The Moral Case for Capitalism

Capitalism Is Built on a View of Human Nature that Is Consistent with Teachings by the Founding Fathers, Enlightenment Thinkers, and Christian Morality

"Morality and capitalism, like morality and democracy, are intimately connected and mutually complementary. They reinforce one another; the need one another; and they are terribly diminished without one another. They are links in a golden chain."

--Arthur C. Brooks and Peter Wehner

FOR RELEASE: November 2010

Is capitalism a moral issue? Is it unjust? Do free markets corrupt moral character? Is it the duty of the government to level the playing field in order to enforce greater equality among citizens?

In Wealth & Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism (AEI Press, 2011), AEI President Arthur C. Brooks and former White House official Peter Wehner, now a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, explore America's system of democratic capitalism and find that the morality of capitalism depends on the cultural and social climate from which it emerges. They note that a free economy requires a strong civic and social order and a shared belief in an underlying moral code--a moral code that should come not from the government, but from family, churches, neighborhood associations, and local schools.

Rejecting claims by critics that capitalism encourages greed, exploitation, and selfishness, the authors demonstrate that capitalism is consistent with Christian morality and a view of human nature that was shared by both Enlightenment thinkers and the Founding Fathers. They explain that while capitalism is not "sufficient by itself," it is part of a "golden chain" of morality and democracy that, when properly maintained, mutually reinforce one another and reap unmatched benefits for society.

Brooks and Wehner note that throughout history, far from oppressing and depriving individuals, capitalism and the free market system have enabled Americans to exercise vocation and experience the dignity of self-sufficiency, all while contributing to the common good. The fruits of this system include the alleviation of poverty, better health, and greater access to education than at any other time in human history--but also a more significant prosperity: the flourishing of the human soul.

Among the key points:

• Capitalism allows people the freedom to act, which is an essential part of human dignity--and it also trusts people to act, which is consistent with the belief held by many people of faith that humans are made in God's image.

• Because of capitalism's intrinsic limits on the authority of the state, there is an undeniable link between free markets and freedom of religion, of conscience, and of expression.

• Capitalism's chief western alternative today is social democracy. Among the great dangers of social democracy is that the state creates dependency among its citizens. A culture of dependency, in turn, creates indolence, passivity, and the draining of individual initiative. Capitalism, however, fosters self-sufficiency and self-reliance.

• Should a society, when it is above subsistence and when merit is not involved, take resources from the rich so they will have less? To do so is not redistribution to alleviate suffering--it is redistribution to satisfy envy.

Making income equality a priority of government policy subverts equality of opportunity, which is in many ways at the heart of the American Dream. You cannot have both; one necessarily excludes the other.

Arthur C. Brooks is the president of AEI. Until January 1, 2009, he was the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government Policy at Syracuse University. Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and former Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives.


Arthur C. Brooks can be contacted via his research assistant at (202-419-5213). Peter Wehner can be contacted For additional media inquiries, please contact Veronique Rodman at (202.862.4871) or Sara Huneke at (202.862.4870).

Media inquiries: Véronique Rodman

202.862.4870 (

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About the Author


Arthur C.
  • 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

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