"Life isn't fair," we patiently explain to our children, unschooled in the ways of the world. By the same token, conservatives try to explain to liberals that they can't make life fair with other people's money.
"Fairness" is the new mantra of President Obama to justify his economic policies and attack those of his opponents. His critics mock that's all he's got because his redistributive policies have failed so miserably.
But in The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise, a timely and important new book, Dr. Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, says defenders of a free economy can — and should — win the fight for free enterprise on the basis of "fairness," too.
Brooks forcefully contends that Americans aren't satisfied with the materialistic argument that free enterprise is more effective at creating jobs, which obviously has failed to "stem the tide of big government."
Privately, free enterprise's champions talk about these things incessantly. While they generally believe in the need for a safety net, they celebrate capitalism because they believe that succeeding by merit, doing something meaningful, seeing the poor rise by their hard work and virtue, and having control over life are essential to happiness and fulfillment. But in public debate, they often fall back on capitalism's superiority to other systems just in terms of productivity and economic efficiency. What moves them is the story of their immigrant grandparents who came to America to be free; but what they talk about is the most efficacious way to achieve a balanced budget.
However, polls show Americans still instinctively react favorably to the concept of the freedom of opportunity. In fact, this has been ingrained in the American spirit since its founding, when the "pursuit of Happiness" was enshrined in the Declaration of Independence along with "Life" and "Liberty."
While some libertarians and economic writers have lamented that an early draft included the word "property," rather than what they regard as the more amorphous and emotional term of "happiness," Brooks argues that the choice was inspired:
The shift in emphasis away from material property and toward the pursuit of happiness was a shift from materialism to morality. America was intended as the greatest experiment in liberty in the history of the world. Property was the "what" of this experiment. The pursuit of happiness was the "why."
Of course, Brooks notes, the Founders did not promise happiness, only the right to its pursuit. And few things are as satisfying as earned success. Mere possession does not equal that, whether it's via lottery winnings, inherited wealth, or a government check.