Opponents of free-market economics have often portrayed capitalists as greedy money-grubbers, but one conservative think tank is arguing that free enterprise is the foundation of a virtuous and moral society.
“Taxation is about fairness and freedom, it’s not about money,” said American Enterprise Institute (AEI) President Arthur Brooks at the Heritage Foundation on August 4th. “You can raise my taxes another five points. I’m not going to like it, but my kids are not going to go without shoes. What’s going to offend me is it’s going to make me less free and it’s not fair and it’s not American…And that’s a moral case. ”
An April 9th poll by Rasmussen Reports showed that Americans under age 30 were pretty much evenly divided on the question of whether they preferred capitalism or socialism, with 37% choosing capitalism and 33% choosing socialism.
Brooks believes that this trend may be due to changes in how socialism is viewed by the younger generation. “I’m 45 years old…When I was a kid, socialism meant gulags…socialism meant the Soviet Union. For my students, when I was [teaching] at Syracuse, socialism meant college professors—boring guys with beards and Ph.D.’s. In other words, the world has changed an awful lot.”
To counter these changes, Brooks suggested that proponents of a free market system revise the way that they have been communicating their ideas. “Relying on the loaded language [of the past]…isn’t going to work. We need new language and new messages,” he said. “The problem with the free enterprise advocates is that we’ve been talking about the money in an already rich country as if it were about the money—and it’s not. Entrepreneurship is not about the money. Small business is not about the money. Taxation is about fairness and freedom, it’s not about money.”
However, despite younger voters’ comfort with socialism, most Americans do not share the social-democratic views of the far Left. According to Brooks, “All of your views, if you’re on the hard Left, poll at 20% [with Americans].” A June 15th study by Gallup showed that 21 percent of Americans identified themselves as politically “liberal.” Forty percent described their views as “conservative” and 35 percent as “moderate.”
Brooks attributed the recent support of anti-free market legislation, like the auto industry bailout, as a product of fear over the financial crisis as opposed to a broad ideological change among Americans. “The period of panic [caused by the financial crisis]…opened up a fabulous opportunity for the Left to bring about social democracy,” said Brooks. However, now this “panic is receding and anger is setting in,” and “once panic recedes, we go back to…[the] bedrock ideals of the United States.”
But despite the personal ideals of Americans, Brooks argues that the far Left has a powerful tool to force citizens into reliance on the federal government. “Incidentally, when it comes to socialism and social democracy, there is a strategy to make sure that all of you are sympathetic to those points of view. And the way to do it is to make sure that you never become part of the tax-paying workforce,” said Brooks.
Under President George W. Bush, 43 percent of Americans paid no federal income tax, an April 14th study by the Tax Policy Center showed. According to Adam Lerrick of the Wall Street Journal, this number will jump to 49 percent under the Obama administration.
Once the percentage of Americans who pay no federal income taxes surpasses the percentage of Americans who pay federal income taxes, the consequences for capitalism could be disastrous, argued Brooks. “At that point, you have the tools to change the culture of a nation. That’s a very dangerous state of affairs,” he warned.