Arthur J. Altmeyer
SOME ISSUES FACING SOCIAL WELFARE TODAY
A. J. Altmeyer,
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Luncheon Meeting, National Social Welfare Assembly
at Hotel New Yorker, Dec. 3, 1951
I was asked to speak on the subject, "Issues Facing Social welfare Today." However, in order to keep within the time limit which your director thoughtfully emphasized to me, I have taken the liberty of limiting my talk to "Some Issues Facing Social welfare Today."
Before undertaking to discuss these issues, I presume it is only fair that I should attempt some sort of definition of the term "social welfare." However, I must confess I found it impossible to establish the precise metes and bounds within which to confine social welfare, because by its very nature social welfare is a dynamic concept dependent entirely upon our evolving ideas of the responsibility of community and State in affirmatively promoting the well-being of its members. As our sense of social responsibility develops, our concept of social welfare must inevitably grow. At one time, not so long ago, our concept of social welfare included almost exclusively relief and service to the underprivileged and the disadvantaged. Our concept was based upon the spirit of noblesse oblige. Our attention was focused upon the needs of the specific individual rather than upon the social institutions, the presence or absence of which affected the needs of individuals. Social welfare was thought of largely in terms of adjusting the individual to his environment rather than in terms of bringing environmental forces into play to assist the individual.
The newer concept of social welfare, as I view it, is that it consists not only of counseling and assisting the individual and family in making the necessary adjustments to environment, but more importantly, it consists of marshaling community resources to promote the well-being of individuals and of families generally. In other words, we do not think any longer in terms of a few underprivileged and disadvantaged persons, but we think in terns of all individuals and families. We think not in terms of "cure" or even "prevention" but in affirmative terms of actively promoting well-being rather than simply avoiding ill-being.
The new concept of social work would include not only constructive welfare services of the affirmative character I have just mentioned, but in my opinion would include measures designed to promote economic security as well. Therefore, I would include in social work not only what we have come to call in this country "public assistance" but also the social insurances. In other countries it would also include measures which do not fall under the heading of either public assistance or social insurance. I refer to children's allowances, family allowances and similar payments based upon the status of the individual rather than upon present need or past contributions of the individuals. In other words, I would include social security in the modern concept of social welfare.
Naturally in a democracy based upon a system of free enterprise we must undertake to promote the well-being of individuals in such a way as to strengthen our democracy and our system of free enterprise. Many people have sincerely felt that social action to help individuals weakens rather than strengthens the fabric of democracy and free enterprise because they fear that it weakens individual initiative. But if social welfare continues in the future as it has in the past to recognize that the basic purpose of social action is to enable individuals to achieve their maximum potentialities, such fears are groundless.
More than 100 years ago that arch advocate of laissez-faire, John Stuart Mill, in his essay "On Liberty" said that "Energy and self-dependence are as likely to be impaired by the absence of help as by its excess." But I am sure that some people will immediately protest that these fears that social welfare will lead to increased dependence rather than increased independence on the part of the individual are far from groundless in this country, certainly so far as governmental action in the field of social welfare is concerned. They will point to the fact that today in America there are almost 5-1/2 million individuals dependent upon the government for public assistance to meet their daily needs. They Will point out that public assistance is costing the Federal, State and local governments almost 2-1/2 billion dollars, and this in a period of unprecedented prosperity and full employment. Therefore, how can anyone say that public action in the field of social welfare has promoted rather than discouraged individual and family responsibility?
I am frank to say that I find no satisfaction in the fact that there are these millions of persons in need of public assistance. However, I do believe that the fact that public assistance is available to these millions of persons means that we have a better America today than we had a quarter of a century ago, and that these individuals are leading far happier and more useful lives as members of their community than they could otherwise have led.
If there had been in effect in this country during the last quarter of a century a system of contributory social insurance covering the inevitable mayor economic hazards of life these millions of persons would be receiving insurance benefits rather than public assistance. But before I discuss the relative advantages of contributory social insurance as compared with public assistance I should like to give you some facts as to public assistance which I believe it is essential to know if we are to act intelligently concerning some of the issues arising in the field of public assistance.
