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Thread: Arthur Brooks’ “The Battle”

  1. #1
    SiriuslyLong is offline
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    Arthur Brooks’ “The Battle”

    Daniel Rothschild
    May 25th, 2010
    Culture, Economics, Politics

    Arthur Brooks, the polymath president of the American Enterprise Institute, today released his newest book, The Battle. It’s one barnstormer of a defense of free markets and a very lucid indictment of Brooks’ ideological opponents. Short, to the point, well-researched, and simple without being simplistic, this is a must-read for anyone who’s been bemoaning what for the last few years has looked like the death of intellectual conservatism.

    Brooks’ thesis is that America is in the midst of a culture war, one that splits citizens who support markets and free enterprise from those who distrust it and want to fundamentally transform what America was, is, and will be; Brooks refers to the former as the 70 percent coalition and the latter as the 30 percent coalition, citing a plethora of data suggesting that Americans are split roughly 70/30 on the questions underlying the two different worldviews. (This echoes, but I think is emphatically different from, Grover Norquist’s “leave us alone coalition” and “takings coalition” division of the right and left.)

    The difference between these groups has nothing to do with God, guns, and gays; rather, it’s about free markets and free enterprise. (To be sure, Brooks never touches on social issues.) Nor is this merely a consequentialist or Benthamite argument; Brooks writes that the “culture war between free enterprise and statism is not [about] material riches—it is [about] human flourishing. This is a battle about nothing less than our ability to pursue happiness.”

    Brooks writes of the 30 percent coalition:

    The 30 percent coalition is led by people who are smart, powerful, and strategic. These are many of the people who make opinions, entertain us, inform us, and teach our kids in college. They are the intellectual upper class: those in the top 5 percent of the population in income, who hold graduate degrees, and work in intellectual industries such as law, education, journalism, and entertainment…. The intellectual upper class has become the most important party in the 30 percent coalition—the chief adversary of the free enterprise system today. And at the head of the intellectual upper class are our current leaders in Washington DC—starting with activist, bestselling author, and Ivy League academic, President Barack Obama.
    Unlike some of the more visible and base-rousing conservative leaders (Sarah Palin, Joe the Plumber, etc.), Brooks isn’t arguing that there’s some conspiracy of intellectuals keeping Real ‘Murkins down and out — he just says that’s how the demographics and electoral politics have worked out. And the 30 percent coalition has been very effective at cobbling together a base, which is predominantly young.

    To be sure, the 70/30 split is merely a heuristic, a rule of thumb; pedantry by critics about whether it’s a 60/40 split or an 80/20 split misses the point. Brooks brings a significant amount of public opinion and polling data to the table. Some of his characterizations of the 30 percent coalition seem somewhat less than charitable, though in the main they seen to be an accurate assessment. Remember that Brooks isn’t arguing the 53% of American voters who voted for Obama share the views of the 30 percent coalition; indeed, at the crux of his argument is the distinction between general worldview and voting behavior.

    But the point of the book isn’t to draw out shades of grey. Rather, it’s to do quite the opposite: argue that there are two distinct visions for America, and a battle between them is playing out right now. Brooks is writing in defense of free enterprise. He wants not just to rally the base, but to lay out clearly for centrists the two paths that lie before them. Pick one or the other, Brooks implicitly claims; 70 percent plus 30 percent is 100 percent, after all. It’s not that there is no middle ground in policy, just in underlying ideology.

    That Brooks makes his appeal for free markets not on utilitarian grounds but on moral grounds alone makes this book worth reading. Brooks acknowledges that defenders of free markets have been too quick to give away the moral high ground. Free enterprise, Brooks argues, is not a necessary evil — it’s a moral imperative:

    To win the culture war, the 70 percent majority must find a way to reclaim the morality of their worldview. Those of us in the free enterprise movement must show that while we often use the language of commerce and business, what we really believe in is human flourishing and happiness. We must articulate a set of moral principles that set forth our fundamental values and principles and be prepared to defend them against attack. The following is the first and most important of these moral principles: 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. In short, enterprise is an act of self-expression—a declaration of what we truly value—and a social issue for Americans.
    And that, in a nutshell, is the crux of Brooks’ argument. Economic freedom is not about crass utilitarian calculation. It’s about the sublime: self-actualization, control of one’s one destiny, and individualism. And conservatives, Brooks argues, need to stop ceding morality to the 30 percent coalition, for instance by allowing liberals to use words like “fairness” unchecked.

