Past Speakers of the: LANDON LECTURES

Landon Lecture by Bill Bradley,

U.S. Senator, New Jersey
April 15, 1991

by Bill Bradley

I am very pleased to be here today and to participate in this distinguished lecture series honoring Alfred M. Landon. In addition to being a statesman and a governor, he was the father of Kansas's gift to the U.S. Senate, Nancy Landon Kassebaum. As one of her colleagues, I want to thank him, and you, for giving her the opportunity to serve. She does so with distinction.

This morning I am reminded of the words of Emporia's great editor William Allen White, who described Kansas as "hardly a state, but a kind of prophecy." White had in mind the fierce battle over slavery here that presaged the Civil War, the early blooming of Populism with its slogan that farmers should raise less corn and more hell, and the early establishment in Kansas of women's suffrage and stricter worker safety laws.

So, given White's comment, I think the Landon Lectures at Kansas State University are an appropriate place to examine the new circumstances America faces in the world.

So what can we say about this new, emerging world? First, we no longer stand unchallenged economically, nor only opposite the Soviet Union. We spent a lot of our economic productivity during the Cold War on ensuring ourselves against a military threat from a country whose economic and social foundations were full of termites. Then, just at the time Mikhail Gorbachev, George Bush, and spy novelist John LeCarre declared the Cold War over; just at the time Germany reunites and 100,000 Soviet citizens were permitted to leave; just at the time when we felt we were turning a page of history, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Was his action the beginning of a new kind of conflict or the end of the old? And was our response the beginning of a new world order or the culmination of the old order?

From the standpoint of the Wilsonian vision for collective security, the war to free Kuwait ranks with World War II and the containment of Soviet expansion in terms of its success. Its message is loud and clear. A dictator who invades another country risks the collective condemnation of the nations of the world and the quick destruction of his army. Yet it may also signal the dawning of an age when even the most skilled collective security cannot prevent the violence that lies ahead.

Even though the nations of the Middle East have, for now, escaped the threat of Saddam Hussein and have an opportunity, however fleeting and unlikely, to forge a lasting peace among themselves; even though the nations of Eastern and Western Europe are now largely free of any external threats to their territory or right to exist; even though the prospect of armed conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union has faded in less than ten years from ominously inevitable to nearly impossible; even though all of this is true, the world is not at peace. The violence we see reported in South Africa, in Northern Ireland, in Kashmire, in the Balkans, and in the Caucasuses is a precursor of the kinds of conflict we will face increasingly in the world. The Cold War froze everything into a bipolar world. Its thaw opens the cracks and the crevices of old societies and releases the toxins of ethnic, racial, and religious hatreds.

In the territory of Iraq, the conflicts between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, between ethnic Kurds and Arabs, began long before Saddam Hussein came to power and will continue long after his demise. In Yugoslavia the failure of communism unleashed a half-century's worth of conflict among Slovenians, Croatians, and Serbs. The future shape of Russia and the Soviet empire hinges on unresolved disputes between old neighbors Azerbaijani Muslims and Armenian Christians, between Georgians and Ossetians and Abkhazians, between Khirgiz and Uzbeks, and many other "distant neighbors."

And although the United States has a role to play, these ethnic, racial, and religious conflicts do not lend themĀ¬selves to activist American peacemaking on the Wilsonian model. International law provides the basis for action when one country invades another. It does not answer the question of whether the Kurds or the Palestinians or the Croatians deserve a homeland, or where the land should come from. The principle of self-determination for a nation cannot tell us whether in Soviet Georgia, schoolchildren should be required to speak Russian, or whether in Romania, schoolbooks can be printed in the language of the Hungarian minority. Our military force can rarely end job discrimination, religious fanaticism, or hateful attitudes and stereotypes.

For newly freed peoples seeking ways to live together peacefully in Central and Eastern Europe, in Africa, within the borders of what is still the Soviet Union, and elsewhere, American leadership depends more on the example of the kind of society we build than on our military might. And the most powerful example is that of a pluralistic society whose democracy and growing economy takes all its citizens to the higher ground.

