This week, Speaker Ryan sat down with Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James to discuss how conservative principles encourage an opportunity society—one that prioritizes equality of opportunity and entices Americans to move from welfare and into the workforce. Watch their full conversation here and check out excerpts below.
Where We Are
Speaker Ryan: “I got into this by touring the country with Bob Woodson, finding out about what the poor were facing and what their uphill challenges were. I also looked at, ‘What does the government do about this?’. . . .We are coming [up] on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty. We were looking at the fact that trillions of dollars had been spent and the poverty rates were stubbornly similar. Meaning, we really didn't move the needle. With all this effort, with all these dollars spent, the question was, ‘Have we won the War on Poverty?’ And the answer is, ‘No.’…Not by any measure. That's why we decided we've got to rethink this. We should be measuring success in the War on Poverty, not based on how much money are we spending, how many programs has government created, how many people are on those programs?
Kay Coles James: “[But by] how many people aren't on those programs?”
Speaker Ryan: “Exactly! How many people are out of poverty? Are we actually getting at root causes? Are we measuring success by results not based on effort? So, we've been turning the ship of state in that direction...What we also learned was the basic take on this War on Poverty is we were telling people in America, ‘You are stuck in your current station in life and government is here to help you cope with it.’ Which is antithetical to the American Idea of opportunity, and upward mobility, and flourishing. What we wanted to do was attack that notion and get back into the minds of Americans, those who have lost hope, those who have been in multi-generational traps of poverty—this is America. You can make it. You can be who you want to be. There are ways of doing this. That, to me, is the mental change on our approach to poverty. It's really important.
“The other thing was because of this War on Poverty, we basically took so many Americans who were not poor and pushed them off to the sidelines and told them, ‘Don't worry about it. Pay your taxes, government will fix this problem.’ Which is false. We need everybody involved. We need people that care. We need them to get involved. We need to do it at local level. We need to do it with their dollars, with their time, with their instincts, with their ingenuity.”
Where We’re Going
Speaker Ryan: “As conservatives, we always believe in equality of opportunity. I just so believe in the American Idea that the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life. In a free society, with a free economy, and freedom, and limited government that helps the most people flourish as possible. Our conservative principles applied to the problems of the day give lift to the least among us. I'm very excited about that. I'm very excited about helping get people out of poverty into the work force. Helping get people to where they want to go in life. That's what our principles are all about.
“That's so refreshing to see it actually happening in practice. There's so many policies we've already gotten done that we're really excited about. Opportunity zones, private sector solutions like social impact bonds. That's all nitty gritty stuff. But what's exciting is human flourishing, it's about getting people on the path of life and it's about creating that opportunity society that we've been talking about as conservatives for so long that we now have a really good chance of actually dramatically advancing.”