TROY, Ala. - The fight for the free enterprise system is not an economic struggle, but rather a moral imperative, a leading U.S. free-market economist told students and guests at Troy University on Friday.
Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), lectured at TROY in conjunction with the dedication of the University's Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy and called the center's development "an important achievement for Troy University and America."
Dr. Brooks said the battle for free enterprise is being lost because free-market proponents are failing to make the moral argument.
"There are three explanations for why the free enterprise system is losing ground – the liberal explanation, the conservative explanation and the correct explanation," Brooks told a standing-room-only crowd in the University's Trojan Center Theatre. "The liberal argument is that the American people don't love the free enterprise system. The conservatives say that we need more data. The correct answer for why we are not succeeding in our arguments for the free enterprise system is that we are approaching a moral argument with materialistic tools. If we don't make the moral argument, we are going to lose the free enterprise system."
Dr. Brooks said the moral argument for free enterprise lays within the principle of "earned success."
"Earned success is the belief that you have the opportunity to succeed and make a difference," Dr. Brooks said. "It is the moral promise of freedom; the moral promise made by the founders of our country. And, it is just as true today as it was then."
Dr. Brooks said the level of dissatisfaction with the government is at an all time high among the American people, noting that recent surveys have put it at 81 percent. He pointed to two driving forces behind the dissatisfaction – big government and the practice of crony capitalism in which the worst possible behavior is rewarded rather than punished.
"The problem with government today is that it is lessening our ability for earned success," he said. "We need a system that affords negative consequences when we screw up and rewards us when we take initiative, work hard and do well. Instead, government is perpetuating learned helplessness which detaches rewards from merit. In a system that detaches rewards from merit, people are encouraged to give up, get depressed and blame their circumstances on others. "
Dr. Brooks said "patriots of courage" are needed in each generation to ensure the country does not lose the fight for the free enterprise system.
"We must make the moral case first," Brooks said. "We must have people willing to stand up and speak truthfully about what is written on their hearts about this country and what it has done for them. And, we must demand earned success for all people. A fair economy is one that gives people the right and the opportunity to rise."
Until 2009, Dr. Brooks served as the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government Policy at Syracuse University, where his research focused on the intersections of economics, entrepreneurship and philanthropy. Dr. Brooks is the author of nine books, including his latest, "The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape the Future."
The lecture was presented by the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy. Named for TROY alumnus Dr. Manuel H. "Manley" Johnson, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve System Board of Governors, the Center promotes teaching and research efforts that examine the role economic freedom plays in economic development and human prosperity.