July 6, 2020
Last week, American Idea Foundation President and former House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke with former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on his podcast “You Can’t Recall Courage.” The two long-time elected officials discussed the importance of seizing the moment to enact meaningful policing reforms following the killing of George Floyd, the need to increase economic opportunities for all Americans, and how to properly enact the Opportunity Zone law so it revitalizes communities in-need. Highlights of Speaker Ryan’s answers (which have been lightly edited for clarity) follow and the entire podcast can be heard here.
Restoring the American Idea
“The biggest concern I’ve had in society lately is that so many people just don’t think the American idea is there for them anymore. You know, the idea that the condition of your birth doesn’t determine the outcome of your life, that you can make in this country if you just work hard, you play by the rules and, oh by the way, your kids will be better off than you. There are so many people in this country who do not see that or believe that anymore. And that, to me is a real problem. It’s the biggest test of our generation.”
Responding to the Unique Challenges of 2020
“It has been just an amazing year in that there has just been so much thrown at the world, the American people, and the country. Just an incredible amount. We are such a resilient country. Our institutions are still strong and I think we’ll get out of this moment all the stronger for it in the future….
“The George Floyd murder was a horrendous event that I think served to awaken so many people, open so many hearts, pull the scales off of so many eyes, and people really did see that there is a problem. There really is systemic racism, and those protests, all of those valid and legitimate protests, [showed that] it is up to us as citizens and policymakers…. to make this time different with respect to the civic response…. We have got to make sure that we as citizens, as people, as policymakers, get the right lesson out of this.”
“Let’s address the lack of opportunity or the inequality of opportunity. Let’s address the real problems that are there. And so, I spend a lot of my time working.… to make sure that the laws we recently passed are fully executed, like the Evidence Act. I recently sent a letter to the Justice Department saying: “You now have new tools under the Evidence Act to actually address policing reforms and to actually measure the effectiveness of policing protocols and activities.” I also think there’s so much we can do in the area of Opportunity Zones and Social Impact Bonds in communities to address these needs.
“Now is the time to reawaken the citizenry to these injustices and to the inequality of opportunity that exists in our free society. Our free enterprise system is the best possible tool to fix and heal these wounds, so that’s the kind of stuff I work on a lot. I’m actually really optimistic and interested and excited about getting on with this work because there’s such a great need.”
Minding the Mission of Opportunity Zones to Revitalize Communities:
“Jack [Kemp] used to always say you can’t have capitalism without capital. And you can’t have black entrepreneurship in businesses and startups without capital, and this is what I think Opportunity Zones have a great opportunity of doing. One of the things we’re working on at the American Idea Foundation is making sure that all the Opportunity Zone funds being raised and deployed in the country “mind the mission,” which is when we wrote this bill…. we were saying that we have got to make sure that this goes the right way and that this is a tool of revitalization, never gentrification.
“And so, one of the things we work on it at the American Idea Foundation is to make sure that all this capital that is going to go into these economically depressed areas, whether it’s in Appalachia, rural America, or inner cities, actually revitalizes and empowers the people who are there right now and doesn’t displace them through gentrification. We have all this capital that is being raised and deployed, and what we want to make sure now is that it meets the mission which was to revitalize, to help build entrepreneurship for people to own and start businesses, to get economic growth and equality of opportunity spread into these communities. I really am bullish on this law.
“I’ve been working with [the University of Notre Dame’s] Lab for Economic Opportunity, which is getting economists to work with charities, to use random clinical trials and evidence and data and analytics to basically make sure that our ways of fighting poverty are actually effective and are actually working. [To make sure] they’re incorporating the right principles and incentives and we actually can make sure that the effort we put through government, through philanthropy, and through private enterprise actually works to help people bring themselves out of poverty and create a sense of upward mobility and create a sense that the American idea is alive and well, and it’s there for everyone.”