Faulty moral arithmetic–Brooks nails the political economy issue of our time

Posted on March 4, 2013 by


Arthur Brooks produced yet another masterpiece in today’s WSJ,

The key is here:

Conservatives are fighting a losing battle of moral arithmetic. They hand an argument with virtually 100% public support—care for the vulnerable—to progressives, and focus instead on materialistic concerns and minority moral viewpoints.

The irony is maddening. America’s poor people have been saddled with generations of disastrous progressive policy results, from welfare-induced dependency to failing schools that continue to trap millions of children.”

How do conservatives compete with better ideas to a broader population that is generally receptive to only simple emotional arguments?  I think Brooks is highlighting the correct issue.  To explain why, consider a great Republican politician from the 80’s that created a revolution in Republican politics.  And perhaps surprisingly, I’m not talking about Ronald Reagan.  No, there was a Republican congressman that had great ideas about economic policy–but his policy ideas were almost always forgiven by his opponents because no one doubted that he cared.  His name was Jack Kemp.  His message was one of continual optimism and how capitalism lifted all boats.  As a former NFL quarterback with the Buffalo Bills, Kemp had been a leader in race relations and was a continual advocate for the poor but via freedom and markets.  Kemp’s credibility and all around likeability gave him exceptional ability to sell the intellectual argument for tax cuts, with the result that we got Reagan’s tax cuts through with Kemp-Roth (Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981).

If Brooks is right, conservatives do need a new message of delivery.  This message needs to look a lot more like a new Jack Kemp, not a new Ronald Reagan.

Posted in: Social Policy