Arthur C. Brooks has written several books including “Who Really Cares” and “Gross National Happiness”. I currently own “Who” but have not read it yet. The full title for his new book is “The Battle, How the fight between free enterprise and big government will shape America’s future.” Brooks is the President of the American Enterprise Institute http://www.american.com , so he’s a conservative, and I am sure to disagree with a few things he says. I am reading this latest work because the topic is eye candy for me. I heard about it, and immediately had to check it out. At under 150 pages, I’m sure I will finish it within a week. I will update this post at my completion of reading each chapter. There are four chapters.
CHAPTER ONE “The 70-30 Nation”
After a lofty introduction by Newt Gingrich (whom I distrust and dislike) Mr. Brooks delivers some of the stats on where Americans are at as far as opinions on free enterprise (capitalism or free markets) v socialism (statism or expanded government). He explains that based on multiple polls from differing sources that a 70-30 pattern emerges, where about 70% of Americans prefer government to “step aside” or take a “hands off” role, and 30% of Americans prefer government to play a larger role in the economy. In describing the 70%, Brooks notes that a love, or preference to “free markets”, or “free enterprise” is partially genetic. I thought this was a little weird, I think I have heard this theory before. But one page of this was tolerable. He relays a utilitarian argument forward for freedom, as well as a populist one, and elaborates on both. He just touches on a moral case for free “enterprise”. This was refreshing, most conservatives cower near total when, after exclaiming that capitalism is good for more people than bad, more efficient, and more popular in general (a subjectivist/utilitarian argument), they then typically call it “a-moral” , meaning neither moral or immoral, or downright “immoral”, meaning that its opposite (socialism) must somehow be moral but impractical. Now I contend, that if Communist (Marxist/Socialist) governments managed to kill 80,000,000 people in the twentieth century, and capitalists (without government pull) managed to kill 1,000 or 2,000 people, that that’s a difference. But beyond that, the capitalist caused deaths were 99% unintended. The government caused deaths were 99% intentional. That means something as well. In a true free market, capitalist system, no citizen, or group of citizens, can murder. Socialist communes are allowed. In a government based social democracy, socialist, fascist, communist society, murdering is ok (depending on who you are or what the reason for sanction), and capitalist communes are not allowed. But back to the book. Mr. Brooks cuts Republicans, and the right in general, NO slack. He explains how the nations surge toward statism did not start with Obama, and this is important to point out. As well, though Brooks cites other sources of the decay, he makes no bones about the tilt in modern American schools toward Statism on the part of teachers. Alas, most conservatives take aim too often at non-intellectual sources too heavily such as labor unions and lobbyists. Brooks has, at least in this first chapter, shed light on the shadows that influence tomorrow most, the idea factories currently run by statist teachers from Pre-K all the way up to PhD. Victor Hugo describes this in a story he wrote, where Spaniards centuries ago would create circus freaks from birth by putting babies in jars and allowing them to form into hideous monsters for entertainment. This is mentally, what most educators are doing to their students in America today. But back to the book…
CHAPTER TWO “A Bill of Goods: The 30 percent coalition’s story of the financial crisis.”
Ok, first, for the actual truth as to what caused the current recession, here is the best article written to explain… http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=9788 To date, the best explanation economically of the causes of the housing & financial meltdown of 2008/09/10/11/12, written by Lawrence H White.
