Rubio and Summers as a guide to 2016

by Ryan Streeter on February 13, 2015. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

The biggest philosophical difference between Rubio and Summers is this: Rubio sees government as a bridge helping people to get into the marketplace, while the Summers document argues that the marketplace is structurally flawed throughout and that government has to be a partner all the way along.

That’s David Brooks using Marco Rubio’s book and Larry Summers’ new paper as a guide to the philosophical dividing lines going into 2016.

Reading the column brought to mind John Micklethwait’s parting column at the Economist last month.

Two great debates are forming that will redefine liberalism. The first is to do with inequality. A more open society, where global markets increase the rewards for the talented, is fast becoming a less equal one. As this newspaper pointed out last week, the clever are marrying the clever and manically educating their children, making it ever harder for the poor to catch up. Liberals should resist the left’s inclination to punish the talented and somehow to mandate equality. But in the name of equal opportunity, progressives need to hack away at unnecessary privileges…But [progressives of the 19th century] also believed in a smaller state. This is the second debate forming around liberalism, and a dilemma: for although this newspaper wants government’s role to be limited, some of the remedies for inequality involve the state doing more, not less…The answer is to scale down government, but to direct it more narrowly and intensely. In Europe, America and Japan the state still tries to do too much, and therefore does it badly. Leviathan has sprawled, invading our privacy, dictating the curve of a banana and producing tax codes of biblical length. With each tax break for the already rich and with each subsidy to this business or that pressure group, another lobby is formed, and democracy suffers.

It seems that Rubio and Summers generally agree on the first dilemma, that of unequal economic growth. And it is their disagreement on the 2nd point, namely the scope of the state, that will define much of the debate leading up to 2016.