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ICYMI: Rubio Speaks on the Rise of the Elites
On September 12, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined conservative journalist Sohrab Ahmari at the National Press Club for a conversation on the rise of the elites.
Watch the video here or read a transcript below.
“There’s generally one power company. No matter where you live, it’s a utility. They are allowed to operate in basically a monopoly space, they are guaranteed a profit, but their profits are limited. In Florida, the way it works is you go to the public service commission, and you say, this is how much it costs to generate power, this is how much I have to charge people in order to make my statutorily protected profit. They control how much money you make, but you are a monopoly.
“Imagine if the electric company decides one day, I am not going to provide electricity for people who believe this or people who are in this line of work or people who are in this line of business. It’d be pretty dramatic if they were able to do that. Maybe I shouldn’t speak this into the public square, because maybe tomorrow, someone will get some bright idea about what electric companies and utilities should be doing to people. We’re really not that far off in many spaces.
“Tomorrow, there’s going to be this artificial intelligence meeting in the Senate. Mark Zuckerberg is supposed to be there. So is Elon Musk…. This is nothing personal against them per se, but I would argue that in a room with maybe up to 100 United States senators, the two most powerful people in that room will not be members elected by the public, but two heads of important companies, one in particular, with Meta. And it’s not because of wealth, it’s because they control what is, in essence, a utility in the 21st century.
“If today, Amazon, Google, Apple, Meta, X, all get together…and decide, we’re going to destroy so-and-so business or individual, could they not really do that? Could they not deny just about anybody a space in the public square, destroy your business, refuse to provide you services? It would be very difficult. This is an extraordinary amount of power in the hands of the private sector, and it can be used for what people presume to be noble reasons and so forth. But it can also be used under tremendous public pressure to target political opponents, to target those who fall out of line, to target those who they may not agree with. And it can be used to threaten you.
“Many people out there today are not afraid to openly express their views on a topic or take a public position on either side of a debate, although it seems to be disproportionately on one side of most debates, because they are afraid of the impact [having an unpopular opinion] could have on them, not just reputationally, but economically. We are not built to think of the private sector, of private companies as holding that amount of power over individuals. But that’s how consolidated those industries have become….
“What is this a product of? It tracks pretty well with my adult life. I graduated from high school in 1989. I was not a good student. In fact, I did not become a good student until I started paying for it, or shall I say, borrowing for it. Then I started caring a lot more about school and things of that nature. But I graduated from high school in ’89. I’m a graduate from the University of Florida in ’93. Between ’89 and ’93, the world changed quite dramatically.
“Remember the movie The Day After, where the world was supposed to end from this nuclear attack? Remember War Games, where Matthew Broderick hacked into the Pentagon and started a war game that almost ended the world? I grew up in that world. It was the United States versus the Soviet Union, good versus evil, Reagan versus these devils. And then it all just sort of fell apart, literally. The Berlin Wall collapsed. Even though I was in college, and I will admit it was not the predominant thing on my mind at that time, I was aware of it, and I knew it was a pretty big deal. I thought about that, and the rest of the world did, too.
“We emerged from that with a real level of hubris, a feeling that free enterprise and democracy had won, and communism and Marxism had been defeated. The war was over, and now everyone was going to become a free enterprise economy, and everyone was going to become a democracy. You may say to yourself, that was a noble endeavor. That was certainly something that we should have aspired to, but we made decisions on presumptions that were flawed.
“The first [presumption] is that now, somehow, a global economy and global economic commerce would replace the nation state. There was a saying, and I don’t know who to attribute it to, but I know it was out there, because I heard it at the time and many years later, that never have two countries with McDonald’s gone to war with each other. That obviously sounds silly, but it was widely [distributed]…. There was this idea that somehow, commerce between people would now replace nation states, that national interests would no longer really be relevant, because we really couldn’t fight with each other, and it’d all be worked out that way.
“The second assumption that was made is that now that the world was sort of at this utopia that we had reached, not only would global commerce replace nation states and the national interest, but, in fact, that we were really nothing more at this point, not citizens of a country or members of a community, but investors and or consumers in a global marketplace.
