David Brat

Dr. David Brat was the representative from the 7th congressional district of Virginia to the U.S. House of Representatives from 2014 until 2018. Winning the primary in a historic upset over the then-House majority leader, Brat became the only Ph.D. economist serving in Congress at the time. Brat is currently the dean of the Liberty University School of Business in Lynchburg, VA. He was interviewed because of his extensive knowledge of Western worldviews, an uncommon attribute among politicians, and a relationship developed while he steered the Moral Foundations of Capitalism program at Randolph-Macon College.

Personal Background

David Brat:

I’m Congressman Dave Brat, seventh district of Virginia. Born in Detroit. Dad was a doctor there at the hospital where I was born. Mom was a nurse. They moved us to a small town in Michigan—Alma, 10,000 people, through eighth grade. Moved us at ninth grade, thanks dad, to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Loved it, but huge adjustment. Probably good for your personal growth. Then went back to Holland, Michigan for college, Hope College. Much Flying Dutchman, Holland, Michigan, right on Lake Michigan, North of Chicago.

Studied business, minored in religion. Great mentor profs, world religions, a philosophy, a preacher there that was influential on me. And then went to work for Arthur Anderson in Detroit. They shipped me to Chicago, so a couple years doing that. And then while I was there, I did feel the call and went off to Princeton Seminary. And so you should have seen the jaws at Arthur Anderson.

So while I was at Princeton Seminary, I was going to teach systematic theology, ethics, and great theologians through history, et cetera. And systematic theology at the time incorporated economics, right? If you want to be systematic about what runs this world, economics and ethics should go together. They don’t anymore, unfortunately. And so while I was at Princeton Seminary, I went down to Wesley Seminary for a semester on politics. Medic preacher to Bill Clinton, that’s my bipartisan moment. And he wrote a book on economics and ethics back then, and it wasn’t a punchline. And so he’s the preacher to the president, pretty big deal. And then they said, “Hey, Dave, if you’re interested in this, then you should go do a PhD in economics.” So I went to American University, did a PhD there, worked for the army a couple years, worked for the World Bank in the poverty section a few years.

Most importantly, met my wife in DC. Interviewed for jobs and was lucky enough to make it to Randolph-Macon. Taught there for 20 years, ran the chairman of economics and business department, ran the ethics minor program. So kept those two together for 25 years. Still doing it, trying I to do it up in DC. It’s a rough crowd, but that’s it. And we can get into the politics, if how I got into that later.

What is most important to you?

David Brat:

Now, my whole life is driven by faith. That’s the most important thing. That’s the first principle; so God. Working on that, I did that through seminary. People say, well, did you give up on that when you went to seminary and then you went into economics? I said, no, that’s what I’m doing. That’s still how I view my calling in life right now. And then underneath that, of course, my wife and family and church, and then civics and friendship and tennis is somewhere in the top 10.

Were there people or events that influenced who you are most?

David Brat:

My dad kind of missed his calling. He was probably meant to be a theologian, right? So he paid us 10 bucks a book back when we were 10 years old. We read Kierkegaard and Tolstoy and Dostoevsky when we were 10. 10 bucks, we bought our first 10 speed bikes. 12 books, 120 bucks, buy your bike. That warps you from a young age so that’s that.

And then all the way along I had mentors. My eighth grade band teacher, sixth to eight, Don Metcalf, huge. I was a skinny little guy back then, whatever, and played the trumpet, and he noticed that I was good at it. So he did that and then I went to Minnesota Youth Symphony and got pretty decent at that. That confidence just helps you. And another guy in high school put me in the Hugh O’Brien leadership position for governance, so that started the light bulbs going. At college, I mentioned I had a few mentors that were absolutely key thought leaders. Then the preacher, while I was in seminary and then PhD, so I’ve been blessed the whole way. Great mentors and my mom all the way along, had kind of the spiritual side going and was always key on positive thinking and that kind of thing as well.

What about the Moral Foundations of Capitalism Program at Randolph-Macon?

David Brat:

BB&T was interested in getting this link back, right, they’re Aristotelian, and Aristotle, the Nicomachean Ethics and all this kind of thing. And so, they want ethics ingrained in banking. We just had crack up, for lack of ethics, right, the Fanny Freddy collapse of 2008 was just pure corruption, from coast to coast. And so they knew I was interested. I applied for that program and it was great. I got to meet with about 70 folks who were funded on the Eastern seaboard, all heads of economics and business departments. And everybody with differing views, right, some people were very libertarian, Hayekian. Other people were institutional economists. Other people were philosophical ethicists. And so, what a treat, right, to get those people together in a room was awesome.

How did a department head at Randolph-Macon beat the House Majority Leader?

Doug Monroe:

How did a department head at Randolph-Macon beat the house majority leader?

David Brat:

Right. No, that win is hard to explain. I don’t have an answer quite yet, but I know the wrong answer. Some people say it’s just due to one public policy, immigration, or this kind of thing. Part of it was leaders have to be in DC a lot. That’s a part of it, instead of in the district. That’s a big part. But the missing piece is, I worked seven years. I volunteered for Senator Stosch in the General Assembly. I met everybody, right? So people say the unknown, obscure Dave Brat, or whatever. It’s like, okay, it’s funny.

But I knew a lot of people, right? I knew all the lobbyists. I knew all the senators, all the delegates from Virginia. I worked for a couple governors, Kaine and McDonnell. I was their economic advisor. I knew all the federal reserve people, and I taught 20 years of kids at Randolph-Macon. Let me tell you, they fan out and kind of stay in the region. And if I had to say one thing, that’d be it, right. I taught my community. I taught their kids ethics and economics for 20 years. And they say, “Brat’s not a bad guy.” That’s good enough in politics, right? So, that’s probably enough.

Was your election an early indicator of rising populism?

David Brat:

Yeah. No, absolutely. My race was the canary in the coal mine, or whatever you want to call the huge blast. But I don’t want… It wasn’t my race. Prior to that, you had the tea party, which ran on fiscal issues and had a huge surge way back in 2010, and those leaders deserved some praise for bringing those attentions to the forefront.

So I caught some of that wave later, three or four years later. And then I ran on the Republican creed, right? I said, there’s nothing wrong with the Republican creed other than no one follows it. Right? Fiscal responsibility, constitutional governance, free markets, strong defense, I mean.

So I ran on kind of that deal and so, I don’t view it as being a precursor to Trump really, but I view it as being a precursor to Bernie and Trump, right? So that’s the wave that happened and the American people, their wages have been flat for 30 to 40 years, so they know it’s rigged. So Bernie was rigged. Hillary rigged it against Bernie. Trump ran on the whole rigged. Right now we’re seeing FBI, all sorts of stories, Russian collusion, right. Everybody… Something’s way off. They’re two tiers of justice, one for up there and one for the people. Everybody knows that. So I came in, I think on that intuitive gut feel that the American people had. Something’s way off and I had the guts to, or the insanity to run against the majority later, whichever it was, right? And so that’s the story.

What do you want to have accomplished looking back years from now?

David Brat:

The best thing I’ve done, and the left or the Democrats will say he’s not accomplishing anything. But they certainly give me a lot of ink on that issue. And so I totally disagree. Not because I want to be arrogant, but I just like reality and the truth. And so I joined a group called the Freedom Caucus. We got 30 or 40 people in that group. And we were at the forefront. When I look back on my thing, I’ll say, “Hey, first of all, I had the guts to run. I’m proud of that, big win.” I gave a lot of candidates nationwide hope. That’s probably the number one, right? A lot of common guys. I got outspent 41, no endorsements, no nothing. So I’ll look back and I’ll say, “Hey, I’m going to probably make the history books on a big race that gave hope to the underdog.”

Right? I read David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. And he wrote about where true power resides. It’s in the people, it’s upstairs with God. It’s not in the shiny objects that we all think are fake power. So I’ll look back. And if I had anything to do with that, I’ll be totally proud. And then the Freedom Caucus, we changed the healthcare debate. We’ve changed the budget debate. I mean, this is within two, three years, right? I mean, we’ve fundamentally changed the healthcare product to lower the price somewhat. We changed the budget debate. We were in on the tax thing. We got rid of the border adjustable piece. That was a huge piece to the tax reform that I think we made better. And on immigration we’re front and central, trying to just get some rational policy in place. And so when the other side says I haven’t been influential back venture, whatever, I’m like, okay. But I totally disagree.

What is your worldview?

David Brat:

Yeah, well, my worldview, I got a book out on it and taught it. It’s what I taught for 20 … I’ve explored and tried to hit the truth and it’s called the Western synthesis, and that’s what made our tradition great. It’s the synthesis between Greek reason, which also made its way through the enlightenment and figures like Immanuel Kant, et cetera. Just the entire worldview based on reason. But if you do reason, you end up with a French Revolution, et cetera. If you do reason alone, it comes off the tracks. That reason has to be combined with the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. It’s just paired down. No one lives their life based on Aristotelian ethics or Kantian ethics or utilitarian ethics.they’re great. Their thought pieces. You live your life based on if your Buddhist or Confucius or Christian or Jewish, et cetera.