But we cannot lead by example as long as white Americans build mental walls between themselves and the abysmal living conditions of many black Americans in our cities. We cannot lead by example if we allow gangs to turn city neighborhoods into war zones and schools into fortresses so that the 10 percent of the kids who do not want to learn destroy the possibility of learning for the 90 percent who do want to learn. We cannot lead by example if individuals refuse to take responsibility for their own actions or government bureaucrats remain unaccountable for results. We cannot lead by example if it is easier for us to put a man on the moon than to get a low-income pregnant woman across town to a doctor. We cannot lead by example if we fail to see that crime often causes poverty and destroys the interracial bonds of a civil society.

In facing up to the realities of race and ethnicity in America today, we must also observe that the isolation of urban black poverty developed in part from our failure to respond to an economic migration of five million people, African Americans moving from the sharecropping farms of the South to the cities of the North.

Indeed, racial, ethnic, and religious conflict is sometimes inseparable from the conflict of economic migration. Open borders to Eastern Europe unleash ethnic fears for the people of homogenous countries in Western Europe. Riots in Marseilles, violence in London, and xenophobia in Germany come from fears of actual and potential migrations from Asia, North Africa, Poland, and the Soviet Union. Let's face it, when large groups of people move from one place to another, things happen.

One of the most dramatic economic migrations in the world is occurring along the 2,000-mile border between the United States and Mexico. It is more than "the only frontier between the industrialized and developing worlds although it is the only frontier." As writer Carlos Fuentes has said, that border is also the gulf between 15th-century Spain and 18th-century England. It separates our cultures as well as our economies, but the comparative economic opportunity in the United States increasingly will pull Mexico's best people north, leaving Mexico with the unskilled and America with a massive social problem. That is why understanding the dynamics of economic migration will allow us to control it, to forestall its most disruptive economic effects, and to lessen the ethnic, racial, and religious tensions that could follow.

Earlier this month I visited Nuevo Leon, a prosperous state in northern Mexico not far from Laredo, Texas. During my visit I met with one of the candidates running for governor, and he told me about a small town called Dr. Cross, with a population of 6,000 people: 4,000 women and 2,000 males. The men are largely boys or old men. Almost all the young and middle-aged men have gone to the United States.

The men of Dr. Cross did not want to break up their families, to leave their parents, wives, and children behind. Like anyone, they would have preferred to remain in the town where they grew up, to be with their families, to be citizens of a stable, productive community. But there were no jobs. Prevented by trade barriers from developing businesses that could trade freely with U.S. consumers and industry, they had little chance of getting ahead. In fact, they found themselves as isolated from opportunity as black sharecroppers in the American South in the 1940s.

But why has this happened? For many years, Mexican policies were as responsible as our own for the poverty and isolation of towns like Dr. Cross. It was Mexican policies that created and protected corrupt state industries. It was the federal bureaucracy in Mexico City whose policies precipitated a disastrous internal Mexican migration to the capital city. Now nearly 20 million people live in Mexico City choking on air pollution. It was Mexican policies that tried to keep Mexico an anti-American island in a sea of good faith attempts to bridge our differences.

But since President Carlos Salinas, a Harvard-educated economist, took office two years ago, the economic and political changes in Mexico have been as profound as in any country on the globe. Last August, Salinas proposed the most significant step for his country's future, a free-trade agreement with the United States. In February President Bush and Prime Minister Mulroney of Canada joined Salinas to begin negotiations on a North American free-trade zone.

There is only one thing you really need to know about Mexico to understand why the free trade agreement is so critical to Salinas: half of Mexico's 80 million people are under the age of 15. Beginning right now, either jobs will be created below the Rio Grande, in places such as Dr. Cross, or there will be more and more legal and illegal immigration into Texas, California, Oklahoma, Kansas, and even to New Jersey, New York, and Florida. That economic migration will dwarf the migration of black Americans to the North.

So what do we do? I believe Congress should support the administration in making a maximum effort to complete successfully the negotiations for a free trade area. It will not be easy. There are legitimate problems, but a good free-trade agreement would be of great benefit to the United States. It could add dynamism to our economy, creating thousands of jobs and making us more competitive in world markets. It could transform our southern border and enrich our national culture.

