Address by President Ronald Reagan to the UN General Assembly

September 21, 1987

Address to the 42d Session of the United Nations General Assembly

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, Ambassador Reed, honored guests, and distinguished delegates: Let me first welcome the Secretary-General back from his pilgrimage for peace in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands have already fallen in the bloody conflict between Iran and Iraq. All men and women of good will pray that the carnage can soon be stopped, and we pray that the Secretary-General proves to be not only a pilgrim but also the architect of a lasting peace between those two nations. Mr. Secretary-General, the United States supports you, and may God guide you in your labors ahead.

Like the Secretary-General, all of us here today are on a kind of pilgrimage. We come from every continent, every race, and most religions to this great hall of hope, where in the name of peace we practice diplomacy. Now, diplomacy, of course, is a subtle and nuanced craft, so much so that it's said that when one of the most wily diplomats of the 19th century passed away other diplomats asked, on reports of his death, "What do you suppose the old fox meant by that?"

But true statesmanship requires not merely skill but something greater, something we call vision—a grasp of the present and of the possibilities of the future. I've come here today to map out for you my own vision of the world's future, one, I believe, that in its essential elements is shared by all Americans. And I hope those who see things differently will not mind if I say that we in the United States believe that the place to look first for shape of the future is not in continental masses and sealanes, although geography is, obviously, of great importance. Neither is it in national reserves of blood and iron or, on the other hand, of money and industrial capacity, although military and economic strength are also, of course, crucial. We begin with something that is far simpler and yet far more profound: the human heart.

All over the world today, the yearnings of the human heart are redirecting the course of international affairs, putting the lie to the myth of materialism and historical determinism. We have only to open our eyes to see the simple aspirations of ordinary people writ large on the record of our times.

Last year in the Philippines, ordinary people rekindled the spirit of democracy and restored the electoral process. Some said they had performed a miracle, and if so, a similar miracle—a transition to democracy-is taking place in the Republic of Korea. Haiti, too, is making a transition. Some despair when these new, young democracies face conflicts or challenges, but growing pains are normal in democracies. The United States had them, as has every other democracy on Earth.

In Latin America, too, one can hear the voices of freedom echo from the peaks and across the plains. It is the song of ordinary people marching, not in uniforms and not in military file but, rather, one by one, in simple, everyday working clothes, marching to the polls. Ten years ago only a third of the people of Latin America and the Caribbean lived in democracies or in countries that were turning to democracy; today over 90 percent do.

But this worldwide movement to democracy is not the only way in which simple, ordinary people are leading us in this room—we who are said to be the makers of history—leading us into the future. Around the world, new businesses, new economic growth, new technologies are emerging from the workshops of ordinary people with extraordinary dreams.

Here in the United States, entrepreneurial energy—reinvigorated when we cut taxes and regulations—has fueled the current economic expansion. According to scholars at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, three-quarters of the more than 13 1/2 million new jobs that we have created in this country since the beginning of our expansion came from businesses with fewer than 100 employees, businesses started by ordinary people who dared to take a chance. And many of our new high technologies were first developed in the garages of fledgling entrepreneurs. Yet America is not the only, or perhaps even the best, example of the dynamism and dreams that the freeing of markets set free.

In India and China, freer markets for farmers have led to an explosion in production. In Africa, governments are rethinking their policies, and where they are allowing greater economic freedom to farmers, crop production has improved. Meanwhile, in the newly industrialized countries of the Pacific rim, free markets in services and manufacturing as well as agriculture have led to a soaring of growth and standards of living. The ASEAN nations, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan have created the true economic miracle of the last two decades, and in each of them, much of the magic came from ordinary people who succeeded as entrepreneurs.

In Latin America, this same lesson of free markets, greater opportunity, and growth is being studied and acted on. President Sarney of Brazil spoke for many others when he said that "private initiative is the engine of economic development. In Brazil we have learned that every time the state's penetration in the economy increases, our liberty decreases." Yes, policies that release to flight ordinary people's dreams are spreading around the world. From Colombia to Turkey to Indonesia, governments are cutting taxes, reviewing their regulations, and opening opportunities for initiative.

There has been much talk in the halls of this building about the right to development. But more and more the evidence is clear that development is not itself a right. It is the product of rights: the right to own property; the right to buy and sell freely; the right to contract; the right to be free of excessive taxation and regulation, of burdensome government. There have been studies that determined that countries with low tax rates have greater growth than those with high rates.

We're all familiar with the phenomenon of the underground economy. The scholar Hernando de Soto and his colleagues have examined the situation of one country, Peru, and described an economy of the poor that bypasses crushing taxation and stifling regulation. This informal economy, as the researchers call it, is the principal supplier of many goods and services and often the only ladder for upward mobility. In the capital city, it accounts for almost all public transportation and most street markets. And the researchers concluded that, thanks to the informal economy, "the poor can work, travel, and have a roof over their heads." They might have added that, by becoming underground entrepreneurs themselves or by working for them, the poor have become less poor and the nation itself richer.