|Arthur C. Brooks detail||
Question: How do you reconcile the Tea-party movement support for Medicare and Social Security with their calls for smaller government and free markets?
Brooks: Great question, thanks. These entitlements may or may not be well-executed policy, but they are a long-standing agreement between citizens and the government. In particular, social security is understood as essentially a form of forced savings, not welfare. that's why citizens see these programs as different from bailouts.
Question: Isn't there a risk that casting the struggle for free markets as a "cultural" or "moral" issue will taint the issue for many by accidentally aligning it with social conservatism? It seems to me that the current sides are drawn up based on the wrong issues, social vs. economic - if you're not careful in defining the debate, you run the risk of continuing the stalemate because people will think the "moral issue" at hand is just an extension of the previous battle...
Brooks: One of the problems of the 1990's culture wars is that it defined american culture exclusivley in terms of social issues. The point I'm making is the central element of American culture is free enterprise.
Question: You state in your article, "the purpose of free enterprise is human flourishing, not materialism." What exactly do you mean by this distinction? By reducing income redistribution you give more money to wealthy people to consume. Isn't that a form of materialism? If you're against materialism, why is income distrubution such a bad thing?
Brooks: I develop this whole theme a lot more in the book. Basically, happiness comes from earned success, not from money directly. In the free enterprise system, earned success tends to generate money. People observe this and incorrectly infer causality between income and happiness. But this is not correct. This is why redistribution does not bring happiness but rather simply spreads around material rewards. Furthermore, redistribution lowers the incentives to entrepreneurship and thus lowers earned success. The data on this subject are very clear.
Question: History demonstrates that if free-enterprise is left un-checked by governmental agencies, then the ones working for those corporations will be exploited. What is the role of government unless they're there to keep free-enterprising agencies from exploitation?
Brooks: The role of government is to rectify market failures. Exactly how to do this is a big debate between reasonable people. There has indeed been plenty of exploitation and the government has acted beneficially to stem many of the worst abuses. Unfortunately what the government is doing primarily at present is not correcting market failures but creating them by picking winners and losers for reasons of social engineering.
Arthur C. Brooks is the president of AEI.