“The third assumption that was made is, as a result of all this, the natural order of things would be that the market outcome would always deliver the most efficient outcome…, and that would drive investment. Who cares if the factory in your town or the employer that had been the anchor of a community for 30 years closed down because it was now cheaper to do what you used to do somewhere else, not just because of automation, by the way, but because of cheaper labor? Who cares? It’s going to go over there. That means lower prices, right? You’ll now go to the store. You’ll pay a lot less for whatever it is they made there, even though it’s made halfway around the world, and they have to ship it back to you. But here’s the great news. A better job is coming. It will replace the job that was wiped out. It will actually pay you more. You’ll be happier….
“We all know that’s not how it worked out. I say all this to you as someone who grew up in the ranks of the free enterprise orthodoxy of the Republican Party and of the center right. One of the reasons why is because the people on the other side of this debate were either socialist or communist or a combination thereof. I felt like, those people are wrong, they’re crazy, these things are really bad for the world, so I’m the opposite of whatever that is.
“That was the only opposite that was offered, so these assumptions guided public policy and, in some ways, built a consensus. That’s why you get to 2001, and it’s like, sure, let China join the World Trade Organization. Yeah, they’re going to cheat. Yes, they’re going to steal jobs from us. But they’re going to get rich. And when they get rich, they’ll become just like us, and they’ll stop cheating. Another pretty stupid gamble, but that was the notion. Why were these things wrong? The assumptions were wrong for a couple of reasons.
“The first is, the nation state will always matter, because human nature will never change. 5,500 years of recorded history teaches us that. That’s why history repeats itself now. We change the way we live, we change the way we dress, we change the way we speak, we change all kinds of things, but human nature will never change. And one of the core elements of human nature is this desire to belong. Anywhere in the world that you put people together, two people, 10 people, they immediately want to join something and band together to do something. And one of those things in the modern era, in the last 300 or 400 years, is the nation state. Place and belonging matter.
“Now, the idea we had that [place and belonging] would no longer matter, that we would all now be citizens of a global economy, citizens of the world, that was a fantasy that people adopted who could afford to adopt it, who had passports and could travel all over the world and went to all these forums. But for most people in America, that was never true. But it was especially not true for the leaders of China and Russia and other countries, who said, we’re going to stay with nation state interests, thank you very much. We’re going to continue to focus on the nation state.
“The other error that was made was about the jobs. There was the belief that a job was simply the place that provides you a paycheck, but jobs are a lot more than just about a paycheck. The paycheck really matters, but there are jobs, and then there are stable jobs. There are jobs, and then there are reliable jobs. There are jobs, and then there are jobs that you can actually raise a family on. Our economic numbers don’t mention that. Every time I hear the monthly report, 100,000 new jobs created, what they don’t tell you is what kind of jobs are these jobs that are going to be around in six months? Do these jobs pay enough? Do they pay at least $40,000 or $50,000, so you could afford to raise a family? Can you rely on that job existing three or four years from now, so you can actually become a member of a community?
“That’s the first thing they don’t tell you. The second thing they don’t tell you is about underemployment. I don’t know what the percentage is up to now, 30 or 35 percent of people that have these degrees that they borrowed money for, but now they can’t find a job. And the other point is, when you yank jobs away from people, you don’t just rob them of their dignity and their purpose, you have a corrosive effect on family formation and community. If you think about a community, the anchor of a community is those stable, reliable jobs. Because unless you have stable, reliable jobs, you don’t have coaches for the Little League, you don’t have presidents for the PTA, you don’t have the civic organizations that actually hold a country together.
“One of the notions that was lost in this era was that America is not an economy, America is not a government, America is a nation. And the glue, the fiber of a nation, is not the government. The government is what creates laws and protects us and does all sorts of things. But it’s not the country. And [the country] is not an economy. We have an economy, we need an economy, but our country, the fiber and the basic elements of a country, are families and community, the two most important institutions in any society. I don’t care how wealthy you are, how much your GDP grows, or how geopolitically influential your government may be, if you don’t have family and community, and they are not strong, your country will not be strong. It will be weak, and it will be divided….