It has been asserted many times in the public press that we are spending more for public aid (or "relief", as it is usually called) today than we spent in 1940 when there were probably 8 million persons unemployed. As a matter of fact, we are spending considerably less in actual dollars even though these dollars buy far less of the necessities of life. Those who have contended that expenditures for public aid have increased singe 1940 have failed to take into account that in 1940 we still had in effect in this country the WPA, the NYA and the CCC, all of which, as you know, provided assistance on the basis of need.
Another serious mistake that is made by those who contend that expenditures for public aid have increased is that they fail to take into account the fact that the population has increased, particularly in the groups under 18 years of age and over 65 years of age, where need is the greatest. Thus, while the number of persons receiving old-age assistance has increased greatly since 1940, the number of old-age assistance recipients per thousand aged persons in this country has decreased.
It is true that the number of children receiving aid to dependent children has increased, not only in absolute numbers but also relative to the population under 18 years of age. That is a circumstance that I think should give us concern and I will discuss its implications in a moment. However, if we take all forms of public aid in existence in 1940 and in existence today, we find that 3.8 percent of the population is dependent on some form of public aid today as compared with 11.5 percent in 1940. We also find we are spending 1-1/10 cents out of every dollar of our notional income for public aid today, as compared with 3-4/10 cents in 1940.
Probably the worst mistake that is made in comparing expenditures for public aid in 1940, when there was wide-spread unemployment, with such expenditures today when there is full employment, is the failure to take into account the characteristics of the persons receiving such aid. We must not forget that under the various public assistance titles of the Social Security Act only the very young, the very old, the blind, and now the permanently and totally disabled, are eligible for public assistance. It should be obvious that these groups in our population cannot, for the most part (and in the case of children should not) engage in gainful employment. In other words, as the number of such persons in the population increases, it is obvious that the potential public assistance load will increase, regardless of improved employment conditions.
As I said a moment ago, it is a fact that the number of children receiving aid to dependent children has increased not only in absolute numbers but also relative to the population under 18 years of age. This is in spite of the fact that under old-age and survivors insurance there are approximately 800,000 orphans or partial orphans who are receiving children's benefits. A large proportion of these orphans now receiving insurance benefits should of course have been entitled to aid to dependent children. The result is that only about one-fifth of the children now receiving aid to dependent children are orphans. In other words, most of the children now receiving aid to dependent children are children who are in need because of the incapacity of a living parent or the absence from the home of a living parent. Putting it even more specifically, we find that in about two-fifths of the cases the need of the child has arisen from the fact that the father has deserted the mother or is not married to the mother or is absent from the home for other reasons. Undoubtedly it is this circumstance that has given rise to the charge that aid to dependent children has encouraged desertion and illegitimacy. I do not believe that this charge can be sustained. Desertion and illegitimacy have been with us for a long time and unfortunately they may be on the increase. But all the evidence, as well as the informed judgment of persons familiar with the facts, indicates the aid to dependent children represents not the cause but the effect of desertion and illegitimacy. It is an amazing fact that in only 22 percent of the cases of desertion and illegitimacy does the mother actually seek aid for her dependent children.
It is also significant to note that the increase in the proportion of families receiving aid to dependent children, where there is an illegitimate child in the family, has been considerably less than the increase in illegitimacy rates estimated by the Office of Vital Statistics for the population as a whole. It is also encouraging to note that in the last year and a half, the aid to dependent children caseload has been declining steadily. However, there will continue to be hundreds of thousands of children receiving this form of public assistance and a considerable proportion of these children will be in broken homes. This places a great responsibility upon not only the public officials who administer aid to dependent children but upon all social agencies, public and private alike, to aid these children so that they may not be disadvantaged because of circumstances beyond their control.
