In 1933, when President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt was recruiting former social worker Frances Perkins to be US secretary of labor, he invited her to his Manhattan house to discuss her policy ideas. One of the key items on her agenda was what she described as an “old age” insurance program. Roosevelt encouraged her to study the idea. Two years later the social Social Security Act was legislated by Congress.
Since then, Social Security has stood as one of the bedrocks of the American economy and a vital element of the country’s global competitiveness. Americans can rest assured that if they work hard and play by the rules, they won’t suffer severe privation in old age. It gives every worker a stake in the country’s success.
The Social Security Act was one of the bold strokes by government that helped define America’s place in the world in the 20th century—along with the Marshall Plan, the space program, the Peace Corps and the Internet.
Some people argue that in this era of austerity, government can no longer afford to launch bold new programs aimed at making the world work better. Not so. But it’s true that big projects have to be approached differently. These days, government needs to work collaboratively with businesses, universities and community organizations to get big stuff done. Sometimes this collaboration will take the shape of formal public-private partnerships, like when the US government and IBM teamed up to create the technical infrastructure of the Social Security system; other times not.
On Dec. 8, IBM is convening a conference, US Competitiveness: the Next 100 Years, to generate strategies for rekindling America’s competitiveness in the years ahead. The event will be held at Roosevelt House, where the president and Perkins conducted their fateful meeting. For live blogging from the event, check in between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on the 8th. Please Tweet to #uscompetes.