    As a researcher long interested in happiness (what classical liberals, borrowing from Aristotle, have traditionally called “the good life”), it’s no surprise that this figures prominently into Brooks’ argument; he draws a distinction between material comforts and the happiness that comes with “earned success.” Free markets provide the greater opportunity for earned success, Brooks argues, and therefore greater happiness. Again, there’s a sharp distinction between the beliefs of the two coalitions here:

    What do [the 30 percent coalition] believe to be the greatest problem of poor people in America? Insufficient income. What would be evidence of a fairer society? Greater income equality. For Obama and the leaders of the 30 percent coalition, money buys happiness, as long as it is distributed fairly…. By contrast, the 70 percent majority are New Age radicals. They have simple faith that ingenuity and hard work can and should be rewarded. They admire creative entrepreneurs who have no legal authority and disdain the rule-making bureaucrats who wield pure power. They know that no amount of unearned money can ever heal the human heart: Money is fine, but it is something else entirely—something less tangible and more transcendental—that really brings satisfaction. The 70 percent majority understands that the secret to human flourishing is not money but earned success in life. 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. It’s not just the most efficient system; it’s the most fair and the most just.
    Two other things are worth noting. First, Brooks is no GOP apologist. He routinely excoriates the Bush administration for profligate spending and “weaken[ing] the culture of free enterprise.” During the 2000s,

    "the GOP talked about free enterprise while simultaneously growing the government with borrowed money and increasing the percentage of citizens with no income tax liability. These politicians spent billions of tax dollars on special interests with every bit as much gusto as the most shameless statists on the left."

    Brooks, formerly registered in both major political parties and now declaring himself an independent, ends his book with an appeal to principle over naked political power. The book is about principle, not party; this is true in a meaningful way, and not merely as a slogan.

    Second, Brooks seems an unlikely spokesperson for free markets and free enterprise, especially given conservatism’s standard bearers for the past decade. Brooks holds a Ph.D. from the RAND Graduate School, held a named chair at the Maxwell School at Syracuse (generally considered the nation’s finest public administration school, hardly a discipline associated with conservatism), and lives in suburban Maryland. He’s a far cry from most conservative spokesmen.

    Even more surprising, Brooks didn’t graduate from college until he was 30… because he was traveling around the country playing classical music, from which he took a personal lesson in the importance of deciding and carrying out one’s own destiny:

    At nineteen, I dropped out of college to take a full-time job playing chamber music. I made little money and spent months every year driving around America in a van with four other guys. Once we drove straight from Baltimore to San Francisco, only stopping for gas. But it was a great job. I had control over my artistic destiny, liked my colleagues, and every night played music that I helped choose. After six years, I quit that job to play with a symphony orchestra in Spain. I expected to love it—great music, really good money, a fun place to live, and no van trips. But I was miserable.

    Here’s the takeaway: If you’re a conservative or a libertarian, you’ll love this book. If you’re an unyielding progressive, you’ll hate it. Either way it will evoke strong feelings.

    Read the rest here:

    Seems "spot on" to me

  2. #2
    SiriuslyLong is offline
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    Dear Readers of this forum. This is the truth! What side do you think you're on?

  3. #3
    Guest R1zbear's Avatar
    Great post! It's very nice. Thank you so much for your post.

  4. #4
    Atypical is offline

    A Somewhat Different View

    Brink Lindsey | July 2, 2010 Brink Lindsey is vice president for research at the Cato Institute and author of The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture.