It is somewhat encouraging to note that for the last year and half there has been a steady decline in the total number of public assistance recipients and a generally downward trend in assistance expenditures. So far as old-age assistance is concerned, a considerable part of the decline is due to the 1950 legislative improvements in the Federal old-age and survivors insurance system. However, continued high employment, which provides greater employment opportunities for persons receiving assistance and increases the ability of relatives to assist, is probably the chief factor. But even though there has been this decline and even though there is a valid explanation of why in spite of this decline we still have almost 5-1/2 million persons receiving public assistance in this country, the fact remains that nobody is happy about the situation. The taxpayers of the country certainly are not happy. They make their dissatisfaction quite vocal in the public press and in legislative bodies. We do not hear so much about the unhappiness of the recipients of public assistance. However, those of us charged with the, responsibility of administering public assistance are acutely aware of the fact that the recipients do not relish being the recipients of public assistance. There has been much talk about chiselers on relief rolls. Much of this criticism does not distinguish between legal and illegal payments. That is to say, in some States the criticism has been directed at the failure of relatives to help their less fortunate relations when, under the laws of these States, the relatives in question have no legal obligation to do so. In fact in one or two States there is an absolute prohibition against even requesting a relative to help.
Likewise in some States there has been criticism that persons owning a home or having some other small assets are receiving public assistance, when under the laws and regulations such ownership is permitted. In fact in some of these States, at the same time that there is this criticism about paying public assistance to persons who still have some assets there is also criticism that public assistance penalizes thrift because people with some small assets are no better off than those who have none.
But whether there is any considerable number of persons on the public assistance rolls illegally, the feeling that there are too many persons on the rolls has led to considerable demand that public assistance rolls be made public. The contention, as nearly as I can understand it, is that making the public assistance rolls public will scare off the persons receiving public assistance illegally and will sufficiently shame the relatives of those who are legally receiving public assistance so that they will meet their moral responsibilities. Of course this contention rests for its validity on whether there actually are a large number of persons illegally receiving public assistance and whether relatives can be shamed into providing assistance.
Curiously enough, the fact that there has been a considerable decline in general assistance, in which the Federal Government does not participate, has been advanced as proof of the soundness of the foregoing contention. That is to say, it has been contended that Federal financial participation and the Federal statutory requirement that the public assistance rolls be kept confidential, has led to the alleged increase in the categories financed in part by the Federal Government, as contrasted with the decline in the general assistance category, where there is no Federal financial participation or Federal requirement as to confidentiality. However, this argument overlooks the basic reason for the decline in general assistance since 1940, namely, that the general assistance category had a far greater proportion of employable persons in it than the other categories of aged persons, young children, blind and permanently disabled persons for which there is Federal financial participation. Incidentally, it also overlooks the fact that under the Social Security Act Amendments of 1950, a large number of persons were transformed from general assistance to the new category of the permanently and totally disabled for which there is now Federal financial participation.
It is even more interesting to note that most of the local alleged scandals relative to chiselers have dealt with general assistance as distinguished from the categories for which Federal grants are made. So far as I know, the highest proportion of persons shown by any State-wide study to be illegally receiving public assistance under categories financed in part by the Federal Government has been less than 3 percent.
As regards publicity reducing the number of chiselers and shaming relatives the Welfare Directors of several States have stated that such publicity in connection with general assistance has had no effect as regards eliminating chiselers but may have resulted in eligible persons in real need being deterred from accepting assistance.
However, as you know, a rider was attached to the Revenue Act of 1951 which has the effect of permitting States to allow public access to records of the disbursement of public assistance funds. It should be noted that this legislation permits only access to records of disbursements, such as the names of recipients, the amounts paid to such recipients and the dates paid. It does not permit public access to other information contained in case records. Moreover, the Federal law requires that if a State does enact legislation prescribing any conditions under which public access may be had to records of disbursements, such legislation must prohibit the use of any lists or names obtained from such access for commercial or political purposes.
