As a college student in his late 20s, Arthur Brooks had never heard of the American Enterprise Institute. Nor had he read the work of conservative author and noted libertarian scholar Charles Murray. After traveling the world as a musician, Brooks had a completely different outlook on life.
Today he’s the president of AEI – and the author of a book former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says “will take its place with Charles Murray’s ‘Losing Ground’ as one of the pivotal books around which American history turned.”
That book – “The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future” – already ranks among the top five bestselling books about free enterprise on Amazon. But that should come as no surprise. “Free enterprise,” after all, just happens to be Brooks’ specialty – and its inherent justice, his favorite theme.
At The Heritage Foundation last fall, Brooks made the moral case for capitalism. At The Bloggers Briefing last Tuesday, he discussed the importance of “earned pathways to success.” And at a Heritage book event last Thursday, he warned against creeping changes to American entrepreneurial culture.
But nowhere does he more eloquently explain his support for unfettered enterprise than in “The Battle” itself.
Fully and finally, Brooks writes, free enterprise contributes to human flourishing. He needs no greater reason to champion such a system of personal liberty, individual opportunity and entrepreneurship – and, he argues, neither should we.
It’s hard to disagree with him. When Brooks says enterprise enables people to flourish, he’s not uttering empty rhetoric. He has the data to prove it.
Take these statistics, cited in the third chapter of “The Battle”:
A 2001 study asked people whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement that they were responsible for their own success. Those who ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ with the statement spent 25 percent less time feeling sad than those who ‘disagreed’ or ‘disagreed strongly’ that they were responsible for their own success.
What economic system, Brooks asks, most encourages personal responsibility: the free enterprise system or statism?
To the extent that a system encourages people to take responsibility – and to the extent that it enables them to earn their success – it advances their happiness, Brooks writes.
His conclusion follows logically: The free enterprise system advances happiness more than a system that encourages dependence on the government.
Brooks’ book – so uplifting for free enterprise supporters – is not without a chilling chapter, though.
In the second part of the book, Brooks outlines how readily people will relinquish independence to any power-grabbing officials with a well-constructed narrative. He supplies an understanding of how the financial crisis caused some Americans to abrogate their free enterprise values as they voted in the 2008 presidential election.
If a majority of Americans are at odds with Obama and his administration over free enterprise, then, – and they are, as Brooks makes clear – they have nobody to blame but themselves.