“[When I was on the presidential trail in 2016, I wondered,] if America is doing so well, why is everybody so pissed off at each other and at the world in general? There was a lot of that, and it was shocking to me, because I’m a product of the American dream. My mom was a stock clerk at Kmart, my dad was a banquet bartender, and they owned a home, and they retired with dignity, and they left all four of their kids better off, and I’m in the U.S. Senate running for president. This is a great country. Why isn’t everybody as happy about it?
“Then you encounter people that say, because I worked in this place for 30 years, and my dad before me, and one day they cut my pay, and then they just got up and left. What do I do now? I can’t find a job that replaces that one. They tell me, why don’t you learn how to code and move to San Francisco? This was back in 2016, when people still lived in San Francisco. And they said, it doesn’t work for me. [All this change] disconnects them from community and family, from all the things that make life worth living….
“Socialism is a failure everywhere it’s been tried. If you look at the southern border of the United States, a substantial percentage of the people there come from socialist countries called Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. Communism has failed, Marxism has failed everywhere. You know why I believe in the market. I believe in the market and capitalism because it is the one economic model capable of creating not just prosperity, but widespread prosperity that allows you to build societies anchored in family and in community. Not everyone’s going to be a billionaire or even a millionaire, but you’re going to produce the largest number of good-paying jobs for as many people as possible.
“But only if you make that a priority, only if that becomes part of the equation when you make public policy decisions…. Economic growth and wealth [are] important. You can’t have good, stable, good-paying jobs without wealth creation and economic success at the corporate level. You need that. But you can’t just have that alone. It has to be the kind of growth that creates wealth and prosperity, but also creates good-paying jobs for as many people as possible, Americans in our case. That’s the perspective that was lost. It didn’t matter whether the wealth was being created. It didn’t matter where the wealth was being concentrated. It didn’t matter if the wealth was the product of jobs created somewhere else. What mattered was whether some company with an address in the United States, although American in no other way…, did well when the bell rang at the end of the day at the stock market….
“I believe in the market, but the market is a tool. It exists to serve the national interest, not the national interest and our people to serve the market. Where it really gets complicated is when the most efficient outcome is not good for your country. There are people that will still argue with you to this day, that’s impossible, that never happens. It most certainly does.
“The market says it’s more efficient to buy 88 percent of the active ingredients in our pharmaceuticals in China because they subsidize it, because they steal, because they have lower labor or whatever it may be. Is it in our national interest to depend on a foreign competitor slash adversary for 88 percent of the active ingredients in our pharmaceuticals, or to corner 80 percent of the rare earth minerals on Earth or any of these other industrial capabilities?
“What about during Covid, where everyone was freaking out because we couldn’t make masks? We didn’t need that many masks, I suppose. But at the time, all this panic was going on about it, because for the first time, we came face to face with the national interest component of deindustrialization. It’s easy to talk about deindustrialization simply from, wouldn’t it be great if we had more factories, because it feels like the good old days? I’m not talking about going back to the 50s. What I’m saying to you is that that lack of industrial capacity has a national security component to it.
“It also has a job component. I published a report a week ago that talked about the standing of men in the workplace. In particular, what I would focus on are men without college degrees. Why are men without college degrees struggling in the 21st century to find jobs? Because the jobs that largely supported them were industrial-type jobs, and they have vanished.
“We can go on and on. The point is that we’ve come to a point where this realization is before us. The two choices are not a) the market’s always right, let’s worship the market, whatever outcome it reaches, that’s the right one, or b) let the government take over the means of production and pour a bunch of government money into every endeavor that has an American flag sticker on the door. Those are two false choices. But we have to return to an era in which we understand the proper role of the market, and it exists to serve the nation. That requires us to re-embrace the concept of the national interests at every level.
