Speech by SEC Chairman:
Noah Krieger Memorial Lecture
Chairman Harvey L. Pitt
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
November 18, 2002
These remarks reflect solely the personal views of Mr. Pitt, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Commission, the individual members of the Commission, or its Staff.
Good afternoon. It's a distinct honor and privilege to deliver this year's Noah Krieger Memorial Lecture.
Many of you may believe I'm giving this year's talk for reasons unrelated to the Krieger family or to Noah Krieger, the wonderful young man this lecture series honors. After all, I've been Chairman of the SEC for the past fifteen months, a period in which the agency's activities have been highly visible. But, while my governmental status perhaps wasn't completely irrelevant, I'm certain Sandy Krieger's request that I speak reflected other, more relevant, reasons.
I've known Sandy, as well as his lovely and radiant wife Carol, for nearly a quarter century, during which Sandy and I were law partners, and Carol was, I guess, my "law partner-in-law." Sandy and Carol have been, and are, dear friends. My wife, Saree, and I have been their houseguests, giving us a chance to meet Noah when he was about thirteen.
Law partnerships don't always provide the most conducive environment in which to form personal friendships: my former partners and I could always be counted upon to produce at least twice as many different views about issues under discussion as the number of partners in the room! And each of us was always certain our views were transparently the only correct ones. Nonetheless, my friendship with, and love for, Sandy and Carol over the years is an important benefit I took with me when I departed private practice. So, today I'm truly privileged to honor Sandy and Carol's son, Noah.
Noah's interests were focused on positive social change. It's therefore fitting that his family established this program at his alma mater. Every year, the program awards a scholarship to an outstanding graduate of the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions. These scholarships are designed to help exceptional graduates enter public service. Many people thus benefit from Noah's legacy not just the prizewinners themselves, but also the communities where prizewinners settle, and society at large.
We all benefit from encouraging and facilitating the efforts of people dedicated to restoring and improving the common good. And so, through the immortality of his interests and this series, Noah Krieger touched, and continues to improve, many lives, including mine. I appreciate this chance to reflect on public service generally and, perhaps, just a bit on my own.
Brown University has long stressed the importance of public service. This Brunonian dedication was captured most eloquently by Brown's illustrious alum, Major Sullivan Ballou (Brown 1852), in a letter to his wife Sarah; the letter was made famous by Ken Burns's documentary on the Civil War.1 A volunteer soldier from Rhode Island, Major Ballou penned these words just one week before his death at the Battle of Bull Run:
I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing perfectly willing to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this government, and to pay that debt . . . .2
Sullivan Ballou's words distill the essence of public service: self-sacrifice for the common good. Fortunately, most of us don't need to pay the ultimate price to demonstrate our commitment to our Nation and its people.
There are many ways to perform public service, and they don't all require service as a government employee. When I graduated from law school over three decades ago, I started my career as an SEC staff attorney, a decision I've never regretted. I spent ten years on the SEC's staff, learning how to be a lawyer. I learned how important it is to counsel clients to work toward the common good and to help achieve socially desirable goals by appropriate means.
When I left the agency the first time, I'd already inculcated these lessons. And so, as a private lawyer I counseled clients to work toward the common good, encouraging them not just to meet legal standards, but also to exceed them. Last year, I was honored to return to and lead the SEC, where my legal career began.
Despite much of what's been written, it's been a privilege for me to Chair the SEC. These past fifteen months have been incredibly troubled, with unprecedented crises of terrorism and corporate malfeasance. But, having had the chance to formulate solutions for many of the problems, lay the foundation for solving others, and achieve so much in such an incredibly short period of time, gives me great satisfaction and is a source of enormous professional pride.
In particular I'm grateful I had the chance to use knowledge I'd acquired over thirty-three years as a securities lawyer to help reopen the financial markets following the terrorist attacks of September 11th. After the attacks, many of us wanted to show the world that terrorists could not destroy our Nation's strength, courage or resolve. The successful reopening of our financial markets was a symbolic and critical way to demonstrate this. If the markets had opened but then faltered, an already terrible situation would have grown worse. Less than a week after the attacks, the markets reopened to record trading volume without incident. This achievement evidenced the extraordinary ability of public and private sectors to work together toward the common good.
The concept of the "common good," by the way, dates back to the earliest foundations of political theory. Aristotle spoke of the common good in his work, "Politics."3 I always begin with first principles and, because Noah Krieger's academic interests included political science, it's appropriate I do so here. Now, I hesitate to talk to a group of Brown-educatees about Aristotle because you've probably all read "Politics," perhaps in the original Ancient Greek; my sources, alas, are English translations and Mortimer Adler's wonderful effort to simplify Aristotle's teachings for folks like me.4 So please bear with me.
According to Aristotle, humans by nature are political animals. We organize "societies voluntarily, purposefully, and thoughtfully and establish laws or customs that differ from one human society to another."5 We do this because it is the best way to live the best life. The common good is promoted by organizing into cities or states. The Greek word for city or state is "polis." Hence comes the word "politics."
Political rule, Aristotle says, should look to the advantage of citizens as a whole, not to the advantage of the ruler or master. Regimes that pursue the common good are just; those that focus on the advantage of the rulers are unjust, because such regimes involve mastery, and "the city is a partnership of free and equal persons."6 To be just, government must serve the common good of the people who are governed, not the selfish interests of those who rule.