I regret to say that I think there has been a great deal of misunderstanding relative to the Federal statutory requirement concerning confidentiality of public assistance records. This requirement has never been interpreted as surrounding these records with an iron curtain of secrecy which would prevent the taxpayers from having the requisite assurance that ineligible persons were not receiving public assistance. It has never prevented information being furnished to Federal, State and local legislative committees and administrative bodies charged with investigating and appraising the operations of public assistance as well as to auditors, law enforcement officers and to grand juries for use in the discharge of any duties they have to perform as regards the administration of public assistance.
Neither has this requirement of the Social Security Act prevented the publication of information concerning the operations of public assistance agencies designed to inform the public regarding such matters as the size of expenditures, classification of the causes of dependency, the range in payments made, the standards for appraising need, and the procedures followed for determining need in the individual case.
It is perhaps well to recall that the Federal requirement as regards confidentiality was placed in the Social Security Act in 1939 because there had been wide-spread political misuse of the names of recipients of old-age assistance in the 1938 elections. It remains to be seen whether legislation permitting public access but which prohibits the use of information obtained through such access for commercial or political purposes will actually prevent the abuses that occurred prior to 1939.
The extent to which opening the public assistance rolls to the public will have any effect in the reduction of such rolls is also still a matter of conjecture. But of one thing I am certain we shall never be able to measure statistically how much needless humiliation results from indiscriminate public access. More than 100 years ago Disraeli opened his first successful campaign for election as a member of the House of Commons by attacking the new Poor Law because, as he said "it went on the principle that relief to the poor is a charity. I maintain that it is a right . . . I consider that this Act has disgraced the country more than any other upon record. Both a moral crime and a political blunder, it announces to the world that in England poverty is a crime."
One of our own homespun philosophers, who used to write under the pen-name of Abe Martin, once said, before the advent of the Social Security Act: "Poverty ain't a crime in America but it might as well be." I am confident that we are not going to return to those days. As some evidence, I cite the fact that in two States where the public assistance rolls have been opened to the public, there have been very few persons who have actually sought access.
I am also sure of another thing, and that is that there is no substitute for good administration. By good administration I mean administration which on the one hand protects the taxpayer through careful examination of the facts bearing on eligibility, and on the other hand provides needed assistance to the recipient in such a manner as to encourage self respect, a sense of responsibility and effective participation in the life of the community. But ironically enough, many times the same people who complain about ineligible persons receiving public assistance also object to providing funds to employ a sufficient number of trained persons to make the necessary investigations.
I think perhaps the best comment I have seen on this whole question of relief chiseling was in a small newspaper in the middle-west:
"We've had many families among us needing public assistance for a long time. And no matter what decision comes down from the court, they'll still be with us.
"They are not an isolated people, those who receive monthly checks representing aid to the blind and aid to dependent children. They are of us--of our neighborhoods, of our churches, of our schools.
"They are not statistics on a state welfare department report or the financial records, red or black, of Monroe county. They are people.
"It is well, as we wade into the attached problems, or run away from them, to remember that. They are people--just as good, just as bad, just as weak, just as strong, just as honest and just as dishonest as people are at every economic, political and social level.
"It can be conceded that some families receiving public assistance, in cash or in kind, cheat. They cheat just like some rich people who chisel on their income tax returns or exploit their employees or give too little to the churches in which they pray.
"The problem of weeding them out is one extolling for capable administration of the welfare procedures, as well as one calling for an acceptance of responsibility and duty by the average citizen.
"For example, the welfare departments of our counties find no shortage of complaints about mothers or fathers--or both--slopping up ADC checks in beer houses. But they find a shortage of complaining witnesses to act when action is essential.
''It can be conceded that for some families the ADC checks destroy initiative. Even though they merit the checks, they show little inclination to accept opportunities which might eventually move them off the welfare rolls. This is a problem calling for rehabilitation along with routine administration--and again it goes to the door of the school, the church and the average citizen as well as to the door of the welfare office in the Monroe county court house or to the one in the state house.
