By: AIF Staff
Washington, DC – This week, American Idea Foundation President and former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was interviewed on the In Piazza podcast. In a discussion with co-hosts Michael Moe and Jeanne Allen, Speaker Ryan discussed his ongoing efforts to scale successful, evidence-based poverty-fighting programs that are making an impact in communities around the country. He also talked about teaching at the University of Notre Dame and transitioning from public office to the private sector.
Speaker Ryan’s interview on the In Piazza podcast, which aims to have thoughtful conversations about how best to advance human potential and build strong communities, is accessible here.
Excerpts of Speaker Ryan’s responses, edited lightly for clarity, follow.
Expanding opportunity through evidence-based policies:
“I created a foundation, which I called the American idea Foundation, on a premise that I’ve always believed: We are a country rooted in natural law and natural rights, where the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life. That’s what the “American Idea” is and [our Foundation] is a 501c3 dedicated to expanding upward mobility and specifically, we’re working on center-right tactics and free-market solutions to the problem of poverty.
“I spent a lot of my time in my career on poverty issues, whether I was chairing the House Budget Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, and as Speaker. I worked on a number of policies that we got into law and I always wanted to build what I thought was the proper poverty-fighting agenda from a center-right perspective. We did get a number of those laws into place and now we have a Foundation dedicated to properly executing those laws and promoting these ideas.”
Promoting opportunity through choice in education:
”Come to Milwaukee and we’ll show you how [school choice] works! I mean, I spent 20 years in Milwaukee. I represented Milwaukee County [in Congress]. It works, the data now shows it. We’ve had this fight and we are always going to have this fight. I have to say, the SOAR (Scholarship for Opportunity and Results Act) program that Speaker John Boehner really got that going, and then I just leveraged an extension because we were in the majority, but if we lose all three: the House, Senate, and the White House, then they can kill the [DC School Choice program] and it sounds like that’s what the [Democrats] are going to do.
“There are so many kids in DC that have benefited from this [school choice program]. So, I think you have to show the horror stories that occur when you take it away and the success stories that occur when you implement it.”
Fighting persistent poverty through evidence-based models:
“[The American Idea Foundation] focuses on the most stubborn form of poverty, which is basically inter-generational poverty. Poverty that is so stubborn that families and communities have seen poverty for a long time. It’s where you have multiple generations [in poverty] and people are very much lacking opportunities because of intergenerational poverty….
“Unless your party runs everything, you really can’t get a lot done in areas involving the social safety net. So, we took a step back and I got some ideas from economists like Raj Chetty at Harvard and Jim Sullivan at Notre Dame, who told me that there’s a great new field of science called Evidence-Based Policymaking where they use data and analytics and apply them to poverty programs to measure what works and what doesn’t work. And they said: “Wouldn’t it be nice to apply this to what government does?” That had never been done before…
“The Evidence Act is now law. It’s being deployed. And as this law is unfolding, we — the public, researchers, data scientists working with federal poverty programs, get to look at the data to see what works and what doesn’t. And you can replicate that in the private sector and in the charitable sector which is what we do at [the University of] Notre Dame.
“The totality of all of this is using economics and data science to find out what works and what doesn’t work. I believe that our principles will be validated by the evidence and by the way, if they’re not, then maybe I need to rethink a premise or two so that we can go find out what moves the needle and get past the ideological, partisan fights and just go with what works.
“We’re just beginning to see a lot of pay-off and what my foundation does is it’s building the first-ever Data Clearinghouse of all these evidence-based policies so that anybody in America — whether you’re a YMCA in Spokane, Washington who wants to deal with addiction or [who is dealing with] homelessness in Los Angeles or Tallahassee or wherever, you can go to the American Idea Foundation’s Data Clearinghouse and find out what’s been done in this area that I care about.”
Working with SPACs and the Executive Network Partnering Corporation:
“If you asked me what a SPAC was two years ago, I would have thought it was a kitchen utensil or something like that. I actually don’t like traditional SPACs and that’s one of the reasons why I’ve gotten involved in the SPAC world.
“I think the good thing about our SPAC is it gets the retail investor in the game of being a part of IPOs. It helps democratize IPOs. It does some smart things like using projections but one of the things that I think is lacking – and what we’re trying to fix, is alignment of interest.
“I don’t like the notion that the economics for most SPACs end at the transaction. It is: “Good luck with life. Thanks for 25%. We’re leaving you alone.” We do a different structure which is focused on the long-termism. Our value accrues over time. If the firm does well, we do well. We lock up our shares for three years.
“My point in saying all of this is, I think there needs to be a SPAC 2.0 or 3.0 that focuses on alignment of interests, minimizing dilution, and focusing on long-termism. If you do that, in addition to giving the retail investor an opportunity to get involved and getting some firms in the public market early, so that public investors, like pensioners, firefighters, and teachers can get a shot at the real growth that comes with these companies. I think that’s a good thing.
“Frankly, I’m in this game to help reform this space to align all of the principles of capitalism that ought to be represented here and I think we’ll get there.”
Creating a modern social safety net using evidence and data:
“We have the technological capabilities to redesign the safety net in such a way that it always pays to work and it always pays to rise, and benefits can be designed in such a way that you’re always taking a step forward. And then giving people the agency, the wherewithal, and the assistance to navigate all that can really move the needle on poverty and upward mobility.”
Working with the University of Notre Dame:
“I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I just love it. I got a lot of cool offers from different schools. I won’t name the other ones…. but I just felt most comfortable at Notre Dame, just with their philosophy and student body. Frankly, when they called me, the President and the Provost, who I have become good friends with, said: “You know, we want some conservatives to come and give us balance on our campus and in our economics department.”
“And that’s not what you hear a lot of these days anymore so I’m like, I’m in. So, I spend most of my time in the Economics Department and that’s where I’m on the adjunct faculty. They’re big on open minds with polite kids and with the philosophy of Notre Dame and the Notre Dame spirit of serving the whole student. They really take their Catholic social teaching very seriously…. Notre Dame takes its mandate and its principles very, very seriously. It’s a very pluralistic and tolerant student body and the faculty have divergent views, so that’s why I’m there.”
Advice for future legislators on how to be effective:
“I’m worried there are more be-ers than do-ers in Congress these days. There are more entertainers than policymakers. The entertainment wings of both parties — the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, are the ascendant wings and that’s hollow, that’s carnival barking. It’s swinging for the fences on TV ratings and that’s not digging in on policy or compromising or getting things done.
“And so, when I talk [to potential lawmakers], I try to discern for my own sake what kind of person is asking me this question and I try to glean out the type of person you are. Are you a be-er or are you a do-er?
“Because if you’re a do-er, then you want to go scale the meritocracy of ideas, engage in persuasion and make a difference. And that means you’re not going to be the perfect celebrity entertainer. You’re not going to be high-fived on all the websites and the cable news shows and talk radio. You’re going to have to get bloodied up with compromises but you’ll make a difference and you can move the needle. You’ll be writing the policy.
“If you turn on cable TV tonight, you’ll probably see an “entertainer” on cable TV saying some kind of strident thing. But tonight, there will be other people in the U.S. Capitol rolling up their sleeves, working their tails off on policy, trying to move the country forward, trying to make things happen. They’re not going to be well-known for it. They’re not going to be on TV. They’re not looking to be famous, but they’re going to be the people who actually get things done and that’s the kind of person that I think we ought to have in Congress. Both sides have both of these types, and I do my best to try and encourage those types of people to run for Congress. I am worried less of them are running and more of the later-types are running.”