And so you got to put those two together. The Western tradition has done that. Any great philosopher has had to be within that tradition and every great theologian has had to be within that tradition. Martin Luther King had a PhD in Protestant theology, for example, who I follow. He read Reinhold Neber, Mahatma Gandhi. They all read each other. I’m very proud to be part of that grand tradition and that’s it in a nutshell.

Have you and your worldview ever experienced crisis?

David Brat:

Oh, sure, but just because the worldview got it right, right? I mean, the worldview starts off a couple thousand years ago with a story about an apple and a snake, and human nature is flawed. And every great philosopher, Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, everybody, right? James Madison, the Judeo-Christian… Human nature’s fallen.

And in the Eastern tradition, right? Only Rousseau and Marx differ, and their systems are total failures when they implement them. And so do I suffer with it? Yeah. I mean, when you see the evil that exists in the world. The last century, we had Hitler, Stalin, fascist groups, nuclear bombs going off, death and destruction. All of human history, people starving, until about 1750 when we got a glimmer of growth.

So sure. You… Everybody struggles, you read Job, you say, “Why does evil happen to good people? Why do evil people seem to get off?” And that’s humanity. And so you struggle with that reality.

What changed in the Classical Christian worldview after the Reformation?

David Brat:

Number one, Gutenberg and a printing press, right, just to put a couple details in place, right? And then you got the Dutch and the Italian shipping stuff, and the world shrinking. See that’s the context. The Renaissance has already happened. And then you get the reformation and what’s going on there. Karl Marx said it. I mean, he’s summer. He says once Calvin and Luther and the Protestants, right, it’s what I’m talking generically, but Calvin is the proxy for me, and he led to James Madison and our constitution.

But Karl Marx said once he democratized the church pews, it was over, right? Democracy, the light bulb went on, the logic, the full force of human freedom. And so, the rest of human history was tradition driven, Pharaoh driven, dictator driven. That cracked open, right? And said, the people are central, Magna Carta preceded it, and that’s the pop. And then Marx even went further, he said not only does democracy come out of that, but the full foundation and underpinnings for free market capitalism comes out of that, and I’m sure we can get into that later. Right? When you say that word, it sets people off from one or the other.

Did Christianity justify democracy?

David Brat:

Oh, sure, sure. They rediscovered. The great ideas and these enlightenment figures were so heady. They didn’t have MTV and all these distractions back then. They were steeped in the classics. The liberal arts education assumed the readings and they pieced it together. All the founders of our country did in depth studies on every form of government, and Plato had five of them listed. And Democracy, by the way, is at the bottom of the list, but it ended up being better in practice.

Why do you call yourself a Calvinist?

David Brat:

John Calvin, right? French theologian, followed on Luther. Luther laid out the thesis statement just boldly, so he’s the personality, but Calvin systematized it better than anyone. And he’s the most unoriginal theologian, which I think you should be. If you believe in sola scriptura, and you believe that revelation comes through the good book, which I do, then who’s the best interpreter and systematitian of putting together the Hebrew texts, with St. Paul, with the gospels in a coherent way? I don’t think really anybody surpassed his presentation and everybody, Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr and all the guys that come later are kind of living off of that foundation. That for me, that’s the guts of it. I haven’t seen a departure from him that is significant and when you say Martin Luther King Jr.? Calvinist.

People can differ and say, “Well, not a 5 point TULIP.” That’s so irrelevant, I just laugh and I debate those, I love that debate, but that’s not what it means. He systematized the big picture.

 Is the modern philosophy mostly Christianity but taking God out?

David Brat:

Yeah. Modern philosophy, postmodern philosophy, the modern period refers to the enlightenment and the idea that reason dominates, but reason hit a dead end with Karl Popper and logical positivism, and they asked a simple question. “Have you ever seen a science?” There’s no empirical evidence for science. It’s an idea. “Have you ever seen a hypothesis?” “No.” That’s a thought construct that comes from an idea and from the brain.

So that philosophical project destroyed science’s utter foundation. Does that mean I don’t believe in science. No, I absolutely in science, but it’s a more practical endeavor. Then postmodernism just goes on as if science is gone, but there’s no need for foundations. So it’s a strange new world. They do analytic philosophy and they analyze techs and they seem to very, very critical.

Marxist, post Marxist theorists come out of the woodwork. It’s easy to deconstruct everything. They’re deconstructing the Judeo-Christian truths. They’re deconstructing democracy. They’re deconstructing the constitution, but they have no constructive capacity. They haven’t built anything that I’ve seen.

My Calvinist pals gave them Harvard and Yale and Princeton for free with a gentleman’s handshake. We said, “Please teach at least Aristotle. We’ll put the seminary in the other side of the track, just teach Aristotle.” They can’t even keep that deal. So that’s it.

Is the word capitalism today useful, problematic, or descriptive?

David Brat:

Yeah, no, it’s the right question. I use the term capitalism just to get people’s blood pressure up. The best thing for a student is to be awake. So if you say capitalism, that lights up everybody, because no one really knows what the definition is. And I taught economics for 20 years. There’s no such thing as supply side economics. There’s no such thing as trickle down economics. There’s no textbook on any of that. And capitalism is still a buzzword, but capitalism to me stands for all of human history, was poor until 1750. And then we went toward free markets. And China and India just did 20 years ago. And they’ve had the greatest increase in human welfare of any experiment in human history by far, by going toward free markets. We’re feeding two and a half billion people that used to be starving within 20 years.

So that is capitalism. Now what is capitalism? The ideal in the textbook is we want a large number of competitors duking it up. But when people at home hear cap, “Basically, it’s greed. Well, of course it’s greed. I brought up Genesis 2 before. In the Soviet Union, Putin is worth hundreds of millions of dollars too. It’s not like greed is just in Western society. There’s greed all over the world. And there’s dictatorships in Sub-Saharan Africa. There’s greed everywhere, so that’s not unique to capitalism. What’s unique about capitalism is we take the incentives embedded in human nature that includes greed and we make it work for the social good. That competition between a large number of people duking it out has produced outcomes you couldn’t dream of. And it presumes a large number of competitors. Now, Adam Smith, the founder of capitalism or free market economic said whenever two or three business people get together, look out, because they’re going to collude.

And so it’s government’s job when everything gets big, like it’s doing right now, big automobiles, big healthcare, big banks, big everything, big insurance companies. That’s not capitalism. That’s crony capitalism. That’s when the biggies have taken charge by grabbing industry through the government. They all have lobbyists. The little guy does not. So that is not capitalism. So it’s pretty easy to get it through, but a lot of it’s ideology. A lot of people are angry at rich capitalists, et cetera. Some of them are corrupt, a lot of them are not. A lot of people made money through genius and ingenuity and they deserve whatever they produced.

What are the problems with Marxism and socialism?

David Brat:

If you look up Karl Marx in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, he’s not really there. It’s crude Marxism, it’s not a philosophical school. And so the problem with Marxism, first of all, is it’s not a systematic worldview. And that’s why systematic thinking is so important. If your worldview doesn’t hold together, he did not have a coherent worldview of human nature, what makes us go bad.

And Rousseau struggled with it, he was a brilliant philosopher. He thought human nature was good, he had The Noble Savage and then civilization makes us go bad, bureaucracy, when you get embedded into bureaucracies that makes human nature go bad. Then people said, well, why? Why is it that when you joined… Why does human nature go bad?

And he couldn’t answer. He was in a circle. Well, Karl Marx comes up with a brilliant answer and says, well, if you own a hammer or capital equipment, you’re evil. In a nutshell. The owners of capital are intrinsically, morally evil. And the workers who work underneath the people who own capital are morally good. Well, you see why he didn’t make it in the first cut of philosophers. That’s just crazy thinking.

So what do I think about Marxism? Everything that comes out post Marxism, comes out of that thinking. And now you see identity politics of every sort. These people are good. These people are bad. It’s the worst kind of thinking I’ve seen. Then if you align, you can see, you’re setting up a politics of envy or hatred. With these different groups, and that’s what we have right now. So where did that come from? Right there.

So what do I think of socialism? Which pits groups against each other, instead of treating people as individuals that are all children of God, as individuals. You should be treated with dignity as an individual. I don’t prejudge you based on any group you’re a part of, you have rights that precede the existence of government, and that’s my worldview. And that is not Marx’s worldview.

What is the main problem with the Enlightenment (mentioned in American Underdog)?

