Last week, the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) hosted a panel discussing new research on the American family.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced the panel with a speech.
The transcript of Rubio’s speech is below.
Family is the cornerstone of any culture and society. There’s a reason why we don’t have to pass laws telling people that they should have children or get married. It’s an instinctive reaction. Every society in the recorded history of man on the Earth has had families.
Human beings were meant to be raised in family settings. It’s the first school. It’s the first government. It’s the most important place where we learn. We do learn from what people tell us, but we also learn from watching. Family is where all the modeling happens in life. It’s where young boys learn what men do. It’s what young girls learn what women do. All of these things are so critical to family formation.
This is the freest and the most prosperous and the most influential nation in all of human history. And yet it cannot escape the basic element of human nature. This nation will never be any stronger than its culture and society, and our culture and society strength is anchored in the strength of families. Every decision we make has to be tied to that. It is in our national interest to have strong families. And as I’ve already said, the cornerstone of the family is marriage.
Now let me briefly take you on a history journey. At some point in our history, our national interest and economic policies got divorced. This was probably true for much of the early 20th century. But by the end of World War Two, the democracies of the world decided, “We need to create a system where nations don’t act nationalistic, so we’re going to create a global economy that is going to bind us to one another through trade and commerce. And that will prevent people from ever going to war, because, after all, why would you attack a country that’s your greatest export market or your greatest import market?”
Of course, when they made that decision, they ignored multiple lessons of history. For example, the Second World War had just been fought amongst the greatest economic powers in the world, some of whom had strong links to one another commercially. But that was the idea. “If we’re all linked to one another on the basis of trade and commerce, then we won’t go to war.”
That required countries to put aside their national interest in exchange for the interest of the global economy. We created all kinds of institutions that basically encouraged or asked countries to go along with things that were bad for their country. For example, countries had to decide that in the interest of serving the market economy, it was okay if the jobs that sustained their communities went somewhere else, if it was more efficient if they did it over there.
They would say to us, “Don’t worry. Yes, you’re going to lose your job, but you’re going to get a better job, and it’s going to pay you a lot more money. We’re going to let those countries do the stuff that’s hard work, the bad jobs that don’t pay a lot, and you are going to get a job that’s even better than the one that was left behind.” This was a very common refrain for a long time.
And for a long time it worked. It worked for two reasons. The first is the United States was really the only economy in the world that was functional. We didn’t have to worry about a lot of this stuff leaving because Europe was still rebuilding and Japan had been bombed into smithereens. The second reason why it worked is because that arrangement was between countries that shared common values. They were democracies. They shared a set of values that made that economic system work.
There was an imbalance between national interest and economics, but the imbalance wasn’t too terrible. Then the Cold War ended, and people said, “This is perfect. Now we’re going to rope in Russia, we’re going to rope in China, we’re going to make them part of this global thing. And they, too, will buy into all of this.
“Trust me, once they start buying iPhones and watching Hollywood movies and eating Big Macs, they’re going to literally ingest freedom and opportunity and all of the things that we want. And it’s going to change them. They’re not just going to be importing goods. They’re going to be importing our values.”
And China’s sitting there, saying, “We’ve been the most powerful society in human history for thousands of years. The last hundred years is an aberration. We like this system because you’re opening up your markets. You’re going to send us a bunch of jobs, your jobs, American jobs, because it’s cheaper for us to do them. We, on the other hand, we’re a poor developing country. We have to protect our markets.”
That arrangement continued for 15 or 20 years. No one paid attention to it. Then suddenly, about four or five years ago, everybody woke up and said, “This really has not turned out the way we thought it would. It’s been a one-way street, and everything has gone in their direction.”
If you look back from the end of the Cold War to today, who are the biggest beneficiaries of this new system? Certainly, in the last 30 years, multinational corporations and China. Who have been the biggest losers writ large? The working class and middle class in developed countries, but especially in the United States of America.
You can literally sit there and track, from the time China entered the World Trade Organization to today, where the job losses were. Those job losses were in the industrial parts of the country.
But those aren’t just statistics. That’s the problem with economics. People think it’s just about numbers. Those are human beings and those are real people who lost their jobs. But they didn’t just lose their jobs—their communities imploded, their families fell apart, they started having fewer children, if any at all. The social and cultural erosion have been extraordinary.
Now we see this wave of populism around the world. That’s just a hyper-aggressive reaction against a system that has hurt people and had damaging effects on our culture and society.