And the bottom line is that many people are committed to the common good. The welfare of the common depends on it. We all have a responsibility to safeguard and promote the welfare of the common. Everyone must do this, not just people in public employ.
The recent passing of another Veterans' Day reminds us not just of Sullivan Ballou and others who fought for our Country, but those ordinary citizens who used their everyday lives to do their part on the home front. An excellent example of this is captured in Bob Greene's new best-selling book about World War Two, "Once Upon a Town."7 In it, he describes the awe-inspiring contributions and sacrifices of the people of North Platte, Nebraska, and surrounding small towns.
Ten days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 17th , people in North Platte heard a rumor that a Nebraska National Guard Company would come through the town on a troop train. Because we were at war, troop movements were supposed to be confidential. Nonetheless about five hundred of the town's twelve thousand residents showed up at the train station in response to the rumor. They brought cakes, pies, sandwiches, milk, magazines, letters and cigarettes for the troops.
When the trained pulled in, however, it carried a Company from the Kansas National Guard, not Nebraska. The North Platte townspeople gave their gifts to members of the Kansas Company anyway. The next day, they decided to do this for every troop train that came through their town. Beginning Christmas Day, 1941, they greeted every troop train coming through town every day until ten months after the war's end. Volunteers staffed the canteen from 5 a.m. until the last train pulled out after midnight. They welcomed and fed more than 3000 military personnel per day, for free. They gave them the best quality food they could, in the most generous quantities possible. A sample record from the canteen gives some idea of those amounts. The record reads:
Contributions from the Moorefield group yesterday were 25 birthday cakes, 39 ½ dozen cup cakes, 149 dozen cookies, 87 fried chickens, 70 dozen eggs, 17 ½ quarts of salad dressing, 40 ½ dozen doughnuts, 20 pounds of coffee, 22 quarts of pickles, 22 pounds of butter, 13 ½ quarts of cream . . . .8
And the list goes on. This was in the middle of a war, when food and gas were rationed. Yet, this is what the people of North Platte did, day in and day out, for the entire war, and then some.
The servicemen who came through appreciated their ten-minutes with the wonderful people of North Platte. Survivors remember talking about it during lulls in battle. One veteran recalled, "[A] majority of the men on the battlefields knew exactly where North Platte was, and what it meant. They would talk about it like it was a dream. Out of nowhere [they'd say]: How'd you like to have some of that food from the North Platte Canteen right about now?'"9 Another veteran said, "The biggest thing [about North Platte] was how those people made you feel really appreciated. Those happy smiles you saw. . . I know it sounds like a simple thing. But I was heading for an infantry division when I went through North Platte, and I didn't know exactly where I would end up. And I never forgot those smiles."10
During the war, six million soldiers passed through North Platte and received its generous bounty. As Greene writes, "This was not something orchestrated by the government; this was not paid for with public money. All the food, all the services, all the hours of work were volunteered by private citizens and local businesses."11 The volunteers accepted no money; they sought no plaque. They simply were thanking the sons, husbands and fathers going off to war.
One veteran, when asked what he wanted to tell the residents of North Platte, said, "[T]ell them that I still thank them from the bottom of my heart. And if they ever ask . . . whether what they did really mattered, . . . the answer, to put it bluntly, is: Hell, yes."12
The mother of one of the servicemen wrote a thank you note to a North Platte woman who baked a cake for her son. She wrote:
At a stop in Nebraska several days ago, a dusty, hungry, travel-weary teen-age air cadet stepped off the train to relax. He had started in Nevada for home, which he was to visit for the first time in eleven months. He was still a thousand miles away. You know what happened at the brief stop in Nebraska. Please accept this letter as a token of our appreciation for your kindness to our boy. May God bless you and your loved ones. This world may still be a better place in which to live as long as charity such as yours remains in the hearts of men.13
Safeguarding the common, and promoting the common good, is a noble calling to which we all should aspire. As the mother of the serviceman indicates, this world may be a better place if we answer that calling. The people of North Platte were ordinary folks who thought of others beyond themselves. Whether you're a farmer, an Ivy League graduate, a public employee or a denizen of the private sector, you have a responsibility to work toward the common good. That is the legacy of North Platte, and it's Noah Krieger's legacy, too.
Embracing that responsibility is important, not because you'll be honored, or showered with recognition and praise. It's important because of the intrinsic good it does, for the common, and for the soul and spirit of those who dedicate themselves to the common. Even in difficult times, it most assuredly is worth it, and the results you can achieve will make this a better Country, and you a better person. What more can any of us ask? What more can any of us want?
||Ken Burns, The Civil War, Episode 1, The Cause, at Chapter 13 (PBS 1990).|
||Mortimer J. Adler, Aristotle for Everybody (1978).|
|5||Id. at 112.|
||Aristotle, Politics, Book 3, Chapter 6.|
|| Bob Greene, Once Upon a Town (2002).|
|8|| Id. at 73.|
|9|| Id. at 27.|
|10|| Id. at 48.|
|11|| Id. at 7-8.|
|12|| Id. at 28.|
|13|| Id. at 46.|