Event

Reaganism Live with Oren Cass and Kevin Roberts

American Compass’s Oren Cass and the Heritage Foundation’s Kevin Roberts join the Reagan Institute for a conversation about the future of conservatism.

Listen to the Podcast

The Reagan Institute’s inaugural Reaganism LIVE event features a conversation about the future of conservatism between Mr. Oren Cass, Executive Director of American Compass, and Kevin Roberts, Ph.D., President of the Heritage Foundation, moderated by Reagan Institute Director Roger Zakheim.

Highlighted Excerpts

On Family Policy

Oren Cass: “The tax code should raise more money if it needs to on the corporate tax rate and send that to families with children,” is a very concrete thing that conservatives can be for or against. And so, it might be that you’re still sort of studying that question, but I’m just not sure where is Heritage on that? At the margin, should we be moving money in that direction or not?

Kevin Roberts: Philosophically, we’re there, but the devil is in the details, and I’ve said that publicly the last few months. I’m not being evasive—you know me well enough to know I’m not that way—but as a think tank, we still have studying to do about the financial impact of that. And that’s not Heritage or other organizations that want to do this study saying we don’t want to be part of the conversation. It’s us saying the exact opposite. We very much want to be part of the conversation and we want to make sure that we get it right.

On Big Business

Oren Cass: As one really key sort of tenet of real capitalism or common good capitalism, there’s an expectation that labor and capital are going to be mutually dependent and that the system is going to work well because capital is going to act in a way that is to the benefit of labor as well. And in recent decades, as we’ve released various constraints on capital and globalization is one, but not the only of those, we have seen a system that might look like economic freedom but does not look like capitalism as it was originally developed and is not delivering the benefits that we expect of it. And policymakers have to acknowledge that and do something about it, not just shrug and say, well, that’s economic freedom, so everybody have fun.

Roger Zakheim: Oren wants to guide Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Do you want to guide that hand, Kevin?

Kevin Roberts: Sure. But what I would first like to do is to get the government’s one million guiding hands off his hand. And I say that, I largely agree with what Oren just said, which may surprise some people, because there is this false dichotomy that has been created largely by Twitter discourse, that there are only these two options between total unfettered free market and common good capitalism. As I’ve mentioned, Heritage is by its founding a Burkean, Kirkian institution, which is to say, the common good is why we exist. It’s why we do the policy that we do.

On China and Trade

Kevin Roberts: I think the greatest opportunity for Heritage and Oren to work together on what some may call an industrial policy … is China. China’s a national security threat. It’s violating the free market. It’s violating the common good. They’re the greatest threat to all of us in my lifetime, greater than the Soviet Union. And what’s worse, to sort of go full circle with this thread, is that woke American corporations are not only participating, but they’re making it worse. And it’s really important that, of all of the things we might say with greater clarity at Heritage, that we lead with that. And then we can add the policy nuance thereafter, but there’s actually violent agreement I think between Oren and me on that.

Oren Cass: Technology transfer is a huge problem. China has used access to its market as leveraged to get massive transfer of technology into Chinese firms directly through joint ventures, and then to shift the locus of innovation and manufacturing into China. … That is absurd and outrageous. And without public policy responses, that stuff will just keep happening. So the public policy response seems to me quite straightforward. It is to say you may not transfer technology into China, just as we say you may not transfer missile technology to Iran. We have the tools to do this. The question is, will we? … State-level pension funds divesting from Chinese investments, that’s good, but again, that’s maybe the first 5% of the solution. It’s more actually being willing to say we have a business in telling some of these large corporations what they can and cannot do in the national interest that we actually have to be willing to step up to and we need Heritage’s support on.

On Social Insurance

Roger Zakheim: I hear a collective sigh of relief amongst conservatives watching this saying, yes, it should be the states. The federal government going on, taking on another entitlement that they’re going to be responsible for distributing money, which we know historically may not get to the intended recipient, but a lot of it’ll be taken away. All right, I’ve said something that’s provoked you.

Oren Cass: We don’t know that at all. Social Security, we could have a very long debate about Social Security, but in terms of efficiency of administration, accomplishing its stated goal, and providing support to seniors in a way that is tremendously popular across both political parties is pretty hard to beat as a federal program.

Kevin Roberts: I would, and not to be disagreeable, other than its popularity—although policy, I don’t think should be driven by that—Social Security’s been a disaster.

Full Transcript

Roger Zakheim: This is Reaganism, podcast dedicated to exploring where the Reagan movement lives today. I’m Roger Zakheim, your host, director of the Ronald Reagan Institute in Washington, DC. On this live episode of Reaganism, I am joined by Mr. Oren Cass, executive director of American Compass and Mr. Kevin Roberts, president of The Heritage Foundation. Today we’ll be discussing the ideas and debates animating the conservative movement, and we’ll assess which principles and policies are best suited to address the many challenges facing our country. And now, from the Ronald Reagan Institute, just steps away from the White House and our nation’s capital, welcome to Reaganism Live.

Great to be here in person. Welcome Oren, welcome Kevin and to the in-person audience here at the Reagan Institute. We’re excited to do a Reaganism Live with two really thoughtful leading voices in the conservative movement. We’re going to just jump into this. We’ve got about an hour here where we’re going to try to really explore all the key currents in the conservative movement, not just the areas of agreement, but for my own personal entertainment, areas of disagreement. That’s where I tend to learn most, so that’s where we’ll focus. But first I want to point to a recent Gallup poll and get your reaction to it. We’ll start with you, Kevin, and then Oren, you can jump in. Henry Olson, who writes for the Washington Post highlighted this poll, said for the first time, I believe since 1995, there are more Americans who identify as Republican, 47%, than Democrats, which was 42%. So a really significant shift. Kevin, what does that tell us about Americans? Are they becoming conservative? And perhaps more importantly, what brand of conservatism may make them say they’re Republican?

Kevin Roberts: Well, quick thanks to you and everyone here at the Institute. Roger, it’s great to be here. But to get to your question, I love Henry Olson’s work as I think we probably all do. He’s a great scholar and journalist. But I think that’s good news. As a historian of the United States, I would say it’s not a surprise. And I don’t say that to come across as the smartest political observer. I’m just saying, the American people for decades have always been the last best hope for the world, and the left, which is building itself more and more radically in terms of philosophy and politics is also building itself as being run by more and more elites. And the American people have always had, as they should, a deep hostility towards self-appointed elites. And that I think is what’s driving that. And to your question, which I know we’ll spend the better part of the hour talking about, what brand of conservatism is that? All of the above. When you look at this seismic shift that’s happening, I knew that that was happening because I’ve spent the last several years in Texas.

Roger Zakheim: Right.

