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Has American Capitalism Lost Its Soul?

Marco Rubio advances the idea of human dignity within a capitalist system.

Brian Mark Weber · Nov. 8, 2019

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave a speech this week at the Catholic University of America called “Human Dignity and the Purpose of Capitalism.” In the age of Millennial socialism, his words offer some intriguing food for thought.

He encouraged students to change the way they think about economics and the relationship between corporations and workers, including the goal of ensuring that Americans find dignity in the work they perform and creating what he called “common-good capitalism.” Rubio was critical of socialism and dismissed it as being far worse than capitalism. He warned that the ideas of “free” medical care, “free” college, and a universal basic income are not free but come at a great cost to society.

Yet he didn’t mince words in stating that Republicans have “become defenders of the right of business to make a profit” while “we have neglected the rights of workers to share in the benefits they create for their employer.” Additionally, Rubio expressed compassion for “the people whose lives were turned upside down when companies exercised their right to make a profit by taking their jobs to another country.” Those companies, Rubio asserted, often “did so with little regard with the corresponding duty to invest in their own workers.”

Tobias Hoonhout at National Review reports that Rubio’s remarks emerged from an essay he penned in First Things titled “What Economics is For,” in which he incorporated “ancient philosophy and Catholic social doctrine, particularly the 1891 papal encyclical ‘Rerum Novarum’ by Pope Leo XIII, which articulated the Catholic Church’s response to the Industrial Revolution to find a middle ground between socialism and laissez-faire capitalism. Rubio thinks the same message has relevance today, especially among the youth, who are gravitating to socialism, according to recent polls.”

Rubio has a point. Selling capitalism to young Americans will take more than warning about socialism. Perhaps the fact that capitalism has “lost its soul” is one of the reasons why so many young people are turning against it. Overall, they’re not opposed to making money or to businesses turning a profit, but they don’t see any humanity in today’s corporate world.

The Florida senator is bringing a thoughtful approach to a topic not even on the radar for some conservatives. For too long American businesses have neglected to remember the people who built their companies. They no longer feel a sense of loyalty or obligation to American citizens or the country that enabled such companies to build wealth in the first place. At the same time, restoring ethics to business is not a decision to made by those in government. Socialism would do nothing but take from one group of people and give it to another, while accruing ever-more power in Washington, DC. Obviously, that’s not a good solution for consumers or business owners.

Capitalism unbridled by morals, on the other hand, has other negative consequences.

“Economic stability for working-class families is not a feature of today’s economy,” Rubio wrote in his First Things essay. “Business profits have become increasingly estranged from production and employment. This is mainly driven by large, transnational corporations. Many of these corporations are now using our country’s resources to speculate on financial assets, including their own share prices. Rather than engaging in real production and innovation with workers here at home — the production that delivers widely shared prosperity — they have sought to reduce their domestic labor costs. This strategy is damaging not only the American worker, but also the competitiveness of American industry. We are cutting off the branch on which we sit.”

What’s even more interesting is that Rubio is tying his thinking to the teachings of the Catholic Church. He adds, “The Church emphasizes the moral duty of employers to respect workers not just as means to profit, but as human persons and productive members of their community and nation. The tradition sees past our stale partisan categories and roots our politics in something larger: the inviolable dignity of every human person, the work he or she does, and the family life that work supports.”

To be expected, the senator’s ideas are being criticized by some on the Left and Right. But let’s give Rubio a little credit. His remarks are refreshing during a time when the debate over economics always comes down to a crass, politicized argument over capitalism versus socialism. There’s no doubt that socialism is destructive for both businesses and individuals, but capitalism that is purely profit-driven and void of what Rubio calls the “common good” can be bad for society as well.

Unfortunately, those on the political Left believe the common good means giving politicians power to exploit businesses and workers in order to manipulate voters. In the end, everyone suffers under this system except the political class. However, Rubio’s idea of “common-good capitalism” deserves more attention in a time when many Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs and working conditions, and whole regions of the country have been gutted by companies moving overseas.

By encouraging businesses to be loyal to the country and the workers that made their success possible, we can restore some of the soul and humanity that Corporate America has lost over the years.

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