October 16, 2012
The Morality of the Free Market was the topic of a Sept. 27 address at Harvard Law School by Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research organization in Washington, D.C. The event was sponsored by the Harvard Law Federalist Society.
Brooks presented the case for how the fight for free enterprise can be won by launching a sufficient moral defense. “The free enterprise system, contrary to what politicians in both political parties are saying today, is not an economic alternative,” he said. “Free enterprise is a moral imperative for the dignity of people and their happiness.”
His talk was based on his 2012 book, “The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise."
According to Brooks, people are best able to achieve dignity and happiness through “earned success,” which he describes as the ability to define one’s future and achieve success on the basis of merit and hard work. The free enterprise system, he says, rewards the earned success model and penalizes its opposite, the redistributive welfare state, or what he describes as “learned helplessness.”
Following Brooks’ talk, Noah Feldman, a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard, offered a response. Feldman said that while it is true that free enterprise is the most effective system for generating economic efficiencies, it tells you nothing about distribution.
“Efficiency and distribution are completely disjunct,” he said. “They do not overlap at all. You could have a tremendously efficient system that distributes all of the wealth to the poorest people or all of the wealth to the richest people. That means you have to inject morality into discussion of distribution. You’ve got to figure out who gets what.”
The president of AEI since 2009, Brooks described his organization as a “moral movement,” dedicated to the idea that expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity and fighting for free enterprise to give the most people the best life. Previously a professor of business and government Policy at Syracuse University, Brooks writes about the links among culture, politics and economics. The author of 10 books, he has published hundreds of articles and books on subjects ranging from the economics of the arts to military operations research. In June 2010, he published The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future.
Feldman specializes in constitutional studies, with particular emphasis on the relationship between law and religion, constitutional design, and the history of legal theory. The author of five books, Feldman most recently wrote "Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices." His other books include "Divided by God: America's Church-State Problem - and What We Should Do About It" and "After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy." He is also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and the Bloomberg View as well as Senior Fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University.