Kevin Roberts: When folks in the Rio Grande Valley, who for generations have been registered Democrats, are saying that, and not just because of a particular political candidate, but because of a broad perspective, a broad political program that is emphasizing power, that’s decentralized, not in the nation’s capital. That’s what they’re responding to. Will there be differences of opinion among those people who are newfound Republicans? Of course, we’re going to get into that. But I think in the spirit of our secular patron here, Ronald Reagan, we have to do a great job. All of us have to do a great job of recognizing our differences of opinion while charting a very positive, optimistic, ambitious, cohesive vision for the future. And certainly that’s why I’m here and I know my good friend Oren is as well.

Roger Zakheim: Oren, what’s your take on that? Kevin emphasized that this is a rejection of unelected elites, feeling like centralization in Washington, DC, is something they don’t appreciate. Do you agree with that, or is there something else you think we should emphasize or is emphasized here in this poll?

Oren Cass: Well, I think it’s a rejection of elected elites, too. I think it a reflection of the terrible job that the Biden administration is doing. And I think it’s really important for folks on the right to recognize that there’s a perhaps concerning correlation between that number of support going up and Republicans actually being out of power. It seems to me that it is primarily a vote of no confidence and therefore presents an enormous opportunity. But for the last 20 or so years, we have fallen—both sides in Washington—into a pattern of looking great by comparison to whoever’s in power and then squandering the opportunity when in power. And so I think it’s really interesting that the point of contrast is, or comparison is 1995, which was frankly a very different time for conservatives. That was Newt Gingrich’s contract for America, or contract with America, an actual ascendant affirmative agenda on the right-of-center. And it seems to me, at least at this moment, we don’t have that.

If you envision sort of the 2022 campaign that could very well produce a red wave, what is that in service to, besides not being the Democrats? And so, I think part of the difficulty in formulating that, exactly as Kevin said, is there’s a tremendous amount of debate on the right-of-center of, well, what should that be? What is the point of winning? And what will we do if there’s an opportunity to do something? But we’d better have something to do because if not, those numbers are going to flip right back the other way a couple years from now.

Roger Zakheim: All right, good point. And that’s a great way to jump into the conversation here. These numbers might be a reflection of no confidence in the Democratic side, the Biden administration. How do we have a vote of confidence to make those numbers lasting? Conservatives often talk about kind of this Tocquevillian concept of associations, Burke’s little platoons, which often we think about the family, and Kevin, we’ll start with you. We know that the integrity of the family is a key area of focus for conservatives and perhaps you’re referencing Texas and formerly Democratic voting constituents now voting Republican because of the emphasis on families. When you were announced as president of Heritage, left Texas to come to Washington, DC, and enter this foreign territory, you said in your statement, Tomorrow’s Heritage, “Today, the breakdown of the nuclear family is a much bigger problem than the lack of economic dynamism.” I guess, from your standpoint, to get people having confidence in the Republican party and conservative movement, they have to start with a family. Tell us more about that and why that should be a priority.

Kevin Roberts: Look, it’s not just that I’m a Burkean and a devotee of Russell Kirk, it’s that the Heritage Foundation for its nearly 50-year history is also the same. There are tributes to both scholars inside our building. And I think to get to the heart of your question, Roger, what has happened is that Republicans, capital-R Republicans, who’ve been in positions of power especially in the legislative branch the last couple of decades have not focused on the family. They have said that almost the entirety of the conservative policy agenda is just about the dollar sign. Now that’s a very important part of our policy agenda. I’m not at all saying that that’s not the case, but it has really been a very strange distortion of how society works. And so I believe that not just at Heritage, but across the movement, we will do a much better job kind of going back to your first question, whether it’s voters in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, or voters of any ethnic background, any geographical area, by talking about a very disturbing reality.

And I say this as a social historian. The breakdown of the nuclear family, the breaking apart of civil institutions—not to get too academic here, but what social scientists call the mediating institutions of society—that distresses me far more than just about anything that I can think about that is also distressing in terms of the economy. We have to be talking about both/and, and this is not a false dichotomy. Sometimes both Republicans and Democrats in this town like to make it that. We’ve got to reject that framing and talk about, as Burke and Kirk and others would remind us, that this is all fused, but it starts… I’m an Aristotelian. It starts with the family. It starts with what he would call the villages. It starts with civil society. That’s what our movement has always been about. And we’ve got to get back to our roots.

Roger Zakheim: Quick follow up on that point. We’re going to get to federalism, which of course what you just said—

Kevin Roberts: You know I want to talk about it.

Roger Zakheim: Yeah, we’re going to get there, but before we do, you’re in Washington, you lead the Heritage Foundation, right? This is not Texas looking at state and local exclusively. In fact, people look at you to say, “What should we do about S resolution, HR resolution?” When it comes to the family, what should the president be doing, vis-a-vis the family? What should—

Kevin Roberts: The president of the United States?

Roger Zakheim: Yes, president of the United States or the Congress, meaning the federal level. What is their contribution to that very important issue?

Kevin Roberts: Two things. The first is Heritage has a long history of great research on this. The president of the United States, Congress, the judicial branch, all ought to be unified in eliminating all of the barriers to people having more children. And I’m not just talking about the tax code. There are regulations we don’t have time to get into. There needs to be—second point: Conservatives need to stop being fearful about talking about that. We need to draw the connection between the economic problems we’re facing, the foreign policy challenges we’re facing with a couple of generations of not talking enough about how federal policy, not state policy, federal policy has gotten in the way of family formation. And Heritage has already been doing this. You might imagine that it will be amplified under my leadership.

Roger Zakheim: I would guess so. Oren, let’s get a reaction to what Kevin just said, but I want to frame the following way. Your book, what you write about, what members of Congress seem to be channeling what you push, the emphasis isn’t on the American family, although perhaps it’s the undercurrent. You talk about the American worker. Is that different than what Kevin’s described in a different priority, or do you lump them all together? Give me your answer to that and reaction to what Kevin’s just talked about.

Oren Cass: Well, I think they’re closely related. I think my focus on the American worker is in service to the American family.

Roger Zakheim: I hear the AFL-CIO across the street cheering right now.

Oren Cass: And in fact, union membership and union density turns out to be quite well correlated with good family outcomes in a lot of cases. I think organized labor is a classic example of something that, if you look at purely from the dollar sign perspective, you can say, “Well, it’s not good for economic dynamism.” If you step back and ask, what’s good for America, maybe not the way the AFL-CIO does it, but the idea that we need labor organizations as support for the American worker is closely tied to what we’ve seen in the breakdown of the American family and the chance for its revival. So I think the American worker is absolutely in service to the American family, which I think is much more sort of the end and the common good that we’re thinking about.

