The beating death of Tyre Nichols has renewed calls for reforming the police. But can anything really change?
Guest Host: Steve Roberts
With the first Republican presidential debate just weeks away, candidates are polishing their messages for voters. Polls show a majority of Americans calls the GOP “the party of the rich.” American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks says this is a misconception and one that Republicans can change. He’s calling for a new conservative movement with a positive agenda that promotes equal opportunity and addresses income inequality. Brooks says this new movement can speak to voters’ hearts and reunite the country. He talks with guest host Steve Roberts about his new vision for American conservatives.
- Arthur Brooks President, American Enterprise Institute and contributing opinion writer, The New York Times
Read A Featured Excerpt
From THE CONSERVATIVE HEART by Arthur C. Brooks Copyright © 2015 by the American Enterprise Institute. Reprinted courtesy of Broadside Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts of the George Washington University sitting in today for Diane Rehm while she's away on vacation. Polls show many Americans still say the GOP is quote "the party of the rich." Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute says Republicans have only themselves to blame for this.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSIn a new book, he argues that conservatives have to create a movement that both celebrates earned success and speaks to the plight of America's poor. The book is titled "The Conservative Heart: How To Build A Fair, Happier and More Prosperous America." Arthur Brooks joins me in the studio this morning. Welcome.
MR. ARTHUR BROOKSHi, Steve. How are you?
ROBERTSDelighted to have you with us. And you can join my conversation with Arthur Brooks. 1-800-433-8850 is our number. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can post on Facebook or send us a tweet. We will respond to all of your comments and your questions. Arthur Brooks one of the things about this book that I found so interesting is your emphasis on one word, which is the word, "work."
ROBERTSAnd you say work is a blessing. Now, so often in nomenclature, it's work versus play. It's work as a burden, work as something you're sentenced to, the workhouse. And yet, you say it's very important to understand the blessings of work
BROOKSThere's a kind of a sanctification in ordinary people's lives. One of the great mistakes that economists have made, among many, I mean, I say this as a economist, is this whole idea that labor is -- it creates hardship and that leisure creates pleasure. That's a mistake for the overwhelming majority of Americans. You ask Americans, do you like or love your job, 89 percent say yes.
BROOKSNow, not everybody does and not everybody likes it as much as they could, but this whole idea that we don't get pleasure from work or fulfillment from work, and this is important for policy, we should be thinking about the source of dignity in people's lives and dignity does come from earned success. It does come from creating value and so virtually everything that we do in policy should be oriented toward how people can get the sort of dignity in their lives.
ROBERTSAnd as part of that analysis, you say there's no such thing as a dead-end job.
BROOKSYeah, no, that's right. And, you know, the book that we're talking about has stories from people I've talked to all over the country. This is not normal for me as a social scientist or as the president of a think tank. Ordinarily, what we do is we look at...
BROOKS...data sets, that's exactly right. But, you know, going out and doing field work is really interesting. I met a guy in New York who had just gotten out of prison after 18 years. He had been in prison since he was a teenager. He had never had a car. He'd never had a job. He'd never had an apartment. He never had a cell phone. It was extraordinary.
BROOKSAnd he had been in a job-training program and it was the most transformational thing in his life. He'd gotten a menial job working for an exterminator company. And I asked him -- it was the first job he'd ever had and I asked him, are you happy? And this was very illuminating for me and I document it all in the book. He said, am I happy? And he showed me his iPhone, the first one he'd ever had.
BROOKSAnd I'm thinking, uh-oh, you know, I like my iPhone, but it's not the source of my happiness. That's not what he meant. He showed me an email from his boss that said, emergency bedbug job, East 65th Street. I need you now. I said, so? He said, look at this. It says, I need you now. It was the earned success that came from being needed to create value that was really the source of his happiness.
ROBERTSWell, that's an interesting point because you talk about the rewards of work and that anecdote is a good example. The real value here, sure, the fact that he could afford an iPhone, but there's a material benefit from work.
ROBERTSBut it was the message that you're needed, that you have value, that you have dignity that, in your mind, was even more significant.
BROOKSThat's right. "The Conservative Heart" goes through the sources of happiness in people's lives and it lays out kind of a happiness portfolio based on the research about human happiness, the social science research, and it shows very clearly that there are four things that are most correlated with happiness in people's lives, faith, which is to say transcendental activity, not any particular faith, family, friends and ordinary work.
BROOKSThis is why it's so critically important in public policy. We don't treat work as a punishment, that we encourage work, that we require work and that we have policies that are finding ways for people to earn their success whether they have a lot of education or not.
ROBERTSNow, that approach is pretty orthodox conservative thinking, but you also depart in the book. There are lines that, I hear, that, you know, could've been said by Bernie Sanders. The system is rigged, is, I think, a pretty direct quote from you in the book.
ROBERTSAnd that you do take seriously this idea that is central to a lot of the Democratic candidates of income inequality and wage stagnation, which clearly are going to be major issues in the next presidential election.
BROOKSYes, that's right. I mean, I take inequality very, very seriously because it's an affront to the American dream and everybody listening to us today, I think, would agree that equality is something that's quintessentially American and something that we should be fighting for. Where I take exception with a lot of the liberal policy in America or the liberal policy ideas in America is this notion that income inequality is the problem.
