A Skeptic Persuaded?

Housing and busing. Property ownership in the inner city. Welfare or subsidy? The entitlement program. Private investors and the ghetto.

It is a thing of importance to me to be here tonight. I was anxious to come out here—now, do not be offended when I say this, I do not want to hurt anybody's feelings—because I wanted to see what a black conservative looked like.

I can understand Milton Friedman being a conservative. I can understand Monroe Browne being a conservative. I can understand all the white conservatives in this room. But when I see Walter Williams standing up there talking this conservative talk—talking about deregulating and getting rid of the environmental movement—I am very pleased, because it shows that, at the least, black folks have come up in the world. And they do not sound like they are saying, "I got mine; you get yours." They sound rational.

Black people have the desire to change things

What we have now is the desire—and we have expressed it here today—to change things. I came to talk about just one little corner of it, the capitalism that I know. I came to talk about three things in this field of capitalism, distinct areas affecting black people, where I think you can have some success. And after four years, those of us who have not joined your movement will look at you and say, "Well done."

First, housing. Nothing reminds minority people of the extent of their poverty more than does housing. We say that we do not want busing, and I understand. I agree, because I went to colored schools—"c-u-l-l-u-d" schools—and I gained a good education. I am not sure, however, that there is not value in contact. Not by osmosis. But I always felt that if a white child has to sit in school next to me, white people look out for their children and society looks out for white people, so I would have a better chance. I may be all wrong. I do not want to get into that argument with you about busing -whether it is good or bad. I do not want to get into the argument with you about whether or not you ought to be doing something. Professor Friedman says that people are not going to do anything for you. I do not know whether they will or not. But I know where I live.

I live at 135th Street and Fifth Avenue in Harlem. I know we have the highest drug rate in America, and I do not see policemen doing anything about it. When I was head of the Borough of Manhattan I could not do anything about it. I see the housing deteriorating. I see them talking now about -and I hope they are right—economic zones, free enterprise zones. All I say is that if you are going to have the free zones and we are going to stay there, give us a lot of policemen. And how do we get so we do not destroy our housing through deterioration? We own it. That is one of the programs I am in favor of—inner-city people owning their housing.

It's welfare when we get it; it's subsidy when they get it

Second, we should talk about energy. Recently I became interested in getting into the energy business. We moved from broadcasting into telecommunications, and now we want to go into energy. I had an African country that was willing to give me the crude oil if I could get the refinery, and former Senator Mike Gravel was going to get a refinery for me. We'd always been promised crude oil if we could get the refinery, but we never could get it. And it seemed that we were about to get the refinery then a problem developed. I met with the vice president of Ashland Oil Company and the president of Clark Oil Company—both relatively small; they are not Exxon, not Mobil; they are not giants. The vice president said to me, "What's going to happen if we can't sell the product?" I said, "Oh, we can sell the product because of this thing called 'set-aside.' The Section 8-a set-aside program is where the federal legislature said that you can sell your product to the federal government if you are a minority, and that 10 percent of all federal purchases must be from minorities." I continued, "But we've never been able to sell any because we have never had a refinery." He was outraged. "Why should there be a set-aside program for colored people?"

This outraged me, ladies and gentlemen, because all of you are familiar with it and you know that there is a thing called "the entitlement program." You know that the larger refineries of America are required to pay for the smaller, inefficient refineries: beginning with $7.50 a barrel, it is now reduced to apparently $3.70 and it is going to go out of style in a year or two. These boys are getting an allocation of money for being inefficient.

Who pays for it? I pay for it. I live in that ghetto; I pay for it. But he is offended in the same way Lockheed is offended, in the same way Chrysler is offended, in the same way the boys who get the goodies are offended when someone else comes along. It's welfare when we get it; it's subsidy when they get it.

Whether you convert us or not depends on how your ideas affect us

I conclude by saying this to you. Housing, energy, transportation—either you are going to keep us in the ghetto where we are or you are going to help us get out. Yes, help us get out. Help us in the same way you helped business by deregulating when necessary. Improve our condition in the ghetto. Help us improve our schools so we do not need to be bused. Help us improve our housing so that we are willing to stay there. Help us do for ourselves.

What do we want? We want everything anybody else has. Are we willing to work for it? Yes. How can you help? Those of you who are going to control—those of you who are going to influence—the next four years in our country, you can invest in minority enterprise. I believe in capitalism. We need it.

I have become convinced—not yet converted, but convinced—as I have attended this conference, that you have the potential here among you to exercise a real influence. A good influence, so that four years from now those of us who are Democrats will say that the Republicans did better by blacks than did the Democrats. Still, I am not convinced that the system can work for me. I want you to prove to me that the system can work for me.

How do you prove it? You prove it by having private investors invest in the ghetto. I do not believe that corporate America is willing to invest in the ghetto; I do not believe the free enterprise zone is going to work. I challenge you to make it work. Am I willing to help? Yes. If I were not willing to help, I would not be here. But I am a card-carrying NAACPer and I am a Democrat. Yes, you can convert us. But whether you convert us or not depends upon how your ideas affect us. If they are good, they can influence a lot of us, but it has been a terribly long road. I do believe there is a marvelous opportunity. I salute you and I want to be part of that opportunity, as an entrepreneur. I wish you well.

Government Is the Problem Table of Contents A Significant Beginning