In terms of how we think about it though, I think the question that you put to Kevin is actually very important and goes a bit back to my Contract with America point, which is, “Well, what are we going to do about it?” I agree with most of what Kevin said, but I have to at least object to the number of times he used the phrase “talk about.” It’s great to talk about the family and talk more about the family and talk more about the problem with the family. Conservatives have been very good at talking about the family for a very long time. And at some point, the question is going to be, what are we going to do about it? And so, some of that might come through the American worker, how do we have economic policies that actually support the typical American in being able to support a family instead of just saying, “Well, we’ll have somebody somewhere else earn a lot of money and we’ll send you a check.”

But I also think we need policy directed at the family. And I think getting more resources to families with kids in particular, where you’re talking about those working families, who are having a harder time making ends meet when they used to, when you’re talking about the economic rationale of settling down, getting married and having kids really eroding, I think there’s a really important role for public policy in helping to close that gap. And so, as a concrete example, something we talk about a lot at American Compass is the question of, how do you do a child benefit that is deeply connected to conservative principles, reinforcing the importance of work and self-sufficiency and being a productive contributor to your community? But also say that, “Gosh, having and raising kids is part of that.”

Roger Zakheim: So, I’m going to zoom out just for a bit because Kevin was… If I understood what you’re saying is get the federal government to stop interfering with the family and the growth of the family and having policies that do that. I hear you [Oren] emphasizing, no, the federal government in particular should be doing things to support and help. I’ll give you an example. Maybe you can react to it, and then Kevin, jump in. In 2017, we had the debate over the Child Tax Credit. You had Senator Rubio and Senator Lee with proposals that the great Wall Street Journal editorial board, the all-knowing place for conservatives to get their positions, came out swinging against it, basically saying that, “Hey, if you want to help families, you can do so at the federal level via spending or regulation, but don’t touch tax policy.” Because that reduces economic growth and they kind of swatted it away. That’s kind of verboten. Where do you stand on the Journal‘s position via a tax policy, more broadly the tax credit, of course, it’s relevant again with Build Back Better and the Biden administration’s proposal? And then Kevin, we’ll go to you.

Oren Cass: Well, I think the problem with the Journal’s comment is that they’re totally disingenuous when they say, “do it via spending.” They don’t want to do it via spending either. And so I actually agree that the tax code isn’t the right formal mechanism. I’d like to see a program that looks more—

Roger Zakheim: Why?

Oren Cass: …like Social Security. It’s just the IRS isn’t equipped to do it.

Roger Zakheim: Got it.

Oren Cass: It’s that if you try to tie it to your actual income at a point in time, it gets very messy. You don’t want someone losing a benefit at the exact moment they lose their job, etc. But if you take the conceptual debate here and Rubio/Lee in that fight is a perfect example, would we be better off cutting the corporate tax rate an extra point or sending more money to working families with kids? I think it’s pretty obviously the latter. And so just as sort of a concrete, which should we do, we pulled the corporate tax rate way down. We didn’t get any of the investment benefits that it was supposed to deliver, by the way. So let’s say, look: As a tradeoff, could we put that back up four points higher and take that revenue and send it to families with kids? We can debate the exact mechanism, but as what conservatives should stand for, I think conservatives should be pounding the table for that.

Roger Zakheim: Kevin, can I get your reaction to that? And I could hear people screaming around town who represent financial institutions saying, “What do you mean? We had all this growth. There are 401ks that have grown as a result of this. The American family’s not benefiting?” But I’ll let you make the argument.

Kevin Roberts: Yeah. And just quick on that and not to be disagreeable. Oren and I are great friends. We have differences of opinion, but those have always been civil. There has been much greater benefit from that corporate tax rate deduction than I think Oren suggests, but that’s not the point of the conversation. I really want to stick with this thread and that’s important on family policy. Up to a point, I and Heritage would agree with much of what Senator Rubio and Senator Lee and Oren have advocated, especially if it were to stay in the tax code. We would be highly skeptical—I, chief among all of us at Heritage—about doing anything that looks like Social Security. And the reason is that there is nothing that the federal government has done, almost nothing, in that regard that it has made more effective. That is our rationale, and it’s rooted in conservative principles about the problems with centralized power that the government can do that takes the place of what ought to be happening upstream from politics and policy.

Having said that, Heritage’s position—just to make sure we’re eliminating all the straw men that are created about Heritage across the conservative movement—is not the Wall Street Journal’s. There are limitations to the free market. There are limitations to capitalism, and I guess what I might be advocating for is a third way between what the Wall Street Journal is saying, but one that’s fairly close to certainly the spirit of what American Compass and Oren are saying. We need to have more conversations about that. And by that, I’m not saying, talk about it and don’t do anything. I’m saying, how often does a conversation like this happened in the last year, like a serious, thoughtful conversation about what the policy is going to be? That’s what I’m advocating for. And we can recognize we’ll have differences of opinion, but let’s go get it and let’s improve the situation.

Roger Zakheim: We would love to continue to be the place for these conversations. I’m going to follow up—

Kevin Roberts: So far, so good.

Roger Zakheim: Good. Okay. Well, we hope we can get there for next 40 minutes. Let’s zoom out.

Oren Cass: Can we just stay on this for one more—

Roger Zakheim: Go ahead. And then, I want to go into common good capitalism as a broad concept.

Oren Cass: Absolutely. Because I appreciate Kevin’s point that maybe it is right to do it through the tax code. We could have the debate about the administrative element of it, but this is sort of very good concrete example of, do we have something that conservatives are going to start talking about and be for? And so yes, “The tax code should raise more money if it needs to on the corporate tax rate and send that to families with children,” is a very concrete thing that conservatives can be for or against. And so, it might be that you’re still sort of studying that question, but I’m just not sure where is Heritage on that? At the margin, should we be moving money in that direction or not?

Kevin Roberts: Philosophically, we’re there, but the devil is in the details, and I’ve said that publicly the last few months. I’m not being evasive—you know me well enough to know I’m not that way—but as a think tank, we still have studying to do about the financial impact of that. And that’s not Heritage or other organizations that want to do this study saying we don’t want to be part of the conversation. It’s us saying the exact opposite. We very much want to be part of the conversation and we want to make sure that we get it right, because we all ought to have. And I know you agree with this, Oren, we all ought to have a very healthy skepticism about creating any new federal program. And we are much more likely, just a very brief addendum Roger to that, much more likely to support states doing this. And in my previous leadership post on all of these policies, that’s what we were advocating.

Roger Zakheim: I hear a collective sigh of relief amongst conservatives watching this saying, yes, it should be the states. The federal government going on, taking on another entitlement that they’re going to be responsible for distributing money, which we know historically may not get to the intended recipient, but a lot of it’ll be taken away. All right, I’ve said something that’s provoked you.

