The following is a transcript of remarks delivered by Eva Moskowitz and John Paulson at the 2021 Hamilton Award Dinner.
Eva Moskowitz: Good evening. I want to begin by thanking the Chairman of the Manhattan Institute, Paul Singer, and of course Senator Tim Scott, who’s an incredible champion of parental choice. On Labor Day Weekend, my husband and I went to Central Park, as we do on most weekends. And there were people there celebrating Labor Day picnics, fitness enthusiasts biking and running on the loop, children laughing, playing in playgrounds. Every conceivable type of New Yorker was in Central Park on Labor Day. Central Park, in my opinion, illustrates some of what makes New York City one of the world’s greatest cities. Yes, you can applause, please do. First, it shows how beautiful and beautifully planned our city is. No city in the world has such a large park right at its center. Secondly, it’s an incredible symbol of the role of visionary philanthropy in making this city great.
The Central Park Conservancy has invested more than a billion dollars in Central Park. And nobody—nobody—has been more generous than John Paulson, who in 2012 gave a transformative gift to Central Park. I still remember reading about this donation in the paper before I knew John personally. And I thought to myself, wow, what a visionary gift. John has said about Central Park, “People of all ages, income levels, races, and nationalities walk through the park every day. Everyone is smiling, and it’s all free.” I consider this one of the greatest contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion that I have seen.
John has also been very generous with many educational institutions, including Harvard, NYU, the London School of Economics, and Success Academies, the charter schools I run. I can still remember John and Jenny visiting one of our middle schools and being so committed to educational equity. I suspect John has been so generous with educational institutions because of his personal experience. John grew up in a middle-class family in Queens, the son of Alfredo Guillermo Paulson, who emigrated from Ecuador at the age of 16, one year after becoming an orphan. Anyone who went from modest circumstances to great success especially understands the role of education in that. But there is the question of what type of education children should receive. Several years ago, John and his wife Jenny wrote that, “For children of all races, we strongly believe that schools should value and define success in terms of hard work, earned accomplishment, merit, a commitment to academic rigor, and personal integrity.”
Alas, this is the type of statement that gets you into trouble nowadays. People say that if someone who is successful talks about hard work and merit, they are failing to acknowledge their “privilege” and are putting forth a false narrative that society is perfectly fair and colorblind. So should we stop talking about merit and hard work because it is impolite to do so? I would say that, to the contrary, we have a moral obligation to preach what we practice. John and so many of you in this room really understand how to achieve success. You know the role that hard work, merit, and educational accomplishment play in achieving success. It’s important to share that knowledge. Of course, our society isn’t perfectly fair. It isn’t colorblind or class blind.
However, constantly telling young people only that society is unfair and the system is rigged against them creates hopelessness and undermines their sense of agency. Young people need to understand that even in an imperfect society, hard work and merit can still take them far. Being silent about this is no virtue. We have an obligation to preach what we practice what we know has worked for us and will work for others. And that, of course, is what John Paulson has done and what the Manhattan Institute is all about. It’s about sharing ideas that we believe will help the lives of all people in society. And John Paulson is a very deserving recipient of this year’s Alexander Hamilton Award because he’s been a leader in practicing what he preaches and preaching what he practices. It is my great pleasure to introduce my friend, John Paulson.
John Paulson: Good evening, everybody. First, I want to thank Eva for that beautiful tribute and just congratulate her for everything she’s done for children in New York City, and I also want to thank the Manhattan Institute for this honor. Manhattan Institute is an institute I respect and admire greatly. So, for me, it’s a privilege to receive this award tonight. And I want to thank everybody here for coming tonight. It’s so wonderful to see so many supporters here on Friday night, out in New York, again. So thank you, everyone, for coming. But I wanted tonight to lay out some of the challenges that we are facing and why the Manhattan Institute is so important in addressing these challenges. And when I say challenges we are facing, I mean both as citizens of the United States and as residents of New York City.
The United States is still the greatest country in the world, a country that stands for and strives for equal opportunity, freedom, and justice. Yet, we cannot take our greatness for granted. The United States became the greatest country in the world due to our commitment to certain core values that have stood the test of time, even if, as human beings, we have at times been flawed. In policy, our central commitment has been to individual rights and limited government, a tradition that we inherited from the English and which stretches back to the Magna Carta. Our Constitution was crafted to protect these rights. And it became stronger over time, particularly in the wake of the Civil War and the end of slavery, when a series of amendments addressed the Constitution’s most glaring omissions.
