In a major economic speech, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio called for America to pursue “common-good capitalism” that rejects both socialist economic ideas espoused by many Democrats and some of the current dominant economic model of free-market capitalism.
Rubio, in a 40-minute speech given to the The Catholic University of America’s Busch School of Business in Washington D.C., spoke of developing an economy where rights and obligations of both companies and workers are respected, including the obligation of companies to reinvest for the betterment of their workers, society, and the United States.
His speech “Human Dignity and the Purpose of Capitalism” was built in part on the social and economic writings of Pope Leo XIII, who reigned from 1878 to 1903. In his 1891 encyclical, “The Rights and Obligations of Capital and Labor,” Pope Leo XIII argued that companies and workers have obligations to one another.
Rubio argued that free-market capitalism is allowing companies to abandon many of those obligations and that has left too many people behind, leading to dangerous divides in America, and leaving America more vulnerable to economic battles with China.
“What is my goal? Am I trying to create some new third-way forward between the two primary schools of thought in our politics, the classic triangulation, or was I trying to define a Post-Trump conservatism for the Republican Party?” Rubio said. “My goal is neither.
“My goal of this speech is also my goal for everything I do and am trying to do in the Senate: and that goal is above all else, afrankly, to do whatever it takes to keep our country from coming apart. Whatever it takes to make sure this exceptional nation, America, continues and endures, instead of having it end with us,” he said.
For Rubio, a 2016 presidential candidate who, at age 48, appears to be positioning for another run, much of the divides in America can be tracked by culture, geography, generations and politics are caused by an economy that no longer works for everyone.
“When we focus only on the right of businesses to make a profit and we stop recognizing that with right comes a corresponding obligation for these businesses to reinvest in the country that made those profits possible, the large corporations can easily become nothing more than a financial vehicle. A financial vehicle for shareholders, financiers and banks,” Rubio said.
Businesses have a right to return profits to shareholders, “But it is not a right above all others,” Rubio added. “And the obligation to invest for the benefit of our workers and our country became an afterthought. And the economic numbers tell the tale.”
Corporate profits up, investment down. Millions of Americans feeling left behind.
“Agreeing on the problem, as difficult as it may seem, is probably the easiest part of it,” Rubio said. “We should at least agree upon throughout the political spectrum: that there is something going on in this country that we are not happy about. Deciding what our government’s role is, and addressing that, that should be the core question, the central debate of our national politics, moving forward. And I can tell you that in that debate, the old ideas and the old ways will not do it.
“The notion that left unguided, without any sort of policy involvement, the market will solve our problems, that is not going to restore a balance between the rights and obligations of the private sector and working Americans,” Rubio continued. “It may lead to GDP growth and record profits. Nothing wrong with either one of those. They’re both good. But economic growth and record profits alone will not lead to the creation of dignified work.”
Yet Rubio acknowledged struggles in making progress toward Pope Leo XIII’s ideals without leaning toward government-mandated market controls on the economy, and he rejected the left’s visions of Democratic socialism as far worse than the economic model now dominating America.
He’s been building toward this vision of “common-good capitalism” for a long time. Early this year his Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship released its 79-page economic white paper entitled “Made in China 2025 And The Future of American Industry.” That report focused on America finding ways to encourage, promote and require investment in key American industries, a topic he also spoke about at length at Catholic University Tuesday.
Rubio cited several of his own bills seeking to prevent key industries from moving production overseas, to revamp the Small Business Administration and its loan programs, or to discourage companies from getting tax advantages from stock buybacks.
And he warned that movement of key industries overseas leaves America vulnerable, if production of items such as heavy machinery, ships, medicines, rare earth minerals, or communication technologies wind up being controlled by countries like China that could use that control to leverage American interests.
Beyond that, the loss of dignified work being one of the rights of workers, and the recognition of dignified work being one of the obligations of capital, is not working, he said.
“Our challenge is an economic order that is bad for our country, for our society. For our people. It’s bad economically because we’re leaving too many people behind. It’s bad for our society because it’s inflicting too much damage on our families, our communities, our society,” he said.