U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio tackled that question in a talk at the University of Louisville March 25. The junior Republican senator described the American dream, personalizing it with the story of his family—parents exiled from Cuba who instilled in their children a belief that they could become whatever they wanted to be through hard work. He outlined ways he thinks the government can create conditions of growth that assure the country has “an exceptional and vibrant middle class” that will allow it to maintain its “unique place” in the world.

  • Embrace the global economy, including the markets that are opening for U.S. products in countries with an emerging middle class that “can afford to buy the things that we make and sell.”
  • Embrace being involved in the world, but be smart and strategic in doing so.
  • Tap into the promise of natural gas and oil to boost the economy by exploring federal land safely and responsibly. There is a place for alternative sources of energy as additional sources, not replacement sources for fossil fuels, he said.
  • Modernize the immigration system and “deal with” undocumented immigrants who are here now in a way that honors the country’s legacies of law and of compassion and is fair to the people who came here the “right way.” “We are in a competition for global talent.” Only after modernizing the system can the nation attract the best entrepreneurs, thinkers and scientists the world has to offer.
  • Develop an educational system that reflects the needs of students, including providing skilled-job training that would allow high school students to graduate with a certificate that would allow them to start work the next day as plumbers, mechanics or another trade.
  • Make sure that incoming college students have the information they need to make informed decisions about their choices in fields of study and where they attend college—including how much it will cost and what their chosen field will pay. “If we don’t confront it and change it,” he said of the high cost of student loans, “it will be the next big bubble that confronts our economy.”

Rubio also noted that government regulations of business should be a result of cost-benefit analysis, that the tax code is a barrier to business investment in the global marketplace and that fiscal discipline combined with robust economic growth are the only way to answer the debt problem.

The senator was guest of the McConnell Center.