David Brat:

Well, if you look at the Enlightenment and the application of reason and science to all parts of life, it was phenomenal where science belongs, biology, chemistry, physics, those are scientific areas of inquiry, but it has done nothing for ethics. Right? There is no science of ethics. There never has been and pretending that the enlightenment has solved the ethical, moral issue is a fail and as I mentioned a little earlier, no one lives their life based on any of the enlightenment philosophers, even though I love them. Adam Smith, David Hume was brilliant, Kant, John Stuart Mill on Liberty. Some science to politics, but even there, politics is not a science. Right? I won’t go tell you what room in grad school, some rooms in grad school, it said: the social sciences are neither. They’re neither social because they don’t do with human beings and they’re not science for sure. Right? We have terrible problems even just with minimal forecasting and the definition of economics and the social, we’re not supposed to do any ethics.

It’s supposed to be value-free. Of course, it’s not and so the enlightenment wasn’t fully honest with itself is the basic answer. It deserves huge praise for scientific inquiry, but when it overstepped and you say you’re going to run the entire world based on reason alone, that project failed.

How do humans employ their ethical models (3D)?

David Brat:

Right. I mean, those are all rational Enlightenment thought systems that are helpful. It depends, right. If you’re going to compare two projects you might be utilitarian, should I build a new school or a new bridge? Well, whichever gives you the greatest bang for the buck. Right? So we’ll do that. If you’re looking at virtues or whatever, air style and this kind of thing, it’s a, different kind of, how much love should I show a person? How much kindness, how much judgment should I show people? And then in that realm, you’re kind of thinking in Aristotelian terms. So they’ve all informed the way we think. But I think, I mean, those systems, again are just based on pure reason. Most people at the end of the day are still fairly religious in the worldview.

Even when you go abroad, we used to take kids to London or whatever, and you talk to people and they’d say, well, you American people, you’re so frugal, you don’t help the poor et cetera. I say, “Well, where do you get the idea that we ought to help the poor?” Kind of joking keeping a straight face. He said, “Well, surely you must know that.” I said, “Well, no.” And I was just kind of playing line. I said, “I have no idea where you get an idea that we should help the poor.” Where you get this idea, I don’t, right? And so that doesn’t come from Aristotle or Kant. I mean, you can reason your way to it in those systems. He says, “Well, from the church. From religion.” I said, “Oh, so you’re a churchman?” He said, “No, I’m not a churchman, no.” But it’s in everybody. It’s the Judeo-Christian tradition is powerfully embedded in that guy who doesn’t think he’s in that tradition, he’s in the tradition. He just doesn’t acknowledge it. So I think at the deepest level, I think we still have that Judeo-Christian tradition and Eastern stuff too. I mean there’s deep sentiment built in that precedes reason.

Why is balancing the federal budget a moral issue more than utilitarian?

David Brat:

The budget in the dollar is a measure of value, and the word value is not by accident, right? Because dollars do value and economists measure your… Right? Sometimes it’s not the best measure. How much do you spend on your kid? Is that how much you value them? No, that’s a bet, but in gross terms, when you’re talking about cars and trucks and refrigerators, it’s a good standard. And so if you look at our budget discipline, whatever, and we have a four trillion budget this year, and we’re going to raise three trillion and go into debt another trillion every year, we’re already at 21 trillion in debt. We’re going to add a trillion in debt for the next 10 years. That’s the last budget. We just admit it. No one is saying anything about it. That all goes on the kids, right? That’s generational theft.

There’s no way around it. And so why is it immoral? Because we’re spending and getting all the goods right now and someone’s going to pay the piper. And there’s a hundred trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities on top of that, the kids don’t know it. Medicare and social security go bankrupt in 2034. They’re both insolvent, according to their own board of trustees reports. And so if that’s not a moral issue and nothing is, and politicians get rewarded for saying, “Yes.” Right? People write you cheque up in DC. If you say, “Yes” you get a check. “Yes I favor your program.” “Yes.” “Good.” Right? And you don’t get rewarded for saying, “Hey, might need to eat some spinach right now, so we’ll be healthier in the future.” No reward for that. Right? So you can see there’s a link between Calvinism and spinach, and that’s why it’s a moral issue.

Is the federal government a self-interested group just like any other?

David Brat:

Oh, it’s absolutely. And it’s worse than Google because absolute power corrupts absolutely. And so how big is the government? $4 trillion worth. And, the power to regulate your business and come after you and the power if they don’t like you, the IRS has identified people. And now in the past weeks, the FBI has said, we’re going to spy on you and you don’t know about it. We can get a warrant on you, make up a false dossier and come after you. And the American people are basically good people, they can’t comprehend that their government could turn really bad really quick. So the more power you give it, guess what? It’s self-interested just like those as nasty capitalists. So if you’re going to use these buzzwords that capitalism is bad and the government should be there as a counterweight, there’s no firm that’s anywhere near the size of the government. The government is on a scale of its own and if you do a coup d’etat and take over that government, you run the world. You run nukes, you run everything. And so we Republican folks that try to stay true to our theory, want a reduced federal government, we want to bring that power down to the state and local. We’re not against government, we’re pro government. It has its core functions, we got to do them well. But the overage is getting very scary these days.

Is the federal government in competition with the American family?

David Brat:

Well, way back when you had Tocqueville and what made America great was all these voluntary organizations, right? These small groups and small… and they’re fading. So now, look even at the church. The church isn’t doing pancake breakfasts for the poor anymore, right? They’re not sending hundreds of people out to fan out to help the poor. They’re hiring lobbyists for real. I’m not making this up. You cannot make this up.

Churches are hiring lobbyists to go get a piece of the federal pie. The federal pie is fixed. It doesn’t grow. So you’re taking the dynamism out. Everyone’s going there to rent seek. Everyone’s got a lobbyist except for the kids, by the way. The kids are the major power group who don’t have a lobbyist. I find it just embarrassing.

So when everybody’s going up there, the incentives now have all shifted, and everybody knows. If you go to the local government, get a few thousand bucks. Go to state government, you might get a million bucks. But you go up there and you get B, billion, billions of dollars if you get your hooks into that budget, because everything’s hidden from view. It’s all buried in thousands of page budgets, in secret code footnotes, whatever, and that’s the new game.

The American people are starting to figure it out. That’s why you’re seeing from Bernie to Trump. People are starting to figure it out.

How do we achieve happiness? Given, earned, felt? How?

David Brat:

Yeah, happiness is a trick. Everyone says you enjoy your job. That’s a doozy. So, today’s definition of happiness is like eating cotton candy. It’s a sugar high, it’s a consumer good. I’m happy. I got sugar. I’m in a good mood. I’m happy. I don’t like that. That’s not a classical def… Aristotle said, “True happiness is life lived in accordance with the virtues. In pursuit of the good.” That’s what I think of as happiness. Is happiness earned? If you’re trying to follow God’s will, and you’re trying to follow the virtues… In a sense, is that earned? Yeah. I mean, yes, but I don’t think that’s the right language. You don’t earn it, but if you live a good life and try to follow the good, you will be truly happy.

And that’s why you see so many people in our culture that are not truly happy right now. You see hatred out on the blogs and the media right now. That is not classical happiness. And you don’t learn this in school, K-12 education. There’s no definition of what happiness is. There’s no ethics class in K-12, or higher ed. I mean, you can take it, but it’s not offered and it’s not mandated. So, there’s no ethics, there’s no religion, there’s no philosophy. And by the way, you don’t learn what a business is. So, half the kids won’t go to college poor. They won’t learn what a business is, when we pay $14,000 a year for 13 years. They graduate, they know what an isosceles triangle is, but they don’t know what a business is. We need a major revolution in K-12.

When does the USA go bankrupt?

David Brat:

We’re on the road, we’re doing everything wrong instead of everything right. So everyone talks about compromise up in DC. They went, “Dave, you got to compromise.” Oh, compromise like Aristotle. The gold mean, the gold means in the middle, it’s the best position too much, and a deficiency in the virtues. So you want to go the middle. That’s correct. So if you have a trillion dollar deficit every year and you have 21 trillion in debt, that’s too much. So the compromise, believe it or not, has to be in the other direction. And when you DC, every time we compromise, guess what happens to those numbers? They go up. So that is not rational compromise. So we are on our a road to bankruptcy, 21 trillion in debt is terrible. For me, the sky is not going to fall because there’s 30 years of evidence that it won’t fall. And it’s called Europe.

Europe is worse than us, has been, and they haven’t had collapse. It’s amazing, they got low growth, huge over consumption, huge government program and they survive. And even have a little wine and she’s to boot. So we’re not there yet, I don’t think we’re going to go in installment, the bond market we’ll test that one. So when they get wobbly, then we’re in trouble, but there’s a guaranteed fiscal collapse, so the financial collapse, we had no weight, somewhat right, people were levered up too much debt on the government sector, the corporate sector and the individual. So we’re over levered. Wow. We got hit.