In the 1980s, I was raised by two parents that had no college education, probably had the equivalent of ninth grade educations, maybe eighth grade. One was a bartender, one was a maid. We had a car, we owned homes. We didn’t have everything we wanted, but we had everything we needed.
I always tell people, “We weren’t rich, but we had enough that we didn’t know we were poor.” My power bill was always paid. Our water was never cut off. We never had anything repossessed.
My parents, working those jobs, could sustain family life. It’s not just about economics, but they could sustain family life. It made sense and it worked. There is no way that a bartender and a maid in America today can afford the standard of living that they had, that made middle class life possible.
From the economic standpoint, it’s very simple. The kind of family life that’s in our national interest is literally unaffordable in America today unless it happens to be two parents who graduated with advanced degrees, live in some coastal city, and make a lot of money because they are in the “winner” industry of the 21st century.
If you’re anything else, you are in a lot of trouble. And that is having a corrosive effect on our society. And when that breaks down, when family breaks down, and as a result, marriages don’t happen, everything breaks down. People focus on fertility rates. I know that’s a problem, no doubt about it. But it goes well beyond that.
I just had an interview this morning on CBS Morning, and they said we have a mass murder problem in America. The core of that problem is what causes a human being to decide, “I am going to kill a bunch of people that I know nothing about. I just want to murder people today.” That’s not a normal thing.
You can chalk up one or two to a lone isolated instance of a crazy person with some significant problems, but it has a repetitive pattern to it, which shows you that we’ve got a major sociological problem in America today that no one is focused on. Something is causing that.
We saw the report this week about young women and young girls in America being in a very precarious situation. Absolutely. Because, again, all of the buffers that stood there against that have been eroded.
Today, multinational corporations, cultural powerhouses like the media and Hollywood and entertainment, social media, and all these other industries have more influence over children in America today than at any time, in any society, anywhere in the world. It has replaced a parent, and it can’t.
People always turn to the government and say, “The government’s got to do something about it.” But the fact of the matter is the government can support the family, but it can never replace the family. Governments can’t raise children, governments can’t teach people to be parents. Governments can’t do any of the things that the family does, it can only try to strengthen it and reinforce it.
Which brings me to the reason for our gathering here today. If we can agree that having strong families is a core national interest, then we should agree that our public policy should reflect that. All of our policies—how we spend money, how we don’t spend money, what we do and what we don’t—everything we do in public policy should reflect the fact that family is at the core of our national strength.
I don’t care how much money we spend on anything else. If family life in America does not recover and is not reinvigorated, none of that is going to matter. It will not work. You cannot be a strong country without a strong society, and you cannot be a strong society without strong people, and you can’t have strong, healthy people without strong families. And our public policy needs to reflect that.
It’s a complex issue. So I can’t stand here today and say, “Here’s my simple five point plan.” But I can certainly point to things we do in public policy today that hurt families.
Our public benefits hurt families. I talk to doctors that deliver children in Miami, particularly in the public hospital there, and they habitually see children delivered by two parents that are not married, but they live together. And the reason why they don’t get married is if they were to get married, they would lose their public benefits.
By the same token, the economic realities and the pressures are real. People are getting married later, if at all, and limiting family sizes deliberately because of the cost. It’s real, and it really has an impact on the decisions people are making. It’s having a societal impact.
The constant strain and the inability to do the things that allow families to get stronger has really had a tremendous impact on our country. When you’re in a home where one parent or maybe even two, both working, cannot afford the basic necessities and are one broken refrigerator away from calamity, the strain it imposes on family life is very real.
Not to be judgmental, because it’s not meant in that vein, but I know a lot of people that are so exhausted at the end of the day from all of the worries of everyday life—their job, their security, the cost of everything—that they’re just exhausted. They don’t have the time, another incredible commodity, or the energy to dedicate to what their kids are doing.
These are not bad people. But when you get up at 7:00 in the morning, take your kids to school, get back by 6:30 or 7:00, and then you’ve got to figure out how to make $100 buy what $50 used to buy, it’s 11:00, and you’re exhausted. You don’t have the time or the energy, especially if you’re doing it alone, to see, “How is my kid doing at school? Who are you hanging out with? What are you looking at online?” You’re asleep by 10:30. They’re online until 1:00 AM.
Economics does have a very strong human component. The GDP, the unemployment rates, the interest rate, the CPI—none of this captures any of that, but the human toll is extraordinary.
It is a core national interest to have strong families. And the anchor of that is strong marriages. So I appreciate your giving it the focus it deserves. And thank you for the chance to talk to you about it.
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