By: AIF STAFF
Washington, DC – Last week, American Idea Foundation President and former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan joined Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw on his podcast, Hold These Truths, to discuss how the federal government can better lift Americans out of poverty. Speaker Ryan detailed the work that the American Idea Foundation is engaged in to promote evidence-based public policies and to scale programs with demonstrated track records of improving outcomes.
The entire podcast is accessible here and some notable excerpts from Speaker Ryan and Rep. Crenshaw’s conversation follow.
Civil Society, not Socialism, is the way to expand economic opportunity:
“My argument is that free enterprise is the best weapon against poverty and that’s a timely conversation, given the fact that we have this sort of fetish with socialism. We have, and young persons have in particular, this sort of romantic attachment [and] fashionable [view toward] the idea of socialism. But when you actually scrape below the surface of socialism, you realize it is just basically conformity with no choices, enforced poverty, and misery….”
“The American creed and the American Idea is the most revolutionary thing we’ve ever had as human beings. It is the one thing that ran contrary to all other ways that societies had previously organized themselves – which was mostly through the coercion or collectivism. The progressive left is trying to pull [our nation] back toward the same old tired ideas of collectivism and socialism, which created a lot of rot and problems.”
“To have a free society like we designed — a Constitutional republic, it does require morality. You know, Washington basically said in his farewell address: We built a system of natural law and natural rights and a Constitutional republic with individual rights, which sort of requires a moral society and moral country. And so, it’s important that we, as individuals, keep civil society big and growing so that we can keep ourselves tethered to truth and to individual moral codes and so that we can enjoy the gifts of freedom that this country has given us and that you fought for in the Navy SEALS.”
Promoting policies that create opportunities for all Americans to succeed:
“The question is: Do we have a country that is wired to produce or promote equality of opportunities or do we want to change this country to promote equality of outcomes, which is really socialism and which is antithetical to our founding creed and to our Constitution?
“I would argue strongly that promoting equality of opportunity is the goal of America and that is the goal of our government in our society. We should maintain that and not substitute it for equality of outcomes because the kind of government you have to have to [achieve equality of outcomes] is radically different than what we have….
“We can strive for a system of dynamic upper mobility, where we promote the equality of opportunities, so everybody gets a shot at living the best version of their life and rising to wherever they want to go and wherever they can go, limited only by their God-given talents and their own efforts. That’s the kind of society we want to achieve. That’s what America is wired for. And so, there are lots of techniques and programs and policies that can do that but they also must respect the inherent dignity of each individual person. They must respect the dignity of local government, of local people and communities.
“De Tocqueville did a great job of looking at how America was so successful and unique by having a civil society where you had local, connective tissue where people helped each other because we respected people having more control of their lives and [we respected that] communities could do more with each other and [we respected] that civil society made people better people because they help each other voluntarily and by choice.
“And so, going into tax credits and tax policies and all of these things, all of these policies have proven to be effective because they capture this dynamic which enables people to make better lives for themselves, to help each other to rise and to rise up the income scale, to pursue this beautiful notion of upward mobility where you can be better off than your parents.”
A lifetime of learning how to best fight poverty in America & using evidence to achieve progress:
“I spent some time as a young guy staffer going through public housing projects like Cabrini Green and Robert Taylor homes in Chicago and seeing how the poverty-industrial complex and the War on Poverty actually backfires in so many amazing and bad ways. Then I spent years running around the country with my friend Bob Woodson, learning about poverty, thinking about poverty, exploring poverty, and getting out of Janesville and Kenosha, Wisconsin where I’m from, and learning about poverty in poor, rural areas and in poor, inner cities. I did it for a number of years to just educate myself, to understand this issue better, to come up with better solutions that will get at the different types of poverty….
“What I learned in my career as a policymaker is that there are areas that have only known poverty for many generations, where poverty was passed on from one generation to the next. And in a lot of places, the problem is bad government policy.
“What I also learned in my career as a policymaker, not just in Washington but also touring the country studying poverty, is we are measuring [poverty] in the wrong way. When I was head of the Budget Committee, I did a year-long study commemorating the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and I wanted to learn if we spent trillions on lots of different [poverty-fighting] programs, what are we getting for it?
“We concluded, after running the numbers, we spent about a trillion dollars a year on anti-poverty programs. The federal government has a little less than 100 programs and we never measure success based on results or outcomes.
“We measure success based on input and effort: How much money are we spending on the programs we have? How many people are on those programs? And we never studied evidence or outcomes or asked is it working? Are we getting people out of poverty? Are we breaking the cycle of generational poverty? Those questions weren’t even asked. And so, what we tried to do is switch the debate to a results-oriented debate.
“And as I got into this fight, I found myself in a bunch of ideological clashes that were left versus right…. And we basically had stalemates. So, I decided: Let’s go use the field of economics, which is something I’ve spent my career on, and see if we can get past the stalemate by using something that is a little less ideological, which is the field of evidence.”
Outcomes should drive spending decisions on fighting poverty;
“I’m a confident conservative, I believe our principles work. I believe in work. I believe in incentives and helping families. All those things work to get people out of poverty. If you have your high school diploma and if parents are staying together raising their kids, statistically, that helps keep you out of poverty.
“I’m a person who believes in submitting these programs to a raw, clinical analysis, an economically rigorous analysis and I think it will validate our principles. And that will make it easier for us to have policy fights that are settled by data and evidence versus ideology and partisanship…
“My hope is we start measuring success in the War on Poverty based on outcome and results, not based on inputs and dollars, so that we can actually transition dollars from ineffective, wasteful programs that are counterproductive to efforts that actually get people out of poverty. My hope is we start breaking the cycle of poverty by going at root causes of poverty. That’s the whole goal.”
Simplifying poverty-fighting efforts so they are easier to use and access:
“I believe you can collapse the various poverty programs into a radically simplified version of what they are. A version that is so much easier to navigate for an individual and you can do it so it’s designed in the right way, so that it’s not complex, and so it doesn’t have benefit cliffs that stop you from advancing in life.
“These benefit cliffs actually make it harder to incentivize the right kind of behavior like savings, personal responsibility, work, family formation, things like that. There are tools in front of us like the EITC and the CTC, I think that can be used to do that….
“The point of it all is I believe that there are new techniques to fighting poverty, that give us better tools, that encompass our principles, and that make good on the American Idea. I really do believe with technology, with digital money, programmable money, and with the kinds of technologies that are out there now, we can design a safety net — a property safety net, that truly helps people make better choices in life and become the best versions of themselves and not have a cohort of dependencies… “We want to give you the best chance at the best life that you can have for yourself and [we want to] give you equality of opportunity so you can make the most of your life. That’s the tool we want to equip you with so that you can stand on your own two feet and be proud of what you can achieve and have a life where your kids can do even greater than you did. This is the whole American Idea in a nutshell.”