Oren Cass: We don’t know that at all. Social Security, we could have a very long debate about Social Security, but in terms of efficiency of administration, accomplishing its stated goal, and providing support to seniors in a way that is tremendously popular across both political parties is pretty hard to beat as a federal program.

Kevin Roberts: I would, and not to be disagreeable, other than its popularity—although policy, I don’t think should be driven by that—Social Security’s been a disaster.

Roger Zakheim: Okay, well, we will get to that, but let’s step back. And Oren, you’ve been one of the leading thinkers outside of government advancing something that’s referred to as common good capitalism. Marco Rubio gave a speech at Catholic University in 2019, really arguing and advancing some of those tenets where he advocated restoring common good capitalism. And he said, “We reward and incentivize certain business practices that promote economic growth. The critique comes now, but it’s growth that often solely benefits shareholders at the expense of new jobs and better pay. Tax preference should be for the use of corporate profits that further the common good by creating new jobs, higher wages.” Pat Toomey came, before you were president of Heritage, but he came in March 2020 going after this, not Senator Rubio by name, but maybe you. I don’t know if he named you either.

Oren Cass: A few times.

Roger Zakheim: Here we go. And he responded, “The prescription to our friends who have this relatively new skepticism about capitalism, the prescription that they advocate in all cases is to expand the power and the role of government and reduce the economic freedom of individual Americans.” Oren, give me your take on this. And then Kevin, we’ll go to you. What I like about these quotes, which we selected is it takes a very Reaganesque view, which is anything you create at the federal level, any new government program, ultimately undermines freedom. That was the first principle that Reagan advocated. Where are you on that point? Why are you not concerned about freedom? And Kevin, you can jump in.

Oren Cass: Well, I’m very concerned about freedom. I think what this debate about capitalism comes down to is an understanding of what capitalism is. And I think there’s been an unfortunate drift on the right-of-center among what I would call the market fundamentalists to take the position that capitalism simply is economic freedom. And that’s simply incorrect. So common good capitalism I think is a more descriptive way of saying what is simply real capitalism, which is the recognition that capitalism is an economic system that requires certain underlying things about the society to be true, requires certain rules to be in place, and is ultimately a means to the end of human flourishing. And it is absolutely the role of policymakers to ask, “Is the market delivering on that promise?” And to recognize that if it’s not, we probably need to do something about it.

And so, just to give one concrete example, it’s very interesting. I’ve been doing a lot of work recently on globalization. And if you look back at what someone like Adam Smith wrote, it’s literally in the paragraph about the invisible hand. He twice makes the caveat that he’s talking about domestic industry and the assumption that capitalists will be investing domestically for the good of domestic industry. If you look at David Ricardo, the original developer of comparative advantage, he specifically notes, of course, if capital is free to go wherever it wants, this would sort of break down. And then he specifically says, “I hope that doesn’t happen.” And so, just as one really key sort of tenet of real capitalism or common good capitalism, there’s an expectation that labor and capital are going to be mutually dependent and that the system is going to work well because capital is going to act in a way that is to the benefit of labor as well.

And in recent decades, as we’ve released various constraints on capital and globalization is one, but not the only of those, we have seen a system that might look like economic freedom but does not look like capitalism as it was originally developed and is not delivering the benefits that we expect of it. And policymakers have to acknowledge that and do something about it, not just shrug and say, well, that’s economic freedom, so everybody have fun.

Roger Zakheim: Oren wants to guide Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Do you want to guide that hand, Kevin?

Kevin Roberts: Sure. But what I would first like to do is to get the government’s one million guiding hands off his hand. And I say that, I largely agree with what Oren just said, which may surprise some people, because there is this false dichotomy that has been created largely by Twitter discourse, that there are only these two options between total unfettered free market and common good capitalism. As I’ve mentioned, Heritage is by its founding a Burkean, Kirkian institution, which is to say, the common good is why we exist. It’s why we do the policy that we do. Having said that, it is important to recognize that the federal government is part of the problem here. And it would be nice to see a whole stream of regulations that have gotten in the way of virtuous capitalists, which would be almost all of them, exercising their virtue in the public square.

And so, the additional caveat that I would add to this thread is that when we hear the word capitalism, we’re often thinking about the Fortune 500, if not the Fortune 50 companies. And I have encouraged a lot of people, including Pope Francis. I’m a Roman Catholic, so I engage often rhetorically with the Pope. I’m not sure he appreciates that, that you’re speaking about him. And I’d say this respectfully that we are creating a straw man. You can see the old logic and rhetoric teacher coming out in me when we say that all capitalists are just those Fortune 50 companies.

They’re showing where they stand, which is that they’re far more loyal to globalization, which is horrendous, than they are to this country. And that’s sort of fighting words for this guy. But the second thing is most people who are investing capital are small businessmen and small businesswomen. More of our policy ought to reflect that. And when we do that, when we get there, it’s also going to be policy that is better for families. That is the point of the Heritage Foundation. And we look forward to getting back to that.

Roger Zakheim: So, get government out of the way of the capitalists that really can do common good—which you’re talking are these small businesses, which of course drive so much of labor in this country and work. Another element that’s debated that comes into this play of the role of government in the economy, in the free market, is industrial policy. Kevin, you had a recent interview—I’ll invoke his name a second time—with Henry Olson from the Ethics and Public Policy Center. And you said this, “Heritage is never going to agree with Oren Cass.” I’m not going to stop there. That wasn’t the whole sentence, “That we have an industrial policy. Kevin Roberts is never going to agree with Oren about that. But I’ll talk to Oren about that.” What do you want to say Oren bout industrial policy?

Kevin Roberts: He knows this. I think the greatest opportunity for Heritage and Oren to work together on what some may call an industrial policy—the historian in me would say it’s a little bit of a misnomer—is China. China’s a national security threat. It’s violating the free market. It’s violating the common good. They’re the greatest threat to all of us in my lifetime, greater than the Soviet Union. And what’s worse, to sort of go full circle with this thread, is that woke American corporations are not only participating, but they’re making it worse. And it’s really important that, of all of the things we might say with greater clarity at Heritage, that we lead with that. And then we can add the policy nuance thereafter, but there’s actually violent agreement I think between Oren and me on that. I’m sure Oren will want a broader industrial policy. And that’s really what I was referring to there.

Roger Zakheim: Even an example of a piece of legislation or a particular policy that would advance the type of industrial policy we need as it relates to China? I mean, I agree with you. I think that’s actually the convergence point, not only within the conservative movement, but I dare say across the entire political spectrum.

