Book Review: Arthur Brooks' 'The Road to Freedom'
American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks’ new book, The Road To Freedom, is a clarion call to defenders of the free market system: be cultural warriors.
Brooks is not talking about “guns, God, and gays.” Instead, Brooks is calling on conservatives to win the battle for free enterprise by couching the debate between free markets and statism in moral terms.
Too often, Republicans spit out the right statistics and cite the proper theories. But if they do not make the case for why the free enterprise system is the best system in which people can earn their success in a meritocratic fashion instead of learning helplessness, the fairest system in giving people the freedom to both achieve and fail, and the best system to raise millions of vulnerable people out of poverty, they will lose the economic argument to liberals who frame their statist policies in moral terms.
This is a playbook for advocates of the free market system to take back the language of fairness that liberals and statists have co-opted. It is a book every Republican staffer, politician, and citizen should read so they can better argue for the free enterprise system that has made American exceptional and must be preserved.
When President Barack Obama officially kicked off his reelection campaign last weekend in Ohio and Virginia, he turned Republicans and Mitt Romney into a punchline by saying, “When a woman in Iowa shared the story of her financial troubles, [Romney] responded with economic theory.”
The stereotypical implications were clear. Republicans are out of touch. They only care about statistics and wealth.
This is a trap Republicans fall into often. And, as Brooks discusses in his book, it is completely avoidable.
Brooks writes that “the dogged reliance on materialistic arguments is a gift to statists” because “it allows them to paint free enterprise advocates as selfish and motivated only by money.”
“Those who would expand the government have successfully appropriated language of morality for their own political ends, redistributionist policies,” Brooks writes.
And when proponents of big government claim they are “fairer, kinder, and more virtuous,” Brooks writes that, “too frequently, the rejoinder to those moral claims has been dumbfounded silence or even more date on economic growth and fiscal consolidation.”
This type of argument, Brooks writes, will not “persuade the American public to turn away from big government policies,” and that is why “only a moral rejoinder about the fairness of rewarding merit through free enterprise will carry the day.”
One only needs to look across the pond to Europe to see how perilously close America is to going down that path. Greece is a mess. France just elected a socialist leader. Spain is economically paralyzed.
In these countries, one sees nothing but a “learned helplessness,” a “state in which, if rewards and punishments are not tied to merit, people simply give up and stop trying to succeed.”
Brooks writes that “individual opportunity is a sham if the system is fixed and some people get the breaks only by virtue of luck or birth or skin color -- then inequality isn’t fair at all.”
According to Brooks, “If people believe economic outcomes are a product of luck, birth, connections, or corruption, they will demand more and more forced wealth redistribution. This rewards political power and connections, as citizens, corporations, and interest groups lobby for favors, not excellence in the marketplace.”
America has been always been different because it has been an opportunity society in which people earn their success -- and are happier as a result of it.
“If people believe they are rewarded for their merit, they’ll get a system in which that is true,” Brooks writes in the book. “If they think it’s all rigged or based on luck, then the system will end up that way.”
Generation after generation of immigrants came to America because it was an opportunity society in which people could earn their success.
But over the years, both political parties have been complicit in slowly sliding America down the path of statism.
“Not choosing is effectively just the choice for big government,” Brooks writes in the book. “Unless we actively choose free enterprise and make the tough choices to limit the government, we will slip down the road toward European-style social democracy.”
Brooks writes that “in America, the road to serfdom doesn’t come from a knock in the night and a jackbooted thug. It comes from making one little compromise to the free enterprise system after another.”
These compromises are often like narcotics. They are tough to say no to. And that is why Brooks believes the the only way an intervention can succeed is if more Americans see the battle between free enterprise and statism in moral terms.
When the Soviet Union and Communism was America’s greatest threat, Jack Kemp was a supply-side, tax-cutting economist who helped Reagan institute policies that unleashed economic growth. Kemp acted as Reagan’s quarterback , and it can be argued that his ideas help lead to the Soviet Union’s downfall.
Instead of the Soviet Union, America’s national debt, as Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said, is the “new red menace.” It threatens whether America will exist as an opportunity society.
And what Brooks fervently argues is that the best way to preserve the opportunity society is to argue on behalf of it in moral terms, taking back the language of fairness from liberals.
Brooks is asking free market advocates to change the terms of the debate, and he and his book can be to this generation of politicians what Kemp and his ideas were to politicians in the Reagan generation.
In the book, Brooks recounts the story of the Tunisian vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire after being arbitrarily harassed by government bureaucrats who could decide on a whim to impose punitive penalties on him that would make it impossible for him to make an honest living. Bouazizi, of course, started a wave of uprisings in the Middle East.
“The story of Mohamed Bouazizi is not primarily economic, it is moral,” Brooks writes. “Bouazizi didn’t set himself on fire because he wanted to make money. He did so to make a point about his right to live his life and take care of his family, free from arbitrary harassment. The Tunisian people rose up in moral revolt.”
Brooks uses Bouazizi’s story to hammer home the point that fighting for free enterprise is a moral imperative and the free enterprise system is much more than just “another economic alternative.
Brooks’ ideas are influencing Republicans, and his book will help many more better make the case for free enterprise.
One influential Republican who is anticipating reading the book is House Republican Study Committee (RSC) Executive Director Paul Teller, who told Breitbart News that RSC staff are tremendous fans of Arthur’s and his ideas.
“I personally am a better staffer because of Arthur Brooks,” Teller said. “I rarely get excited about book releases, but I’m excited about this one—because I know it’ll help me and conservatives everywhere more than any other publication will this year.”