Economics, Pethokoukis

Rubio’s ideas start to offer the GOP a challenge and an opportunity

Gage Skidmore (Flickr) (CC-BY-2.0)

Gage Skidmore (Flickr) (CC-BY-2.0)

How would a 21st century American president deal with America’s 21st century economic problems?

More than a decade in, we really don’t know. The Bush administration was consumed, by necessity, with war. The Obama administration, by choice, with preserving the FDR-LBJ welfare state and adding a key missing component: nationalized healthcare. Obamanomics has been an expensive effort in economic nostalgia to recreate the supposedly prosperous, egalitarian 1950s. The Obamacrat obsession with bullet trains, the latest in 1960s transportation thinking, is illustrative and telling.

And not that the left doesn’t know where it wants to next take America. It has a big, if unoriginal, idea: a vastly more expansive and intrusive welfare state, universal in nature, financed through higher taxes on the rich, business, and eventually middle-class through a value-added tax. If it’s good enough for Scandinavia, it’s good enough for Obama’s America.

But the right has also been backward-looking. Forget about Reagan reminiscing. Some conservatives and libertarians are yearning for a leader who can be a bridge back to the 1920s, the pre-New Deal, pre-Keynes era of Calvin Coolidge. Low marginal tax rates, balanced budgets, and hard money are touted as macropolicies of such obvious intrinsic merit that justifying how they broadly enhance prosperity and meet current challenges is an afterthought. Too often the GOP settles for cruising high at 35,000 feet, its big-picture ideas far removed from the messy, everyday problems currently afflicting flyover America.

Marco Rubio is one of the few national Republicans, Mike Lee is another, offering a path out of that ideological cul-de-sac. Not by abandoning conservative principles — but by applying them in a modern, relevant way. Rubio’s big economic speech last week tied together several earlier speeches outlining new approaches to reforming key American institutions such as higher education and the welfare state and addressing problems such as wage stagnation and retirement security in a historic time of globalization and automation. As Rubio put it:

We Americans have good reason to be hopeful, for no nation is better positioned to access the full promise of the 21st-century economy. The new economy is all about innovation, creativity and productivity – and we are the most innovative, creative and productive people on the planet.

And the changes we must make to achieve this better future come
from fundamental truths about our nation: that government exists to empower its people, and that our free enterprise economy is the greatest generator of opportunity and prosperity in human history.

From these principles we see that if we reform our taxes and regulations, we can create millions of higher paying jobs by winning the global competition for talent, investment, and innovation.

And if we modernize our outdated safety net programs and revolutionize how we acquire and pay for education, millions of people will have the skills they need for the higher paying jobs of the new economy.

20th-century America was special. But 21st-century America has the potential to be even better.

Rubio might run for president. But even if he does not, he is methodically assembling a bold, smart agenda for any reform-minded national candidate wishing to move forward both America and the Republican Party.

Follow James Pethokoukis on Twitter at @JimPethokoukisand AEIdeas at @AEIdeas.

10 thoughts on “Rubio’s ideas start to offer the GOP a challenge and an opportunity

    • There seems to be a rash of pro-Rubio articles at present among the conservative press. For all the authors concerned, here’s the bottom line: Rubio supports Amnesty therefore Rubio will never get the Rep vote out. Write it out a hundred times before bedtime, hacks!

  1. The Democratic Leadership Council is back, renamed the American Enterprise Institute. Why not entitle this post “The Era of Small Government is Over”. You are lecturing people about “flyover America” from a think tank in Washington D.C., right?

  2. The Bush Administration was obsessed with war not by necessity but due to Karl Rove’s political calculus.
    Bush’s ratings went up after 9/11. And it was an opportunity to radically expand federal flows of money to GOP-aligned interest groups.
    By choice, Bush called himself a “war president.” Mission Accomplished.

  3. Mike Lee?? Really? A moron of a Senator who,is looking to change the tax code to benefit his constituency – those in a low state tax, high birth rate state. Anyone else will see substantially higher taxes. Just another form of redistribution

  4. You praise Rubio, who you quote: “And the changes we must make to achieve this better future come from fundamental truths about our nation: that government exists to empower its people…”

    No, Mr. Pethokoukis, the government does not exist to “empower” anyone. Please re-read, or read for the first time, the Declaration of Independence, in particular this: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” Government exists to protect our rights.

    Until you finally learn who you are ideologically by looking inward and reflecting, and know the proper terms to describe yourselves, please stop using the Democrat tactic of misusing words, e.g. “conservative,” to mean any darn thing you want because those words have a positive emotional attraction to you.

  5. Rubio is talking to the hand.He has forfeited any chance of me listening to a damn word this amnesty loving traitor has to say!

  6. Marco Rubio is no different from what Democrats were in the 1990s. For one thing, he wants to give a ton of taxpayer freebies to single mothers (and thus create more of them)..

    As far as destroying family formation and having women marry the state, Rubio is no different than a Democrat.

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