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Samuel Gregg: Marco Rubio’s ‘soft corporatism won’t help workers’

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Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL, touched off a debate about the values of capitalism with his remarks on “common-good capitalism” on November 5 at the Catholic University of America. Today, Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg offers his assessment at Law & Liberty, where he traces Rubio’s thought to one of the most influential political philosophies in postwar Western European history.

Sen. Rubio’s speech, titled “Catholic social doctrine and the dignity of work,” holds that the state must do more to channel the productive energies of capitalism. Since “pure market principles and our national interest are not aligned,” government policy should reward corporations that create “dignified work” and offer incentives for investment in government-approved sectors of the economy.  The rhetorical heart of his argument may be summarized in one passage:

Common-good capitalism is about a vibrant and growing free market. But it is also about harnessing and channeling that growth to the benefit of our country, our people, and our society. Because after all, our nation does not exist to serve the interests of the market. The market exists to serve our nation and our people.

Rubio’s remarks have been hailed as a “break with party orthodoxy” and denounced as “fascist economic thinking” or a variant of integralism.

Samuel Gregg writes today at Law & Liberty that Rubio overestimates the impact of the economy on social behavior. However, Rubio’s prescriptions reflect the influence of perhaps the most influential political philosophy in postwar Europe, “Western European Christian Democracy.”

Gregg writes:

Corporatism draws upon sources ranging from Hegel to the French sociologist Emile Durkheim. Corporatist thinkers have included socialists, Christians, nationalists, modern liberals, progressives, and fascists. Though the details vary, corporatist economic programs are broadly underpinned by the following claims:

  1. Private enterprise and the market economy are essential for economic growth. They promote, however, excessive wealth-disparities, undermine community, and facilitate social instability. In short, they weaken solidarity.
  2. Private property and free exchange must be imbedded in legal and political frameworks that foster mutual assistance throughout society.
  3. Each industry should have organizations that embrace all the businesses and employees who work in that economic sector. These should help decide wages and conditions, and help give employees a voice in management.
  4. The investment choices of businesses should be subject to a high degree of coordination by state agencies, directly (such as through subsidies) and indirectly (like preferential tax treatment).

“Unfortunately, the type of soft corporatist policies which Rubio is advocating have very negative side-effects,” writes Gregg, as he proceeds to analyze their unintended side effects and the erroneous assumptions behind this variety of economic interventionism.

Read his full article here.

(Photo credit: Gage Skidmore. This photo has been cropped. CC BY 2.0.)

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Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.

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