So we learned some lessons there. So I don’t think that’s the problem right now. But the fiscal collapse is guaranteed in 2034, right. A hundred trillion light, there’s going to be 20% cut, hair cut and Medicare social security, these programs, for the next generation, when that happens, the implication, so everyone’s used to things growing at five to 9%, when you get a cut of 20, that will be the wake up call, and then you cannot raise taxes enough to solve that. And I’m not making that up, people say, “Republicans are exag…” You cannot raise taxes. You’re going to have to totally revamp those programs, and I there’s plenty of ideas. But if you mention reforming those programs, the ads come out in grandmas with cliffs and they’re not pleasant.

So, 2034 is the answer?

Doug Monroe:

2034 is when the program sunsets?

David Brat:

Insolvent. They’re insolvent, according to their own what they can’t keep paying out what they promised to pay.

What about Social Security, specifically?

David Brat:

Yeah, Social Security and Medicare, and it’s in law. So it’s 75% of the budget right now; it used to be 25% and is they’re mandatory. Anyone that signs up for it, gets it. So they’re in law. You’d have to pass the law through the House and the Senate and the White House on the most toxic issue. That’s why it won’t happen. So it’s going to happen. Financial planners should be telling people that and that it’s coming our way.

What’s going on around the U.S. and the world from what you see in D.C.?

David Brat:

I don’t know, it’s hard to read. You talk with religious people and the metaphor that comes up, is are we going into the wilderness or coming out a little bit? So God lets you go into the wilderness, and there’s metaphors through that all through the good book and in the history of nations, et cetera. And so no one really knows.

I mean, it’s in play right now. It’s getting so toxic on the politics and the hate language and the whatever that a lot of people are going back to the basics and saying, “Something’s very wrong here.” The culture is just shifting, and why? Where are the values? Everybody says love, and my opponent hates and I love, and so when you’re using that language, maybe that’s the hope. People are starting to identify. There’s hate, and then love is a good thing. Well, what does it mean to love? Well, do you teach that in K-12? No. And so where do you learn about what this love thing is? So maybe just this toxic environment’s bringing people back to some realization that these words mean something and we got to get back to them.

What about the immigration issue?

David Brat:

Immigration is just a toxic political issue right now. 25 years ago, Barbara Jordan, African American, Democrat, was pushing for immigration reform, right? Because if you have open borders and cheap labor, it hurt the African American community. And it hurt anybody that was working for low wages. And 10 years ago, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Dick Durbin all agreed with that. And so something has flipped recently. And so we’ve done amnesties in the past. With an amnesty, you give illegals a new legal status, right? But as soon as you do that, you got eight billion people that live outside the country that say, “Hey, these Americans are nice people.” And so once you do an amnesty, you just send a signal to the rest of the world. “Hey, once you make it in there, you’re golden.” Right? So it depends how you do policy.

So now Republicans have put up an amnesty offer, right? A DACA thing for 700,000 of the DACA kids who signed up for DACA. That’s what the Democrats wanted. And they can’t get to yes on this for some reason. So it’s a weird political dance we’re doing right now. And it’s tricky. If you give the DACA or the dreamer kids full citizenship, you’re letting them jump in line ahead of other folks who are trying to come in legally. So the legal immigrants don’t want to do that. You don’t want to build this toxic relationship with people who kind of cut in line, that’s not good moving forward. So I think we’ve come to a place where we don’t want people working in the shadows, you want to do the right thing, but for this Goodlatte bill, if you want to get technical about it, but the Goodlatte bill has thoughtful policy about what’s going to happen next.

So, okay, we’ll compromise, right? Everyone thought tens of millions of people were going to be deported when Trump won. The left was hyperbolic. I mean, they thought this could be tragedy. We’ve moved from that, because none of that happened. We moved from that position to give legal status to illegals. I’d call that quite a compromise on the Republican side, right. To move from that escalator speech to that policy is quite a compromise. And the Democrats won’t meet us anywhere, right. And so the compromise has to do with a couple things called chain migration or E-Verify, which means you have legal hiring. It’s not a radical concept, right? That you should hire legal American citizens. And that’s basically the debate.

And it is true in this context also, we have supposedly tight labor markets right now, the unemployment rate’s low, eh, not good. The labor force participation rate is at its all time low. We had 25 million people back in ’08 and since that have left the labor market all together. So they’re on various forms of welfare, et cetera. A lot of it not their own fault. We, the elites, screwed it up with a financial collapse. So they’re in poverty traps. Bernanke, Greenspan, said this is the most damaging effect of the financial crisis. It’s the folks that are out of work. It’s very hard to get them back into skilled thing.

And so business wants some cheap labor. And instead of training in these folks who have been decimated, we’re just bringing folks in from the rest of the world for cheap. So for me, I don’t like that move until you’ve first solved your internal problems. And then you got the kids who have been not taught what a business is, right? So we went over that before. 13 years, 14 grand a year. They don’t know what a business is. And every business around here does tell me, “I can’t find skilled labor.” That’s true. I can imagine why, if you haven’t taught your kids what a business is and that it might be a morally worthwhile thing to have a job, right? I mean, so if you’re not teaching these fundamental things, I can see why you want a shortcut, but if the country takes that shortcut forever, we’re never going to solve the fundamental problems, for the poorest of the poor, by the way.

What about the right to bear arms (Second Amendment)?

David Brat:

Guns are the huge issue right now. And so the most shocking thing I saw that day of was that there were 9,000 student threats in the Commonwealth of Virginia alone this year. I think I have the stat right. So that’s the eye popper. So, the guns are a tragedy, that person should never have had that gun. So the lists and the background checks, we have to improve that system. The FBI totally messed it up, local law enforcement totally messed it up. Are the guns part of the issue? Yes. But I don’t want to abstract and go there directly. We need to have the whole list of conversation. 20 years ago the teacher would tell you this was not an issue. You didn’t have 9,000 threats of students saying I’m going to do violence in my school. I mean, back when we grew up never heard of it, thought of it. So there’s something going on in the culture. And then you combine that with the collapse of law enforcement, not connecting the dots again, and then guns come into play also in that conversation. There’s debates about bump stocks and ages of 18 and 21 and background checks and how in the world did that kid passed the background check when there’s reporting on his background all over the place.

Is Washington not functioning properly?

David Brat:

Yeah, no. I mean, since World War II, right? You had the greatest generation and total sacrifice on behalf of the country. And now, everyone says we’re living in this consumerist society. There’s been a massive cultural change. Is the government out of control? Yes, at every single level, it’s bought and paid for. You got senators that get six year terms. They just voted last week not to do a budget next year. I mean, it’s incompre… right? So that tells you all you need to know.

And then we’re supposed to do author… We’re in at least seven wars right now that are unauthorized. It’s the sole job of Congress to authorize wars and on every other hot button issue, life issues. So those are hot button. What do we do? We punt it to the courts. So now the courts are running the country. They were not given that power. They’re supposed to interpret the law. They’re not supposed to run the country. They weren’t elected to run the country. And so I’m not knocking the judiciary, but yet everything is bought and paid for all over DC. And we’re seeing the fruits of it.

With big government’s many, many problems, do we have a solution?

David Brat:

Yeah, no. I mean, since World War II, right? You had the greatest generation and total sacrifice on behalf of the country. And now everyone kind of says, “We’re living in this consumerist society.” There’s been a massive cultural change.

Is the government out of control? Yes. At every single level it’s bought and paid for. You got senators who get six year terms, they just voted last week not to do a budget next year. I mean, it’s imcompre… Right? So that tells you all you need to know.

And then we’re supposed to do… We’re in at least seven wars right now that are unauthorized. It’s the sole job of Congress to authorize wars and on every other hot button issue, life issues, so those are hot button.

What do we do? We punt it to the courts, so now the courts are running the country. They were not given that power. They’re supposed to interpret the law. They’re not supposed to run the country. They weren’t elected to run the country. And so I’m not knocking the judiciary, but yet everything is bought and paid for all over DC. And we’re seeing the fruits of it.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America?

Doug Monroe:

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the USA? I ask every person that question. Yeah, yeah.

David Brat:

I’m optimistic somehow, right? As a Calvinist, it’s almost a contradiction for me to be optimistic about human nature, changing in the short run, but I am. I think that’s what faith is, right? Faith is, we can change for the better, at any moment, right? If we open up our ears and our eyes that can happen like this, and I’ve seen amazing things. My win is one of those things, right? I mean, I saw a surge happen. I was like, I couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of that surge. I saw it in my own life what’s possible. I have to be an optimist, right? I had a huge win that I could have never anticipated. I’ve seen some other major moves when the American people … When they see something and they say, “This has got to change,” so I’m still in an optimist, but they’re fighting uphill battle. The average people that I run into on a daily basis are good people. They care about their kids. They’re scared and the elites have mucked it up, so I think the American people can win.

