Arthur C. Brooks is a conservative who really understands Adam Smith

Adam Smith

Web Extra: The Conscience of a Compassionate Conservative
[Via BillMoyers.com]

This week on the show, Bill spoke with the president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Arthur C. Brooks. Their conversation was so interesting that they kept talking, and we kept our cameras rolling after the broadcast interview ended. In this web extra, the two talk about the failures of capitalism, who is to blame for the 2008 financial crash, food stamps and a whole lot more.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/101665379]

 

BILL MOYERS: You once wrote, that you shouldn’t talk about the poor unless you’ve been out among them and listened to them before you listen to experts at Brookings or AEI. And I’ve done that as a journalist.

And capitalism is not getting down to them.

ARTHUR C. BROOKS: That’s true. It’s absolutely right–

BILL MOYERS: Capitalism is not getting down–

ARTHUR C. BROOKS: It’s absolutely right. And that’s why we all need to be hawks for the free enterprise system.

And until we’re warriors for opportunity, pushed all the way down to the bottom, until we understand that entrepreneurship exists as a moral force for poor people, for my grandparents and yours, unless we understand that then we’ve repudiated the promise of our founders.

BILL MOYERS: Did you read the book “Winner-Take-All Politics” by the political scientist Jacob Hacker and–

ARTHUR C. BROOKS: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: Paul Pierson?

ARTHUR C. BROOKS: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: They describe how Washington made the rich richer and turned its back on the middle class. They showed clearly to me how our political system, which once served the interest of the middle class, has been hijacked by the very rich.

That the great explosion of wealth inequality which preceded Barack Obama, of course, was politically engineered in Washington by decisions taken under both parties, in both parties, by the people who make policy, in response to the powerful interests. Have you seen that playing out since you got to Washington?

ARTHUR C. BROOKS: Yes, sure. Absolutely. Look in the increasingly bureaucratized social democratic state that we’re building. You have greater levels of intricacy and complication. You have an explosion of statist ideas in Washington, D.C.

And what this is effectively is, metaphorically that’s a trough. And who comes to the trough? It’s people who feed there. And people who feed there are the sophisticated, they’re the wealthy, they’re the people who are well connected. We have an explosion of cronyism because it’s the illegitimate spouse of statism. If you want to get rid of cronyism that creates as winner-take-all politics, if you want a true democratic polity, you have to take away the pervasive statism that creates all of these incentives.

You know, the interesting thing is that the two populist movements that we saw over the past five years were the Tea Party and Occupy. They were both right. I mean the Tea Party talked about statism and Occupy talked about privilege and crony capitalism largely. I mean they– all of their solutions were wrong. You know, the problem with, you know, excesses of capitalism isn’t getting rid of capitalism. You need true free enterprise. That’s actually the solution to it, which is a highly populist thing to do.

So what’s happened effectively is– not for any ill intention. No. We have public policymakers, we have a president who loves his country. We have a Congress that’s gotten together and said, “What can we do to solve some of these terrible problems?” They’ve expanded the state. They’ve created greater complexity. And who has showed up to reap the rewards of that? It’s the most well connected citizens and corporations. And it’s left poor people, it’s left small entrepreneurs, it’s left ordinary citizens behind.

[More]

This was a real discussion, something that needs to be seen much more. They talk about where their views overlap and what underlies the problems/ I may not agree with everything but I can see where he is coming from and he is mostly correct.

That said, imagine if on the conservative side we have an examination of conscience where every night before we go to sleep we say, “Did all of my work go for the benefit of people with less power than me?” Then that could be a profoundly moral movement. I bet it’s one that even you could get behind.

I think that if you and I band together with all of our friends on the right and left, and we demand this collective examination of conscience, then we truly can have a better politics where we’re fighting in the competition of ideas specifically to help those who are the least advantaged.

If most of America could come together like these two, recognize the problems and come up with mutually useful solutions, much of our current problems would be fixed. Those in power recognize this and have worked so hard to keep the American people divided.

We have an explosion of cronyism because it’s the illegitimate spouse of statism. If you want to get rid of cronyism that creates as winner-take-all politics, if you want a true democratic polity, you have to take away the pervasive statism that creates all of these incentives.

You know, the interesting thing is that the two populist movements that we saw over the past five years were the Tea Party and Occupy. They were both right. I mean the Tea Party talked about statism and Occupy talked about privilege and crony capitalism largely. I mean they– all of their solutions were wrong. You know, the problem with, you know, excesses of capitalism isn’t getting rid of capitalism. You need true free enterprise. That’s actually the solution to it, which is a highly populist thing to do.

The statists, the reactionaries, are found in both parties, just as we find authoritarians. The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street saw the right problems. But as he discusses, the solutions of both were wrong. The solution to the excesses of government isn’t getting rid of the government. You need a truly democratic one, truly beholden to the people, not to the connected, wealthy elite. Government is important and necessary. And capitalism is important and necessary.

He believes in government but recognizes it needs to be firmly controlled so that it does not become a feeding trough for the wealthy and connected, as we see today.

I will have to remember the name. He hits so many of the same points I feel.

The moral code of our free-enterprise system is neither profits nor efficiency. It is quote, “creating opportunity for individuals who need it most.” 

That could have come directly out of The Wealth of Nations. The creator of capitalism felt that empathy and sympathy would be driving the moral code of capitalism.

As Brooks notes, this is not happening today.

Opportunity does not mean food stamps. I believe in food stamps. I believe in them. I believe in the safety net. But it’s not the same thing. Why do we forget that entrepreneurship is not earning a billion dollars, it’s the dignity to live your life as an individual, to build your life up yourself. And why do we talk about dead-end jobs as opposed to making all jobs pay, and remembering that all work is dignified.

[…]

The problem that we have is that we’re actually not practicing capitalism. The problem is that the free-enterprise system is not allowed to flourish.

The main thing I disagree with him is that government was mostly at fault first. It’s a symbiotic one, a degraded collaboration between sociopaths. Running race to the bottom with little regard for the ability of people to have a living wage, much less any dignity.

He is absolutely right here – government is a problem but it comes down to people:

And I will not defend corporate governance. Because people– it does not matter how bad the incentives are and how corrupt the government is and how big and corpulent and immune to good ideas and morality the government is. We still as individuals, no matter what we do, we have a responsibility to not do dangerous things and to be stewards of both a good culture and the resources at hand.

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