BROOKSVery few people think that. About 2 percent of the American public considers income inequality, per se, to be the biggest economic problem that e have in America. Everybody believes, including President Obama because we have discussed this, believes that opportunity inequality is a real crisis. So what I would recommend to Democratic office holders and aspirants to higher offices that they pivot from their emphasis on income inequality, which is about a 2 percent issue, to an opportunity inequality, which is about 100 percent issue and then we can have a realistic competition of ideas between right and left on how to increase opportunity and mobility in America.
ROBERTSBut there's an underlying implication there because often associated with the liberal view of the world is using government to redistribute income and be a mechanism not just for opportunity, but through tax policy and subsidy programs of different kinds to redistribute income, which is not something that you're very fond of.
BROOKSWell, not so much and nor are most Americans. It's actually an exotic viewpoint, this idea that we should redistribute such that we have greater equality, per se. Again, that's a fringe issue and Democrats are in real danger of becoming more of an exotic political movement than they want to be in the same way, by the way, that Republicans heard the intensity of a small minority talking about being against the marriage equality issue.
BROOKSThe income inequality issue, per se, is kind of like that for Democrats and I'd recommend that they, again, stay on the topic of opportunity, just -- I mean, I talk a lot more to Republican politicians, mostly because I'm not Hillary Clinton's speed dial, that I'm aware of. The Republicans call me a lot more and I talk to them about staying on opportunity, staying on mobility and recognizing that opportunity has, in fact, fallen over the past few decades and we have to rectify that if we're going to be doing our jobs morally.
ROBERTSAnd what does that mean? What's the policy implication of that?
BROOKSThe policy implication of that is thinking about how each one of our policies benefits those with less power than we have. It's kind of an examination of conscience for policymakers and people who have leadership positions and that includes me. That includes my colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute. I asked my colleagues to examine their conscience and ask, does each one of our policy ideas benefit those with less power than us.
BROOKSAnd if the answer is no, we're not doing a good job. If the answer is yes, get a good night's sleep and come back ready to fight even harder because people are falling behind and they need us. We know that the policies that we've seen over the past decade or so have not helped people at the bottom very much or at. In fact, we've seen the number people on food stamps go from 32 million to 48 million under the Obama administration, which is prima facie evidence that we're failing a lot of the poorest people.
BROOKSAnd the answer is not just the redistribution of income, although that has to happen, such that we can have goods and services for the poor. The answer is for -- to find better policies so people can earn their success through education reform, through serious cultural conversations about the predicates of success...
ROBERTSBut isn't food stamps a perfect example of a program that helps people get through tough times and helps them -- you talk about earned success, which is a resident term. But accepting food stamps is not evidence of failure. It's just -- a lot of people need it at certain times in their lives. Why isn't that something that you would celebrate?
BROOKSI celebrate the fact that we have a system that can provide that and one of the things that I tell my conservative friends is they need to declare peace on the safety net. Why? Because I believe it's truly the greatest achievement of the free enterprise system is that we have enough largesse for the first time in human history, because of capitalism, by the way, that we can pay for services for people who are poor that we don't even know. That is great that we have food assistance and other kinds of assistance.
BROOKSWhat I rebel against is this idea that giving poor people more aid is a good measure of success. The right measure of success should be how many people need aid. And we've failed on that measure because more and more and more people are falling behind. There's more idleness among the able-bodied, which is a human shame, particularly for those who are idle and more people are required to go on public assistance and are becoming dependent, which is not a dignified existence.
ROBERTSBut you talk a lot about it in the book, about Republicans not paying enough attention to the underclass, not paying enough attention to those who have struggled. And, of course, you had a Republican nominee in the last election who, with some ill-timed comments, exacerbated that image of Republicans being insensitive. And most Americans looked at Mitt Romney and said, he didn't understand my life.
ROBERTSIs that an important thing for Republicans to reverse?
BROOKSThat is the thing for Republicans to reverse. The Republicans need to start connecting with the American voter, with the American people. They need to start connecting with people who aren't even going to vote for them because those who might vote for them are watching. The truth is that what we think of as traditionally conservative ideas, particularly in economics, have been phenomenally successful at lifting people up.
BROOKSOne of the things that I learned when I came to study economics in my 20s...
ROBERTSBut you think there's an empathy gap.
BROOKSOh, truly. I mean, when you look at the data coming out of the 2012 presidential election, you'll find that big majorities thought that Mitt Romney had better leadership qualities, even had better policy ideas, but that he failed 80/20 on the question who cares more about people like me. That's the number one reason people vote.
ROBERTSI agree it's the number one reason people vote, but why do you think Republicans have failed to grasp this point?
BROOKSThat's a big theme in "The Conservative Heart" that I talk a lot about. And it's bad habits to a very large extent. I think, you know, when I talk to conservatives, they never say privately how can I get better tax breaks for rich people? They say, how can we care for the poor?
