Miami, FL — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined Dr. Andrew Abela, dean of Catholic University’s Busch School of Business & Economics, for a discussion on faith, common good capitalism, and the dignity of work at the 2020 Principled Entrepreneurship Conference. A lightly edited transcript can be found below.
On Rubio’s reason for posting Scripture on his Twitter each morning:
“It’s not a very difficult thing to decide every day. It’s based on the daily reading in the Catholic Church, from the mass. For the most part...it’ll give you an Old Testament verse, it’ll give you a Psalm, it’ll give you a New Testament, and then it’ll give you a Gospel. And you can pick from that. If you do that every three years you’ll get through the whole Bible. So, generally speaking, that’s where it comes from. Every now and then if that day it’s just not in context or it just doesn’t line up, I’ll use my old, reliable Proverbs. I actually started doing it that way. You can basically pick one chapter every day of the month and get through it, unless you have 31 days in the month. So that’s sort of the process. ...
“I think one of the things that’s most amazing as you do that every day is you look at this ancient document, the most read book in the history of the world, and you realize that even if you’re not a believer, even if you’re an atheist, or an agnostic, or whatever it may be, it’s extraordinary how it captures the essence of so much of our human psychology and instinct and behavior and the nature of humanity that applies to this very day. There’s not a single day where you don’t read through it and you don’t realize that these words were written in a very different time, a very different society, and yet it still speaks so deeply to some contemporary issue going on in our daily life, not even in politics.”
On the ways in which Rubio’s faith influences his policy making:
“First of all let me say [that] at the end of the day, public policy is about two things: number one, making a decision about what is good or bad or right or wrong, and second, it’s about how you’re going to use power to organize a society. So if public policy, in many ways, is about what’s good and what’s bad or what’s right and what’s wrong, and we want to protect what’s good and right and we want to discourage or punish and prevent what’s wrong, then the second question is where do you determine what’s right or wrong or what’s good or bad. And you’ve got to find that from somewhere. No human being is born instinctively knowing right or wrong, you have to learn it from something.
“In broader society today we’re encouraged to learn it from secular sources. People have a right to do that in this free country. I learned it from my faith and, in fact, our society was founded by people of faith who drew right and wrong from it. And to this very day, much of the jurisprudence in Western civilization is built on most of the Ten Commandments. That’s where we come up with the concept that it’s wrong to murder people, and that’s why I believe [that] to this day we are a country that venerates the elderly and protects them and sees an obligation to take care of the vulnerable.
“So, for me, that’s the role faith plays, is it provides life. It provides reason and purpose behind why I think certain things are right and certain things are wrong. And then when it extends into contemporary political issues, it’s a good place to remind you that really government doesn’t exist to be served by the people, the government exists to serve the people, and the same is true for our economy and everything else. Our fundamental obligation as policy makers is to do what is good for the broader society and civilization.
“And so that’s...where I derive sort of a basis for what’s good and bad or wrong or right. Others can derive it from different sources, but I certainly think mine is a valid one and an important one that I think is built on ancient wisdom...in my view, divine wisdom.”
On Rubio’s journey to common good capitalism:
“I have to credit a big acceleration in my journey to the opportunity to run for President of the United States. My life is the life of the son of two immigrants who came to this country with no education, no connections, worked really hard, never became rich but they owned a home, they raised all four of their kids to have better lives than themselves, they were able to retire with dignity, and lived to see all four of their kids be able to fulfill whatever dreams they had for themselves. And so I’m an enormous believer in the American dream.
“So you go out and run for president and you start running into people who don’t share the same enthusiasm because their life experience has been different. They work at a factory that was closed down and the loss of their job destroyed the community, destroyed their marriage, divided their family, and sent them into a deep spiral. Others who you run into feel like we live in a society that’s unfair for people like them. You know....just a generation ago my father worked here and he was able to retire and raise his family, and now I can’t even make ends meet. You run into that and it forces you to sort of go back and think about it and say well, what is it that’s happening behind the scenes?
“And from it, you realize three things. Number one, I believe that capitalism and free enterprise is a vastly superior way of organizing your economy versus socialism. I think it always reaches the most efficient outcome, which, generally, is what you want to see happen. You don’t want those investment decisions being made and controlled by government.
