Senator Marco Rubio has called for “common good economics” ahead of a speech Tuesday on Catholic social teaching and the dignity of work, noting the need for a new economic vision to respond to contemporary economic realities.
Speaking to CNA in an interview November 4, Senator Rubio (R-FL) said that there needs to be a renewed focus on the human orientation and ends of economic policy and growth, after decades of changes in both national and global market conditions.
“The economy should be at the service of the common good,” Rubio said. “It should work for us, not people for the economy.”
On Nov. 5, Rubio will give a speech titled “Catholic Social Doctrine and the Dignity of Work” at the Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Speaking ahead of the event, the senator told CNA that established ways of thinking about market forces and public policy have failed to keep up with decades of change. But, Rubio said, his outlook remains rooted in a shared tradition with his party’s past leaders.
“Reagan economics was very much centered on dignified work,” Rubio told CNA, “but when Ronald Reagan was president, the architecture of our economy was very different.”
“We didn’t have the massive displacements of whole industries that we see now, or public policies that encouraged it. People criticized Regan economics as ‘trickle-down’ but it used to trickle very differently than it does today.”
The current economy is, Rubio said, asymmetrical, with “enormous pockets of prosperity” in which people with the right degrees, in the right industries, in the right places, are better remunerated than ever before.
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Rubio said. “The problem is that at the same time you have millions of people left behind and told to do things which are neither reasonable or good.”
Rubio said the concept of dignified work is central to an economics that puts social health and human flourishing at its center. In his recent writings on the subject, Rubio has become perhaps the first US Senator to cite Pope Leo XIII as an inspiration for his economic vision, highlighting especially the 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum.
“It was an interesting encyclical because he wrote it in reaction to the disruptions the world was facing after industrialization – there were some of the same fears then, machines replacing people, mass economic displacement. He wrote about that balance of obligations between the worker and the employer and I think this is a good time to revisit that balance in the light of the post-industrial disruptions we now face.”
Rubio, himself a Catholic, told CNA that Catholic social teaching influences his own concept of dignity and work “more than it used to.”
“The more you dig into it, you realize that there is an extraordinary wisdom. For example, St. John Paul II wrote about the obligation of a worker to work - which is something that people on the political right, myself included, have talked about – but it is built upon the assumption that such work has dignity. It’s something you can only insist upon if the economy we’ve put in place fosters the creation of those jobs.”
“I think dignified work is something that allows you to get up in the morning or the evening and go do something rewarding and productive,” Rubio told CNA. “You should be able to feel useful and productive, and that those hours matter.”
But, Rubio said, “there’s no doubt” that there is a shortage of dignified work in the American economy.
“This is driven almost entirely by the idea that our economics is about the right of businesses to make a profit – which is true, but with that right comes a responsibility to act in the common good, it is a balance and mutually beneficial arrangement at its best.”
“Today our focus is on ‘How fast is GDP growing?’ irrespective of how that growth is distributed and whether short term profit takes precedence over what is in the long-term interest of the country or the interest of the whole nation today.”
“Industries that provided dignified work for decades have vanished. The people who once had those jobs have not been the ones who have been able to achieve the new jobs created by the ‘new economy.’”
“People are being told, at 45 years of age, to go back to school, learn to code, leave behind your family, your church, your community, the place you’ve always lived – your entire support network – and move half-way across the country for a job you’re probably not going to get anyway because they think you’re too old for it.”
In answer to this situation, Rubio said that both the political left and right are offering a “false choice” between a “purist” pursuit of profit divorced from community investment, and promises of a socialist mandate to enforce better outcomes.
Public policy, he said, can and should be part of realigning the economy towards the public good, but it cannot deliver it by government fiat.
“A government that provides you with healthcare will decide who your doctor is and what healthcare you get, a government that provides all your education will ultimately decide not just what you’re taught, but what you can study and where.”
“Common good economics trusts that if our public policies reflect the rights of a worker to benefit from their work as well as their obligation to work, and the rights of a business to make a profit as well as their obligation to do so in a way that’s beneficial to the country, then private individuals and business in balance can do a better job of providing those necessities and the kind of life we all want than government ever could.”
But what is the role of government in a common good economy?
“If we are going to have preferences in our public policy, the preference needs to go to things which contribute towards our common good,” Rubio said, highlighting policies that incentivize immediate reinvestment of returns to grow jobs and sustain local communities.
“The second thing that government needs to do, especially in the 21st century, is to recognize that there are certain industries that are critical to our long-term interests. From a pure market analysis, it may be more efficient moving this or that manufacturing or other function to another country, but from a national interest standpoint, there are certain things we have to be able to do even if it’s not purely justified by market conditions – we have to be able to make things, to feed ourselves.”
“I think there are great benefits to a globalized economy… but I do think we have to recognize that policies that worked very well in an economy that wasn’t globalized need to be readjusted to that new reality.”
“Before, you could expect GDP growth to match investment back into our economy, that’s not the case anymore.”
But, he said, the real dignity of work was to be found as much in the home as in the office or on the shop floor, and it is not about simply amassing wealth.
“Most people aren’t interested in becoming rich, but in being rewarded in a way which allows you to provide for your family, and allows you the time you need to be the husband, wife, father, mother, and member of the community that you want to be.”
“Our policies should be driven by what is for the common good for our country, and one of the most important parts of that common good is the creation of dignified work – that gives people the time, money and support they need to raise strong families and make a difference in their community,” Rubio said.
“And by the way, it also benefits the people they work for and allows them to make a profit. It’s mutually beneficial.”