What makes America an exceptional country? In his Wednesday evening Bradley Lecture, AEI president Arthur Brooks pointed to America's dedication to free enterprise, particularly its emphasis on earned success, meritocratic fairness and opportunity for the poor and disadvantaged. Brooks warned, however, that American free enterprise is slowly disappearing before our eyes -- and this is the fault not of the ideas, but of their defenders' arguments.
Brooks argued that, though 70 percent of Americans claim to love free enterprise, they have been too willing to compromise its principles on individual policy issues, leading to a gradual but significant decline in America's commitment to free enterprise and limited government. This is largely because free enterprise advocates have focused on data-driven arguments about efficiency to the exclusion of making the moral case for free enterprise. And only moral arguments, Brooks averred, can change minds and win the fight.
Drawing on brain science, social psychology, and econometric analysis, Brooks argued that free enterprise advocates may get only 30 seconds to make a moral case, and he stressed the need to seize opportunities to educate people about why free enterprise matters not just materially, but morally. Until free enterprise is defended in explicitly moral terms in ways that Americans can truly appreciate, the country will continue its slide into European-style social democracy.
American policy is at a crossroads. Though 70 percent of Americans claim to love American free enterprise, the size and scope of government continues to grow. This is not a result of Americans loving free enterprise nostalgically, as the Left asserts. Rather, America’s slide toward statism is a direct result of limited government advocates failing to make the moral case for free enterprise, leaving citizens with a choice between materialistic, data-driven arguments from the Right and the morally based but failing policies of the Left. Arthur Brooks will argue that humans are inherently moral beings and that the free enterprise system, more than any other system, aligns with the morals and values all of us hold dear.
This Bradley Lecture is based on Brooks’s new book, “The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise” (Basic Books, May 2012).