Arthur C. Brooks
Brooks in April 2017
American Enterprise Institute (2009–present)
Syracuse University (2001–2009)
Georgia State University (1998–2000)
|Field||Economics, arts policy, politics, social science, statistics, culture|
|Influences||Milton Friedman, Charles Murray, James Q. Wilson, Irving Kristol|
|Information at IDEAS / RePEc|
Arthur C. Brooks (born May 21, 1964) is an American social scientist, musician, and contributing opinion writer for The Washington Post He was the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, for a decade. As of July 2019, he joined the faculty of the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School. Brooks has researched the junctions between culture, economics, and politics. He is the author of 11 books, including two New York Times best sellers: The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise (2012) and The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America (Broadside Books, 2015). Politically, he is a center-right independent.
After high school, Brooks pursued a career as a professional French hornist, serving from 1983 to 1989 with the Annapolis Brass Quintet in Baltimore, from 1989 to 1992 as the associate principal French hornist with the City Orchestra of Barcelona in Spain, and teaching from 1992 to 1995 at The Harid Conservatory, Music Division.
Toward the end of his professional music career, Brooks began pursuing his higher education with a bachelor's degree in economics in 1994 from Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey, a public university that offers distance and nontraditional education programs to working adults. He received a master's degree in economics from Florida Atlantic University in 1995 before pursuing a doctorate at the Frederick S. Pardee RAND Graduate School, a public policy program located at the RAND Corporation.
After receiving his PhD in policy analysis in 1998, Brooks continued to be affiliated with RAND, for which he produced a number of studies, mostly on arts funding and orchestra operations. He eventually began to study the junction of culture, politics, and economics that would come to be his trademark. "He kept his head down during the early years of his academic career, publishing the usual economics fare on philanthropy—such as how tax rates and government spending affect giving," writes Ben Gose. Brooks himself said, "I made my academic career doing that stuff, but the whole time I knew I was missing something."
After a stint at Georgia State University, Brooks landed at Syracuse University in 2001. In 2005, he became a full professor, and held the Louis A. Bantle Chair in Business and Government Policy from 2007 to 2008. At Syracuse, Brooks held joint appointments in the public affairs and management schools. In 2019, Brooks was awarded an honorary degree from Brigham Young University.
In the early 2000s, Brooks began to look deeper into behavioral economics, often using the General Social Survey. During his time at Syracuse, Brooks continued his academic work on philanthropy and nonprofits, authoring several articles and textbooks.
Brooks's first book was published in 2006 with Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism. Originating in his research on philanthropy and drawing on survey data, he articulates a charity gap between the 75% of Americans who donate to charitable causes and the rest who do not. Brooks argues that there are three cultural values that best predict charitable giving: religious participation, political views, and family structure. 91% of people who identify themselves as religious are likely to give to charity but only 66% of people who do not. The religious giving sector is just as likely to give to secular programs as it is to religious causes.
Brooks claims that those who think government should do more to redistribute income are less likely to give to charitable causes, and those who believe the government has less of a role to play in income redistribution tend to give more. Finally, he argues that couples who raise children are more likely to give philanthropically than those who do not. The more children there are in a family, the more likely that a family will donate to charity. One of Brooks's most controversial findings was that political conservatives give more, despite having incomes that are, on average, 6% lower than liberals.
Brooks adopts what he calls a "polemic" tone when offering recommendations, urging that philanthropic giving not be crowded out by government programs and that giving must be cultivated in families and communities.
Who Really Cares was widely reviewed and critiqued. Many commentators thought that Brooks played up the role of religion too much and argued that a charity gap is largely erased when religious giving is not considered. However, Brooks raises some arguments to this objection in the book, mainly by saying that giving to houses of worship should be counted as charity.
In February 2007, after the release of Who Really Cares, Brooks briefed President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush on his findings. Later that year, Brooks joined the American Enterprise Institute as a visiting scholar.