ROBERTSOkay. That's Arthur Brooks. His book, "The Conservative Heart." Come back in just minute and give us a phone call. We'll talk with Arthur Brooks when we come back.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. My guest this hour, Arthur Brooks. He runs the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank here in Washington. And he's written a new book, "The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America." We've got some lines open, so give us a call, 1-800-433-8850 is our number. Or send us an email, email@example.com. Let's turn to the subject that's on everybody's mind and a lot of the front pages, Arthur Brooks, which is the Republican -- the battle for the Republican nomination.
ROBERTSAnd one of the points you make in your book, "The Conservative Heart," is that we need more happier warriors. That the Republicans tend to be grumpy old men rather than with a sense of optimism. And you make the point, which I've always agreed with, that optimism is an invaluable quality in any candidate -- whether it's Ronald Reagan, a Republican, or Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
BROOKSYeah, that's right.
ROBERTSThis not a non -- this is a totally nonpartisan point. When you look around the Republican field, do you see any happy warriors? Or is there still -- is that still a problem for Republicans?
BROOKSWell, it's been a problem because there's -- we're in an environment of competing pessimisms in America today. The great disappointment, politically, that I see -- and many, many listeners won't agree with me, but it is my view looking at what's gone on over the past 10 years -- is that President Obama campaigned on unity and optimism, which was fantastic. But he's governed on division and pessimism. And listeners can say, "Well, it's because the Republicans have been so obstructionist." But the truth is that the leader matters the most. He's the boss.
BROOKSAnd the result of the division and pessimism has been that the opposition has formed around division and pessimism as well. So candidates who are divisive and pessimistic are in opposition to what's happened from the leader himself.
ROBERTSYou could also argue, as many Democrats would, that Obama really did want to govern this way, but it was the Republican opposition which forced him into this pattern of...
BROOKSWell, any CEO who said "My workers forced me into a particular pattern would be fired summarily by the board of directors, and should be." I mean, I'm the president of an organization -- not huge, 225 people. But if I say that the scholars at the American Enterprise Institute are forcing me into a leadership pattern, it means I'm a bad leader. And that's the truth of the matter. Lynden B. Johnson...
ROBERTSYour workers don't have the filibuster.
BROOKSLyndon B. Johnson was terrific at working across party lines at people in the opposition who fundamentally opposed him. Ronald Reagan was another highly partisan president who worked with people across the lines and was an optimist all throughout. The truth of the matter is that leadership matters most and optimism and unity comes from the leader.
ROBERTSLet me ask you about the man who's been dominating a lot of the news lately, Donald Trump. Tied with Jeb Bush. I looked it up this morning. The average of national polls, Trump at 15, Bush at 15, ahead of the pack. Got a lot of attention for his attacks on John McCain over the weekend.
ROBERTSAs someone who cares about the Republican Party, as you said, have been -- advised other Republicans, what's your reaction to Trump?
BROOKSIt's a temporary phenomenon. It's largely driven by attention from the press and the most intense members of the activist community, which is pretty typical as we would find. So I think that the most interesting thing will be what other Republican candidates who have more duration are going to do. Do they repudiate it now or do they stay silent and, in effect, set the tone of what people will remember one year from now. Any Republican candidate who follows Donald Trump down any policy or political rabbit hole will pay the price a year from now.
ROBERTSOf course Republicans have been rather quick to denounce his criticism of John McCain, saying he wasn't a war hero. But in an earlier -- a few weeks ago, when he said some pretty offensive things about immigrants, calling Mexicans rapists and killers, relatively mild criticism. Some Republicans, like Lindsey Graham, to his credit, pretty adamant in denouncing him. But Republicans were not as eager to take on Trump as you were advising.
BROOKSWell, and I want to hear more. Jeb Bush was good. Jeb Bush didn't get quite as much coverage for his denunciations as I would have liked. But then, again, the press was clamoring to cover the terrible comments of Donald Trump instead, which is more about the press than it is about Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. So I think that to the extent that we say that the Republican candidates didn't speak out, some did. But it just wasn't making the waves that you'd expect or you'd hope.
ROBERTSWell, you mentioned -- we talked a bit about Ronald Reagan. And as you look at Republican prospects, one of the points that Lindsey Graham, again, has made...
ROBERTS...to quote him directly is, "the Republicans face a demographic death spiral." And when Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, the electorate was 88 percent white. It was 72 percent white in the last election, as you well know. And it's going to be 70 or less in the next election. And given the fact that more than 70 percent of Hispanics and Asians voted Democratic in the last election, a lot of Republicans who can count, like you, are worried about this. And specifically on the issue of immigration, how worried are you that this issue will hamper whoever emerges as the Republican nominee? Popular issue to be anti-immigration in the primaries, but in the general election, as Mitt Romney found, can be very damaging.
BROOKSI think that it's important that the Republicans find a way to get beyond this. And now I'm personally very pro-immigration. My views on this are not what you'd expect from primary activist communities, to be sure. So reasonable people do disagree with me on this. But let's talk about the demographic death spiral. There is no such thing as a demographic death spiral in American politics. I'm a serious practicing Roman Catholic. Seventy-five years ago, zero percent change I would -- virtually, that I would be voting Republican. We could -- Republicans could actually try to get your votes as a Jewish person, Steve. Yet, that would have been -- that's less unthinkable than it would have been in the past.