“But I also recognize that there are times when the most efficient outcome that the market reaches may not necessarily be the best one for your country. So, it is more efficient to make things in China or in another country. But it’s not necessarily in our national interest to make certain things in China. It’s not in our national interest to depend on them for pharmaceuticals or for protective equipment, or all sorts of other technologies that we now do.
“And when that manufacturing capacity leaves your country you don’t just have cheaper prices, you also lose jobs. And with the loss of those jobs, you end up corroding and destroying communities, families, and individuals lives. And so what do you do in those instances in which the free market outcome is not in the common good?
“The purpose of our economy is not to serve some ideological concept. It’s to have an economy that is good for our people and our country. And when free enterprise reaches an outcome that is good for our country — which is most of the time — that’s what we should allow to work. And in those instances where the outcome is not good for our country, that’s where public policy has to make a difference. Not by taking over those industries, but by incentivizing those in those industries to undertake behavior that is good for Americans and for the society at large.”
On the difference between a socialist form of government intervention versus common good capitalism:
“First of all, the belief on the far left on these issues is that capitalism is inherently evil, and that the reason why a company is making things in another country is because they are evil and greedy people. That’s the basis of their thinking. My view of it is that the reason why they’re making things in other countries is because it makes all the business sense in the world. Now, it’s not good for America — and that’s why we have to address it — but from just a pure dollars-and-cents perspective that’s the rationale. They are responding to an incentive. We have put an incentive in place that is encouraging that behavior. We’ve even cheered it. When the values and the shares in that company go up as a result of that move, we view it as evidence of how well they’re doing.
“But their [the left’s] answer to that problem is, number one, these people are evil and need to be reined in and/or controlled. And the second is the government needs to order them, force them, direct them to come up with the outcome that we want them to come up with. And you don’t just stop there. We don’t just want them to make things in America, we want to tell you who you have to hire, what background, race, and ethnicity they have to be, and it just keeps going on...it just never ends. Once the government controls and can tell you what to do with private business...it becomes really destructive. And then what you’ve actually done is create an incentive for that activity not to happen here at all.
“My approach is very different. My approach is in those instances in which the common good is not being served, we need to reverse the incentives. In essence, if you no longer manufacture in the U.S. because something we did here made it more cost effective for you to do it over there, then we need to reverse that incentive. It can be a combination of things — it could be changes to the way we tax that behavior, it could be creating an American-made market for that product by having a Buy American requirement. The government is a big purchaser of all sorts of different things — it’s investment in basic research and development...often times is done with a defense or space program purpose, but then spins out and has a commercial application as well.
“So, it’s a very different approach and, ultimately, I don’t want to direct where in the U.S. these companies open their businesses, how they hire people, and so forth. But I do want to incentivize them to do it here instead of somewhere else. And that’s a very different approach from basically saying the government is going to control that industry, or maybe even own it in the case of marxists and communists.”
On woke capitalism:
“Woke capitalism is not even real. It’s symbolic. Basically, there’s some major corporation out there and what they view is we don’t want the heat that comes from criticism because of X, Y, or Z. So what we will do is we will write a big check to some organization, we’ll allow you to put banners on our doors, we’ll make our workforce wear T-shirts, we’ll have some special day that focuses on these issues, we’ll ask people to go vote, you know, we’ll do symbolic changes to sort of pay our penance, so to speak, and make sure that we’re not targeted. But in the end, they don’t fundamentally change their business model.
“So we have these companies that are ‘woke,’ but we have found that they have productive facilities and/or suppliers in China that rely on the forced labor of Uyghur Muslims. How woke is that? It’s interesting, you know, you have the National Basketball Association (NBA) which has embraced the Black Lives Matter slogan, at least, if not the individual organization, about which very little is known. It has no problem keeping silent when it comes to China and China’s efforts to tell the NBA [that] there better not be any jerseys that say anything about Uyghur Muslims, or anything about Tibet, or anything about Hong Kong, or anything about religious liberty in China, because if you do that we won’t broadcast your games in China and you’re going to lose all that revenue. So how woke is that?
“We have companies that will boycott holding events in states because of some law they passed, but they have no problem adhering to whatever the requirements are of some authoritarian government somewhere else. That’s not woke, that’s hypocrisy. And that’s why woke capitalism really is nothing more than the extortion that these corporations are paying not to become the target of some public campaign to destroy them. They’ll do that for the woke, they’ll also do that in order to get access to some market overseas where the government is repressive, authoritarian, [and] abuses rights.”
