NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 21, 2010

Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, has written a new book, "The Battle," about state economic intervention.  Though his focus is the United States, Brooks takes aim at the Obama administration's policies and describes a "cultural struggle" that pits the vision of America as a "social democracy" against the more conservative one of "entrepreneurs, individual opportunity and limited government," says Matthew Rees, founder of Geonomica, a writing and consulting firm focused on the global economy. 

Brooks unspools reams of polling data to support his overarching point: 

  • Some 70 percent of Americans support free enterprise and oppose big government -- even if they are rather fond of Medicare and other longstanding programs.
  • He also suggests that entrepreneurship may be an innate American trait -- the immigrants who have populated the United States over the years (together with their descendants) are, by definition, people who were moved to uproot themselves in search of a better life -- a show of risk-taking that speaks to the entrepreneurial spirit.  

Even with an ideological advantage, Brooks notes, Republicans lost in 2008 because they had no compelling explanation for the financial crisis, nor any solution.  By contrast, Barack Obama tapped into resentments against Wall Street -- a kind of left-wing populism. 

How to restore America to its true, entrepreneurial nature?  Brooks plays down political gamesmanship, emphasizing instead the benefit of simply focusing on free market principles.  When politicians stick to such principles, he says, they succeed.  When they betray them (he is critical of the Bush administration and congressional Republicans) or can't articulate them (see: John McCain), they fail. 

Much of "The Battle" is an argument for free enterprise, with Brooks explaining how markets deliver not just higher growth but greater happiness.  That's a message that members of the political class in the United States -- and in state-capitalist countries -- need to hear, says Rees. 

Source: Matthew Rees, "Politicians As Plutocrats," Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2010; and Arthur C. Brooks, "The Battle," Basic Books, May 25, 2010. 

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