"By and large, however, the public assistance handed out in Monroe county is put to essential uses--it goes to children who have lost fathers by death or desertion, it goes to children whose fathers are physically disabled, it goes to children who are far better off having their mothers at hone than they would be--or society would be--if their mothers couldn't maintain homes. Who will be first to abandon them."
It may be some consolation to know that this problem of providing assistance to the needy was also a problem confronting our colonial fore-fathers. There came to my desk the other day a very interesting little pamphlet issued By the Virginia League of Local Welfare Executives. This League was enterprising enough to look into "The Vestry Book of Kingston Parish" covering the period 1679-1796. The medium of exchange during most of that period was tobacco. The Vestry met once a year and made appropriations in pounds of tobacco to provide for the needs of the parish. The Vestry records show that the majority of the items listed each year were for the assistance of individuals in need of help. The League comments that George Washington, being a member of the Vestry in his Parish, doubtless participated in making these awards. Let me quote a few excerpts from the League's interesting little pamphlet, as follows:
"A number of examples are given in each category to show the variety of situations which the Vestry had to consider. Each has its present day counterpart. It appears that there are a number of bastards under care in foster hones at all times . . . It was noted that awards were made year after year to the same persons in many instances. For example an award was made for the care of Oner Powers every year for 33 years and the final award was for his care and burial. Evidently both temporary and permanent care were available to the destitute widows, orphans, fatherless, lame, halt, etc. Sometimes the founding fathers slipped up. In one instance, in the case of Anne Owens an award of 200 pounds of tobacco per year for several years was made to pay her rent. Then one year an award of 400 pounds was made to build her a house. Subsequently she appeared on the record of awards for several years for the score 200 pounds to pay her rent."
The League reaches this conclusion as regards the cost of public welfare today as compared with colonial times:
"Thus in the hundred years preceding the revolution, the number of taxable persons had increased 12 times, total expenditures had increased 23 times and the tax per person had increased about 100 percent. And of all things!! the expenditure per capita for relief was approximately the same as it was in Virginia for the year 1949-50 when the Federal government was paying one-third of the bill.''
But in colonial days the problem of want was quite different than it is today. Today we have a highly competitive, urbanized and industrialized economic system. It has enabled us as a nation to increase our output of goods and services beyond the wildest dreams of our forefathers. But paradoxically enough, it has also given rise to greater economic insecurity on the part of millions of individuals. Time will not permit me to discuss the reasons for this paradox. But the facts that I have presented to you in connection with public assistance speak for themselves.
We must find a way to prevent the destitution of millions of persons rather then undertake to alleviate it after it has occurred. Fortunately there is a way to prevent destitution arising from economic causes. That is the device of contributory social insurance. It is not a new and untried device. It has been used for three-quarters of a century in various parts of the world. That outstanding conservative, Winston Churchill, was one of the chief architects of the plan that went into effect in Great Britain in 1909. It was the same Winston Churchill who took the first steps toward putting into effect the famous Beveridge plan which greatly expanded the British social insurance system. In so doing he stated that it was simply a method for bringing the magic of the averages to the rescue of the millions. He pointed out that economic hazards which could not be met effectively by the individual could be met through a system of contributory social insurance. Under such a system, all individuals exposed to those hazards are insured against loss of income out of a fund to which they and their employers contributed. In other words, it is a method of insurance to spread income over periods of non-earning as well as over periods of earnings.
We in this country have had a form of contributory social insurance since 1911, when the first workmen's compensation laws were passed. Since 1935 we have had social insurance covering unemployment and old-age. In 1939 the Federal old-age system was expanded to include survivors benefits in the case of the death of the insured worker. However, unfortunately those various forms of social insurance did not cover all of the gainfully employed persons of this country and the benefits provided were quite inadequate especially in the light of the increased cost of living. Last year Congress considerably extended the coverage of the Federal old-age and survivors insurance system and increased the benefits provided thereunder. As you know, regularly employed domestic workers are now included, and also urban self-employed persons. The only large groups still unprotected are farm operators and casual farm and domestic workers. So today, about 90 percent of the gainfully occupied persons in this country are insured against loss of income due to old age and premature death under this Federal old-age and survivors insurance system or under other Federal, State and local retirement systems.
