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Rep. Paul Ryan: Key to Economic Opportunity is Trust

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) speaking at a Brookings Social Mobility Summit, January 13, 2014. (Paul Morigi photo)

In the second keynote address at today's inaugural Social Mobility Summit, sponsored by the Center on Children and Families, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, emphasized the role of trust and community in helping to re-connect the poor to their communities and lift them out of poverty. "Behind every opportunity," he said, "is someone who takes a chance." He continued:

The key to opportunity is trust. And government, when used wisely, can increase that trust. Take one example: the inter-state highway system—that's something we all could agree on. Of course the federal government should build the interstate highway system, because that would actually encourage interstate commerce. And it did for a simple reason: It got people to interact. The more people interact, the more they trust each other. And as we all know, where there is trust, there is collaboration. Where there's collaboration, there's economic growth. So, to me, when it comes to judging a particular policy reform, I've got a really simple test: does it bring people together or does it pull them apart? Does it increase trust and collaboration or does it stifle them?

Rep. Ryan acknowledged that "government is a very powerful tool" but "just as government can increase opportunity, government can destroy it as well." He said that "there is perhaps no better example of government's ability to disappoint, to miss the mark than LBJ's War on Poverty ... Despite our spending trillions of dollars, 47 million people live in poverty, 15 percent of our fellow citizens, ... the highest rate in a generation. ... it's missing its mark."

Rep. Ryan spoke to two principles to improve our anti-poverty approach: simplicity in government programs and standards. "Our goal should be to reintegrate the poor into our communities, but Washington is walling them up as if they are in some massive quarantine."

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) delivered the morning keynote, during which she emphasized the central role of women in reviving the American middle class.

Follow the conversation at #mobilitysummit.

Read the new brief, 5 Strong Starts for Boosting Social Mobility and the paper, A No-Cost Proposal to Reduce Poverty & Inequality.