As a Mackinac Center intern, I spend a fair amount of time collecting and organizing a lot of information. Charts, graphs and spreadsheets quickly fill with mountains of facts and statistics, ready to make a compelling case for smaller government. With all these figures, the statists don’t stand a chance. After all, hard data convinces citizens to change their opinions every day of the week, right?
Not even close.
Men and women are not computers, and they were never meant to be. We do not form opinions purely by cold, hard calculation and logic. We may be able to impress people with statistics, but any argument built upon numbers falls flat on its face when confronted with a humane and moral argument. This is not a criticism of human judgment, but a very important point in its favor: we really should value virtue and happiness more than the creation of material wealth. The idea of truly amoral citizens, completely ignoring human dignity, can and does fill Americans with horror. The critical question, then, is why many free-market advocates focus on materialist arguments, largely ignoring the moral ones.
This week, my fellow interns and I had the privilege of attending a speech given by Dr. Arthur Brooks, leader of the American Enterprise Institute. Dr. Brooks recently wrote The Road to Freedom, a book precisely focused on the moral arguments in favor of free enterprise. He confronted many moral criticisms of the free market movement head-on, affirming the fairness and humanity of capitalism. While many well-meaning liberals call for increased government to care for the poor, it is free enterprise, not government, which has dramatically raised living standards for all social classes in American. Capitalism stands upon the moral foundations of individual dignity and responsibility. We should be winning in the moral arena, not shying away from it!
Here lies the power of gifted leaders such as Arthur Brooks: they see the statistics, and then look beyond them to see the moral principles at play. Russell Kirk put it well in the introduction to his work The Conservative Mind, affirming that political problems are fundamentally moral problems.
Of course, this does not mean that we should ignore facts; I will keep collecting data to use in Mackinac Center studies. The data must be contained within a moral framework, however, for it to mean anything in the context of public policy. Free enterprise will prosper again in America once we remember that economic freedom is not merely efficient, but good.
For more information on Dr. Brooks and his writings, visit http://arthurbrooks.aei.org/.