Walter B. Wriston '41

Smith, Nancy


On Social Revolution


America is in the throes of a gigantic reordering of its social, economic and technological priorities. One set of transitions affects another.

The technological revolution is the most visible-and, in the sense that it is taken totally for granted, the most invisible. The ordinary person doesn't think it's a miracle sitting home watching TV and seeing a man walk on the moon. In a less dramatic example, we have these CitiCard centers all over town. The technology is fabulous but nobody cares. It solves a problem, that's all they want to know. Time is worth more to them than money. In this kind of value system, you see the growth of a business where you can pay a guy to go stand in line for you to get your automobile license.

De Tocqueville described America's "volunteer society" as something unique in the world, and I believe it is coming back now. It's coming back in health care, which is another great revolution. The growth of HMOs is explosive and sponsored now by big companies such as CIGNA, Prudential, Sears. The HIP in New York has a million people in it, something totally unknown 10 years ago.

In something like 60 percent of American families now, both spouses are working. They are part of the process. Nobody decided in Washington that spouses must work. It's part of the women's movement, it's part of economic necessity, it's part of a value system that believes if women don't participate, an asset is being wasted. The same with minorities.

Big corporations are scrambling to create an entrepreneurial atmosphere because they know that 80 percent of the jobs created in this country in the last decade were in businesses of fewer than 100 people.

The presidency is less powerful because the president has less influence with Congress. Congress is less powerful because its members have been unable to deal with the issues and have put the power in the hands of the states. Power is in turn being taken away from state governments by local governments. It has been taken out of the hands of the local governments by the citizens. For example, there are something like 5,000 sanitation departments that are owned and operated by private citizens in towns where the people got tired of having to clean the streets.

In a democracy, at the end of the day the people call the tune. So we are all part of it.

  • This document was created from the article, "Walter B. Wriston '41," written by Nancy Smith for the Fall 1985 edition of the "Wesleyan: The Wesleyan University Alumnus." The original article is located in MS134.003.025.00007.
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