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Overview

David Brat

Dr. David Brat was the representative from the 7th congressional district of Virginia to the U.S. House of Representatives from 2014 until 2018. Winning the primary in a historic upset over the then-House majority leader, Brat became the only Ph.D. economist serving in Congress at the time. Brat is currently the dean of the Liberty University School of Business in Lynchburg, VA. He was interviewed because of his extensive knowledge of Western worldviews, an uncommon attribute among politicians, and a relationship developed while he steered the Moral Foundations of Capitalism program at Randolph-Macon College.
Transcript

Personal Background

David Brat:

I’m Congressman Dave Brat, seventh district of Virginia. Born in Detroit. Dad was a doctor there at the hospital where I was born. Mom was a nurse. They moved us to a small town in Michigan—Alma, 10,000 people, through eighth grade. Moved us at ninth grade, thanks dad, to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Loved it, but huge adjustment. Probably good for your personal growth. Then went back to Holland, Michigan for college, Hope College. Much Flying Dutchman, Holland, Michigan, right on Lake Michigan, North of Chicago.

Studied business, minored in religion. Great mentor profs, world religions, a philosophy, a preacher there that was influential on me. And then went to work for Arthur Anderson in Detroit. They shipped me to Chicago, so a couple years doing that. And then while I was there, I did feel the call and went off to Princeton Seminary. And so you should have seen the jaws at Arthur Anderson.

So while I was at Princeton Seminary, I was going to teach systematic theology, ethics, and great theologians through history, et cetera. And systematic theology at the time incorporated economics, right? If you want to be systematic about what runs this world, economics and ethics should go together. They don’t anymore, unfortunately. And so while I was at Princeton Seminary, I went down to Wesley Seminary for a semester on politics. Medic preacher to Bill Clinton, that’s my bipartisan moment. And he wrote a book on economics and ethics back then, and it wasn’t a punchline. And so he’s the preacher to the president, pretty big deal. And then they said, “Hey, Dave, if you’re interested in this, then you should go do a PhD in economics.” So I went to American University, did a PhD there, worked for the army a couple years, worked for the World Bank in the poverty section a few years.

Most importantly, met my wife in DC. Interviewed for jobs and was lucky enough to make it to Randolph-Macon. Taught there for 20 years, ran the chairman of economics and business department, ran the ethics minor program. So kept those two together for 25 years. Still doing it, trying I to do it up in DC. It’s a rough crowd, but that’s it. And we can get into the politics, if how I got into that later.

What is most important to you?

David Brat:

Now, my whole life is driven by faith. That’s the most important thing. That’s the first principle; so God. Working on that, I did that through seminary. People say, well, did you give up on that when you went to seminary and then you went into economics? I said, no, that’s what I’m doing. That’s still how I view my calling in life right now. And then underneath that, of course, my wife and family and church, and then civics and friendship and tennis is somewhere in the top 10.

Were there people or events that influenced who you are most?

David Brat:

My dad kind of missed his calling. He was probably meant to be a theologian, right? So he paid us 10 bucks a book back when we were 10 years old. We read Kierkegaard and Tolstoy and Dostoevsky when we were 10. 10 bucks, we bought our first 10 speed bikes. 12 books, 120 bucks, buy your bike. That warps you from a young age so that’s that.

And then all the way along I had mentors. My eighth grade band teacher, sixth to eight, Don Metcalf, huge. I was a skinny little guy back then, whatever, and played the trumpet, and he noticed that I was good at it. So he did that and then I went to Minnesota Youth Symphony and got pretty decent at that. That confidence just helps you. And another guy in high school put me in the Hugh O’Brien leadership position for governance, so that started the light bulbs going. At college, I mentioned I had a few mentors that were absolutely key thought leaders. Then the preacher, while I was in seminary and then PhD, so I’ve been blessed the whole way. Great mentors and my mom all the way along, had kind of the spiritual side going and was always key on positive thinking and that kind of thing as well.

What about the Moral Foundations of Capitalism Program at Randolph-Macon?

David Brat:

BB&T was interested in getting this link back, right, they’re Aristotelian, and Aristotle, the Nicomachean Ethics and all this kind of thing. And so, they want ethics ingrained in banking. We just had crack up, for lack of ethics, right, the Fanny Freddy collapse of 2008 was just pure corruption, from coast to coast. And so they knew I was interested. I applied for that program and it was great. I got to meet with about 70 folks who were funded on the Eastern seaboard, all heads of economics and business departments. And everybody with differing views, right, some people were very libertarian, Hayekian. Other people were institutional economists. Other people were philosophical ethicists. And so, what a treat, right, to get those people together in a room was awesome.

How did a department head at Randolph-Macon beat the House Majority Leader?

Doug Monroe:

How did a department head at Randolph-Macon beat the house majority leader?

David Brat:

Right. No, that win is hard to explain. I don’t have an answer quite yet, but I know the wrong answer. Some people say it’s just due to one public policy, immigration, or this kind of thing. Part of it was leaders have to be in DC a lot. That’s a part of it, instead of in the district. That’s a big part. But the missing piece is, I worked seven years. I volunteered for Senator Stosch in the General Assembly. I met everybody, right? So people say the unknown, obscure Dave Brat, or whatever. It’s like, okay, it’s funny.

But I knew a lot of people, right? I knew all the lobbyists. I knew all the senators, all the delegates from Virginia. I worked for a couple governors, Kaine and McDonnell. I was their economic advisor. I knew all the federal reserve people, and I taught 20 years of kids at Randolph-Macon. Let me tell you, they fan out and kind of stay in the region. And if I had to say one thing, that’d be it, right. I taught my community. I taught their kids ethics and economics for 20 years. And they say, “Brat’s not a bad guy.” That’s good enough in politics, right? So, that’s probably enough.

Was your election an early indicator of rising populism?

David Brat:

Yeah. No, absolutely. My race was the canary in the coal mine, or whatever you want to call the huge blast. But I don’t want… It wasn’t my race. Prior to that, you had the tea party, which ran on fiscal issues and had a huge surge way back in 2010, and those leaders deserved some praise for bringing those attentions to the forefront.

So I caught some of that wave later, three or four years later. And then I ran on the Republican creed, right? I said, there’s nothing wrong with the Republican creed other than no one follows it. Right? Fiscal responsibility, constitutional governance, free markets, strong defense, I mean.

So I ran on kind of that deal and so, I don’t view it as being a precursor to Trump really, but I view it as being a precursor to Bernie and Trump, right? So that’s the wave that happened and the American people, their wages have been flat for 30 to 40 years, so they know it’s rigged. So Bernie was rigged. Hillary rigged it against Bernie. Trump ran on the whole rigged. Right now we’re seeing FBI, all sorts of stories, Russian collusion, right. Everybody… Something’s way off. They’re two tiers of justice, one for up there and one for the people. Everybody knows that. So I came in, I think on that intuitive gut feel that the American people had. Something’s way off and I had the guts to, or the insanity to run against the majority later, whichever it was, right? And so that’s the story.

What do you want to have accomplished looking back years from now?

David Brat:

The best thing I’ve done, and the left or the Democrats will say he’s not accomplishing anything. But they certainly give me a lot of ink on that issue. And so I totally disagree. Not because I want to be arrogant, but I just like reality and the truth. And so I joined a group called the Freedom Caucus. We got 30 or 40 people in that group. And we were at the forefront. When I look back on my thing, I’ll say, “Hey, first of all, I had the guts to run. I’m proud of that, big win.” I gave a lot of candidates nationwide hope. That’s probably the number one, right? A lot of common guys. I got outspent 41, no endorsements, no nothing. So I’ll look back and I’ll say, “Hey, I’m going to probably make the history books on a big race that gave hope to the underdog.”

Right? I read David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. And he wrote about where true power resides. It’s in the people, it’s upstairs with God. It’s not in the shiny objects that we all think are fake power. So I’ll look back. And if I had anything to do with that, I’ll be totally proud. And then the Freedom Caucus, we changed the healthcare debate. We’ve changed the budget debate. I mean, this is within two, three years, right? I mean, we’ve fundamentally changed the healthcare product to lower the price somewhat. We changed the budget debate. We were in on the tax thing. We got rid of the border adjustable piece. That was a huge piece to the tax reform that I think we made better. And on immigration we’re front and central, trying to just get some rational policy in place. And so when the other side says I haven’t been influential back venture, whatever, I’m like, okay. But I totally disagree.

What is your worldview?

David Brat:

Yeah, well, my worldview, I got a book out on it and taught it. It’s what I taught for 20 … I’ve explored and tried to hit the truth and it’s called the Western synthesis, and that’s what made our tradition great. It’s the synthesis between Greek reason, which also made its way through the enlightenment and figures like Immanuel Kant, et cetera. Just the entire worldview based on reason. But if you do reason, you end up with a French Revolution, et cetera. If you do reason alone, it comes off the tracks. That reason has to be combined with the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. It’s just paired down. No one lives their life based on Aristotelian ethics or Kantian ethics or utilitarian ethics.they’re great. Their thought pieces. You live your life based on if your Buddhist or Confucius or Christian or Jewish, et cetera.

