Cover Story

More than money

"More than money" Continued...

Issue: "2010 Books Issue," July 3, 2010

This evidence is now familiar to many WORLD readers: We've noted the key role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both government-sponsored enterprises. The Senate killed a reform bill in 2005 that would have required the duo to eliminate investments in risky assets. (The two biggest recipients of campaign contributions from Fannie and Freddie political action committees and employees: Sens. Chris Dodd and Barack Obama.) Banks buckled under pressure to make risky loans, and "many borrowers, far from being victims, were often too ready to take loans they shouldn't have, chasing the lure of easy profits on rising house prices."

The Battle then goes beyond money to note that, "The main issue in the new American culture struggle between free enterprise and statism is not material riches-it is human flourishing." Brooks notes that "the 30 percent coalition charges the majority with money-grubbing selfishness" but is itself "fundamentally materialistic." Leftists "believe that it should make no difference whether income comes from redistribution and government edict or from enterprise and excellence as judged by the free market. This is an ideology driven by raw materialism."

Brooks emphasizes the differences in worldview: "In contrast, the 70 percent majority maintains a worldview that is primarily nonmaterialistic. It understands money as just a proxy measure of true prosperity and personal fulfillment. It emphasizes creativity, meaning, optimism, and control in one's own life and seeks to escape from under the heavy hand of the state. . . . When we reduce the idea of work to nothing more than a means of economic support, we strip it of its transcendental meaning in our lives." Brooks argues that productive work is crucial to happiness: "Americans prefer to find meaning in their jobs rather than through their after-work pursuits."

Brooks here should do more about the importance of biblical faith, since many people who have "earned success" apart from a sense of God's sovereignty and love hit a wall of meaninglessness as they age. Nevertheless, he's right to note that most Americans want equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome: "If you are in the 70 percent majority, you believe that everyone should get a chance to succeed. . . . If this leads to income inequality-above some acceptable floor-so be it." He quotes Abraham Lincoln: "I don't believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good. So while we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else."

That leads to a political plank for the present: Since the 30 percenters "have concealed the central pillar of their ideology-income equality-under a misleading definition of fairness," the rest of us should "expose this fact and reclaim the language of fairness for the free enterprise system." It's vital to make distinctions: "Legal equality, political equality, religious equality-almost all Americans would agree that these values are vital to our nation. But equality of income? That's a fundamentally different kind of equality." We want fair trials but not a right to be declared innocent. We want all people to have the right to vote but not "the right to see their chosen candidate elected to office."

Brooks notes that the 30 percent coalition's use of the word "fairness" is duplicitous: "It implies that equality of outcome is a core American principle, when in fact what Americans believe in is equality of opportunity and the potential to earn success." He is right to insist that the 70 percent coalition cannot cede to the minority the fairness issue and merely argue for free enterprise on the basis of economic efficiency: "Fairness should not be a 30 percent trump card but rather their Achilles' heel. Equality of income is not fair." A fair system rewards hard work and excellent performance, and gives people on the bottom a chance to rise not by bringing down the top but by striving for excellence.

So who will defend excellence and fight covetousness? Brooks doesn't defend the Republican Party's tendency to compete with the Democrats in the race to pander: Voters, he rightly notes, "did not repudiate free enterprise or conservative principles in November 2008. Rather, they punished an unprincipled Republican Party. That leads to a conclusion: "There is a very real threat before us that the 30 percent coalition may transform our great nation forever. One can only hope that the threat will clear our thinking enough to bring forth leaders with our principles at heart and the ideas to match."
To hear Marvin Olasky interview Arthur Brooks, click here.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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