Kevin Roberts: Well, I’ll do you one better, not just talk about it, but tell you where Heritage and Heritage Action are already present tense investing resources. This is telling, starting with state legislatures, who’ve already convened or will convene soon, to help them write legislation that divests their state level investments from companies that are engaged with China. And I mean, we just have to understand this. I’m a child of the Cold War. Looking around the room, maybe some of you are as well. And we have to see it as not just that same kind of threat, but even worse and even more difficult, which means we have to adjust our policies, applying the same principles from the past to fit the age. Our hope just to sum up here is that we take those state laws and elevate them to DC, which as you might imagine, this federalist would like to see it go in that order.

Roger Zakheim: Well, there we go. You said federalism, local government about half a dozen times. So we’re going to jump in there. But first, Oren, let me get your take on industrial policy and then we’ll have the discussion around federalism and why this is the moment I think Kevin would say for federalism really to flex. Go ahead, Oren.

Oren Cass: Well, I’m glad that there is a lot of agreement in here. I think Kevin’s point about the vast majority of capitalists in America being small businesses who are loyal to the country, want to invest in their communities, I think that’s exactly right. I think the problem is that that’s true in number and not dollar-weighted, by which I mean that the share of investment in dollar terms that’s coming from those folks as compared to from the Fortune 50 or the Fortune 500, especially when you’re talking about R&D, cutting edge innovation, major capital physical assets, the action is all with the big guys. And so, I’m absolutely all for speaking up on behalf of the little guys, but policy that doesn’t do anything about the big guys isn’t going to get us where we need to go.

And so, I think whether you’re talking about competition policy or in this industrial policy context, that’s really where the rubber meets the road. The question are the Fortune 50, are the Fortune 500 who clearly, and at least in their decisions could not care less whether their investments are benefiting Americans and American workers, or in fact, actively harming America and American workers. Are we willing to, first of all, say that is so clearly wrong, that it’s an appropriate subject of public policy, right? I mean, you have the Hayekian libertarians who are like, “Well, who are we to know whether that’s good for America or not?” So are we willing as conservatives say, “Well, actually we do know that that’s bad for America. That is not the way capitalism is supposed to operate. And the rules—”

Roger Zakheim: Give me a tangible example, because you’re talking about these big trillion dollar market cap companies presumably that they don’t have the interest of Americans and kind of America first in the marketplace. Give me the best example of what they’re doing and your best example of what you would do that distinct from what Kevin described, leading at the state level.

Oren Cass: Sure. So technology transfer is a huge problem. China has used access to its market as leveraged to get massive transfer of technology into Chinese firms directly through joint ventures, and then to shift the locus of innovation and manufacturing into China. There are plenty places where this is very publicly happened with Boeing, with Tesla. One place where it it’s sort of still coming out, so I say to sort of state exactly what has happened, but seems to have happened is that Apple, when faced with constraint on iPhone access sales in China, struck a $275 billion deal with the Chinese communist party, that included investments in China, technology transfer in China, in return for access to the Chinese market. That is absurd and outrageous. And without public policy responses, that stuff will just keep happening. So the public policy response seems to me quite straightforward. It is to say you may not transfer technology into China, just as we say you may not transfer missile technology to Iran. We have the tools to do this. The question is, will we?

And so, I think that’s a concrete example where state-level pension funds divesting from Chinese investments, that’s good, but again, that’s maybe the first 5% of the solution. It’s more actually being willing to say we have a business in telling some of these large corporations what they can and cannot do in the national interest that we actually have to be willing to step up to and we need Heritage’s support on.

Roger Zakheim: We’ll get to other elements of federalism, but I’d like for you to react, because Oren’s talking about big tech and things we need to do at the federal level, perhaps the state and local level you’re not going to get after. Would you disagree with anything he outlined there? I mean, I know—

Kevin Roberts: No. And China’s a national security threat. I would just add an addendum. I mean, Heritage has already been active on this, and there are some legitimate complications, nuances, say, with the Apple example, but I’m not even going to mention them because there’s agreement there. China’s a national security threat. This is a national security issue. It’s not a free trade issue. And we need to treat it as such.

But what I’ll trade you, Oren, is that Heritage will be more vocal on that. If all of you who—and there’s no snide comment intended here—if all of you who have done a lot of really good thinking about the future of conservatism will join us in the action that we take at the state level and at Capitol Hill, because there simply are not enough conservative men and women doing the actual policy.

And I would encourage you and everyone, not just in American Compass, because you and I have worked on workforce development, I know where your heart is, that’s what we need in this movement, and a hell of a lot less thinking.

Roger Zakheim: I feel like we’re brokering something really big here between Oren and Kevin. I want to stick on the… It’s not just China, that I think is what Oren’s getting at, although that was an example. His concerns about big tech, whatever you want to call it, Fortune 50 companies. I know you share as well when you—

Kevin Roberts: I don’t like the Fortune 50 companies. There’s going to be a very similar threat as you go down that road.

Roger Zakheim: One of your top three priorities at Heritage. I’ve even heard you call big tech the enemy of the state.

Kevin Roberts: I’ll say it again. Big tech’s the enemy of the state.

Roger Zakheim: So, explain that. And yeah, obviously, China was the first threat you mentioned, but there seems to be… this is one that’s on your mind too.

Kevin Roberts: Yes, it is. It’s on all of our minds at Heritage. In fact, not that the world begins and ends with a Heritage white paper. I’m not suggesting that. But we have what will be a very definitive paper coming out in the next couple of weeks about this. It’s the first of many.

But back to my own point about policy action, that’s the step we have to take to be a lot more active in this space. But to cut to the chase and not to sound too much like an academic, I’ll say that if you take the example of Facebook, they see themselves not as an American domiciled company, they see themselves as being more loyal, frankly, to the rest of the world. And they’re beholden to the Chinese Communist Party.

We need to call that what it is, which is evil and unjust. And because we also believe, as Kirkians and Burkeans, that there has been something at least special about the American nation state, we ought to be willing to fight for it for those reasons. And so, that’s a very consistent position for Heritage. It’s just that… I mean, I’ll use myself as an example. As CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, I struggled with a natural tension that exists and will always exist in our movement between honoring and protecting this glorious nation state, and interfering, perhaps unnecessarily, with the free market.

I don’t mean that as a market fundamentalist, which I’m not. In fact, I try not to use these labels, as much as, I mean, that’s a natural tension that we have to work through. We’ve worked through that at Heritage and we will be not just active on this, I anticipate that we’re going to have a lot of policy breakthroughs as a result.

Roger Zakheim: Pursue that a little bit further. You mentioned Facebook, a number of social media companies.

Kevin Roberts: Just using them as one example.

Roger Zakheim: Yeah. But they actually have been kicked out of China, not because they didn’t want the market, but because Xi and the Chinese Communist Party didn’t want them in there, but we’ll set that aside for a second. The shareholder, I’ll channel my inner Wall Street Journal, right? The shareholder… those are Americans. And Facebook or pick your favorite company, they owe the shareholder that profit, that market, that ability to return on investment.