And so you got to put those two together. The Western tradition has done that. Any great philosopher has had to be within that tradition and every great theologian has had to be within that tradition. Martin Luther King had a PhD in Protestant theology, for example, who I follow. He read Reinhold Neber, Mahatma Gandhi. They all read each other. I’m very proud to be part of that grand tradition and that’s it in a nutshell.

Have you and your worldview ever experienced crisis?

David Brat:

Oh, sure, but just because the worldview got it right, right? I mean, the worldview starts off a couple thousand years ago with a story about an apple and a snake, and human nature is flawed. And every great philosopher, Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, everybody, right? James Madison, the Judeo-Christian… Human nature’s fallen.

And in the Eastern tradition, right? Only Rousseau and Marx differ, and their systems are total failures when they implement them. And so do I suffer with it? Yeah. I mean, when you see the evil that exists in the world. The last century, we had Hitler, Stalin, fascist groups, nuclear bombs going off, death and destruction. All of human history, people starving, until about 1750 when we got a glimmer of growth.

So sure. You… Everybody struggles, you read Job, you say, “Why does evil happen to good people? Why do evil people seem to get off?” And that’s humanity. And so you struggle with that reality.

What changed in the Classical Christian worldview after the Reformation?

David Brat:

Number one, Gutenberg and a printing press, right, just to put a couple details in place, right? And then you got the Dutch and the Italian shipping stuff, and the world shrinking. See that’s the context. The Renaissance has already happened. And then you get the reformation and what’s going on there. Karl Marx said it. I mean, he’s summer. He says once Calvin and Luther and the Protestants, right, it’s what I’m talking generically, but Calvin is the proxy for me, and he led to James Madison and our constitution.

But Karl Marx said once he democratized the church pews, it was over, right? Democracy, the light bulb went on, the logic, the full force of human freedom. And so, the rest of human history was tradition driven, Pharaoh driven, dictator driven. That cracked open, right? And said, the people are central, Magna Carta preceded it, and that’s the pop. And then Marx even went further, he said not only does democracy come out of that, but the full foundation and underpinnings for free market capitalism comes out of that, and I’m sure we can get into that later. Right? When you say that word, it sets people off from one or the other.

Did Christianity justify democracy?

David Brat:

Oh, sure, sure. They rediscovered. The great ideas and these enlightenment figures were so heady. They didn’t have MTV and all these distractions back then. They were steeped in the classics. The liberal arts education assumed the readings and they pieced it together. All the founders of our country did in depth studies on every form of government, and Plato had five of them listed. And Democracy, by the way, is at the bottom of the list, but it ended up being better in practice.

Why do you call yourself a Calvinist?

David Brat:

John Calvin, right? French theologian, followed on Luther. Luther laid out the thesis statement just boldly, so he’s the personality, but Calvin systematized it better than anyone. And he’s the most unoriginal theologian, which I think you should be. If you believe in sola scriptura, and you believe that revelation comes through the good book, which I do, then who’s the best interpreter and systematitian of putting together the Hebrew texts, with St. Paul, with the gospels in a coherent way? I don’t think really anybody surpassed his presentation and everybody, Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr and all the guys that come later are kind of living off of that foundation. That for me, that’s the guts of it. I haven’t seen a departure from him that is significant and when you say Martin Luther King Jr.? Calvinist.

People can differ and say, “Well, not a 5 point TULIP.” That’s so irrelevant, I just laugh and I debate those, I love that debate, but that’s not what it means. He systematized the big picture.

 Is the modern philosophy mostly Christianity but taking God out?

David Brat:

Yeah. Modern philosophy, postmodern philosophy, the modern period refers to the enlightenment and the idea that reason dominates, but reason hit a dead end with Karl Popper and logical positivism, and they asked a simple question. “Have you ever seen a science?” There’s no empirical evidence for science. It’s an idea. “Have you ever seen a hypothesis?” “No.” That’s a thought construct that comes from an idea and from the brain.

So that philosophical project destroyed science’s utter foundation. Does that mean I don’t believe in science. No, I absolutely in science, but it’s a more practical endeavor. Then postmodernism just goes on as if science is gone, but there’s no need for foundations. So it’s a strange new world. They do analytic philosophy and they analyze techs and they seem to very, very critical.

Marxist, post Marxist theorists come out of the woodwork. It’s easy to deconstruct everything. They’re deconstructing the Judeo-Christian truths. They’re deconstructing democracy. They’re deconstructing the constitution, but they have no constructive capacity. They haven’t built anything that I’ve seen.

My Calvinist pals gave them Harvard and Yale and Princeton for free with a gentleman’s handshake. We said, “Please teach at least Aristotle. We’ll put the seminary in the other side of the track, just teach Aristotle.” They can’t even keep that deal. So that’s it.

Is the word capitalism today useful, problematic, or descriptive?

David Brat:

Yeah, no, it’s the right question. I use the term capitalism just to get people’s blood pressure up. The best thing for a student is to be awake. So if you say capitalism, that lights up everybody, because no one really knows what the definition is. And I taught economics for 20 years. There’s no such thing as supply side economics. There’s no such thing as trickle down economics. There’s no textbook on any of that. And capitalism is still a buzzword, but capitalism to me stands for all of human history, was poor until 1750. And then we went toward free markets. And China and India just did 20 years ago. And they’ve had the greatest increase in human welfare of any experiment in human history by far, by going toward free markets. We’re feeding two and a half billion people that used to be starving within 20 years.

So that is capitalism. Now what is capitalism? The ideal in the textbook is we want a large number of competitors duking it up. But when people at home hear cap, “Basically, it’s greed. Well, of course it’s greed. I brought up Genesis 2 before. In the Soviet Union, Putin is worth hundreds of millions of dollars too. It’s not like greed is just in Western society. There’s greed all over the world. And there’s dictatorships in Sub-Saharan Africa. There’s greed everywhere, so that’s not unique to capitalism. What’s unique about capitalism is we take the incentives embedded in human nature that includes greed and we make it work for the social good. That competition between a large number of people duking it out has produced outcomes you couldn’t dream of. And it presumes a large number of competitors. Now, Adam Smith, the founder of capitalism or free market economic said whenever two or three business people get together, look out, because they’re going to collude.

And so it’s government’s job when everything gets big, like it’s doing right now, big automobiles, big healthcare, big banks, big everything, big insurance companies. That’s not capitalism. That’s crony capitalism. That’s when the biggies have taken charge by grabbing industry through the government. They all have lobbyists. The little guy does not. So that is not capitalism. So it’s pretty easy to get it through, but a lot of it’s ideology. A lot of people are angry at rich capitalists, et cetera. Some of them are corrupt, a lot of them are not. A lot of people made money through genius and ingenuity and they deserve whatever they produced.

What are the problems with Marxism and socialism?

David Brat:

If you look up Karl Marx in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, he’s not really there. It’s crude Marxism, it’s not a philosophical school. And so the problem with Marxism, first of all, is it’s not a systematic worldview. And that’s why systematic thinking is so important. If your worldview doesn’t hold together, he did not have a coherent worldview of human nature, what makes us go bad.

And Rousseau struggled with it, he was a brilliant philosopher. He thought human nature was good, he had The Noble Savage and then civilization makes us go bad, bureaucracy, when you get embedded into bureaucracies that makes human nature go bad. Then people said, well, why? Why is it that when you joined… Why does human nature go bad?

And he couldn’t answer. He was in a circle. Well, Karl Marx comes up with a brilliant answer and says, well, if you own a hammer or capital equipment, you’re evil. In a nutshell. The owners of capital are intrinsically, morally evil. And the workers who work underneath the people who own capital are morally good. Well, you see why he didn’t make it in the first cut of philosophers. That’s just crazy thinking.

So what do I think about Marxism? Everything that comes out post Marxism, comes out of that thinking. And now you see identity politics of every sort. These people are good. These people are bad. It’s the worst kind of thinking I’ve seen. Then if you align, you can see, you’re setting up a politics of envy or hatred. With these different groups, and that’s what we have right now. So where did that come from? Right there.

So what do I think of socialism? Which pits groups against each other, instead of treating people as individuals that are all children of God, as individuals. You should be treated with dignity as an individual. I don’t prejudge you based on any group you’re a part of, you have rights that precede the existence of government, and that’s my worldview. And that is not Marx’s worldview.

What is the main problem with the Enlightenment (mentioned in American Underdog)?