In April 2008, Brooks published a survey and analysis of U.S. happiness research entitled Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America—and How We Can Get More of It. Drawing his title from the Bhutanese measurement of national well-being, Brooks argues that despite the fact that the U.S. is one of the few countries in the world to enshrine happiness in its credo, happiness tends to get discounted in public policy in favor of other priorities. Brooks reviews survey data to understand the contours of how happy individual Americans are and how individual happiness translates into nationwide satisfaction.
Brooks's findings were controversial. Conservatives, he writes, are twice as likely to call themselves "very happy" than liberals. Those with extreme political beliefs, right or left, tend to be happier than moderates, but their provocations lower happiness for the rest of society. Devout people of all religions are much happier than secularists. Parents are happier than the childless even though their children often upset them. But child-rearing, Brooks writes, offers "meaning" to life, a sort of deep happiness that Aristotle called eudaimonia. Balancing freedom and order also brings optimal happiness, Brooks writes, because "too many moral choices leave us insecure and searching, unable to distinguish right from wrong, and thus miserable."
The second section of the book is dedicated to the economic dimensions of happiness. Opportunity breeds happiness, Brooks writes, and "efforts to diminish economic inequality—without creating economic opportunity—will actually lower America's gross national happiness, not raise it." Opportunity allows for good jobs, and "job satisfaction actually increases life happiness." Brooks argues that work makes people happy because they are creating value, a theme he explored in a textbook also released in 2008 on "social value creation."
To the extent that happiness can be "bought," it is with charity: giving of effort, time, and money makes people much happier, says Brooks, and it correlates with many other characteristics of the happy. Brooks, identifying himself as a libertarian, writes that the government does a poor job of making us happy but that "the government can help us pursue happiness."
Gross National Happiness was widely reviewed and featured in many news outlets, especially on talk radio. In addition to his media for Gross National Happiness, Brooks has blogged for the New York Times's Freakonomics blog and written dozens of op-eds for the Wall Street Journal and several other major papers. The Economist devoted an entire "Lexington" column to Brooks's findings in Gross National Happiness, referring to it as "a subtle and engaging distillation of oceans of data." Richard Land wrote that he "found Arthur Brooks' slaying of pop culture myths to be stimulating and informative."
Will Wilkinson criticizes Gross National Happiness for downplaying European statistics on happiness. Brooks argues that happiness is highly correlated with religiosity, but Wilkinson points out that some of the world's happiest places, such as some Scandinavian countries, have very low religious participation rates. "Brooks just doesn't bring it up," writes Wilkinson. "He seemed to me to encourage the idea that the relationship between religiosity and happiness is deep, perhaps universal. But it just isn't." He continues: "It would be a simple error to infer that 'gross national happiness' would be damaged were the culture to become less conservative or religious."[unreliable source?]
In April 2010, Brooks published The Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future in which he lays out a moral vision for the resurgence of the ideals of individual liberty, equal opportunity, entrepreneurship and self-reliance that have formed the U.S. identity.
He asks the reason why, if the U.S. is a 70–30 nation favoring free enterprise, are the 30 percent who want to change that culture in charge? He submits that while the numbers appear to favor a traditional free enterprise culture, the 30 percent coalition has a tremendous amount of influence in key places such as academia and entertainment and has effectively influenced a large number of young Americans.
Brooks believes the financial crisis of 2008–2009 was an opportunity for the statists to attack the free enterprise system as too risky for the U.S. to allow to continue in its current form but ignore the role of government policy and focus instead on greed and stupidity in the private sector.
According to Brooks, the "battle" is a peaceful culture war and its outcome will determine whether the U.S. continues to exist as a traditional free enterprise system or transforms into a redistributionist European-style social democracy.
Brooks published The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise in 2012. He attempts to explain the paradox discussed in his previous book, The Battle, which stated that even though most of the U.S. claims to support a free enterprise system based on limited government, the size and scope of federal and state governments has steadily increased over the past century. Brooks argues that advocates of limited government often rely on complex, data-driven arguments, but progressives wrap their arguments in moral language, appealing to Americans' hearts rather than their heads. In making that claim, Brooks relies heavily on the work of psychology professor Jonathan Haidt, which shows that humans process moral judgments more quickly than rational ones. The answer, then, according to Brooks, is for the right to defend free enterprise on its moral foundations.