BROOKSDemography is not destiny. And anybody who considers it as such is destined to be wiped out of the polls at some point. What Republicans need to do is -- what conservatives need to do is to create a more humanistic, inclusive movement that's anti-poverty, that's pro-opportunity and that's more tolerant of diverse points of view, such that they can start to peel off people who, in fact, think for themselves. And that should be the conservative message. Think for yourself. Getting five extra percentage points of Latinos, African-Americans, single women, unaffiliated 18 to 29 voters, and it's game over in the 2016 election, and then continuing to expand that by delivering on this idea of an inclusive, humanistic movement.
ROBERTSWell, I certainly agree with you that these are not locked in stone. And all you have to do is look at the performance of the Bush family -- whether 41, 43 or Jeb Bush -- have always done reasonably well among Hispanic voters, in part because they made the effort and they respected them and they campaigned in those communities, whether it was in Texas or Florida. But looking at the Republican field today, it would appear -- also because of what's happened in Congress, where Republican-controlled House didn't even bring up an immigration reform bill which had the support of 14 Republican Senators in the Senate...
ROBERTS...this is going to be, at least now -- I'm not saying that in the future, all Hispanics are going to be Democrats, because we know that's not true. They're conservative on social issues. They can be entrepreneurs.
ROBERTSThey're open to the Republican message. But in the short run, certainly, this is -- this has got to worry you and others who care about the Republican Party.
BROOKSAbsolutely. And I talk -- I address this a lot in "The Conservative Heart." One of the things that I point out is that there's a misunderstanding, for example, of the Latino vote -- something that I've studied a great deal. The Latino community in the United States -- the part that's eligible to vote, which is to say citizens and either registered or eligible to register to vote -- votes at about half the rates of African-Americans and whites. Those who vote tend to vote Democrat. They tend to vote like African-Americans. Those who don't vote but are eligible to vote are more likely to call themselves conservative than white Americans.
BROOKSAnd so the real question is not how to get Democratic-voting Latinos to vote Republican. The real question is how to mobilize those who are not voting right now. And the answer is to try to make them welcome in the community. Marco Rubio is clearly dedicated to doing that. But once again, it's not a question of having one or two, it's a question of having Indian-Americans, it's having women, it's having everybody from every community to be more representative.
ROBERTSBut even Marco Rubio, who started off being reasonably progressive and courageous on the issue of immigration, pulled back and has abandoned some of his earlier policies because he's afraid, in the Republican primaries, it's going to be a negative. So instead of reaching out in the way you have advised in the book, you get someone like Rubio who's actually moving in the other direction.
BROOKSHe has -- the mistake that a lot of Republicans made was to fall for the idea of a grand bargain. Grand bargains are a bad idea. They're a bad idea in business. No CEO wants to put together a grand bargain in his business. Grand bargains are largely for people who don't want progress. What you want to do, in something like immigration and immigration reform, is a gradualist approach where you say: Here are the 30 parts of comprehensive immigration reform. Where do we want to be in five years? Let's put them in order with respect to importance and political palatability. Number one is H1B1 visa reform. For listeners who -- for whom that's all gobbledygook, that's high-skill immigration.
BROOKSWe've show, at AEI, with good studies, that every high-skill immigrant who comes to the United States is responsible for five new jobs for people who are born in the United States. This is something President Obama's behind. It's something that Republicans are behind. But it keeps getting poisoned when the president insists that we need a grand bargain. And the Republicans who are against immigration go along with it. Don't do that. Second, we need a guest worker program, such that we don't exploit people who are coming across the border by paying them substandard wages. We can make sure there are benefits, when appropriate. And we can also make sure the people can go back to their own country to take care of their families.
BROOKSWe need to verify citizenship with an E-Verify program. We need a better solution for the way that we're controlling the border. And if we go through these things and the 30 steps, two years into this thing, it'll become inevitable and no longer a problem.
ROBERTSBut don't you worry that the -- immigration is a good example and Rubio's change of heart is a good example -- given the nature of the Republican primary process, where relatively small numbers of very conservative voters in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina can push the Republican candidate, as they did -- this is not a theoretical question because it's exactly what happened to Mitt Romney four years ago -- can push them out of the zone that you're talking about, away from the kind of more compassionate, whatever word you want to use, more approachable policies.
ROBERTSAs someone, again, who cares about the Republican Party, you have to look at this and wonder whether the kind of ideas you advance in this book can sell, given the nature of the structure of the primaries and who votes?
BROOKSThey are selling. And not just because of my ideas. It's because the Republican Party is becoming progressively more reasonable, as we speak. The Democratic Party, I would argue, is going in the other direction right now. The fact that Bernie Sanders is in the race is, you know, whether or not you like him or dislike him, he is pulling the Democratic field to the left. The Republican Party is a lot more accommodating of anti-poverty and pro-opportunity policies than we've ever seen before. The answer to a lot of extremism or extreme ideology -- a lot of intensity from activities in primary states, is a more inclusive, optimistic type of rhetoric.