    America faces a new culture war," declares Arthur Brooks, president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, in the opening sentence of his new book The Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future. "This is not the culture war of the 1990s. This is not a fight over guns, abortions, religion, or gays. … Rather, it is a struggle between two competing visions of America's future. In one, America will continue to be a unique and exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise. In the other, America will move toward European-style statism."
    And who, according to Brooks, are the combatants in this conflict? Wearing the white hats, "70 percent of Americans support the free enterprise system and are unsupportive of big government." Wearing black hats, meanwhile, is what Brooks calls "the 30 percent coalition": the "intellectual upper class" of academics, journalists, and well-educated professionals; African-Americans and Hispanics; and the young. In other words, pretty much the usual suspects from culture wars gone by.

    Although he mentions the Tea Party movement only in passing, Brooks' call to arms is very much in the spirit of that populist uprising. He seeks to "rally the 70 percent majority in the battle for the soul of America": In other words, as the Tea Partiers often put it, it's time for "real Americans" to "take our country back." Just as the protesters vent their fury at coastal elites and, especially, elitist-in-chief Barack Obama, so too does Brooks. "The intellectual upper class has become the most important party in the 30 percent coalition -- the chief adversary of the free enterprise system today," he writes. "And at the head of the intellectual upper class are our current leaders in Washington DC -- starting with activist, bestselling author, and Ivy League academic, President Barack Obama."

    Let me make it clear at the outset: When it comes to specific questions of economic policy, Brooks and I probably agree on a great deal. Indeed, I'd bet that my opinions are much closer to his than they are to the typical reader of The American Prospect. I thought that the stimulus bill was, by and large, a waste of money, and the takeover of General Motors and Chrysler, a travesty. I opposed the recent health-care legislation and the climate bill and card-check legislation. Hey, I'm a vice president at the Cato Institute, so none of this should come as a big surprise.

    But Brooks' book isn't about policy; it's about ideology and how to engage in politics. And it is, I'm sorry to say, a thoroughly wrongheaded way to approach these questions. The attempt to turn economic policy disputes into a populist cultural crusade rests on deep-seated confusion about the nature of those disputes and how best to effect constructive policy change. Brooks' key move is to cast our "free enterprise system" as an instance of American exceptionalism -- in contrast to the social democracy of Europe and other advanced nations. Thus, economic policy becomes fodder for cultural politics: Supporters of free markets are defending a unique and precious American heritage, while members of the "30 percent coalition" have thrown in with the foreigners -- worst of all, with effete, decadent Europeans.

    To treat Brooks' narrative seriously, it's helpful to break down the concept of the "free enterprise system" into two separate and distinct elements. The first is free markets; the second, small government. They need not be a package deal. Governments can effectively stifle enterprise and competition without spending a lot of money, while a large public sector and a vibrant private sector can go hand in hand. So let's look at each component separately.

    First, free markets. Is Brooks' distinction between all-American freedom and European-style statism a valid one? And here at home, do elites really support the state while everyone else supports the market? No and no. When it comes to establishing and maintaining open and competitive markets, the U.S. institutional and policy environment isn't really that exceptional at all. Meanwhile, elites are actually more likely to support free-market policies than is the American demos.

    Plenty of European countries have markets about as free as those in the land of the free. Look at the ratings provided by the annual Economic Freedom of the World report, co-published by the Cato Institute. On four broad categories of economic freedom -- legal structure and security of property rights; access to sound money; freedom to trade internationally; and regulation --. the United States was slightly "freer" than Sweden, the United Kingdom, Austria, Finland, and Switzerland. Meanwhile, Ireland, the Netherlands and, by a wide margin, Denmark were found to have freer markets. Note that the two highest scorers have two of the biggest welfare states in the world -- which just goes to show that blurring issues of regulation and redistribution, as Brooks tries to do, leads to intellectual confusion.