But the Mexican Free Trade Agreement will be controversial. There will be thoughtful and constructive opposition. Such a major development in our economic lives deserves such thorough debate. But if we view the proposed free-trade agreement as one inseparable component of overall reform in Mexico, I personally cannot see any strong argument for not even attempting to get an agreement.

We do not always see Mexico as its people would want us to see them. Opponents of the free-trade pact see Mexico's politics as hopelessly corrupt and undemocratic. Yet Salinas appears to be using his political legitimacy, rather than police power, to bring about reform. And while two-party democracy has not arrived everywhere, it is alive in several states near our border. Opponents of the free-trade pact still see it as a country happily lax in its environmental regulation. Yet the mayor of Mexico City told me that he is spending $3.5 billion over four years to clean up the air.

Opponents of the trade pact still see Mexico as a stubbornly inefficient, politically stagnant nation unwilling to give up the temporary benefits of inflation, budget deficits, and government ownership of key economic sectors. But Salinas has cut his country's budget deficit by the equivalent of three Gramm-Rudman acts. He has already dramatically reduced tariffs, encouraged foreign investment, and privatized many state enterprises, such as telephones.

Opponents of the free trade pact see Mexico as inward-looking, and yet Mexico now turns outward, ready to tear down the last frontier between the developing and industrial world, ready to try to become a first world nation.

The negotiations over a free-trade pact with Mexico will be a test of whether Americans and Mexicans can overcome their stereotypes and suspicions of each other in pursuit of a larger goal: a more productive economy on both sides of the border. Can we be bold and imaginative enough to create the conditions that will enhance our children's future? Do we have the courage to face the fact that their chances for a better life depend on raising our own productivity, which in turn depends on a commitment to quality at home and finding common ground abroad?

A Mexican journalist told me once that his country needed "a market economy without a capitalist society." Achieving the efficiencies of the market without the excesses and exploitation of a non-competitive state protected capitalist culture can only take place in the context of a democratic society that is open both internally to ideas and movement and externally to the dynamic economies of a growing world.

Mexico is leading Latin America toward this possibility. It is a transition perhaps not quite as dramatic as the swing from Warsaw Pact communism to Western capitalism, but almost as difficult, because the old system was not unnaturally imposed on Mexico from the outside. Mexican reform will be a model for Brazil, and we should not be so complacent as to think that it cannot offer implications for the United States, Japan, and other developed nations as well.

Mexican reform efforts remind us of some things; they get us back to thinking about the basics. America must stand for the efficiency of the market system without the excesses and unfairness of a non-competitive capitalist system. Wealth should not be guaranteed by government contracts, licenses, or subsidies. It should be earned by performance in the real world. Economies should be open to worldwide trade, investment, and competition because that delivers the lowest prices and the highest quality to the greatest number of people. It also engenders pride and confidence in those who work for world-class companies that can compete.

Those countries that balk at opening up should be penalized by the rest of the world for depriving their own citizens of a higher living standard and for imposing their irresponsibility on the international system. Tax systems should be progressive if you have more, you should pay more but rates should be as low as possible and tax evaders should be punished rigorously.

The goal of economic activity should be to advance the greatest number of people to a higher standard of living. That means investments in health and education and a clean environment. An efficient economy that concentrates wealth and ignores human needs is doomed in the long run. The fundamental challenge for a democratic society is adapting to change: facilitating and assisting individual citizens in their quest to find tomorrow's opportunities and adjust to yesterday's losses. For America to remain the land of opportunity, economic policy must be human-centered and political leaders must level with the people, and the promise of our pluralism must be fulfilled.

To the extent that we achieve this ambitious and imaginative goal within the emerging North American free-trade area, America will be able to lead the world by example, be able to lead a complex and shifting world of races, religions, and ethnicities and of ambitious individuals searching for economic opportunity. If we can bring to our interactions in the world the highest values that we aspire to in our dealings with each other, America can remain a beacon for diverse peoples everywhere: a pluralistic society where democracy and a growing economy takes all of its citizens to a higher ground.

The transcription of this Landon Lecture was accomplished through the cooperation of the Kansas State University Libraries and the Office of Mediated Education.

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