Kevin Roberts: And they’re so daggone lucky to be doing their business, at least officially, domicile in the United States of America. And so, that’s a two-way street.

Roger Zakheim: And they should self-impose that?

Kevin Roberts: It would be wonderful if almost all of the small businesses, they would have the virtue and love for this country to do that, but they’ve proven they don’t. And that’s really, historically speaking, that’s perhaps the biggest new dynamic, not just for conservatives, but for Americans. And that is that most of our biggest companies, at least explicitly and how they invest their resources politically, hate what we’re talking about today. And as conservatives we have to adjust to that and look forward to a day where that isn’t the case. But in the meantime, especially given what I would argue is an existential threat from the Chinese Communist Party, we have to adjust our policies accordingly.

Roger Zakheim: But it’s not just the big companies, I mean, the farmer in Iowa wants to sell into China too.

Kevin Roberts: Sure. And we ought to end those subsidies for ethanol.

Roger Zakheim: When you think about big tech, you’re out there often talking about antitrust. That’s a tool you want to use. Your parallel historical analogy is railroads and how we busted the railroads a century-plus ago. Why is that the place where conservatives need to go as it relates to big tech?

Oren Cass: Well, I think there are a number of places we need to go when it comes to big tech. And I think a real problem with the discussion in Washington on big tech is that, first of all, big tech has just become this single thing. I mean, most of the companies we lump under that, arguably, I’m not even sure they’re tech companies, right?

Amazon is a retail company with relatively more online sales than Walmart. Facebook and Google are media companies. They make their money selling ads, and neither of them have had particularly notable technological breakthroughs in a very long time. So, we lump them together. But when we talk about what’s actually wrong, there are a few different things.

Roger Zakheim: Well, that would counter the antitrust way. If you’re saying we shouldn’t lump them together, then there’s a harder case to make.

Oren Cass: Oh, no, not at all, because antitrust is the analysis of a single company. And so, one problem is that the nature of their business models in the technological era lends itself to natural monopoly, just as railroads or telecom in prior generations. And so, there’s absolutely an antitrust problem with some of these company and the extent to which they are just essentially earning rents at this point. So that’s one.

There’s a second problem, which is a more political problem, which gets into censorship and the role that they’re playing in our democracy, also a huge problem. And then there’s a third problem, which I would call the substantive problem, which is what some of these products are actually doing to us. And this is where I think Facebook is the quintessential example and Heritage had a wonderful scholar testifying a couple months ago, specifically talking about the harm that Facebook, Instagram do to children, for instance. And so, unfortunately, I think some on the right of center have just zoomed in on like, well, let’s talk about Section 230 or something. Right? And, look, I think we should talk about Section 230, but that’s—

Roger Zakheim: That’s the exemption that they have—

Oren Cass: And liability for—

Roger Zakheim: … as a media company for speech.

Oren Cass: Yeah. But as a share of everything that is wrong with big tech and really just how our economy has evolved in this digital era, it’s a very small piece of it. And so, I think we certainly need to take antitrust policy and ask, just as they had to ask 100 years ago, what are the dynamics in our markets today, and what role does government need to play to ensure that we’re actually preserving competition and encouraging investment as the best way to earn profit?

Roger Zakheim: Let me play skeptic for a moment and then we’re truly going to go into federalism and what we need to emphasize there.

Kevin Roberts: They keep promising.

Roger Zakheim: I know. I’m dangling it out there to keep everybody interested.

Oren Cass: I would say it is telling perhaps that in this important discussion about the future of conservatism federalism keeps getting pushed further to the end.

Roger Zakheim: But I think—

Kevin Roberts: That too is a disaster.

Roger Zakheim: You’re not allowed to gang up on the moderator, by the way. I don’t know if you know. Those are rules of engagement.

Kevin Roberts: We didn’t agree to those rules, Roger.

Roger Zakheim: But one more for you. Here with big tech, right, and you’ve been out there and you’re talking about antitrust, as opposed to a century-plus ago, the beneficiary, maybe China, if we go ahead and weaken these companies, that is a critique that resonates with me, right? Who is going to benefit if the power of a Google or a Microsoft or Amazon is weakened because of federal antitrust policy? Probably China first. Is that where we want to land on?

Oren Cass: I was actually on a panel that attempted to raise this point and couldn’t make sense of it and the other panelists couldn’t explain it.

Roger Zakheim: Did I do a better job?

Oren Cass: No. So you’ll have to explain to me how it is that breaking up Google or Facebook is a threat to our national security.

Roger Zakheim: Well, imagine that you’d have these super companies out in China, Alibaba would be an example, that would take the marketplace. It wouldn’t be consumed by companies in the United States. So, broken down to three, four, five pieces, in the end they’ll just continue to lose their market share. They won’t have that strength, and then the Alibabas of the world will come in. That, I think, is the rationale. How’d I do?

Oren Cass: I guess. So, two points about that. One, it is in our control whether or not Alibaba has access to, let alone takes, our market. And among other things, if they try it, they better be subjected to our antitrust policies and our SEC regulations and everything else real fast. Conversely, it’s not as if our companies in their current scale get wonderful access to the Chinese market, because China does do this stuff seriously.

And then the last point I make, I think the better case, if we we’re going to say there’s a national security threat, is that these giant companies are these sort of dynamos of innovation at the leading edge that are the key to our winning on AI or whatever else, the problem being, one, that they go and open AI centers in Beijing, and two, they’re not being very innovative at all. In fact, the case for them as innovators is an eerily central planning one that we trust these companies to take their advertising revenue and somehow benevolently, without competitive pressure, drive the next great wave of innovations. And they’re just not. I’m sorry, these companies are not delivering meaningful innovation. They are delivering hundreds of billions of dollars of cash to shareholders and an asset bubble in our financial markets. So, I would much rather have three Googles going at each other in cutthroat fashion to try to maintain market share for the sake of our national security, as well as our domestic economy.

Roger Zakheim: I want to come back, but that’s not my role here. Kevin, anything you’d add to that conversation?

Kevin Roberts: Sure. One thing, and that is that lost in this conversation, not this specific one but the broader discourse about what to do with those companies, is the reality that individual American people, investors, technology entrepreneurs, are going to be a huge part of this solution. I’m not saying that because that’s true we ought not have this specific conversation. I’m just saying as center-right people in particular we need to be injecting that time and again into the conversation.

I’m aware of and I actually hate most technology. And for example, I’m not interested in learning anything about AI. I’d like to see all of it go away. I’m a Burkean. I’m a Kirkian. Let’s spend more time in person, take the masks off, but I’ll stop there. The point is that we have to talk about that, not because of market fundamentalism, but because of the virtue of individuals when they bring that to the public square. That’s how you build a common good.