In addition to the institutions that have made us great, it is also a set of cultural convictions: the importance of strong families, the virtue of hard work, and the importance of education. Tying these values together is a shared belief that competitive capitalism is by far the best economic model for free society. Fundamentally, capitalism means the freedom to make something of yourself and make life better for other people. Over time, capital is proven to be the surest way to economic growth, which has lifted more people out of poverty than any government program ever could.
There is obviously a role for government too, but a role limited by our Constitution. The government provides the rule of law, infrastructure, educational opportunities, and a safety net, as well as regulations that serve the public as a whole. Combined, these values—protection of individual rights, limited government, importance of education, culture of hard work, and commitment to capitalism—have been the foundation for success and prosperity in this country. But our nation’s foundation is under attack. More and more, we’re seeing a sharp turn against limited government, strong families, hard work, and educational achievement. Consider education. A good education has been the route to a better life and an equalizer of opportunity. But, increasingly, educators seem fixated on undermining this country’s values, especially our dedication to equal opportunity instead of equal outcomes. Our education system has become increasingly resilient to even measure the skills it’s teaching students, which we see in the backlash against standardized testing.
And the effect has been startling. According to the Pew Research Center, the US now ranks thirty-eighth out of 71 countries in the review of math scores. It’s just shocking how far we’ve fallen. We are also losing ground when it comes to the rule of law. After decades of declining crime, our murder rate has been going up in cities around the country. And as we rightly push to stop bad policing, we are neglecting the value of good policing, the kind that saves lives and revitalizes neighborhoods, the kind that fueled New York City’s residents in the 1990s. And, of course, we’re losing ground on basic fiscal management. The federal debt has long been growing at an unsustainable clip. Then last year, the federal government was forced to spend its way through a frightening public health crisis. But this year, there’s little talk of bringing things back under control. Instead, we’re talking about spending trillions more to grow government programs.
If all this is true of the country as a whole, it’s even more true of New York City. Even before the pandemic, the city was facing fiscal challenges. Although New York City residents pay the highest tax rates in the country, the incoming mayor faces a budget deficit of more than $5 billion. New York City’s government, based on last year’s figures, spent an incredible $10,700 per capita. For context, Boston, a city with a similar heritage, spends less than half, at $4,700. And Dallas only spends $2,800 per capita. Does New York City have such a high-performing government that it’s worth it? Have our tax dollars brought us pristine streets and efficient social services? I can see by your laughter you don’t think so. Spending two, three, even four times as much per capita as other large cities and delivering below average results...
Take education spending as an example. New York spends $28,000 now per student in its city-run public schools. Dallas, by comparison, spends just under $10,000 per student. Despite spending three times as much per student than Dallas, New York ranked in the third quartile, while Dallas ranks in the first quartile. So New York’s government is spending more and more and doing worse educating kids who need good public schools the most. As Eva said, I believe there is nothing more important than education in reducing inequality in our society. There is a direct correlation between poverty, incarceration rates, income, and education. All these metrics improve with higher levels of education. That’s why it’s a shame that New York City spends so much with such poor results for the most vulnerable segments of our population. That’s also why the work Eva Moskowitz and Success Academy does is so important. Ninety percent of its students are from underrepresented minorities, yet Success Academy schools rank in the top 1% of all public schools in New York State.
We’re hopeful that the next administration will facilitate the growth of Success Academy, so that more children can receive a first-class K–12 education, prepare themselves for college, and achieve the American dream. Thank you, Eva, for offering the best education to the children who will benefit the most. I’m so honored to have you introduce me tonight.
And it’s not just in education where spending is high in New York City and outcomes are low. Similar problems exist in public transportation, city-run hospitals, and out-of-control pension and healthcare expenses. And Americans, we know, are voting with their feet with people leaving high-tax, inefficient states like New York and migrating to low-tax, efficient states, such as Florida and Texas. The next couple of years will be crucial for New York. It needs to get off the path toward becoming a failed city, a place where our best days are behind us. The country as a whole needs the same wake-up call, and I believe the work being done at the Manhattan Institute is going to be essential to that process.
Scholars at Manhattan Institute are holding policymakers accountable. They’ve highlighted the risks of irresponsible fiscal policy and pointed out the ways we could reduce spending and improve services. They’ve exposed the racially charged propaganda that schools have been foisting on the country, and then marshalled the data to prove that we need the police around to keep crime low. On many of the most pressing issues facing our city and our country, the Manhattan Institute has offered rigorous, evidence-based policy solutions that policy makers can use to restore public safety, bring budgets under control, and support economic growth. The Manhattan Institute is doing the hard work and laying the intellectual foundation to make a comeback a reality. America is still the best country in the world, and New York is still the greatest city in America.
The Manhattan Institute is leading the charge to make sure that we as a country and as a city maintain that position of leadership. Thank you.
Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for any corrections.