Besides being a really sharp dresser, Arthur C. Brooks has a really sharp mind. In fact, it’s so sharp that I think that all conservatives should read his newest book, The Road to Freedom. Mitt Romney would be wise to crack it open as well, since it seems to have been created for guys like him — believers in the free market who don’t particularly know how to politically sell it without an over-reliance on graphs and charts and statistics.

When advocates of limited government and free markets get in debates with liberals they get bombarded with the word ‘fair.’

“It isn’t fair that rich guys are so darn … rich! Those … rich guys need to pay their fair share. We need to level the playing field because of those … rich guys and make things fair. We need to tax those … rich guys more to make things fair.”

The knee jerk reaction by conservatives, as Brooks points out, is to start quoting economists like Hayek, or to talk about GDP comparisons that no one cares about because it’s really hard to make moral connections to bar graphs and scatter plots. Instead, conservatives need to make the moral case for their worldview. There are essentially two definitions of “fairness,” and the key is to be able to get people to understand the difference between the two and then have them decide that our definition is, in fact, more desirable.

Definition one: Redistributive fairness. It is fair to equalize rewards. Inequality is inherently unfair.

Definition two: Meritocratic fairness. Fairness means matching reward to merit. Forced equality is inherently unfair.

As Brooks notes “Many economists dismiss the whole concept of fairness and ignore it as hopelessly subjective, even childish, like an argument [between kids]. This is a mistake. To dismiss fairness is like dismissing love: a difficult phenomenon to identify quantitatively, but a central facet of life and hugely important to nearly everybody.” I wholeheartedly agree. The moral case for conservatism is strong, and yet fiscal conservatives all to often shy away from doing so.

It’s tough to really describe how Brooks weaves discussions on earned success, learned helplessness, happiness, philanthropy and history together into one power-packed punch in the “fight for free enterprise,” but he does. It’s odd to witness a former french horn player and classical musician deliver a bloody, knock-out blow to the statist worldview, but it happens in a little under 200 pages. And, like the living legend Thomas Sowell, he does it in a way that anyone can understand.

Brooks is an academic who can write in a way that doesn’t come off as pompous and condescending. I think a lot of this is because, like Sowell, Brooks once considered himself liberal. (Those who read this blog regularly know of my own transformation from default-liberal into staunch conservative). It’s usually harder to be a jerk with people who disagree with you when you were once in their shoes. But, having made the journey from liberal to conservative, the converted will always remember the path they took, and often make it a point to help guide others along the way. That’s one of the reasons why I suggested all conservatives read Andrew Breitbart’s book, Righteous Indignation.

The other great thing about Brooks? He can quote Thomas Jefferson, talk about Nobel Prize winning economist Ronald Coase, or … cite U2’s Bono!

“In Ireland people have an interesting attitude to success; they look down on it. In America, you look up at … the mansion on the hill and say, ‘One day … that could be me.’ In Ireland, they look up at the mansion on the hill and go, ‘One day I’m gonna get that bastard.”

The question remains: Do we want to be America, or do we want to be Europe? We already know what San Fransisco has decided, but luckily they don’t represent most Americans. Yet.

Do yourself a favor and purchase The Road to Freedom before you hit the beach this summer, and then make the case for free enterprise with your neighbor when you get home.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an old video with Arthur C. Brooks to watch.


  1. I think there’s a third definition of fairness. One where the playing field is kept fair by apply common rules to everyone and ensure the players are following them. I am a proponent of free market capitalism, but we all know the economics of robber barons and monopolies. Like all contests, the rules must be fair and consistently applied. That should be our government’s role. This is the land of opportunity. It should stay that way.

    1. Brooks addresses monopolies, information asymmetries, externalities, etc. in the book. Given the definition you favor, I think you might find his book rather interesting.

    2. I don’t get the vibe of vitriolic partisanship and I’m open to new ideas, so sure, I’ll give it a look.

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