David Brat:

Well, if you look at the Enlightenment and the application of reason and science to all parts of life, it was phenomenal where science belongs, biology, chemistry, physics, those are scientific areas of inquiry, but it has done nothing for ethics. Right? There is no science of ethics. There never has been and pretending that the enlightenment has solved the ethical, moral issue is a fail and as I mentioned a little earlier, no one lives their life based on any of the enlightenment philosophers, even though I love them. Adam Smith, David Hume was brilliant, Kant, John Stuart Mill on Liberty. Some science to politics, but even there, politics is not a science. Right? I won’t go tell you what room in grad school, some rooms in grad school, it said: the social sciences are neither. They’re neither social because they don’t do with human beings and they’re not science for sure. Right? We have terrible problems even just with minimal forecasting and the definition of economics and the social, we’re not supposed to do any ethics.

It’s supposed to be value-free. Of course, it’s not and so the enlightenment wasn’t fully honest with itself is the basic answer. It deserves huge praise for scientific inquiry, but when it overstepped and you say you’re going to run the entire world based on reason alone, that project failed.

How do humans employ their ethical models (3D)?

David Brat:

Right. I mean, those are all rational Enlightenment thought systems that are helpful. It depends, right. If you’re going to compare two projects you might be utilitarian, should I build a new school or a new bridge? Well, whichever gives you the greatest bang for the buck. Right? So we’ll do that. If you’re looking at virtues or whatever, air style and this kind of thing, it’s a, different kind of, how much love should I show a person? How much kindness, how much judgment should I show people? And then in that realm, you’re kind of thinking in Aristotelian terms. So they’ve all informed the way we think. But I think, I mean, those systems, again are just based on pure reason. Most people at the end of the day are still fairly religious in the worldview.

Even when you go abroad, we used to take kids to London or whatever, and you talk to people and they’d say, well, you American people, you’re so frugal, you don’t help the poor et cetera. I say, “Well, where do you get the idea that we ought to help the poor?” Kind of joking keeping a straight face. He said, “Well, surely you must know that.” I said, “Well, no.” And I was just kind of playing line. I said, “I have no idea where you get an idea that we should help the poor.” Where you get this idea, I don’t, right? And so that doesn’t come from Aristotle or Kant. I mean, you can reason your way to it in those systems. He says, “Well, from the church. From religion.” I said, “Oh, so you’re a churchman?” He said, “No, I’m not a churchman, no.” But it’s in everybody. It’s the Judeo-Christian tradition is powerfully embedded in that guy who doesn’t think he’s in that tradition, he’s in the tradition. He just doesn’t acknowledge it. So I think at the deepest level, I think we still have that Judeo-Christian tradition and Eastern stuff too. I mean there’s deep sentiment built in that precedes reason.

Why is balancing the federal budget a moral issue more than utilitarian?

David Brat:

The budget in the dollar is a measure of value, and the word value is not by accident, right? Because dollars do value and economists measure your… Right? Sometimes it’s not the best measure. How much do you spend on your kid? Is that how much you value them? No, that’s a bet, but in gross terms, when you’re talking about cars and trucks and refrigerators, it’s a good standard. And so if you look at our budget discipline, whatever, and we have a four trillion budget this year, and we’re going to raise three trillion and go into debt another trillion every year, we’re already at 21 trillion in debt. We’re going to add a trillion in debt for the next 10 years. That’s the last budget. We just admit it. No one is saying anything about it. That all goes on the kids, right? That’s generational theft.

There’s no way around it. And so why is it immoral? Because we’re spending and getting all the goods right now and someone’s going to pay the piper. And there’s a hundred trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities on top of that, the kids don’t know it. Medicare and social security go bankrupt in 2034. They’re both insolvent, according to their own board of trustees reports. And so if that’s not a moral issue and nothing is, and politicians get rewarded for saying, “Yes.” Right? People write you cheque up in DC. If you say, “Yes” you get a check. “Yes I favor your program.” “Yes.” “Good.” Right? And you don’t get rewarded for saying, “Hey, might need to eat some spinach right now, so we’ll be healthier in the future.” No reward for that. Right? So you can see there’s a link between Calvinism and spinach, and that’s why it’s a moral issue.

Is the federal government a self-interested group just like any other?

David Brat:

Oh, it’s absolutely. And it’s worse than Google because absolute power corrupts absolutely. And so how big is the government? $4 trillion worth. And, the power to regulate your business and come after you and the power if they don’t like you, the IRS has identified people. And now in the past weeks, the FBI has said, we’re going to spy on you and you don’t know about it. We can get a warrant on you, make up a false dossier and come after you. And the American people are basically good people, they can’t comprehend that their government could turn really bad really quick. So the more power you give it, guess what? It’s self-interested just like those as nasty capitalists. So if you’re going to use these buzzwords that capitalism is bad and the government should be there as a counterweight, there’s no firm that’s anywhere near the size of the government. The government is on a scale of its own and if you do a coup d’etat and take over that government, you run the world. You run nukes, you run everything. And so we Republican folks that try to stay true to our theory, want a reduced federal government, we want to bring that power down to the state and local. We’re not against government, we’re pro government. It has its core functions, we got to do them well. But the overage is getting very scary these days.

Is the federal government in competition with the American family?

David Brat:

Well, way back when you had Tocqueville and what made America great was all these voluntary organizations, right? These small groups and small… and they’re fading. So now, look even at the church. The church isn’t doing pancake breakfasts for the poor anymore, right? They’re not sending hundreds of people out to fan out to help the poor. They’re hiring lobbyists for real. I’m not making this up. You cannot make this up.

Churches are hiring lobbyists to go get a piece of the federal pie. The federal pie is fixed. It doesn’t grow. So you’re taking the dynamism out. Everyone’s going there to rent seek. Everyone’s got a lobbyist except for the kids, by the way. The kids are the major power group who don’t have a lobbyist. I find it just embarrassing.

So when everybody’s going up there, the incentives now have all shifted, and everybody knows. If you go to the local government, get a few thousand bucks. Go to state government, you might get a million bucks. But you go up there and you get B, billion, billions of dollars if you get your hooks into that budget, because everything’s hidden from view. It’s all buried in thousands of page budgets, in secret code footnotes, whatever, and that’s the new game.

The American people are starting to figure it out. That’s why you’re seeing from Bernie to Trump. People are starting to figure it out.

How do we achieve happiness? Given, earned, felt? How?

David Brat:

Yeah, happiness is a trick. Everyone says you enjoy your job. That’s a doozy. So, today’s definition of happiness is like eating cotton candy. It’s a sugar high, it’s a consumer good. I’m happy. I got sugar. I’m in a good mood. I’m happy. I don’t like that. That’s not a classical def… Aristotle said, “True happiness is life lived in accordance with the virtues. In pursuit of the good.” That’s what I think of as happiness. Is happiness earned? If you’re trying to follow God’s will, and you’re trying to follow the virtues… In a sense, is that earned? Yeah. I mean, yes, but I don’t think that’s the right language. You don’t earn it, but if you live a good life and try to follow the good, you will be truly happy.

And that’s why you see so many people in our culture that are not truly happy right now. You see hatred out on the blogs and the media right now. That is not classical happiness. And you don’t learn this in school, K-12 education. There’s no definition of what happiness is. There’s no ethics class in K-12, or higher ed. I mean, you can take it, but it’s not offered and it’s not mandated. So, there’s no ethics, there’s no religion, there’s no philosophy. And by the way, you don’t learn what a business is. So, half the kids won’t go to college poor. They won’t learn what a business is, when we pay $14,000 a year for 13 years. They graduate, they know what an isosceles triangle is, but they don’t know what a business is. We need a major revolution in K-12.

When does the USA go bankrupt?

David Brat:

We’re on the road, we’re doing everything wrong instead of everything right. So everyone talks about compromise up in DC. They went, “Dave, you got to compromise.” Oh, compromise like Aristotle. The gold mean, the gold means in the middle, it’s the best position too much, and a deficiency in the virtues. So you want to go the middle. That’s correct. So if you have a trillion dollar deficit every year and you have 21 trillion in debt, that’s too much. So the compromise, believe it or not, has to be in the other direction. And when you DC, every time we compromise, guess what happens to those numbers? They go up. So that is not rational compromise. So we are on our a road to bankruptcy, 21 trillion in debt is terrible. For me, the sky is not going to fall because there’s 30 years of evidence that it won’t fall. And it’s called Europe.

Europe is worse than us, has been, and they haven’t had collapse. It’s amazing, they got low growth, huge over consumption, huge government program and they survive. And even have a little wine and she’s to boot. So we’re not there yet, I don’t think we’re going to go in installment, the bond market we’ll test that one. So when they get wobbly, then we’re in trouble, but there’s a guaranteed fiscal collapse, so the financial collapse, we had no weight, somewhat right, people were levered up too much debt on the government sector, the corporate sector and the individual. So we’re over levered. Wow. We got hit.