On “rugged individualism” and the importance of community in the conservative movement:
“Well here’s what happening, and I think it’s really become pronounced since 9/11. So we had September 11th, then we had a massive downturn in the economy in ‘07 and ‘08, now with this pandemic, and in between that was student loan debt and so forth. So you have a couple generations of Americans now who, basically, every major institution has failed them. They are at least 10 years behind where their older siblings or their parents were at the same time in life in terms of family formation, you know, getting married, owning a home, being well into their career, etc. And [there’s] this incredible sense of insecurity.
“So this ethos of everybody just go out and blaze your own path in life runs into, before you can do that, there are some basic things that have to be in place like, you know, do I have a place to live? Do I have food to eat? Do I have clothes on my back, and if I get sick is there somewhere that I can be treated? And by the way, will I not owe money for the rest of my life just to get a degree so that I can go find a job that doesn’t pay me enough to pay the loan that I needed to get that [job]? So all of that is in place, and it’s running into each other, this sense of individualism running into the sense of need for security.
“I would add to that a couple of things. And that is, what people want out of life is not always the same. Some people want to go out and start a business and be entrepreneurial because their Creator programmed them that way. That doesn’t make them better than someone else, that makes them different. And then there are people out there that what they really want out of life is they want to own a home, they want to have kids, they want a good marriage, they want to work somewhere where they are paid fairly and they enjoy the work they’re doing and they feel rewarded and it gives purpose to their days. And then on the weekends they want to coach the Little League team, they want to watch their kids grow up, they want to go fishing, they want to go take a vacation once or twice a year, they want to spend time with family and friends. That’s where their priorities are. And they just need to make enough money to have enough security to be able to do those things. They want to live in a safe and secure neighborhood. Neither one is better than the other, they’re both valid choices.
“And so I think we have to have a society that allows you the freedom and the opportunity to pursue whatever you define happiness as. And that’s really where we’ve arrived at today, and what we need to start thinking about. How can we coexist in a society where people may have different definitions of happiness, but it can actually work out in a way where it’s beneficial for everybody? So it’s a little confusing and convoluted, but that is the general gist of it. And I think that’s been lost here a little bit over the last two decades.”
On the Paycheck Protection Program and the dignity of work:
“The Paycheck Protection Program is not something I would even support in a normal economic setting, nor would we need to. But we have a situation in which we have a public crisis. There’s a virus, and people get infected by coming into contact with other people. And so the decision is made that we’re going to have to close some places down, like businesses are not going to be able to open. So we’re telling people [that] now you cannot work. You cannot open your doors, you cannot make money, you cannot take in customers. That’s a taking. If I took your private property and told you you can’t use it...we have to pay you for it. So my view of it, from the very beginning, was this was a taking.
“The second point is, what do we do about it? Should we just give the money to the owners? Our view of it was, not only should we help keep those businesses alive during the shutdown to some extent — we can’t make them whole, but we can certainly keep them alive — but we want to keep their workers attached to the employer. In essence, [it’s] one thing to be told you can’t work. [It’s] another thing to be told you don’t have a job, and we don’t know when you’re going to have a job.
“And at the core of that is understanding that a job is not just about a paycheck. If work was just about a paycheck, then we’d just send everybody money. Work is also about dignity...I believe man was created for work. Without work, without purpose to your days, there is no dignity and it really becomes corrosive. And so our view was, we want to keep as many people as possible attached to their employer. It’s good for the business but, ultimately, it’s also good for the individual and for the community. And that was the thinking behind it. And it’s certainly preferable than an eight week or ten week unemployment check that, when it runs out, you still don’t have a job.
“We had no structure in which to deliver that for small firms. We know how to do that for big companies, [but] we don’t know how to do that for the dry cleaner down the street. And, hence, the Paycheck Protection Program was created. And when you create something that big that fast there are always going to be problems in its implementation. But it is by far the most successful part of the CARES Act and, I would argue, by far the most successful government program that has been implemented in the last quarter century, if not more. It literally saved over 50 million jobs, and millions of small businesses are open and survived because of [it]. And I actually think we need to go back and do a second round of it — more targeted — because if we don’t, you’re going to see some structural, permanent damage done to our economy that’s going to take a decade or longer to recover from.”