Well, Chapter Two was as good an explanation as to why “Democrats and Obama” won the election as I have read. It explains why many people voted for “the opposite guys” as the recession began in 2007 & 2008. Chapter Two of The Battle explains why and how The Left used the crisis to politically come out on top. It is less an economic explanation, and more, a “political” explanation of political “results”. It seems like this chapter frames up an argument for capitalism through “explaining the bad spin” over the past couple of years. Sowell does this a bit in his Housing Boom and Bust book, Also Tom Woods does this a bit in Meltdown. Brooks keeps it simple, he does not root out the existence and propping up of the Fed Reserve and interest rate price-fixing and manipulating causing of mal- and over/under investment and allocation of capital distortions. (Eww, a bad run on sentence, but I will leave it just as a trophy.) No , Brooks had to keep it simple and I think he did. He touched on bad reactions and legislative moves “already enabled” by years of FED Action. Notice there is no “Bad” Fed Action, because all Fed Reserve moves are ultimately bad, to explain this, one needs to understand what the Fed Res. does is essentially, “price-fixing on loans”, and price-fixing does not work long-term, it causes massive amounts of price distortions in the market. Essentially, the very creation of the Fed Res. is what has turned the American economy from a double-digit percentage per year growth economy to a 1-3% a year growth economy over the past century. But the cause of Americans asking for and accepting a Fed Res. is collectivist politics and altruistic moral ideals. Now I am really straying from the book. Lets move on.
CHAPTER THREE “Free enterprise and the pursuit of happiness.”
Mr Brooks writes, “People flourish when they earn their own success. It’s not the money per se, which is merely a measure not a source of this earned success. More than any other system, free enterprise enables people to earn success and thereby achieve happiness. For that reason, it is not just an economic alternative but a moral imperative.” Brooks then goes on to talk about money, forced redistribution of it away from earners, control, happiness, and then he writes another small gem, “The purpose of free enterprise is human flourishing, not materialism. Free enterprise is not simply an economic alternative. Free enterprise is about who we are as a people and who we want to be. It embodies our power as individuals and our independence from the government.” And with that, Mr. Brooks sets the reader up with the final, and likely most important chapter in his book. I notice he has not mentioned once the words sacrifice or collectivism at all. I find this curious. Perhaps he wants to keep his terms as clear as possible, or is attempting to not alienate a certain type of audience.
CHAPTER FOUR ” The Moral Case for Free Enterprise”.
The author begins the final chapter with a good mention of the Taxed Enough Already, or T.E.A. Party Movement which started early in 2009. He goes on to show polling statistics again. This is either an attempt to show the pro-free-market 70% of Americans that they are not alone, or an attempt to tell pro-government solutions people, the “30% er’s”, that populism against their ideas is turning people away from them. Or both. I personally would contend that if no one in America held the belief that free markets were better than unfree markets, free market principles would still be the correct ones. He rails against statists for their shallow advocacy of fairness in the form of income redistribution, which is good. But he keeps returning to the theme of markets being “more popular” as a defense of markets. This seems to me to indicate that if communism was more popular, perhaps he would defend it on the same argument. This is a popular mistake made by “right-wingers”, pun intended. He makes a common sense case for why poverty grows when it is rewarded, but on this, no moral case against its effects, or poverty in general. Later in the chapter, Brooks takes on “principles over political power”. He does not elaborate specifically on what those principles should be other than that a politician should not be unprincipled or criminally corrupt. But what principles? No answer. Just a general support for “free enterprise”.
I was left, as usual with most short conservative tombs, wanting detail. Perhaps it is because I have read a lot of ideological pieces, especially Ayn Rand, a pro-capitalist, pro-reason philosopher, that I was left thinking that I have just read something for the concrete bound masses, and not the thinker. That said, though Brooks is a bit of a subjectivist, altruist, utilitarian, he does begin to peek out the rabbits hole to discuss the meat of any issue its moral implications. For this, I recommend “The Battle” as a sort of short introduction to current politics for those who smell bullshit in the air and want to “begin” educating themselves. Beyond that, it’s better than a Beck or Hannity brick, but no solid foundation. Reading fundamental books on freedom for a firm ideological position based in logic is important. For the layman who has not, this book is better than most, but I still maintain Ayn Rands two great works, “Capitalism, The Unknown Ideal”, and “The Voice of Reason” as much better sources.
Buy this one for the friend or relative who is just becoming more interested in America, current events, economics, or politics. It’s an above average, short, simple, introduction to freedom. For all those with some firmer grip of these topics, buy them some Rand non-fiction, which contain a much more solid foundation for understanding individual rights, capitalism, and common sense.