“Nationalist is a word that’s thrown around these days, as if to say, I don’t care about what’s happening in the rest of the world, I only care about America. I don’t only care about America, but I do care about America before anything else, not because I’m inhumane, but because if an American elected official does not put the American national interest as the first topic of thought behind any decision, who will? The Bolivian senate? The senate of Lithuania? Who is supposed to put the American national interest first? If you want to think about the corporate setting, where they always argue, our job is to protect our shareholders, my job is to protect my shareholders, which happen to be the men and women of the United States of America and the families of this country.
“So, I don’t think there’s anything wrong in saying, number one, we need to make the national interest the number one objective, the number one criteria we apply to any public policy decision at the federal level. Number two, it is in the national interest to have an economy that empowers workers to have dignified and stable work so they can build families and communities. And number three, that should extend to our engagements around the world. There are a lot of terrible things that happen in the world. And if we can help, we should. But number one, before we decide how we get involved, and how much we get involved, [we need to decide,] what is the core national interest of the United States?
“That’s more true today than ever. We are no longer the world’s sole superpower. This is no longer a unipolar world where we have the luxury of playing in every conflict or in everything that’s going on around the world. We can care about all of them. We can try to help where we can. But by and large, we have to pick our fights more than ever, because as great and powerful as this country is, it does not have unlimited power, it does not have unlimited reach, and it does not have unlimited resources. It has to prioritize them in a new geopolitical era.
“I’ll close with one last observation. I am a firm believer that you basically cannot hold back technological advancements. No matter how hard you try, technological advances are going to happen. [So], is artificial intelligence going to be a technology that makes humans do what humans do better, faster, more accurately? Or is it going to be a technology that replaces humans completely? Is it going to…allow one worker to do the work of five, or is it going to be something that actually takes the human element out completely? We don’t know the answer to that. But what strikes me about it is, there’s a lot more freaking out going on about AI right now, which is not yet really on top of us, than there was about automation.
“Some of the same people don’t worry about automation. That’s going to be good because there will be less workers, but the workers will make more money. Or, don’t worry about deindustrialization because we’re all going to be software engineers, and we’re all going to make a lot of money. Those same people are freaking out [about AI]. You know why? Because for the first time, we have a massive disruptive technological advance that threatens not the blue collar worker, not the $40,000 a year worker, but the people that are making a lot of money and suddenly realizing, they may not need me anymore. I mean, one of the cornerstones of the Hollywood strike is, screenwriters don’t want to be replaced by a machine, and actors don’t want to be replaced by a fake avatar.
“We are seeing a disruption that impacts white collar, higher educated, or higher standard of living workers. All of a sudden now, they are freaked out about some revolutionary change going on in society. But that interest did not exist when it came to the American worker. Whether it was out of malice, out of greed, or out of stupidity, when we decided that we were no longer a country that needed to make things and create jobs that could employ as many Americans as possible in a stable way, we did real damage to the country and the national fiber. The reason why I know this is true is because it’s not just happening to us. Virtually every industrialized country in the world, particularly in the West, is going through similar domestic upheavals, whether it’s immigration or or the state of their economy or government policies on climate and the like, because they’re all feeling the exact same thing.
“These decisions and these assumptions that have led this world and our country for 30 years were a mistake. Now we have to confront that mistake and hopefully reverse it. It’s my personal hope, although I think you’re a little bit more pessimistic than I am, that the Republican Party will be the home of that movement. But it won’t be easy, because there are a lot of roots, deep roots that go into everything from the intellectual world that leads public policy to much of the traditional center right institutions. But there’s change. We’ve made a lot of progress in four or five years. We have a lot more work to do.
“I thank you for the invitation to talk about it, because I do think what you discuss about tyranny is a byproduct of economic decisions that actually empower the centralization, vertical integration of certain industries that have extraordinary power at a time when we all felt, as long as it’s a private sector, don’t worry about it, because there’ll be a competitor out there that will regulate how they behave. There is no competitor for Amazon, there is no competitor for Google. There really isn’t. Now we reap what we sowed.”