A conservative social justice agenda
Time for conservatives to champion struggling Americans.

The Obama administration’s “progressive” agenda has left the poor behind. Years after the Great Recession, real need persists. The left’s misguided policies and materialistic culture only exacerbate the problem. It is conservatives and libertarians who must be struggling Americans’ true champions.

 

The state of need in America today

Some Americans have thrived under this administration. Since January 2009, the Dow Jones has more than doubled and other indices have climbed back to record highs. But the rebound has not benefited all Americans equally: Economist Emmanuel Saez estimates that fully 95% of recovery gains have flowed to the top 1% of earners.

Meanwhile, the poor have become even more desperate.

  • The number of citizens who rely on “food stamps” has soared by 50% since early 2009;
  • Just 63% of Americans are working or seeking work, the lowest rate since the 1970s;
  • Crisis-level unemployment persists in vulnerable communities—36% for African-American teens.

 

Click below to view the full infographic: The state of need under President Obama

This disparity offends any sense of plain justice. The administration’s critics cannot settle for schadenfreude. We need solutions. But how to develop them?

You start by actually asking marginalized people and those who serve them. Their testimony confirms what social science and survey data say. In their own words, vulnerable people need three things: Personal moral transformation, material relief, and the opportunity to rise.

Social justice starts with values

Refusing to discuss values is immoral.

Research shows that four values are integral to a well-ordered and happy life: Faith, family, community, and work. These critical institutions remain abundant in high-income, high-education America. But as Charles Murray and others have found, they are rapidly vanishing at the bottom. 

Refusing to discuss these values is profoundly unfair to the communities imperiled by their absence. To presume that low-income people are somehow unworthy of the same moral standards to which we hold ourselves is not “politically correct.” It is immoral and inaccurate.

 

The safety net requires conservatism

Stop fighting against things. Start fighting for people.

Americans’ charitable giving sets an example for the world. But private efforts alone cannot support the level of assistance that Americans believe is our moral duty. Conservatives and libertarians must honor Friedrich Hayek’s distinction between a true safety net for the indigent and the rent-seeking tangle that is today’s welfare state. Drop the materialistic fight against spending and take up a moral fight for people. Fight for pro-work reforms that promote dignity and prosperity instead of eroding them. 

Empathy doesn’t contradict fiscal conservatism; it actually requires it. Sprawling middle-class entitlements are driving America towards insolvency. And insolvency will compel austerity that, as in Europe, is guaranteed to hurt the poor the most. Entitlement reform is a major antipoverty priority.

 

Click below to view the full infographic: The conservative social justice agenda

Unleashing opportunity for everyone

Every American child deserves access to an education system that endows them with human capital. Yet while federal spending per pupil has skyrocketed, test scores have stagnated—and broken bureaucracies ensure that the most vulnerable kids receive the worst education of all. It is far past time to empower poor families to choose better schools.

Mobility requires free enterprise.

But a fair start is only the beginning. True mobility requires free enterprise, the economic system that has turned millions of people’s ambitions and innovations into the greatest antipoverty achievement in world history. Only free enterprise equips everyone to earn their own success through hard work and merit and builds prosperity in which everyone can share.

Sometimes that requires legitimate government action. Often, it simply means getting the state out of the way. In both cases, it is time for conservatives to be warriors for vulnerable people.

 

 

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About the Author

 

Arthur C.
Brooks
  • Arthur C. Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). He is also the Beth and Ravenel Curry Scholar in Free Enterprise at AEI.

    Immediately before joining AEI, Brooks was the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government at Syracuse University, where he taught economics and social entrepreneurship.

    Brooks is the author of 10 books and hundreds of articles on topics including the role of government, fairness, economic opportunity, happiness, and the morality of free enterprise. His latest book, “The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise” (2012) was a New York Times bestseller. Among his earlier books are “Gross National Happiness” (2008), “Social Entrepreneurship” (2008), and “Who Really Cares” (2006). Before pursuing his work in public policy, Brooks spent 12 years as a classical musician in the United States and Spain.

    Brooks is a frequent guest on national television and radio talk shows and has been published widely in publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

    Brooks has a Ph.D. and an M.Phil. in policy analysis from RAND Graduate School. He also holds an M.A. in economics from Florida Atlantic University and a B.A. in economics from Thomas Edison State College.


    Follow Arthur Brooks on Twitter.

  • Assistant Info

    Name: Danielle Duncan
    Phone: 202.419.5213
    Email: danielle.duncan@aei.org

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

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Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

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Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

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