I think it will also interest you to know that about 750,000 employees of non-profit organizations are insured. You will recall that non-profit organizations were not required to be insured under this system but could elect to do so, if two-thirds of their employees desire to be insured. It seems to me that this is evidence of the great appeal that a system of contributory social insurance has (as well as evidence of the good business judgment of non-profit organizations and their employees).
Of course, the great distinguishing characteristic between a system of contributory social insurance and a system of public assistance is that the insurance benefits are payable without a means test. The means test is a necessary device to keep the cost of public assistance within bounds. I believe that social workers generally are applying it sympathetically and in such a way as to encourage self-reliance to the maximum extent possible. However, I do not believe there is anyone who likes the means test or believes that standing by itself it is a constructive device in promoting self-reliance and effective participation in the life of a community. I am inclined to believe that the basic repugnance to the means test arises out of the fact that to the recipient it signifies failure on his part or on the part of his family to make the grade in a highly competitive economy where financial independence is the test of success. Another reason why it is generally disliked is that it is considered by many as placing a penalty upon thrift since any savings must be taken into account in determining need.
In contrast, the benefits under contributory social insurance are payable in specified amounts regardless of the actual amount of property a recipient may possess. Moreover, these benefits under our American system of social insurance vary in accordance with wage loss. It is true that a larger proportion of the wage loss is payable in the case of low wage earners than in the case of high wage earners. Nevertheless, the fact that there is a relationship between wage loss and benefits introduces an element of flexibility which automatically relates the benefits to the wide differentials that exist in this country and which, of course, is characteristic of a system of free enterprise.
A contributory social insurance system in effect throughout the entire nation and covering all of the major economic hazards would largely solve the problem of destitution in this country. However, we must not overlook the fact that considerable destitution is due to non-economic causes. For example it would certainly not be practical or desirable to have a social insurance system insure against loss of income arising out of broken homes. Neither is it possible for a social insurance system to cover actual need of all individuals and families under all conceivable circumstances. Social insurance, after all, is more in the nature of a gigantic group insurance policy rather than in the nature of individual insurance policies.
What I am trying to say is that we would be deceiving ourselves if we did not recognize that, even with the extension and improvement in social insurance as a first line of defense against destitution there would still be need for a second line of defense in the form of public assistance. However, I believe that this second line of defense would be far less costly and significant than it is today. As a consequence I believe that there would be far greater opportunity for us to direct our attention to providing constructive social services.
I do not believe that either contributory social insurance or public assistance can be depended upon to solve non-economic problems such as recreational needs, illegitimacy, broken homes, juvenile delinquency, the problems of the aging and the religious needs of people generally. It is for that reason that I believe it is absolutely essential that private welfare agencies as well as public welfare agencies be encouraged to strengthen their services. Raymond Hilliard said some time ago, in speaking of the role of private agencies, when he was still a public official:
"Instead of having a vanishing function, the private agencies have a crucial role to play in exploring emerging social needs in a society which is changing rapidly, and at some points alarmingly, and in channeling across to public planning the experienced judgment arising out of this pioneering. Private welfare activities are not subject to the institutional lag that has characterized and must necessarily characterize governmental developments in a democracy"
I am afraid that most of what I have said is old stuff to this informed audience. Sometimes I have the unhappy feeling that we who are concerned with social welfare spend too much time in talking to ourselves rather than to our fellow citizens generally. We cannot expect citizens generally to be as familiar as we are with what we consider to be basic principles of social welfare, nor can we expect citizens generally to be as familiar as we are with social needs.
I am afraid that all too often we fail to meet our responsibilities in reporting to our constituency or at least reporting in an intelligible fashion. As a matter of fact, speaking within the family, I am even somewhat concerned that such a degree of specialization has grown up within the field of social welfare that our internal communications, so to speak, have also broken down.
