At the start of Washington’s unprecedented federal interventionism into the private sector and on the heels of a Newsweek cover heralding that “We Are All Socialists Now,” there was considerable angst that free market defenders had forever lost the public. Not so, says American Enterprise Institute President and author Arthur Brooks. Brooks says “America is a 70 – 30 percent nation in favor of free enterprise,” but the forces of statism have capitalized on the financial crisis and have an entire arsenal of federal power at their disposal to advance their agenda. This is one of the overarching themes in The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government will Shape America’s Future.

What Brooks has crafted is a spirited defense of the free market economy and a challenge to its defenders to think more holistically, to be aware of spiritual value in a free economy. To fail to do so, would only sustain the well worn narrative of defenders of markets as greedy misers and swindlers.

One of the strengths of Brooks’s new book is the ability to not only explain the financial crisis, but to offer a superb description of the government’s role in the crisis. The problems in the mortgage industry are clearly linked to the federal pressure exerted on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to issue high risk loans. And if the financial crisis and mortgage industry are explained well by Brooks, so too is his analysis of the new health care law. Brooks explains that the bill is about government control and redistribution saying, “Obama and many in Congress even oppose the small degree of control that would come from letting Americans shop for health care plans from out-of-state insurance companies.”

The 30 percent agenda is what Brooks is most adept at exposing. “What do they believe to be the greatest problem of poor people in America? Insufficient income. What would be evidence of a fairer society? Greater income equality,” says Brooks. He understands that money is not always the root problem but there are many deeper life issues when it comes to poverty. Brooks’s account is the kind of book that draws a line in the sand, explaining why the stakes for the future of this country are so great. He, like many Americans, laments the slide of the country towards a European style of democratic socialism.

Another strength Brooks offers is the ability to connect free market principles with the founding of this nation and our deeper culture. “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,” says Brooks.

Perhaps Brooks’s greatest skill is articulating the moral case for the free market. He doesn’t just offer generic platitudes but understands deeper principles of human flourishing. Brooks talks about the value of “earned success.” Earned success is the ability to create value honestly and it taps into the entrepreneurial spirit. He also defends the dignity of the human person when he talks about fairness, especially the importance of fairness of opportunity over fairness of income, which is preferred by the 30 percent coalition. The human person rather should have an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, and creative space protected from the whims of the state.

At the closing of the book Brooks offers an inspirational defense of the greatness of this country. He contrasts the importance of principle over political parties, bailouts, and political power. Since this book is so aggressive in its denunciations of the agenda of the 30 percent coalition, it may not change many minds, but if 70 percent already side with Brooks, we should look forward to the mobilization of their voices.

[Here is a piece by Arthur Brooks in The Washington Post related to his book titled "America's new culture war: Free enterprise vs. government control."]

  • Roger McKinney

    I have to agree with Caplan over at Econlog that Brooks is right about the 70/30 split, but wrong about its meaning. 70% are socialists and 30% are free market supporters. Brooks needs to take self-reporting with a grain of salt. People lie, especially on surveys and in group settings. Tea Partiers are no more free market than the Tequila Partiers. Their attitude toward immigration is just one piece of evidence.

  • http://euripidestrousers.blogspot.com Ken

    @Roger McKinney, I respectfully suggest that Tea Partiers’ “attitude toward immigration” is more complex (and heterogeneous) than you appear to claim.

    My personal immigration policy is as follows: Dismantle the welfare state that supports perverse incentives for immigration, and the minimum-wage laws that impose negative unintended consequences, and I will be pleased to welcome anyone and everyone, or at least those who don’t have multiple violent felonies or active tuberculosis or infectious hepatitis or something (until treated).

  • http://www.characters-with-character.com Michael Kerrigan

    Much credit goes to Arthur Brooks for stating a moral case for the free market.

    An equally important moral case must be made for those few selfless characters with character who from time time rise above the corruption of Washington to preserve self government.

  • Roger McKinney

    Ken, I doubt you would find much support for your immigration policy among Tea Partiers, some but not much.

  • Neal Lang

    “Ken, I doubt you would find much support for your immigration policy among Tea Partiers, some but not much.”

    How would you know? You must your data from MSNBC!

  • Neal Lang

    “I have to agree with Caplan over at Econlog that Brooks is right about the 70/30 split, but wrong about its meaning. 70% are socialists and 30% are free market supporters.”

    I doubt if 70% of Americans truly know the meaning of “free market” or even “socialism” for that matter. That said, when these concepts are properly defined, I doubt that 70% of the population would associate themselves with socialism. Unfortunately present “system” does not offer the choice of how the individual would prefer the “system” to operate, so personal preferences cannot presently be actuated.

    “Tea Partiers are no more free market than the Tequila Partiers. Their attitude toward immigration is just one piece of evidence.”

    Really? At least MOST Tea Partiers know difference between the two. As for the Tea Partiers’ “attitude toward immigration” – I believe that they generally support both the “Rule of Law” and general result of “fairness.” While both “socialism” and the “free market” promise “fairness” – I believe the vast majority of both “Tea Partiers” and average Americans understand that “socialism” will never achieve “fairness” while the “free market” has a better chance to do just that.