BROOKSRonald Reagan solved that problem by being somebody who pulled people along morally by creating what we call -- what psychologists call a climate of moral elevation. If you're going to be with us, it's going to be because you have solutions -- you're going to be part of the solutions for people who are being left behind. On the other hand, if you have a downward spiral of competing pessimisms between candidates and between parties, everybody's going to be more negative. Americans are going to like the system less. Look, Steve, 75 percent of Americans say they're dissatisfied with our system. That's catastrophic. It was only about 40 percent if you go back to the year 2000. And this is because of this climate of division and pessimism.
BROOKSSomebody needs to break out of this kind of prisoner's dilemma of this iron cage of pessimism. And that's how you do it is by being an upwardly-mobile-focused optimist. Is it easy? No. Because you have to make friends where you currently don't have them. It's much harder than firing up your base. But a visionary can do it.
ROBERTSIs there anybody in this field you see as a happy warrior who has that Reaganesqe qualities?
BROOKSThere are a bunch of them that are much more like that than in 2012. Republicans are more bullish and optimistic politically than they've been in a long time. Why? Because Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, perhaps -- probably Scott Walker, Chris Christie -- these are a lot of the main candidates in the race. And even the more conservative candidates like Ted Cruz, he is speaking more optimistically certainly than he did in the past and certainly than the candidates did in 2012. Is anybody perfect? No. But they're making progress. And I would love to see that more.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." My guest this hour is Arthur Brooks. His book is "The Conservative Heart." And let's turn to some of our listeners and callers, Arthur. Let's start with an email from Nathan, who says, "If the government would just stay out of my way and stop taking 40 percent of my income, I could give more people equitable employment. If I paid zero tax, I would willingly give 15 percent of my earnings to the charity of my choice."
BROOKSThat's great, Nathan. And I'm sure that's true and I appreciate it. But the truth of the matter is that we simply would not have enough if we didn't have a functioning state. We would not have enough resources to take care of those who are in need nor to meet any of our other public needs. Friedrich Hayek, the most important conservative economist of the 20th century, said the government's got two jobs. Number one is to create an adequate safety net for those who are poor. Remember, this is what conservatives said in the 20th century. And number two is to rectify market failures.
BROOKSSo do I believe that taxes are high? Yes. Are they too punitive and onerous? Absolutely. Could we do with less? Probably. But zero? We can't go toward that goal because there are certain things that we simply need to do as a society.
ROBERTSAnd isn't it -- let's be honest -- isn't it true that a lot of people who parrot the argument of the, you know, get the government off my back and out of my pocket -- when it comes to farm subsidies or government research that helps their industries or infrastructure that gets their products to market, they're as eager for government help as anybody else.
BROOKSSome. Although I have to say that there's more and more intellectual consistency in this regard. There tends to be this portrait of a -- somebody who is effectively a government taker who doesn't know it, who just doesn't want others to be taking. But I see a lot of people in the Libertarian movement today who believe that the Ex-Im Bank and a lot of other big government programs that are effectively kind of welfare for one sector or another -- I mean, a reason to be able to disagree on that particular example. But crony capitalism in general is just as big a problem as any other big government program.
ROBERTSArthur, let me turn to some of our other callers. Here's an email from Gloria in Michigan. "Without affordable medical care, many parents with a chronically ill child must quit their jobs to qualify for Medicaid to care for their child. It's happened in my community and many communities. Please ask your guest how this fits with the Republican stand for opportunity equality."
BROOKSAffordable medical care, absolutely, is a great goal. And we should have been pursuing this a long time ago. Those listeners who dislike Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, have Republicans to thank for it. Why? Because in 2006, when they had all the real estate in Washington, D.C., they knew we needed realistic health care reform in this country along free market lines, and they failed to act because it was politically inconvenient. That created the opening for the Affordable Care Act, which is a massive bureaucratic expansion. Some of the goals are good. But on balance, I believe it's going to -- particularly 10 years from now -- it's going to hurt a lot of vulnerable Americans.
BROOKSAnd Republicans were responsible for not having the kind of health care reform we need. If they get the White House and the House and Senate in 2016, which there's a very realistic possibility of, they need to think about what a free-market oriented health care, comprehensive coverage program would look like.
ROBERTSAnd here's an email from David in Durham, N.C. "With his emphasis on the importance of work, I wonder if Mr. Brooks has concerns about technological unemployment becoming an issue in the next decade or two? There are rapid, breathtaking advances occurring in machine learning that are unlike anything we have seen before.
BROOKSAbsolutely. Structural differences in the economy have all kinds of effects on who's employed and how much they make. But there are so many things that we can do that would militate against that. And I'll give you an example. We have an education system that's largely outmoded because it looks like what we were doing in the 1950s, except that now we're telling kids -- we're pushing as many kids as we can through the college pipeline as opposed to vocational and technical education that wouldn't require the kind of high-tech, high-information skills that we're trying to force these days.
BROOKSLook, where I live, it takes five weeks to get somebody to put gutters on your house. This is a skilled job that pays well but we don't have people who can do these things.
