Saturday, July 7, 2012

Book Review: The Road to Freedom -- How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise, by Arthur Brooks

"Because what's at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement."
- Barack Obama, Osawatomie Kansas Speech, December 2011.

The above quote illustrates the disadvantage many conservatives place themselves into when discussing economics.  Where Marxists argue in dishonest moral terms, advocates of free enterprise often reply with materialistic arguments about economic efficiency.  As Arthur Brooks illustrates in The Road to Freedom, for advocates of rewarding merit with earned success to concede any moral argument to dishonest advocates of forced confiscation at gunpoint is both insane and unnecessary.

Free Enterprise, a system that allows people to earn their success via merit, lifts people out of subsistence level despair.  Marxism, a system that confiscates the earned property of citizens at gunpoint to redistribute it to politically favored constituencies, leads to tyranny, starvation, and economic devastation.  Why would any sensible person choose the latter?!?

Brooks' central point is that Free Enterprise allows people to earn their success via merit.  As Brooks illustrates:
To earn your success is to define and pursue your happiness as [God and] you see fit....Earned success is what the Founders were talking about in the Declaration of Independence....The Founders didn't guarantee happiness.  They didn't ever say people have the right to happiness.  They said they have the right to pursue [italics in original] happiness....Their visionary insight was that allowing us to earn our success is precisely what gives each of us the best chance at achieving real happiness. (24/5)
 Free Enterprise is the only system that allows people to pursue happiness on whatever terms God and they see fit, "the system that offered a chance to find the soul in my work -- through first hand experience." (32)

Marxism, by contrast, creates in citizens a condition of learned helplessness.  When governments confiscate earned success at gunpoint and redistribute it to politically favored constituencies, "people simply give up and stop trying to succeed." (30)  That exactly what's happened under Barack Obama.  Millions of people have stopped trying to earn success, and have instead joined politically favored constituencies.  This isn't an accident, it's part of the Marxist design.

At this point, it's important to distinguish between free enterprise and crony capitalism.  Free enterprise allows people to succeed or fail based on merit.  Crony capitalism, on the other hand, enables unearned success based on proximity to government officials.  Crony capitalism is actually a form of Marxism: "[C]orporate cronyism, like statism, is just another way to wreck competition and freedom." (64)  Unfortunately, while Democrats are uniformly terrible on this issue, far too many Republicans (with the notable exceptions of Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan) from Ted Roosevelt to George W. Bush, have jumped on the crony capitalist bandwagon.

Brooks' final point is that free enterprise actually benefits those with the fewest resources the most.  Those currently at the bottom of the wealth scale will have far greater opportunities to improve their lots over the 40 to 60 years they work under free enterprise, as opposed to Marxism.  Put simply, poor people need jobs not food stamps.  Furthermore, free enterprise is the only system that creates enough individual wealth to enable meaningful charity: "for many people, it [free enterprise] produces a surplus that many will choose to direct to charitable purposes." (81) We can either live in Andrew Carnegie's America, or we can live in Barack Obama's America; we can't have both.

America faces a choice.  On the one hand, we can restore our founding principles and reward merit with earned success.  On the other hand, we can continue down the road of confiscation at gunpoint and forced redistribution that we've been travelling the past 100 years, which Barack Obama has dramatically accelerated.  While lots of literature exists on the economic consequences of this decision, The Road to Freedom is an indispensable guide to the underlying moral issues.  Personally, I think the choice is obvious....

Update: AEI just produced this video:

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