News & Politics

Paul Ryan Launches Free-Market, Upward Mobility Nonprofit

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., pauses as he gives a farewell speech in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

On Monday, former House Speaker Paul Ryan announced a new nonprofit organization, the American Idea Foundation, dedicated to providing upward mobility via concrete policies bolstering economic freedom. Long a champion of free markets and limited government, Paul Ryan seems well-suited to this new effort, and it is likely a better fit for his talents than his former role as Speaker of the House.

“The American idea means the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life, and I am excited this Foundation will educate individuals about solutions and efforts that give more people the opportunity to realize their versions of the American Dream,” Ryan said in a statement on the new nonprofit.

“Operating at the intersection of academics and local, grassroots organizations around the country, the American Idea Foundation will identify real-world initiatives that are achieving measurable results, highlight these efforts, and work with policymakers to expand them,” he added. “The American Idea Foundation will demonstrate that it is the bottom-up dynamism of individuals and communities that truly makes America a land of prosperity.”

Ryan expressed his faith that the American Idea Foundation can bolster American freedom and prosperity, working alongside the other grassroots and academic organizations in this space. “I wholeheartedly believe the Foundation can make a real difference and help those organizations working to expand opportunities across the county. I cannot wait to get started on this endeavor,” he concluded.

The former House speaker shared one of the nonprofit’s launch videos, “Freedom Is the Victor,” on Twitter. “We have a new challenge in America of creating upward mobility,” he says in the video.

A second video, “Our Story,” captures the heart of Paul Ryan’s original message in Congress. I remember hearing him speak long before he became Mitt Romney’s running-mate in 2012 or House speaker in 2015, and I witnessed firsthand his true passion: fighting poverty through free-market reforms.

“There are communities in America that aren’t rising, where the social capital has dried up,” Ryan laments in the video. “We’ve been fighting a war on poverty for over 50 years now. … And this war has been a stalemate.”

The government has spent billions on programs to fight poverty since the 1960s, but poverty continues to be a problem in America. In fact, as one scholar explains in the video, “There is a culture of poverty that is an unintended consequence of many of these programs. We have created a commodity out of the suffering of poor people.”

“Our job is to figure out how to rebuild the American idea, and there’s nothing that comes close to helping people realize their true potential than freedom,” Paul Ryan explains. “I spent the last 20 years in public policy looking at how do you more effectively fight poverty.”

With this new organization, he promises to promote “evidence-based policy to bring outcome-based strategies,” such as “opportunity zones, impact bonds, criminal justice reform, foster care reform,” and more.

Paul Ryan has always been something of a political enigma. Fighting poverty through limited government and free-market reforms has always seemed his main passion, but political ambition seemingly distracted from that goal. As House speaker, Ryan shepherded the 2017 tax cuts and criminal justice reform, but his efforts on repealing and replacing Obamacare fell flat and he never got the chance to reform entitlements — the best way to counter America’s rising debt and deficit and get our fiscal house in order.

President Trump has achieved many good things for conservatives, but his unwillingness to reform entitlements and his seeming disregard for America’s mounting deficits and debt must have grated on Paul Ryan. With Trump as president, Ryan could not achieve the reform he truly desired, and his role as House speaker led him to put many of his policy ambitions on the back burner.

In his farewell address last December, Ryan said his great “regret” was his inability to pass entitlement reform.

“I believe that we can be the generation that saves our entitlement programs. Frankly, we need to be,” Ryan declared. “And I acknowledge plainly that my ambitions for entitlement reforms have outpaced the political reality, and I consider this our greatest unfinished business.”

Now that Paul Ryan is out of Congress, he can focus on the issues that matter most to him, without needing to steer the Republican Party and work with President Trump, whose personality grated on the House speaker. He won’t be able to reform entitlements, but he might be able to promote policy alternatives that will make entitlement reform more palatable.

Speaker of the House is a difficult job, and it seems the job prevented Ryan from pursuing his true passion. Freed from that weighty position, the former congressman can return to the bold ideas he had before he found “success.” His story should teach Americans that power can become a distraction from someone’s true calling.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.