ROBERTSArthur Brooks, his book is "The Conservative Heart." Stay with us and we'll have more questions for Mr. Brooks when we come back.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. My guest this hour, Arthur Brooks. He runs the American Enterprise Institute. He's also a best-selling author and his new book is "The Conservative Heart." How to Build a Fairer, Happier, More Prosperous America." We have several tweets, Arthur, questioning your statement that 89 percent of Americans like or love their job. Just seems, according to one tweet, seems prima facie not true. Where does that number come from?
BROOKSComes from the General Social Survey and the General Social Survey from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago is the most comprehensive database of questions asked about social life in America. It's the gold standard stuff. Now, this isn't to say that everybody loves it as much as they could love it. A lot of people will say, I like my job, but it's not spiritually fulfilling, for example. But then again, a lot of people will say that about their marriage, too.
ROBERTSYou talk a lot, in this book, about morals, and moralism. One of your adages to conservatives is be a moralist.
ROBERTSBut moralism can have two edges, can't it? I mean, it can -- can't moralism become judgmental and rigid? You're talking so much about compassion, but we've seen plenty of evidence that moralism can cut two ways.
BROOKSFor sure. Absolutely. And one of the things I try to emphasize in this book is that your moral viewpoints, which largely are around compassion and fairness, should always be a gift and never a cudgel. When moralism becomes a problem is when you're insulting people and hurting people and hitting people with your morals, as opposed to sharing your morals with other people. This is the great secret of moral teaching, is it can be used to enrich other peoples' lives. Your notion of compassion, which, for conservatives and liberals, is going to be very different.
BROOKSAnd even more so for fairness. Liberals tend to think about fairness in terms of the equality of outcomes, whereas conservatives think about fairness in terms of rewarding hard work and merit and personal responsibility. That's the kind of virtuous competition that doesn't insult and hurt people, but lifts people up.
ROBERTSBut, as a good example, excuse me, a good example of the downside of moral judgment we saw in reaction to the gay marriage decision. Where people quoting their religious beliefs, quoting their moral principles. Opposed to this decision and denounced it and even to the point of saying, we're going to resisting the law. Isn't that a good example of the downside of moral approach to politics?
BROOKSWell, your morality should inform the things that you do every day. And you should be able to speak about your morals in a certain way. And a society, I think, is largely in decline when it can't -- when people can't share their moral viewpoints with one another. The key thing is for us to be able to share our moral viewpoints with one another without hurting each other, without being vicious and intolerant with each other. That's a really important thing and that's been largely lost in political discourse today. Just because you and I disagree doesn't mean that we should hurt each other and say that each other's a terrible person.
ROBERTSHere's an email from Chris in Washington. Isn't redistribution essential for equality of opportunity? Otherwise, the poor simply can't compete with the one percent or even five percent to get the skills they need to compete in an increasingly skills driven work force.
BROOKSRedistribution is a necessary component. It's an inevitable component of actually providing public goods. Why? Because who pays for them? People who pay taxes, which are virtually all people with higher incomes in the United States today. Given the fact that at the federal level, federal income tax level, the bottom 50 percent pay virtually no taxes, which is normal. And that's completely acceptable. On the other hand, that shouldn't be the goal. My view is that income...
ROBERTSThey pay, they don't pay income taxes, but they pay sales tax.
BROOKSOf course. And they pay social security taxes, as well. But my point is that we shouldn't pursue income equality as a goal, but opportunity equality as a goal as much as we possibly can. That's the goal that resonates with the most Americans and actually helps the poor the most.
ROBERTSLet me turn to some of our callers, Arthur Brooks, and let's start with Dennis in Catonsville, Maryland. Dennis, welcome. You're on The Diane Rehm Show.
DENNISHi. How are you today? Thank you for fielding my call.
ROBERTSHappy to have you.
DENNISMy question today deals a lot with what your guests have talked about and about opportunity. I'm a millennial. I'm recently out of a job of six years, which is, you know, approximately a quarter of my life. It was a high skilled job with few opportunities for a rehire position. There's not many people in the world that do what I do. That said, even with unemployment insurance, and the benefits offered to me, I don't see a lot of opportunity if I'm not hired within the six to 12 months to retrain outside of my current field.
DENNISThere's no candidate, in my opinion, on the Republican ticket, who's talking about implementing vocational training in the way that other advanced countries, for example, like Germany have. I'll take your comment off the air.
ROBERTSThank you, Dennis.
BROOKSThanks, Dennis. I think there are all kinds of creative ways that we can cope with this. And not just at the public sector level. I think that there are lots and lots of ways that social entrepreneurs can be thinking about job retraining. And we just haven't been very creative about it in the United States. Another interesting issue, another set of policy ideas that I think are worth talking about, that I talk a lot in the book is relocation.
BROOKSRelocation is something that typically has been part of the American experience. You know, look at my family over the past couple hundred years. Every time somebody lost a job, they moved west, until they got to the Pacific Ocean and there was nowhere left to go. Which is where I grew up. In Seattle, Washington. The idea that somehow, instead of having people move, helping people with the information on where they could actually go to find greater work is absurd.
BROOKSRight now, North Dakota, which is second in GDP, per capita, has lower than three percent unemployment, and is struggling to get enough workers in their expanding energy sector, would be existing simultaneously with states like Rhode Island and Kentucky that have high unemployment rates, doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I think that the government and social entrepreneurs could do a lot better at relocating people to the areas where we have more opportunity.
