This was live-blogged at the event:
We’re getting ready for Arthur Brooks to speak. The room is more or less at max occupancy.
Thom Tillis; “I’m proud of what our legislature did.” He notes that some Democrats supported at least one veto override, and in one of the shortest sessions since 1970.
Brooks did speak at our Conservative Leadership Conference earlier this year, explaining why free enterprise is a moral imperative. Video here.
Brooks begins, “it’s a privilege” to be invited to speak at a Civitas Institute event.
“In Washington we are watching what’s going on here” in North Carolina.
His disappointment in the free enterprise movement: It wasn’t winning enough arguments. “How can we keep losing that debate?” he wondered.
He recalls a Thanksgiving dinner with family, mostly liberals. He defended free enterprise, saying it was government that caused the housing crisis. His key point: the U.S. has high corporate tax rates.
His sister in law: “I think you just want to give tax breaks to billionaires.” And what about the newspaper story about a little girl living with her mother in a car? she asked.
The family plainly sided with the sister in law.
He lamented later; his wife said, “You deserve to lose that argument. You had ten seconds to make your case, and you made out that you are the guy who cares about money. She made out she cares about people. Which is more important?”
In an argument, people get ten seconds. He used his to talk about tax rates. She talked about a little girl. She won.
Free enterprise backers too often fail to make a case that’s compelling morally, he said.
“The greatest paradox of government” he says is that 70 percent of Americans say free enterprise is the best system. But today 36 percent “of American GDP is being vacuumed up and spent by the government.” By 2038 the government will tax and spend 50 percent of U.S. GDP. And Americans elect the politicians who do the taxing and spending.
“We’re voting for politicians who are giving us serfdom,” Brooks is saying. “We’re going through a Greek style debt crisis.”
Conservatives “have not been able to make the moral case for free enterprise, and until we do we’ll keep losing.”
The Framers knew it: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Not GDP, not tax rates, not efficiency.
Jefferson and Franklin decided the right of property wasn’t a sufficiently powerful moral motivation for the huge sacrifices ahead.
From his book on the subject: The average unhappiness age in a man’s life on happiness: 45. Why that age? Brooks has looked at the data. Before that, guys are on the interstate to success. But about 45, they wonder, “What’s off on the exit?”
He notes his own switch, from musician to economist. The real key: “Earned success — the belief you are creating value in your life and the lives of other people.” Men who are creating value, and earning that success, however measured, as the happy ones. It’s not dollars, it’s value that’s earned.
“What system allows us to earn our success?” he asked. Only one: the free enterprise system.
The flip side: learned helplessness.
“The free enterprise system is not an economic system,” Brooks says. “It’s a moral imperative.”
It’s the only system that allows people to earn success.
And, he adds, our brains are wired to process moral judgements. Moral judgements will crowd out all other concerns.
Conservatives can win, if they make these moral arguments. He cites J. Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind.” Research shows moral arguments crowd out all other arguments.
And he proves it.
Going back to the mental picture of the little girl in the car: it takes over our brains; the tax rates don’t even get in there.
Brooks: Conservatives must get in there.
The president tells the story that capitalism is unfair and hurts the poor.
If conservatives can’t counter that, they’re toast.
Ofen in his speeches Obama uses “fairness,” and it works. Republicans flee.
But, Brooks says, we do care about fairness? What do we say? Obama uses “fairness” with redistribution. It’s unfair for someone to have more than others.
But only 11 percent of Americans agree. 89 percent of us believe fairness means rewarding effort and success.
Most Americans think fair is fair. “But we don’t even make a case. We don’t even show up at the debate. That’s why we lose,” Brooks says.
We are in a fairness crisis” that is the kind of spending that says it is OK to steal from our children, give breaks to cronies, pay government workers more, creating bureaucracy.
“There’s one system that rewards fairness,” Brooks says. It’s free enterprise.
It also helps the poor the most.
From 1970 today, the worse poverty has decreased by 80 percent worldwide. Since 1981, the number of people who have been listed out of poverty in China alone is 400 million.
Perhaps the greatest achievement in human history. And what caused it? It was globalization, free trade, rule of law, property rights — it was free enterprise, American free enterprise. “Your gift to the world is free enterprise.”
When free enterprise weakens, people suffer and die. The free enterprise system enables kids in China to go to school, and kids in Africa to survive.
The little girl in the car: “There’s one system that can save that kid — the free enterprise system.”
That makes November crucial — including at the Thanksgiving table. Conservatives must tell the most compelling moral story, or they will lose.
Q and A:
What kind of image can we substitute for the little girl in the car?
Conservatives have neglected telling stories of those who have been hurt. Conservatives need to show the faces of the people who want the opportunity, but government gets in the way.
Q on foreign policy. Brooks: We cannot separate American greatness from the free enterprise. We must help people who want that system too. “There is something profoundly international about the shining city on the hill,” Brooks says, recalling relatives’ letters from Ellis Island.
American military strength: Kept the sea lanes open, so 400 million Chinese can be lifted out of poverty. That too is a moral calling.
Writer’s note: Above is live-blogging, slightly cleaned up.