Roger Zakheim: Let’s talk about another way you build a common good, and that is returning power to the state, to the locality. You came from the Texas Public Policy Foundation before arriving at Heritage. The signature mission there was to do just that, to look for policies at the state and local level that would return power to the people. Where are the opportunities for conservatives to start this conversation, how more people identify as Republican? I imagine part of the recipe there is not just about restoring and strengthening the American family, but also, bringing the state and local power back to the state and local level.

Kevin Roberts: Thanks for that question. The policy area that sticks out for me as an opportunity is education. And I’ve said often publicly in the last few months that if conservatives don’t take advantage of the opportunity that the left has created for us with their overreach, not just on critical race theory, but I’d say this as a 25-year-long educator, their indoctrination of our kids, and by that I mean as Americans, our kids, this generation, the next generation, we have a vested interest in transmitting our American values from one generation to the next, then we ought not be doing what we’re doing.

And so, that ought to look like not merely getting rid of critical race theory but harnessing the angst by apolitical parents into massive education reform, and not merely the ultimate objective, which is universal private school choice in all of the 50 states with the federal government doing nothing except the three domains where it should be involved, same universal private school choice for students on Indian reservations, families of military personnel, and how about the DC opportunity scholarship zone, which was one of the great school choice movements ended by our first African-American president?

That’s what we need to be doing. And I think that gives us the opportunity to connect all of these dots, including, I just want to say, heartfelt, Oren’s excellent work on the American worker. It’s, in fact, one of the last big meetings that I had at Texas Public Policy Foundation, was with Oren and his staff starting what I hope is continuing there, a joint effort on workforce development, a wonky phrase for older adolescents and adults who no longer possess the hard skills for the changes in the economy.

That is conservatives’ domain. We need to be talking about it and seizing policy initiatives, all of which begin at the state level and will require, when enough states pass those reforms, the federal government to modify their overreach. That’s the policy anthropology of heritage right now.

Roger Zakheim: Glen Youngkin, in an op-ed today in the Washington Post, did just what you described, right, returning power to parents when it comes to education of their children, signed an executive order immediately seeking to do what he talked about during the campaign. Is that what you want to see across the country? Is that the type of… a concrete example of what you like, or is it something that has to go beyond the executive order and the pen of a governor and go into legislatures as well?

Kevin Roberts: The spirit of it and this specific action are awesome, but, as a conservative, I’m skeptical of legislating via executive order, even when our guys, including Governor Youngkin, are in power. Great that he did that. I can presume, although I don’t know him well, I can presume that his desire is to see that be passed by the legislature.

And so, the ideal, when civil society is working well, is that legislators are legislating, hopefully not too much. As conservatives we would want them to do that as little as they can, but in terms of scaling back the 60-year-long dependency state in terms of taking back our schools, that is precisely one of the first steps that needs to happen.

Roger Zakheim: Kevin referenced work you’re doing in workforce development. Obviously, there’s a tension there in terms of what’s happening in higher education and the way we prioritize higher education, whether actually there’s return on investment for the workforce. What things need to happen at the local, state, and also federal level to realize what the American worker needs, getting them the skillset that they lack today?

Oren Cass: Yeah, Kevin’s been an amazing partner on this. It was an incredible time spent down in Austin with his team, working on some of these questions. And I think it’s an issue where we agree almost entirely on sort of what direction we need to head. States, I think, are exactly the right place to be doing education reform and education is the perfect example of an issue that states should basically be doing. I think it gets a little trickier when you bring up the higher education question and that’s in part because we are starting from a point where the federal government has wildly distorted how our education system works through its emphasis on and subsidization of higher education.

And so the first thing just to be said is this idea that we’re just going to send everyone to college has been a disaster. It does not work. Fewer than one-in-five students actually go from high school to college to career smoothly. And so, investing in alternative pathways has to be something that we do for the sake of individuals, for the sake of our economy, for the sake of our social fabric. I think Kevin has spoken very eloquently about the problem of sort of geographic polarization, of polarization by education level, are just real tears at a social fabric, among other things. So we need to be doing much better by the majority of Americans who are not going to be successful in the college pathway.

The question, and maybe where Kevin and I will differ a little bit, is how do you get from here to there? I think if you’re talking about an ideal end state where you’ve just reduced federal spending by a few hundred billion dollars, you’ve reduced the tax burden accordingly, creating the fiscal capacity for states to raise that money and use it the way they want. That sounds to me like ideally where we would’ve been all along. Given where we are today, I think it’s probably important pragmatically, at least in the short run, and in thinking about what is this agenda that a right of center runs on to retain and build on its popularity, to recognize where the federal government can at least play a constructive role in that transition. And so in particular, at least in the short run, before we just say, “Get rid of the funding,” I think there’s a real opportunity to move the funding to say, “Instead of spending a hundred plus billion dollars a year on higher ed and virtually nothing on non-college pathways,” in fact, we just—

Roger Zakheim: Give an example of a non-college pathway.

Oren Cass: Anything you’d put under apprenticeship.

Roger Zakheim: Vocational, okay.

Oren Cass: Sure. And the problem, it’s important— Apprenticeship, we think like auto mechanic, right?

Roger Zakheim: Right.

Oren Cass: And sure, that exists. Most non-college pathways where they are successful today are in business or they’re in health care. They’re in the vast majority of jobs in our economy, for which sitting in a classroom for four years is not the right thing to do. And so I think there really is at least in the short run of role at the federal level for saying, “We can just move some of that money.” If over 10 years, we reduce by 10% every year, the subsidy to college and instead provide support. And a lot of this is going to have to work with employers. They’re the right providers of a lot of this. And so we’re going to have to say, “Yeah, this might even mean giving federal money to employers.”

Roger Zakheim: Isn’t this already happening with community colleges and employers where they’re taking the federal funding and then getting them trained and giving that pathway you’re describing?

Oren Cass: So the Trump administration had a very good initiative in this respect, which was to say PELL grants, which is one of the main federal grants, shouldn’t just be for leafy college campuses. You should also be able to use it for a six-month, short-term, skill-building program at a community college. So I think that’s a great first step. The two modifications I would make to it are one, good non-college pathways don’t start after you’ve come across the stage with your high school diploma. It makes no sense to be in a full college prep mode, get your high school diploma, and then say, “Oh, wait a minute. What am I going to do?” It needs to start sooner.

And the second thing is that employers need to be at the nexus. Telling young people, “Go try to find a community college that will take your money, or even worse the federal government’s money and help you,” produces horrendous outcomes. Completion rates of community colleges are below 20%. It should be a national scandal. And so actually saying this money flows through the employer, and first conservatives are going to go, “Ooh, wait a minute. Business and government, this sounds really bad,” but just as college campuses and colleges are the right institution for some people, employers are the right institution for probably most people as they try to segue into adult life and the federal government, ultimately the state governments, but in the short run, the federal government also should be emphasizing and supporting that.

