By: AIF Staff
Earlier this week, Paul Ryan, the President of the American Idea Foundation and former Speaker of the House, joined the Ronald Reagan Foundation’s “Reaganism Podcast” to discuss how applying the enduring lessons from Reagan’s presidency can help policymakers reinvigorate the American Idea and meet the current challenges facing our nation.
Ryan explained how the American Idea Foundation is championing timeless principles like free-markets, shared prosperity, and limited government that were the hallmark of Reagan’s legacy and still resonate today. Ryan elaborated on how America must renew its commitment to freedom and individual liberty in the face of socialism’s rising popularity and detailed how his Foundation is helping in that fight.
The entire podcast with Speaker Ryan and Roger Zakheim, the Director of the Ronald Reagan Institute, is available here and some highlights follow.
Rethinking our approach to fighting poverty and revitalizing communities:
“I spent four years, before I was Speaker, running around the country with Bob Woodson from the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, just learning and listening from advocates in the poor communities about the struggles and the problems they had and then getting extremely inspired by people who were doing incredible things, and that sort of inspired this agenda that we put in place and actually passed into the law in Congress in the last session.
“This agenda that described is basically to re-leverage the private sector and private charity and private individuals to get back into the game of fighting poverty more successfully. The War on Poverty was obviously a huge effort. Well-intended as it was, it barely moved the needle on poverty and it reinforced this notion in society that this is government’s responsibility and that you, as a private citizen, don’t need to worry about it. You pay your taxes. Government will take care of it and we’ll measure success based on how much money we’re spending, how many programs we have created, and how many people are on those programs.
“Our whole argument here with this with this approach, this Reagan-Kemp type approach that we champion at the American Idea Foundation is let’s measure success based on results and outcomes, on getting people fully out of poverty, and let’s stop segregating the poor and making this just government’s responsibility. Let’s make it our own individual personal responsibilities in each of our communities, and let’s embrace ideas and policies that can that can breathe life into that.”
Highlighting Senator Todd Young’s Social Impact Bond legislation incentivizing investment in distressed communities:
“I just launched the American Idea Foundation this last year. Our first field outing is going to be in Indianapolis with Todd Young, a great Senator who used to be a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and he authored this Social Impact Bonds legislation, so there’s some center-right poverty policies that we put in place that we will be exploring.
“Social Impact Bonds are a private sector solution where if you see a problem you want to solve, let’s just say: Homelessness in Indianapolis. You will float a bond to pay for this innovative, private sector designed solution that is pre-measured as to what success will look like. and if those metrics of success are met, then the bond pays off in a tax-free way. So, you get private sector investments into a private mission to solve a public good. And if it works, then it pays off. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. There’s a risk of that, but that’s the whole idea.
“This was a Todd Young initiative, and he got the idea actually from the Brits, from a great Tory named Ian Duncan Smith who put this in place in the Tory government and it was pretty successful. So, what we’re trying to do is say the War on Poverty is not just a government function that says: spend more money, get people hooked up on government programs.
“We’re saying: Let’s do things that are innovative, that integrates the poor, that brings the private sector into bear to solve these problems, and to get some real solutions. So, we’re going to be doing some field visits with the Indiana delegation and things like that are what we’re going to be doing.”
Recent legislative progress provides reasons for continued optimism:
“We ended up with the most productive session of Congress in the last session, which was the 2017- 2018 sessions. It was the most productive session of Congress since Reagan’s first term. We passed over 1000 bills in the House and more than half of those made in the law. It’s about 1178 if I’m thinking correctly off the top my head, so we doubled the production of Congress from its average and the things that you just described: opioids, criminal justice reform, and we had a very good poverty-fighting strategy that we put in place, which I call a center-right solution, and this is what I do work on at the American Idea Foundation.
“We passed Opportunity Zones. We passed Social Impact Bonds. We passed this thing called the Evidence Act, which allows us to use data, analytics, and evidence to prove the principles of upward mobility actually are effective so you can change the way we approach poverty. This is a center-right, uplifting, Reagan-type poverty agenda which we all passed into law this last session of Congress and now we’re deploying these policies.”
Tracing a legacy from Reagan-Era entrepreneurial policies to the American Idea Foundation’s work:
“I spent a lot of time with Jack Kemp, who became a mentor of mine, running around the country in poor communities and watching him proselytize the benefits of capitalism and entrepreneurship and upward mobility in the least of all places, in places that had no Republican whatsoever. We would go to all these places, and just watch Jack Kemp with his infectious enthusiasm, preach about the power of free-market economics and entrepreneurship. It was extremely inspiring….
