Making The Moral Case … Not the Money Case … For Economic Policy

Has national economic policy become a moral issue?  When he addressed the University of Colorado at Denver business school last Thursday evening, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jaime Dimon said a United States default on its debts and payment obligations would be a “moral disaster.” The big bank was among many financial institutions who received government funds known as TARP.

The big bank boss might well have been channeling the innermost thoughts of American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks who spoke about making the moral case for economic change when he addressed Georgia Public Policy Foundation members this month in Atlanta.

Brooks noted off the top, “If you love free enterprise, you need to start talking about morality.” His blunt description of current national economic policy under President Barack Obama: “This train is going toward a cliff.”

The following excerpts that were edited for length are from Brooks’ prepared remarks. You can watch his presentation below or click here to watch videos on the GPPF Foundation YouTube site.

“My parents were a little bit mixed up politically but they were very good parents. My Dad said one time, you know, son, I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming in terror like his passengers. That could be a joke about our policy makers in Washington, DC right now. These are perilous times. We are running more than a new trillion dollars in deficit in 2012.

"There is no balance under the President’s budget ever.  Government as a percentage of GDP will never fall under 23% if President Obama has his way, and this means trillions of dollars in future taxes and debt and or default, something that would be unprecedented for the United States. It seems sometimes like our policy makers are peacefully sleeping while we are screaming in terror.

“Successful policy revolutions all look like this:  They all started with a moral case for change, not with a money case for change, not with a pragmatic case, with the moral case for change. Second, they demolish the things that were in their way.  They talk about why the status quo is incorrect, it’s morally degenerate and it has to go.

“Third, they proposed real solutions that real Americans could understand, could grasp, not just esoteric, not just stuff down in the weeds but real solutions.  And finally, there was leadership which induced people to make the sacrifices that they needed to make to have these things come about. When you look at the things that happened under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, like him or hate him, he was an effective leader who went through those four steps.

“The great Ronald Reagan went through those four steps and we’re going to have to through those four steps again if we’re going to solve the current crisis.  The hardest point is making the moral case. Conservatives never want to talk about the moral case when it comes to economics and right now, conservatives are very uncomfortable about the whole idea of morality.

“The reason is because it makes people think about Jerry Falwell. It makes people think about God and guns and gays and abortions.  But that’s not what we’re talking about when we’re discussing the free enterprise system.  We are talking about something else and if you say morality, people tend to think the wrong thing, you fear, so the result is we don’t talk about the moral case for free enterprise.

“We talk about the money case for free enterprise. I’m telling you, I’m looking at the data all day long. It’s losing. It is a losing argument to say that the problem with Obamacare is to say that could permanently cut a quarter of a percentage point off the long-term economic growth rate.

“Americans don’t find that compelling.  What they’re getting is two choices.  They’re getting a choice between a left-wing moral case for a false kind of fairness and they’re getting right-wing materialism that says it’s all about economic growth.

“If you think either one of those things is going to get Grandma to let go part of her Medicare, you’ve got another thing coming, because she’s not going to.  What do we need?  We need to have the real moral case.  We need to have the rejoinder to the left that speaks to the heart and if we don’t, we’re going to fail.”

Link to complete presentation on GPPF Forum YouTube site.

About Arthur Brooks
Arthur Brooks is a classically trained musician who performed with the City Orchestra of Barcelona for twelve years while he studied to obtain bachelors and masters degrees in economics.  Brooks was a Rand Corporation doctoral fellow in 1996 to 1998.  Brooks lived in Atlanta from 1998 to 2001 when he worked as an assistant professor of public administration and economics at Georgia State University. He was a consultant to the Rand Corporation for ten years and he spent two years at Syracuse University as the Louis A. Bantle professor of business and government policy.  Brooks became an AEI visiting scholar in 2007 and he was named AEI president in 2009.  Link

About the American Enterprise Institute
AEI is a private, nonpartisan, not-for-profit institution dedicated to research and education on issues of government, politics, economics, and social welfare.  Founded in 1943, AEI is home to some of America's most accomplished public policy experts — from economics, law, political science, defense and foreign policy studies, ethics, theology, health care, and other fields.  Link

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