I was glad to note that the Committee on Future Program has recommended that there be created a Committee on Public Information. I was also interested to note that the Committee urges that the Assembly establish a Committee on Social Welfare Data and Issues. It seems to me that it is absolutely essential that there be some agency representing all points of view and all interests in the field of social welfare which can be depended upon to assemble the necessary data and to present the pros and cons of the issues in the field of social welfare. As the Committee indicates, any action on an issue would be taken by national organizations or local communities through their individual initiative.
I was also much interested to note that the Committee on Future Program suggests a Committee on International Social Welfare. I have no doubt that most of you here today have participated in one may or another with the tremendous international activity that is now going on in the field of social welfare. Thousands of fellows have come to this country from other countries to study our social welfare agencies and institutions. Hundreds of American workers in the field of social welfare have gone abroad to serve as advisors on social welfare matters. This international activity is of course far less well-known than international activity in the field of diplomacy and military preparedness. Nonetheless, it is an absolute essential in promoting sympathy and understanding among the peoples of the world, and in promoting constructive social action, upon which the welfare of the peoples of the world depends.
It goes without saying that the nations of the world need to establish the necessary political relationships. It also goes without saying that in the world as it exists today it is necessary for us to establish military alliances between the free nations of the world. However, in the long run, world peace cannot be achieved unless we make visible progress in solving the problem of world misery. Solving the problem of world-wide misery depends upon improving not only the economic organization of under-developed countries, but their social organization as well.
As a matter of fact, when I started thinking of what was involved in the subject assigned to me I could not help feeling that basically the issues facing social welfare today in America are the same issues facing democracy throughout the world. That is to say, the goal of social welfare and the goal of democracy are identical: namely, equal opportunity and the good life for every human being regardless of race, creed or color.
I think we in America are sometimes inclined to forget what a revolutionary concept democracy really is and how young it is. We used to think this idea originated with the ancient Greeks and Romans but we now know that their concept of democracy was essentially an aristocratic one.
But hardly more than 150 years ago the idea of liberty, equality, and fraternity for everyone captured the imagination of our forefathers. What is more, they proceeded to act to make that idea a reality. However, until fairly recently most of the people in the world had not the slightest awareness that there was such an idea in existence and certainly had no realization of its significance for them or their children.
We hear a great deal about the tremendous implications of the atomic bomb. However, I think we sometimes fail to realize that even though the atomic bomb had never been developed this last war we fought has released psychological forces which, when coupled with widespread human misery and want, have set off "chain reactions" literally world-wide in their extent.
There are many isms and ideologies with different names that are sweeping across the face of the globe. However, they all have the same professed aim--the improvement of the lot of the common man. The great distinguishing characteristic of democracy is that democracy refuses to believe that man can help himself by enslaving himself.
The universal problem confronting mankind today, so far as his life on this earth is concerned, is whether he has the patience, the understanding, the sympathy and the ability to cooperate with his fellow man in achieving the goal of democracy. We in this country are fortunate in having an abundance of natural resources and a high level of technology. It is unfortunately true that we do have some poverty in the midst of plenty in this country. But we must not forget for the world as a whole the picture is one of a few islands of plenty in an ocean of human misery. One-half of the world goes to bed hungry every night; one-half of the world is sufferings from preventable diseases; countless millions are hopeless; and two-thirds of the world's population is unable to read or write.
There is no question that the goal of democracy will be achieved eventually--whether it takes one hundred years or one thousand years. The real question is whether the promise of democracy can be achieved quickly enough in the face of the great difficulties confronting the world to prevent countless years of needless human misery.
Fortunately in this country our problem of fully realizing the promise of democracy--equal opportunity and the good life for everyone--is not dependent upon the acquisition of greater natural resources or the achievement of a higher level of technology. It is dependent solely upon our ability as fellow Americans to cooperate with each other in making certain that every American citizen really does have an opportunity to lead a personally satisfying, and socially useful life. In other words, our problem is one of finding ways and means of developing the necessary social organization, not one of finding the economic resources to carry out our social aims.