Roger Zakheim: Kevin, I want to get your reaction to what Oren just outlined, but I want to frame it in this way. What I heard him saying is conservatives should stomach money at the federal level, given to the Department of Education. Here at the Reagan Institute it’s traumatic to hear those words. Can you stomach that? Do you have a set of policies that you would support along the lines of what Oren just outline or take it out of the federal level and just let the states and localities manage this?

Kevin Roberts: Well, I’ll just observe, Roger, you’re doing a great job of stirring the pot.

Roger Zakheim: Good. That was my objective today.

Kevin Roberts: I know that. No, that’s fine. There’s probably complete agreement philosophically on this, but Oren’s right and you’re right that there’s a pain point for some conservatives. I have less of that pain point. Having been a president of a college, of course, we rejected federal student loans and grants. That lets you know what I think about federal money and education.

Roger Zakheim: And related story, you’re now president of the Heritage Foundation.

Kevin Roberts: Yes, might be a correlation. But the point is, Oren made a very important observation for us on this issue and across the board. And it might be a roadmap for center right folks, including our libertarian friends, to have productive conversations. If that is a means, it’s one step to a longer run objective over 10 years, 20 years of diminishing most of the federal investment in education, we’re totally fine with it. Where we would find that to be very painful, perhaps to the point of just being a deal breaker, is if it were billed and Oren is not doing this, as the end all be all, even employers would say, “This is less than ideal.”

I’ve worked with employers in Texas to try to help them go testify in front of the legislature there on why this would be good in the near term, but they don’t want that. They don’t want to be a community college forever. So we’re on board with that. And I think this conversation’s great. Oren and I were hoping, as we were kicking off this initiative in Texas, we’d be able to scale it. So our moderator will deserve some credit.

Roger Zakheim: Oh right, I will take that credit. We have a few minutes left. I want, in a moment, to have you each respond to the very important category of what did we miss. But before we do that, I’ll give you a chance to think about the response to that question and get to something that was very top of mind for conservatives, 40 years ago when President Reagan took office, wasn’t so relevant during the Trump administration. Now it’s kind of coming back in style and that is, we are spending so much money. Where is the place to the fiscal conservative in the Republican party? Is that a priority anymore? Or is that something of the past? And I’m not just picking on the Trump administration, a lot of intellectuals, perhaps those to the left and right of me, but those who write for conservative publications who say, “Hey, the reality of the 21st century is that Americans, conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats expect government to provide benefits.” Let’s start what you, Kevin, on that question.

Kevin Roberts: Yeah. Great question. I have a lot of conservative friends who are fiscal conservatives who think that the game is so broken. That is, the federal budget, the sort of the spending mindset that is—

Roger Zakheim: The entitlements, the entitlements.

Kevin Roberts: The entitlements, but I mean, the things that are closer to our heart, even at Heritage. I mean, defense spending, it’s important for us to be modernizing our defenses, especially vis-a-vis China, but it’s expensive. All of that to say, a lot of them have told me, and they’re legitimate fiscal conservatives, that they think that we’ll never get back to that. I don’t have that pessimism. I share their skepticism, but I don’t have that pessimism, because this system is going to break. And unfortunately, that’s true.

Roger Zakheim: What do you mean by that?

Kevin Roberts: The modern monetary theory is not going to get us out of this spending. There is going to be a financial crisis in this country. I hate saying that. I hope you know that. I don’t wish that, I don’t even wish it on President Biden. I don’t want it to happen, because it will affect all of us. It is going to happen. I’m a historian. I can tell you that. The past may not tell you what’s going to happen in the future, but the past and future rhyme and that is going to happen. And when that happens, we need to be prepared. I can tell you, Heritage will be, because fiscal conservatism is one of our priorities this year. Just in terms of rhetoric, and at the state level, we have to provide a roadmap out of that.

And the roadmap out of that, I’m not beating a dead horse or criticizing the moderator, is by emphasizing state investment in all of these areas, the federal government involuntarily, is going to become smaller in our lifetime because of the profligate spending by both sides. At Heritage we’re going to always say that it’s not from a hardheadedness it’s not from a lack of recognition that is almost in politic to say that including with Republican leaders in Congress, but the nice thing is it’s 100% true.

Roger Zakheim: Oren, you have one minute to talk about our crazy spending problem. And then you’ll give me 30 seconds on what we missed that you want to hit on.

Oren Cass: Well, we certainly have a spending problem. We also have a revenue problem. Revenues are at essentially all-time lows and we continue to propose tax cuts, at least on the right-of-center, as somehow a solution to that. I think the term “roadmap” that Kevin used is exactly right. We need to have a long-term roadmap that recognizes, and MMT just underscores this, the numbers are almost beside the point. We can make up the numbers and play with them however you want. At the end of the day, the political question is how are we allocating our resources as a society? What share of them are we making a claim on at the national level or at the state level and what are we going to do with that?

And so, stepping back, we need to look at what are the commitments we’ve made at the national level to seniors, to defense, to education? Do we want to move some of that to the state level? Maybe, although we’re just going to have to raise the taxes at the state level, if that’s what we’re doing. So are there places where we made commitments we don’t want to make or where we could be more efficient healthcare being an obvious example? Sure. Are there commitments that we do want to make? And that’s going to mean actually being honest that people have to pay the taxes to fund that. And so I think the right of center can be really constructive and be more credible on this question if the roadmap both shows, “Hey guys, here’s where we’ve gone too far and need to cut back,” and “Hey guys, there are things we actually have all basically agreed we do want to do, and we are going to have to pay the taxes to fund that.”

Roger Zakheim: 30 seconds. When we come back and do this again, what do we have to talk about that we didn’t talk about today?

Oren Cass: There are so many things to talk about. I think one issue that’d be really interesting to talk about more directly is labor. I think that’s an issue where Kevin and I probably agree entirely on everything that is wrong with big labor, but I think that conservatism has lost touch with what it is a very important value in institution and opportunity, especially at the state and local level.

Roger Zakheim: Kevin, last word, 30 seconds. What did we miss?

Kevin Roberts: Agree fully with labor, but I would add to that health care. And one of the reasons is the path out of healthcare is not in the federal government. It’s at the states. The Texas legislature, Democrats and Republicans deserve credit for this as do my colleagues at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a wonderful suite of first bills that restore the doctor-patient relationship. That is true north in health care. And we need conservatives this year and in 2024, talking about that. It’d be wonderful to have that conversation, especially with Oren.

Roger Zakheim: Kevin Roberts, Oren Cass, thank you so much for being part of this Reaganism Live event.

Oren Cass: Thank you.

Kevin Roberts: Thanks.