So we learned some lessons there. So I don’t think that’s the problem right now. But the fiscal collapse is guaranteed in 2034, right. A hundred trillion light, there’s going to be 20% cut, hair cut and Medicare social security, these programs, for the next generation, when that happens, the implication, so everyone’s used to things growing at five to 9%, when you get a cut of 20, that will be the wake up call, and then you cannot raise taxes enough to solve that. And I’m not making that up, people say, “Republicans are exag…” You cannot raise taxes. You’re going to have to totally revamp those programs, and I there’s plenty of ideas. But if you mention reforming those programs, the ads come out in grandmas with cliffs and they’re not pleasant.

So, 2034 is the answer?

Doug Monroe:

2034 is when the program sunsets?

David Brat:

Insolvent. They’re insolvent, according to their own what they can’t keep paying out what they promised to pay.

What about Social Security, specifically?

David Brat:

Yeah, Social Security and Medicare, and it’s in law. So it’s 75% of the budget right now; it used to be 25% and is they’re mandatory. Anyone that signs up for it, gets it. So they’re in law. You’d have to pass the law through the House and the Senate and the White House on the most toxic issue. That’s why it won’t happen. So it’s going to happen. Financial planners should be telling people that and that it’s coming our way.

What’s going on around the U.S. and the world from what you see in D.C.?

David Brat:

I don’t know, it’s hard to read. You talk with religious people and the metaphor that comes up, is are we going into the wilderness or coming out a little bit? So God lets you go into the wilderness, and there’s metaphors through that all through the good book and in the history of nations, et cetera. And so no one really knows.

I mean, it’s in play right now. It’s getting so toxic on the politics and the hate language and the whatever that a lot of people are going back to the basics and saying, “Something’s very wrong here.” The culture is just shifting, and why? Where are the values? Everybody says love, and my opponent hates and I love, and so when you’re using that language, maybe that’s the hope. People are starting to identify. There’s hate, and then love is a good thing. Well, what does it mean to love? Well, do you teach that in K-12? No. And so where do you learn about what this love thing is? So maybe just this toxic environment’s bringing people back to some realization that these words mean something and we got to get back to them.

What about the immigration issue?

David Brat:

Immigration is just a toxic political issue right now. 25 years ago, Barbara Jordan, African American, Democrat, was pushing for immigration reform, right? Because if you have open borders and cheap labor, it hurt the African American community. And it hurt anybody that was working for low wages. And 10 years ago, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Dick Durbin all agreed with that. And so something has flipped recently. And so we’ve done amnesties in the past. With an amnesty, you give illegals a new legal status, right? But as soon as you do that, you got eight billion people that live outside the country that say, “Hey, these Americans are nice people.” And so once you do an amnesty, you just send a signal to the rest of the world. “Hey, once you make it in there, you’re golden.” Right? So it depends how you do policy.

So now Republicans have put up an amnesty offer, right? A DACA thing for 700,000 of the DACA kids who signed up for DACA. That’s what the Democrats wanted. And they can’t get to yes on this for some reason. So it’s a weird political dance we’re doing right now. And it’s tricky. If you give the DACA or the dreamer kids full citizenship, you’re letting them jump in line ahead of other folks who are trying to come in legally. So the legal immigrants don’t want to do that. You don’t want to build this toxic relationship with people who kind of cut in line, that’s not good moving forward. So I think we’ve come to a place where we don’t want people working in the shadows, you want to do the right thing, but for this Goodlatte bill, if you want to get technical about it, but the Goodlatte bill has thoughtful policy about what’s going to happen next.

So, okay, we’ll compromise, right? Everyone thought tens of millions of people were going to be deported when Trump won. The left was hyperbolic. I mean, they thought this could be tragedy. We’ve moved from that, because none of that happened. We moved from that position to give legal status to illegals. I’d call that quite a compromise on the Republican side, right. To move from that escalator speech to that policy is quite a compromise. And the Democrats won’t meet us anywhere, right. And so the compromise has to do with a couple things called chain migration or E-Verify, which means you have legal hiring. It’s not a radical concept, right? That you should hire legal American citizens. And that’s basically the debate.

And it is true in this context also, we have supposedly tight labor markets right now, the unemployment rate’s low, eh, not good. The labor force participation rate is at its all time low. We had 25 million people back in ’08 and since that have left the labor market all together. So they’re on various forms of welfare, et cetera. A lot of it not their own fault. We, the elites, screwed it up with a financial collapse. So they’re in poverty traps. Bernanke, Greenspan, said this is the most damaging effect of the financial crisis. It’s the folks that are out of work. It’s very hard to get them back into skilled thing.

And so business wants some cheap labor. And instead of training in these folks who have been decimated, we’re just bringing folks in from the rest of the world for cheap. So for me, I don’t like that move until you’ve first solved your internal problems. And then you got the kids who have been not taught what a business is, right? So we went over that before. 13 years, 14 grand a year. They don’t know what a business is. And every business around here does tell me, “I can’t find skilled labor.” That’s true. I can imagine why, if you haven’t taught your kids what a business is and that it might be a morally worthwhile thing to have a job, right? I mean, so if you’re not teaching these fundamental things, I can see why you want a shortcut, but if the country takes that shortcut forever, we’re never going to solve the fundamental problems, for the poorest of the poor, by the way.

What about the right to bear arms (Second Amendment)?

David Brat:

Guns are the huge issue right now. And so the most shocking thing I saw that day of was that there were 9,000 student threats in the Commonwealth of Virginia alone this year. I think I have the stat right. So that’s the eye popper. So, the guns are a tragedy, that person should never have had that gun. So the lists and the background checks, we have to improve that system. The FBI totally messed it up, local law enforcement totally messed it up. Are the guns part of the issue? Yes. But I don’t want to abstract and go there directly. We need to have the whole list of conversation. 20 years ago the teacher would tell you this was not an issue. You didn’t have 9,000 threats of students saying I’m going to do violence in my school. I mean, back when we grew up never heard of it, thought of it. So there’s something going on in the culture. And then you combine that with the collapse of law enforcement, not connecting the dots again, and then guns come into play also in that conversation. There’s debates about bump stocks and ages of 18 and 21 and background checks and how in the world did that kid passed the background check when there’s reporting on his background all over the place.

Is Washington not functioning properly?

David Brat:

Yeah, no. I mean, since World War II, right? You had the greatest generation and total sacrifice on behalf of the country. And now, everyone says we’re living in this consumerist society. There’s been a massive cultural change. Is the government out of control? Yes, at every single level, it’s bought and paid for. You got senators that get six year terms. They just voted last week not to do a budget next year. I mean, it’s incompre… right? So that tells you all you need to know.

And then we’re supposed to do author… We’re in at least seven wars right now that are unauthorized. It’s the sole job of Congress to authorize wars and on every other hot button issue, life issues. So those are hot button. What do we do? We punt it to the courts. So now the courts are running the country. They were not given that power. They’re supposed to interpret the law. They’re not supposed to run the country. They weren’t elected to run the country. And so I’m not knocking the judiciary, but yet everything is bought and paid for all over DC. And we’re seeing the fruits of it.

With big government’s many, many problems, do we have a solution?

David Brat:

Yeah, no. I mean, since World War II, right? You had the greatest generation and total sacrifice on behalf of the country. And now everyone kind of says, “We’re living in this consumerist society.” There’s been a massive cultural change.

Is the government out of control? Yes. At every single level it’s bought and paid for. You got senators who get six year terms, they just voted last week not to do a budget next year. I mean, it’s imcompre… Right? So that tells you all you need to know.

And then we’re supposed to do… We’re in at least seven wars right now that are unauthorized. It’s the sole job of Congress to authorize wars and on every other hot button issue, life issues, so those are hot button.

What do we do? We punt it to the courts, so now the courts are running the country. They were not given that power. They’re supposed to interpret the law. They’re not supposed to run the country. They weren’t elected to run the country. And so I’m not knocking the judiciary, but yet everything is bought and paid for all over DC. And we’re seeing the fruits of it.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America?

Doug Monroe:

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the USA? I ask every person that question. Yeah, yeah.

David Brat:

I’m optimistic somehow, right? As a Calvinist, it’s almost a contradiction for me to be optimistic about human nature, changing in the short run, but I am. I think that’s what faith is, right? Faith is, we can change for the better, at any moment, right? If we open up our ears and our eyes that can happen like this, and I’ve seen amazing things. My win is one of those things, right? I mean, I saw a surge happen. I was like, I couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of that surge. I saw it in my own life what’s possible. I have to be an optimist, right? I had a huge win that I could have never anticipated. I’ve seen some other major moves when the American people … When they see something and they say, “This has got to change,” so I’m still in an optimist, but they’re fighting uphill battle. The average people that I run into on a daily basis are good people. They care about their kids. They’re scared and the elites have mucked it up, so I think the American people can win.

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