“So, that’s what my Foundation is going to work on. It is going to take and champion center-right poverty economics, poverty programs like Opportunity Zones, Social Impact Bonds, and this new Evidence Act, which will be a vindication of our principles like work and personal responsibility. And it will work with Members of Congress to make sure that we can take these ideas and these lessons and champion them in the least of all places, in the poorest of the poor communities in America. It’s a non-profit, but it will work with Members of Congress and public officials to go and talk about these principles and these values and these policies so we can build an inclusive society.”
The importance of educating the next generation about the perils of socialism:
“Well, I think, first of all, with the end of the Reagan Presidency – and I came out of college in 1992 – but in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down, you did not have to convince young people in those days of the benefits of free market economics, which we called supply-side economics at time, or the pitfalls of socialism. There just wasn’t a debate because millions of young people, the same age as me, were teeming out of Eastern Europe decrying the horrible things that socialism brought about for them. So, the case between capitalism and socialism was not a hard one to make in those days.
“It is now. There’s this new, historically ignorant, romantic attachment to socialism among young people these days, which means we have to go back to the basics and relitigate these lessons. Unfortunately, you know, there are a lot of people who aren’t paying attention to history. It kind of seems to me that it’s the product of our success where we are right now. We rested on our laurels for too long.
“But then there’s also the case that like Reagan, after Carter, he brought in Morning in America, a Shining City on the Hill. He brought a great, sunny disposition of optimism toward freedom. And I think the free world is facing new stress tests: I think democracy itself is being stress-tested internally, but also externally by illiberal governments that have just digitized totalitarian regimes. And I think these are new stresses on democracy that present such challenges that you need a Reagan-like attack to this problem. You need a Reagan-like comprehensive plan of action to champion democracy in the 21st century…”
Recent reforms, economic growth provides hope for shared prosperity:
“Well, Trump came in and we put in place our Better Way Agenda, which was this economic plan that we had put together. We ran on it in the 2016 election and put those in place: regulatory relief, tax reform, all these things that we discussed, and it worked. And now you’re having massive wage growth, particularly from poor and lower-middle income workers exceeding inflation. It is the fastest wage growth rates that we’ve had in over a decade. And so, we’re beginning to see it have an impact on kitchen tables. Now it’s been just a couple of years. So, I think we’re going to have to have sort of sustainable economic growth in society. Wage growth, upward mobility to really sort of deny the oxygen from the populism that we see and build upon a Reagan-like kind of momentum….
“We have great economic policies in place. It’s making a huge difference. It’s reigniting upward mobility, but more importantly, it’s reigniting people’s belief and faith in their selves, their future, their economy that the system can work.”
Promoting inclusivity rather than the divisiveness of identity politics:
“The concern that I used to always have was that identity politics would one day be practiced successfully by the left and would be proven successful, because not since Saul Alinsky wrote about it had it really been successfully deployed. I think Obama play identity politics pretty successfully with 21st century technology, and that was concern number one. Number two, and even more concerning in my mind as a conservative, is the right plays identity politics now, and identity politics typically is dystopian-type politics. It is populism based upon darker emotions: envy, fear, anxiety, that is not Ronald Reagan optimism, inclusion, inspiration. And so, the kind of politics that have been proven successful and that have an incentive to play in this digital age we’re in is identity politics from both the right and the left. And those are by definition politics of division. Identity politics is not the Reagan, optimistic, inclusive kind of politics that I was raised on and that drew me to politics my first place. It’s not the politics that I learned from Jack Kemp, who drew inspiration as a protege of Ronald Reagan, and that’s our challenge these days.”
Being inspired by President Ronald Reagan and his pro-growth economic philosophy:
“We lived on the Rock River in Janesville, Wisconsin and just downstream from us on the river was Dickson, Illinois, and so to my dad, having this guy who grew up in Dickson, a town like Janesville, make it to the presidency of the United States, and an Irish Catholic nonetheless! It was a big deal to my dad. He identified with that and more importantly, it was his philosophy, you know. My parents were not big fans of Jimmy Carter to say the least and my dad was excited about Reagan and excited about his rise. And so, I just could see the enthusiasm my dad had. He wasn’t particularly political really, but the Packers were losing a lot those days so there wasn’t much else to be enthusiastic about.
“I just remember seeing my dad really upset about the Packers’ poor performance in those days and it was just neat to see him get excited about it. I had never seen my Dad put a bumper sticker on a car ever – we were never a very political family – but he had a Reagan bumper sticker on the family car. It was an Oldsmobile ‘98 Regency sedan. I had never seen that before. I really just fell in love with watching Ronald Reagan right at the get go and it made me a fan to begin with…. There are all these Reagan moments that I remember vividly as a kid and it was basically because of my dad’s enthusiasm and excitement about Ronald Reagan that spilled over.”