By: Arthur Brooks
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars.
In “The Road to Freedom: How to win the fight for free enterprise”, Arthur Brooks makes the moral case for capitalism. Written in 2012, the book focuses on the turbulent political situation in the United States. Since the trend of big government continues unabated in the United States, the federal government is becoming increasingly involved in a cycle of increased taxation, more borrowing, and redistributive policies. The United States risks a more comprehensive transition toward statism unless a conscious decision is made to defend economic freedom.
Brooks argues that many advocates for free markets have made accurate and astute cases based on policy, causal relationships regarding the effects of entitlements, and the ability of capitalism to raise millions out of poverty. These same people have the statistical and empirical evidence they need to in order to prove their points; yet, a compelling and persuasive defense of free enterprise must appeal to the moral sensibility of people. As Brooks states, “Moral arguments for freedom have always proven more powerful than material ones in moving ordinary people around the world to act in courageous ways.”
Some readers may be uncomfortable framing an economic discussion in terms of happiness. In response, Brooks quips “It may sound like a squishy topic, but it turns out there is a lot of good evidence on who is happy and who isn’t.” He contends that people are most satisfied with their work when they experience earned success, even if the product of their work does not translate into increased wealth; the rewards of earned success are developing skills and passions in a way that create meaningful work. Redistributive economics often cushion people from the urgency needed to fully develop their skills, accept the lessons learned from mistakes, and make informed decisions based on potential risks. As a result, Brooks contends “Free enterprise is therefore not an economic imperative; it is a moral imperative.”
The United States is sometimes criticized as being unfair. Brooks acknowledges that “The moral legitimacy of free enterprise depends largely on how the system enables people to flourish, whether the system is fair, and how the system treats the least fortunate in society.” Along with most free markets advocates, Brooks acknowledges the place for a safety net to help those who truly need it; however, free market advocates should reject ever-expanding government programs designed to increase political power and consequently cripple human potential.
If you find yourself unsatisfied by his moral arguments in the first half of the book, I challenge to ask yourself how this case can be refined. Brooks wants to expand the conversation concerning the morality of free markets. Readers should remember that he is framing the conversation in a way he believes is underrepresented by many free market advocates; he does not have a plethora of voices from which to recalibrate well tread arguments. His case should be considered the springboard from which arguments are developed and expanded.
The second half of the book details a road map to expanded freedom. Brooks shows his readers how to apply the moral case and illustrates the potential for increased freedom in our country. He articulates many of the traditional arguments for capitalism and shows their viability in our political dialogue. Many of his examples apply to events that were current at the time of publishing and lend sharpness to his cultural critique.
Brooks’ critique and arguments will remain relevant for the foreseeable future. The United States is certainly at a turning point. The defense of liberty never ends, yet we can hope for the day that books such as these are reminders of an era in which the United States turned back from the sunset of freedom and finally secured the blessings of liberty we were meant to enjoy.