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ICYMI: Common Good Capitalism: An Interview with Marco Rubio
Common Good Capitalism: An Interview with Marco Rubio
Spring 2020/Volume IV, Number 1
Excerpts from Rubio’s interview with American Affairs are below.
American Affairs: What is “dignified work,” as you see it? Labor issues are typically associated with the Left. Why should people on the political right be concerned about ensuring the opportunity for dignified work? And have left-wing welfare policies also misunderstood dignified work?
Rubio: Democratic welfare policies—even the most well-meaning ones—assume dignity is about how much you can buy as a consumer and fail to make the connection between the various components of the common good. These institutions, like strong families, close communities, dignified work, and living out the mutual obligations of citizenship, are mutually reinforcing and cannot exist in isolation.
A well-paying and stable job is the foundation of family stability and ultimately a healthy society. It teaches skills and creates social obligations that teach parents and children alike the importance of responsibility and hard work. Our economic policies should make good jobs as attainable as possible. Expanding, for example, the child tax credit is one way to make the existing jobs that are available pay more. Alternate proposals like simple cash payments sever the important connection between strong families and dignified work.
American Affairs: Much of the media discussion around trade and China has focused exclusively on tariffs. Do we need to take other, more proactive measures to promote domestic economic development?
Rubio: [D]omestic economic development will in great part be contingent on our ability to develop a coherent, pro-American industrial policy.
American policymakers must pursue policies that make our economy more productive by identifying the critical value of specific, highly productive industrial sectors and spurring investment in them. Industries like aerospace, rail, electronics, telecommunications, and agricultural machinery—in essence, the same industries China is trying to dominate via their Made in China 2025 initiative—will create opportunities for dignified work and be vital to the national interest.
No one should mistake this as a call for politicians and unelected bureaucrats to take over our means of production. But policymakers and commentators should remember that, from World War II to the Space Race and beyond, a capitalist America has always relied on public-private collaboration to further our national security.
American Affairs: A recent survey found that a majority of children in China thought “astronaut” was the most exciting future career choice, while the top choice among American children was “YouTuber.” Is this a high-tech future we should look forward to?
Rubio: We celebrate the breakneck speed of new OS updates and social media apps that lead us to believe that we’re going through huge tech breakthroughs with regularity, but we’re really not. Instead of all of the lofty promises of Silicon Valley’s “innovations”—which were supposed to bring us together and obviate geographic distances between family members and with old classmates—we see drags on productivity from constant internet distractions, self-segregation into internet communities with little face-to-face contact, and skyrocketing rates of bullying and mental illness among younger generations.
A large proportion of Silicon Valley’s enormous intellectual talent ends up by default channeled into figuring out what next app idea can churn out the most seed funding before getting acquired by a bigger fish… A smarter high-tech future would entail looking at developing industries like advanced space manufacturing, which are strategically important, offer dignified work, and use cutting-edge technology to move the ball forward.
American Affairs: Senator Rubio, in a recent speech on “Common Good Capitalism,” you said that “Our challenge is not simply one of cyclical downturns or the wrong party being in charge. Our challenge is an economic order that is bad for America. It is bad economically because it is leaving too many people behind. And it is bad because it is inflicting tremendous damage on our families, our communities, and our society.” How did you come to view these problems as systemic in nature? And does the depth of these challenges mean that we need a more ambitious policy discussion than we have had recently?
Rubio: The China challenge is not just a foreign policy or trade problem, but an indictment of an outdated and sclerotic political consensus.
The reason China reveals structural problems is because the premise that it was good to expose American workers to China was a structural belief. Losing industries to China was not an “unintended consequence” of liberal trade and financial policies; it was very often the goal. It required an assumption that middle-class American families would be better off with cheaper imported goods and better financing terms on consumer debt. It required the assumption that the American economy would be better off with financial services as its comparative advantage. The reason these assumptions are wrong is not because the changes they brought weren’t managed properly, or not pursued consistently enough, but because the underlying belief about what makes for a good society is not true.
American Affairs: China appears to be leading the way in rolling out 5G telecommunications networks globally. Dozens of countries have signed contracts with Huawei, including several NATO allies. Can anything be done at this point? Do we need an American 5G components company to compete with Huawei?
Rubio: The thing is, we talk about [China’s trade practices] as being unfair, that it’s not how the free market is supposed to work! And that’s right—it’s not. In the instances where we can try to reassert the historical rules of fairness where they’re being blatantly broken (e.g., China’s theft of American intellectual property, which costs our economy $600 billion annually), we have an obligation to do so.
But we also need to recognize that these are the new rules while dealing with Beijing, in a sense. And we can complain, but that’s not in the end going to help the American economy—or the individual American workers and families suffering because of China’s exploitation. If our philosophy in economic policy is solely to maximize “efficiency,” our firms are competing with ones backed by the full weight of the Chinese government. In the long run, that is a competition that market fundamentalists won’t win.
American Affairs: Your office has released two major reports on new economic threats to the United States: one on intensifying economic and technological competition with China and one on declining domestic investment. Why are these issues important?
Rubio: China is the world leader in things we can no longer make at home even if we wanted to, from lithium-ion batteries to television panel displays.
This is not just populist hype. It occupies the concerns of military generals, the executives of American companies competing for market share with Chinese companies, and patriotic Americans of all occupations and incomes. We are declining in significant and quantifiable ways that require urgent attention.