ROBERTSWell, you know, you mention that you grew up in Seattle.
ROBERTSWhen you talk some in the book about your own rather unconventional odyssey into President of a Washington Think Tank, becoming a musician, playing the French Horn. Moving to Spain, dropping out of college, getting your undergraduate degree by correspondence. What did you learn from that journey, which is not your typical, let's go right to a good college and to grad. school.
BROOKSWell, I couldn't go right to a good college. Part of it is because I just didn't have the background or the grades. And I didn't make it through more than a year of college. You said, I got, I dropped out. And that's generous. You know, dropped out or kicked out, that's splitting hairs at this point, after so many years. But the experiences that I had were really fulfilling and it's kind of an American story. I mean, this is nothing that unusual. People change careers a lot. They do a lot of different things. I just happened to be playing the French horn, which is a little bit unusual. And I wound up in the Barcelona Symphony.
BROOKSI married a girl in Barcelona who had not finished high school. We moved back to the United States when we were both in our late 20s. Me, without a college degree, her without a high school diploma. She took a minimum wage job and we needed that money to get on our feet while I studied. She said, and I quote, and it was, neither of us was particularly political at all. She comes from a hard bred atheist family. And I come from a liberal family in Seattle, Washington. She said, look, this is the greatest country in the world for people who want to work.
BROOKSWe have to make sure that that is always true. And that's the moral compact that we have to make sure that that is always true. This is not the country that has to make everybody rich, but we should be warriors, militants for the kind of opportunity that would make it possible for somebody like my wife, who doesn't have an education, didn't have English skills, to be able to make her way, whether it's a higher low paid job, very low paid in her example, in her case, to earn her success as well. That inspired me a lot in my unusual background.
ROBERTSLet's turn to a couple other of our callers. And let's turn to Mark in Cleveland, Ohio. You're on The Diane Rehm Show, Mark. Welcome.
MARKGood morning. I'm 51-years-old. The first President I voted for was Reagan. We, as a country, have lived with GOP economic policies, 80-92, Reagan/Bush, 94-2000, Clinton and the Contract with America. 2000-2008 with W. Whether it be eroding labor laws, unjust tax policies, banishing consumer protections, wealth has gravitated upwards, punished the middle class, what could you possibly have to say to the American worker. And lastly, you talk about optimism.
MARKAnd yet, every Republican leader that I hear does nothing but demonize the federal government that needs to protect the average citizen.
ROBERTSThank you for your call, Mark.
BROOKSYeah, thank you, Mark. I'm a 51-year-old male, too. I mean, we have some of the same demographics, and we've same of the same experiences. Although, while you voted for Reagan the first time you voted, I didn't. I voted for, I was voting for Democrats. And I did for a long period of my life. It is true that there has not been enough attention paid from Republicans or Democrats to opportunity in this country. And I think that the result of that has been exactly what you articulated very well, which is that people have turned toward the federal government, not to get out of the way of the -- not to destroy the barriers to opportunity.
BROOKSBut to look to the federal government to take care of the worker. You said it yourself, Mark. The federal government has not taken care of the worker enough. Look, I don't want a federal government that takes care of the worker. I want a federal government that provides a safety net for the poor and creates public goods and gets, and works on pollution and deals with the market failures that we see around us so that people can lift themselves up and live in an opportunity society. Right now, we have a federal government that creates tremendous barriers to people for their success.
BROOKSAnd then makes half-hearted attempts to save them from those barriers. We have barriers to peoples' success that are fragmenting communities, that are getting in the way of family life, that are creating disincentives to work, and this has got to stop. Because it's not hurting rich people. The one percent are doing just fine. In the wake of the Great Recession, 85 percent of the 135 real returns to the stock market since Barack Obama took office have gone to the top 10 percent of the income distribution.
BROOKSThe poor are being left behind. The rich are just fine. And we're not doing anything that we could to get out of the way of people earning their success at the bottom. This has got to change.
ROBERTSWhen you talk about the fact that when you were Mark's age, you voted Democratic. What changed you?
BROOKSThe only thing that changed me is that I started to think a little bit differently than my upbringing. I was largely non-political. I grew up in, as I said, a left wing liberal family in Seattle. And, you know, there are about eight Republicans in Seattle. I literally didn't know anyone who voted for Reagan, like Mark. So, I assumed it was impossible that he could have won election. But when I started actually studying economics, something really profound happened.
BROOKSThe main thing I was interested in, again, I didn't go to college at a normal time. I graduated from college when I was 30. When I was studying economics in my late 20s, the number one question I was interested in was poverty. Actually, I became a political conservative, because poverty is what I care about the most. What I found was that since I was a child in 1970, 80 percent of starvation level poverty has been eradicated because of five things. They did not include the United Nations and the IMF and the World Bank or USAID.
BROOKSGood institutions, but these were not the reason. It was globalization, free trade, property rights, the rule of law, and entrepreneurship. It was American style free enterprise spreading around the world that pulled two billion souls out of starvation level poverty. And it -- I have to say, it blew my mind. It made me think differently about a lot of things. It made me think for myself for the first time. And I would recommend that those who are on the phone, or on the line, who are listening, who have a sense of what politics are, the facts don’t have to be burdened or can be freeing.