    So much for American exceptionalism in actual policy results. Meanwhile, how market-friendly is American public opinion? Not very, according to economist Bryan Caplan. In his book The Myth of the Rational Voter, Caplan documents the existence of strong and widespread anti-market biases in the American electorate -- in other words, sharp divergences between public opinion and the accepted view among most economists. Thus, ordinary voters are more likely to say a price increase was caused by intentional gouging rather than the interaction of supply and demand; they are more likely to blame problems in the economy on companies downsizing or "shipping jobs overseas"; and they tend to underestimate recent economic gains and express more pessimism about the future. On the other hand, the better educated are more likely to think like economists and see such changes as unavoidable. So it looks like Brooks actually gets things backward here: From a free-market perspective, the dreaded intellectual upper class is more solution than problem.

    Brooks' narrative works somewhat better with respect to conflicts over the size of government. Here, at least, there is a clear distinction between the United States and Europe. Levels of social welfare spending in Europe are generally much higher than they are in the U.S..

    Does America's smaller welfare state reflect important cultural differences between us and folks on the other side of the Atlantic? Yes, probably, but the main one is hardly worthy of defending. A 2001paper, "Why Doesn't the United States Have a European-Style Welfare State?" by economists Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote, provides powerful evidence that race is at the center of the story. There's a strong negative relationship between a country's racial heterogeneity and its levels of social spending, and within the U.S., states with larger black populations spend less on welfare programs. "Americans think of the poor as members of some different group than themselves, while Europeans think of the poor as members of their group," the paper concludes.

    Don't get me wrong: I'm no fan of the European welfare state. There are sound economic reasons for rejecting it as a model. Most decisively, the aging of the population and the continued development of promising but expensive medical treatments are rendering it unaffordable, and fiscal constraints will sooner or later lead to significant restructuring here as well.

    But Brooks doesn't want to use economic arguments. He counsels against "getting stuck in the old arguments over money." Instead, he wants to defend America's track record of more modest social spending on cultural grounds. And that is a really bad idea. Our tragic history of race relations may have inhibited spending, but we should be ashamed of that cultural heritage. We certainly shouldn't embrace it and brag about it. Brooks apparently doesn't realize what he's doing; he thinks he's touting good old Yankee self-reliance. But his argument is offensive even if he's oblivious to how offensive he's being.

    In any event, it's not anti-poverty programs that are threatening to send the U.S. budget spiraling out of control. Rather, it's the middle-class entitlements, Social Security, and especially Medicare. And you can't blame those programs on the machinations of the dastardly "30 percent coalition," because they are overwhelmingly popular across the electorate. According to an April New York Times poll, 76 percent of Americans think "the benefits from government programs such as Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs of those programs." And amazingly, the percent only drops to 62 when the sample is restricted to the 18 percent of people who say they support the Tea Party movement!

  5. #5
    Atypical is offline


    Here again, Brooks' effort to turn economic policy problems into "us versus them" cultural conflicts collapses in failure. On the vexing question of how to defuse the entitlements fiscal time bomb, there is no "us" and "them." The politics of us versus them is almost always ugly and illiberal. And on the policy questions that Brooks is concerned with, there's no need for such deliberate divisiveness. Yes, there are strong disagreements about market regulation and the proper size and scope of social spending, but these disagreements are not based on some irreconcilable differences in values. Vigorous support for continued economic growth is nearly universal across the political spectrum. How else will we put jobless Americans back to work, and how else will we pay for the activities of government, without a strong, dynamic private sector? A similarly broad consensus exists for the following two propositions: On the one hand, a government safety net is needed to protect Americans from various hazards of life; on the other hand, that safety net shouldn't bankrupt us.

    Figuring out how to restore growth and how to construct an effective but affordable safety net, are questions for debate, analysis, and democratic decision-making. My answers to those questions may differ from yours, but dividing up into warring tribes and demonizing each other aren't the ways to figure out who's right.

  6. #6
    SiriuslyLong is offline
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    Thank you for the artilce Atypical. It is quite interesting. The author clearly has faith in his fellow man. I am more inclinded to believe that divisiveness drives the majority of our politicians, and the divide is only getting wider.

    Thanks again.

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