In 2011, then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney released his economic plan, “Believe in America.” As one would expect from a former business executive, Romney emphasized the supply-side, pro-business policies that have long defined Republican economics. Lowering the corporate tax rate, expanding free trade agreements, implementing worker retraining programs, and cutting government regulations on businesses featured prominently. The underlying philosophy was that fostering GDP growth would create jobs and prosperity for Americans across the board.
In the eight years since, GDP and financial sector profits have continued to climb. So have drug dependence, suicide, and other deaths of despair. It’s against this backdrop that another ambitious GOP politician, Sen. Marco Rubio, is thinking beyond mere macroeconomic metrics to place human dignity at the core of America’s political economy. In a speech at the Catholic University of America yesterday, Rubio, who scorned philosophers during his own presidential run in 2015, outlined an economic philosophy that departs significantly from Romney’s laissez-faire approach. “The primary purpose of capitalism is to provide for human dignity,” Rubio proclaimed, expanding on themes from his August First Things essay. “We don’t need socialism, [but we also] don’t need simply to say ‘the market will take care of it by itself.’ What we need is to restore common good capitalism.”
The pantheon of thinkers from which Rubio derives this “common good capitalism” reveals the extent of his breach with his party’s status quo. Republicans, despite being the more church-going of the two parties, tend to lean more on Mises, Hayek, and Ayn Rand than Popes Francis, Benedict XVI, John Paul II, and Leo XIII—all four of whom Rubio quoted extensively yesterday. In looking to Rome rather than Vienna for his economic thought, Rubio seeks to reclaim a holistic disposition that recognizes the members of the U.S. economy as human persons, not simply scientific datum. Conservatives are turning against outsourcing—both of American jobs to China and of economic thought to libertarians.
Rubio said that economic growth is an inadequate indicator of economic health: “Economic growth and record profits alone will not lead to the creation of dignified work.” He argues for placing human dignity at the center of the economy. “Does our country exist to serve the interests of the market? Or does the market exist to serve the interests of our nation?”
Rubio’s break with party orthodoxy is clear in his specific policy proposals. These include imposing taxes on share buybacks, while rewarding investment in domestic manufacturing and new research; creating a national cooperative that guarantees investment in the production of rare earth materials vital to our national security, currently overwhelmingly provided by China; expanding the federal per child tax credit; and creating an option for paid family leave. Rubio demonstrates a willingness to use government power to direct desirable economic outcomes, anathema within the GOP in recent decades. The common good is the new guide, not free market absolutism.
At its core, Rubio’s common good capitalism represents a more authentically Christian approach to political economy than anything either major party has put forth in recent memory. It balances the legitimate interests of businesses and workers. It respects the rights of shareholders, CEOs, and employees alike, while emphasizing the corresponding obligations they have to one another and to the country that made their success possible. There is an “indivisible tie” between culture and economics that has long been ignored. Workers and businesses owners aren’t competitors; they’re partners—partners in creating a society that makes men better by providing opportunities to attain the dignity that comes from work, ownership, and raising a family. And that, as Rubio said (quoting Leo XIII), is the ultimate goal of any society.
Rubio insisted that his goal isn’t to “define a post-Trump conservatism for the Republican Party.” But in daring to diverge from tired mantras of “shareholder primacy” and “GDP growth,” Rubio has emerged as a leading contender to do just that. President Trump’s victory—and the Democratic party’s dabbling in socialism—are symptoms of Americans’ unease with the political economy and its social order of recent decades.
The path forward requires recalibrating our nation’s economic priorities, reemphasizing the dignity of work and he who provides it, and reintroducing the language of national interest and the common good. The common good capitalism Rubio outlined at CUA is the place to start.
Emile A. Doak works in development at The American Conservative.
Photo by Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons. Image cropped.