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Public Papers - 1991

Remarks to Soviet and United States Businessmen in Moscow

1991-07-31

Good morning. May I pay my respects and thanks to our able Ambassador, Ambassador Matlock. This gives me a good opportunity to thank him for the fantastic job he has done for the United States of America, and I think also that he's done an awful lot to further understanding between the United States of America and the Soviet Union.

May I say good morning to Mr. Bunich, Mr. Vladislavlev, Mr. Tikhonov, and say that I've been looking forward to this meeting.

As Jack said, I was a businessman once myself. That was first in the oil drilling equipment business and then as a drilling contractor. And the risks were high. But I enjoyed that phase of my life. As entrepreneurs and businessmen and risk-takers, you really do hold a key to the future prosperity of the Soviet Union. You possess the power to create a better life for yourselves and your countrymen. There's an old Russian proverb: The one who leads makes a bridge for the others. Businessmen, such as yourselves, are building that bridge to a new and prosperous Soviet Union.

All around the world we see that a free society rests upon the twin pillars of political and economic liberty. For only when free markets and free people work together can we build a better life for all people. You understand that opportunity arises when people act freely, relying on their own talents. Call it what you want -- ingenuity, resourcefulness, a can-do attitude -- but it all comes down to this: People must be free to work, save, to own their own homes, to take risks, to invest in each other; in essence, to control their own lives.

No conclave of government experts, no matter how brilliant, can match the sheer ingenuity of a market that collects and distributes the wisdom of millions of people, all pursuing their destinies in different ways.

Government does have legitimate responsibilities such as enforcing contracts and protecting private property rights, providing the boundaries of acceptable business behavior. Government must establish rules of fairplay -- what we call a level playing field -- that builds trust and stability. Once established in the Soviet Union, the rule of law will further attract foreign know-how and investment. There is no question about that.

The United States stands ready to help. We're going beyond loans and subsidies. We're offering our best expertise. We endorsed last year's Soviet observership in the GATT, to help establish normal relations with the trading nations of the world. And to accelerate market reforms and your integration into the global economy, at the recently concluded G - 7 meeting in London, special association for the Soviet Union in the IMF -- International Monetary Fund -- and the World Bank was proposed.

When I return to Washington I will be submitting the United States-Soviet trade agreement to Congress for approval which will generate trade between our countries. We will also seek most-favored-nation status for the Soviet Union. And I'll ask that certain restrictions, technically known as the Stevenson and Byrd amendments, be lifted so that American businesses can better compete for export sales here.

We're also negotiating bilateral tax and investment treaties, and I'd like to see them completed by year's end. They will create a better investment climate between us, help expand our economic partnership as much as possible. In sum, we want to do everything to ensure that our economic relationship expands as quickly as your reforms permit. Freedom brings the opportunity to succeed and, yes, the risk of failure.

The government can act as referee perhaps, but it cannot guarantee success. Free markets are based on the impulsive energy of man's imagination and creativity. And of course, there are risks. I know that from firsthand experience years ago. But there are also rewards for success. Who would have predicted that 15 years ago a group of college students -- university students in the United States -- working in a garage, would redefine the computer industry in America? Or that a trash collector -- a garbage collector from Philadelphia 30 years ago -- would today be the head of a -billion waste management firm in the United States?

When opportunity is at work, you can be a mechanic or a millionaire, and in my country some mechanics are millionaires. Pursuing one's destiny means building a better life. Russian values and traditions are compatible with free enterprise, and they should be preserved. Look at the members of the G - 7 -- Western European nations. Each an industrialized democracy; each with its own values and traditions. The culture and climate of American business may be different than other places, but the power of the idea is universal. It's been applied in thousands of ways by millions of people all over the world.

Those who succeed here should not be insulted and labeled as speculators and exploiters, because they're not. They are the people who will fill the shelves in your stores, put your people to work. We understand now why socialism's attempt to create the new Soviet man simply didn't work, because human nature cannot be destroyed and created anew. We seek instead to build upon the strengths of human nature, to allow men and women to control their own destinies in whatever way works best for them.

This notion of free markets and free people -- opportunity for all -- this joint venture between political and economic liberty, this is the spirit of democratic capitalism. Everywhere we hear the voices of men and women yearning for freedom, for the chance to control their own destiny, for a stronger link between effort and reward. Some call it the American dream, but it's more than that. It's a universal dream. And it's a dream that the Soviet people are now striving to make real for themselves.

And after talks here, I believe the leaders are grasping this concept. Each of you can bring that dream alive. The creation of small- and medium-sized businesses means meeting payrolls, hiring good men and women, producing goods and services that are most needed by consumers, and improving technologies and methods so as to stay competitive.

Free market principles don't just mean that one or two people go out and get rich quick. It is so much more than that. As our President Woodrow Wilson said: Every great man of business has got somewhere a touch of the idealist in him. For you and your employees, it means the dignity and self-respect that come with the job. It means making a difference in your community. And as more and more businesses evolve -- business opportunity evolve -- it means bringing back hope to the people of the Soviet Union.

Your task will be difficult, but let me risk some advice. The story goes that a young man became the manager of a company. And his predecessor handed him three envelopes and said that if he was ever in trouble to open the envelopes. So, one day when the business was not going well, the man decided it was time to open up envelope number one. The message inside said: Blame your predecessor. So he did, and things improved for a while. But then they got worse again. So he decided to open up envelope number two. It read: Blame the accounting department. So he did that. But sales continued to go downhill. And finally, with much hesitation, he opened envelope number three. And it said: Prepare three envelopes. [Laughter]

The moral of that story, I think, is that there are no right or wrong answers. I wouldn't be bold enough to try to tell you in three envelopes how to transform this economy from ``command and control'' to ``buy and sell.'' You must find what works best for each of you and for your customers. You must make the dreams of your own people, in whatever way you can, come alive for them. You must define your own brand of democratic capitalism, one that is consistent with Russian cultures and values.

Remember the words of Tolstoy: The strongest of all warriors are these two, time and patience. Bringing free markets to life will of course take time and patience. But it can be done, because everyone in this room today possesses something that simply cannot be bought or sold. You possess the power of an idea. And I salute you as pioneers for your vision and for your drive.

It's been a great pleasure for me to meet with this very special group today. And I wish you well in the tasks that lie ahead. May God bless you. And thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 8:46 a.m. in the Composer's Hall of the Radisson Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack F. Matlock; Pavel G. Bunich, president of the Association of Leaseholders and Entrepreneurship of the U.S.S.R.; Aleksander P. Vladislavlev, Deputy Chairman of the League of Scientific and Industrial Associations of the U.S.S.R.; and Aleksander A. Tikhonov, president of the Agricultural Academy of the U.S.S.R. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

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