By Barton Gingerich
As Christians came together at evangelical Cedarville University’s American Dream Conference in Ohio recently, local business leaders and students heard the case for two very different approaches to economics and the biblical foundations for each. Continuing with the goal of balance, the conference featured a showdown between significant government control and laissez-faire markets.
Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) spoke for the “cause of entrepreneurship and liberty.” After separating the classical idea of free enterprise from the now-virulent “crony capitalism” of the United States, he set out to analyze free markets on the basis of “the moral case,” the perspective of the impoverished and downtrodden. “We all now know that capitalism generates the most wealth, but we don’t settle whether or not it is good without the moral case,” he observed, “We’re not nourished entirely by material facts.” Brooks’ first moral concern was freedom. He observed that, during the New Deal, the government took up an unprecedented 15% of the GDP; now it consumes 36% of GDP; by 2038, the government is projected to take 50%. “That is not a free society,” he exclaimed, “We’re going to walk right into [tyranny]—there is no knock on the door and totalitarian thug.”
Brooks then connected human dignity with happiness. He pointed to studies that indicated people are happiest not when they are particularly wealthy, but when they have achieved some kind of “
“earned success.” Brooks described this phenomenon as “a key facet of human dignity.” The opposite of earned success, however, is “learned helplessness.” Here, one is listless, flaccid, and enervated. He saw socialism and misapplied Keynesian theories as disastrous to any economy. The AEI president exclaimed, “You want to hurt the poor? Crash your economy—they’re affected worse.” For Brooks and his colleagues, “[Capitalism]’s not an economic alternative; it’s a moral imperative.”
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