BROOKSAnd we can think for ourselves in new political ways and I wrote this book so we can understand these facts and make these arguments differently.
ROBERTSBut one of the reasons you wrote the book is that you feel that Republicans have been as immune to some of these arguments as Democrats.
BROOKSYeah. Absolutely. Republicans have been complicit in this idea that conservative ideology is inherently stingy and materialistic. It's been horrible, if you listen to how Republicans have talked, they don't talk about poor people enough. And they've left that subject to Democrats. That does not mean, once again, Steve, that Republicans care less about the poor than Democrats do. There's actually no evidence of that. And when you talk privately to conservatives, if you have them over for supper, and I recommend that our listeners all have some Republicans over for supper.
BROOKSIt would probably be pretty enriching. They don't talk about how to get better capital gains tax rates for billionaires. It just doesn't come up in conversation. But they talk about government and fighting against bureaucracy and fighting against taxes and spending, as opposed to fighting for people. Especially people who need us. And they forget one key fact. Which is that patriots and leaders don't fight for people who support them politically. They fight for people who need them. And if they could remember that going forward, for the most vulnerable Americans, the most vulnerable people all around the world, it could really be a new day in American politics.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts, and you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. We have time for one or two more callers and let's turn to Peter in Durham, New Hampshire. Peter, welcome. You're on The Diane Rehm Show.
PETERHi, thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to say as a member of the working poor, we don't want less work. It's what we want to do is do away with the idea that you have to work to live. It seems like a really moralistic idea and in a world where 90 percent of our labor could be done by machines, it just seems ridiculous that people should have to work to live and can't have a basic income provided for them. Thank you.
ROBERTSOkay. Thank you.
BROOKSWell, one of the things that I found is that people value their own earned success and they get dignity from their work. And so, whether or not you want to work to live or you want to live to work, I mean, this is the great difference between Europeans. I mean, my wife's European. She always reminds me that Americans live to work and they work to live. Whatever. It's a distinction without a difference, largely. People do get dignity from work.
BROOKSAnd I've never met somebody, by the way, who prefers to get a check from the government as opposed to a paycheck. Never. And so, I would submit that it's a pretty bad idea to have this idea of a minimum basic income that would come from a check from the government that you could live on even if you didn't work. I think that rather, the subject of public policy, the focus we should have in society is finding dignified, sanctified, ordinary work for every single person.
ROBERTSObviously, whoever emerges from the Republican fight, and I know you can't say who you favor because of your position at the American Enterprise Institute, but obviously, the odds are that whoever emerges is going to face Hillary Clinton, who is going to have a lot of money. A lot of connections. And I'm wondering, as you survey the field, what kind of candidate, what kind of Republican candidate would be best suited to go up against Hillary Clinton?
BROOKSThe best candidate against Hillary Clinton, or for any Democrat, for that matter, is one that steals the language and icons of the right. The left. One who actually talks about social justice and poverty, one who talks about vulnerability and reaching out into new communities, as opposed to simply trying to consolidate the base. The basic math can look really good for conservatives. The basic math, if their understanding, our objective is to get more people to support conservative ideas and conservative policies, as opposed to simply getting greater intensity from a smaller number.
BROOKSThat gets into the demographic problems that we've talked about in the past. So, anybody who's creative enough, and a bunch of them are, and I'm really quite encouraged about this, and not just to win, but to serve the American people better than they have in the past, is to go on to the turf of the Democrats, the traditional turf of the Democrats and say, I actually can do a better job. There's a, at your institution, at GW University, there's a wonderful young political scientist named Danny Hayes.
BROOKSAnd he's doing work right now on political traits. And what he's found is if you -- if an average independent voter, which is a huge proportion of voters right now, 40 percent of Floridians, for example, see a conservative and a liberal as equally compassionate people, even if they don't trust their policies the same. That fact will swing the independent voter 10 percentage points toward the conservative because of the trait trespassing that's going on. This is not something that can win for conservatives. This is the only thing that will win.
ROBERTSAnd the other dimension here, we talked about it earlier, is the ability to tell a story that relates to ordinary people. We agreed that this was a central trait. Anybody you're seeing telling a story that's capturing peoples' imagination?
BROOKSThis is, yeah, more, I think that the candidates are getting better at that, but one of the things that I advise candidates and politicians on is to not tell the typical hackneyed story that ends kind of like this. I met a guy, he was down on his luck, wrong side of the tracks, et cetera, et cetera. He saved up a little bit of money to open a muffler shop. And then he opened another and then he had a thousand muffler shops and he made a billion dollars. That's the wrong way for conservatives to end stories, because it -- ending in great wealth is not the entrepreneurial experience.
BROOKSBuilding one's life and earning one's success is about, is about building your family's life and being able to take care of yourself and your family. That's the ordinary kind of stories we need to hear more of.
ROBERTSArthur Brooks. His new book is "The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America." I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. And thank you for spending an hour of your morning with us. And thank you, Arthur Brooks.
BROOKSThank you, Steve.
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