Hotel. He was introduced by Roger B. Smith, chairman of the Business Roundtable and General Motors Corp.