Part One of the book lays out a moral case for the free enterprise system in three parts. Brooks argues that only free enterprise encourages true happiness based on earned success; he drew a great deal from his work on happiness from Gross National Happiness and The Battle. Next, Brooks claims that only free enterprise creates true fairness by rewarding merit. Then, Brooks states that only free enterprise lifts up the poor and vulnerable. For this last section, Brooks cites many statistics regarding world poverty reduction from increased trade and globalization, as well as statistics concerning limited government breeding charity.
The second half of The Road to Freedom outlines what Brooks describes as the "Statist Quo" of the U.S. and provides an alternate vision for the proper role of government. Drawing heavily from the work of Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, Brooks claims the only legitimate state functions are the provision of a limited social safety net and the correction of market failures when the state can act effectively and efficiently. Combating what he believes to be unfair criticism of the right, Brooks says that "most believe that it is appropriate for the government to provide some safety net for its citizens. … In my view, it is unacceptable for someone in America's wealthy society to go without access to basic medical care, sufficient food, and basic shelter." He continues, "But the safety net is not a means to increase material equality, a way to take any but the most grievous risks out of life, a way to pass out rewards to groups based on demographics or political clout, or a source of benefits to the middle class."
Some critics felt that Brooks's arguments oversimplified the moral arguments for the free enterprise system by avoiding tough questions or using hyperbolic comparisons. For example, in The Atlantic, Clive Crook took issue with Brooks's answer to whether or not the U.S. is an opportunity society, saying, "The question is not whether America is an opportunity society, but to what degree. ... Brooks argues that America is a land of opportunity because children of poor parents move up and children of rich parents move down. That's true, but the evidence is pretty clear that the U.S. does not perform very well on this measure of mobility compared with other countries. Brooks might disagree with those findings but it's a serious weakness of the book that he doesn't even address them."
In another example, Noah Kristula-Green wrote for The Daily Beast that "this is a book about U.S. domestic policy, not the benefits of adopting capitalism as opposed to communism. Arguments like this feel strangely anachronistic, especially since Brooks writes as if genuine communism was an option some were agitating for this in country. ... These sorts of global comparisons mean that Brooks can avoid confronting the inequality that actually exists in America. Why would you want to avoid discussing that topic? You avoid discussing inequality if you don't have to answer some very uncomfortable questions."
In 2015 Brooks published The Conservative Heart, which lays out his vision for a new conservative movement focused on reducing poverty and expanding opportunity, particularly for vulnerable people. Greg Mankiw summarized Brooks's main thesis: "He wants conservatives to speak more in moral terms, to be seen fighting for people rather than against policies, to spend more time engaging with moderates and liberals, and to embrace the persona of a happy warrior."
Brooks critiques there the "War on Poverty," analyzes human happiness and the components of a fulfilling life, interviews with social entrepreneurs and the formerly-homeless people who were helped to rebuild their lives, and provides communications tips for conservative leaders to more effectively defend their positions.
Brooks believes the U.S. is locked in a culture war in which either the U.S. will continue to be an exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise, limited government, a reliance on entrepreneurship and rewards determined by market forces, or U.S. will move toward European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, a managed economy, and large-scale income redistribution. Brooks states that while some have tried to dismiss the Tea Party demonstrations and the town hall protests as the work of extremists, ignorant backwoodsmen, or agents of the health-care industry, the movement reveals much about the culture war that is underway, and it is not at all clear the side that will prevail. Brooks fears that rejecting the founding principles of free enterprise will permanently lessen the wealth of the US. However, the greatest danger is the abandonment of the pursuit of happiness because only free enterprise brings happiness as a result of earned success.
This section contains too many or overly lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. (March 2017)
On July 14, 2008, AEI president Christopher DeMuth announced that Brooks would succeed him. "I am thrilled and honored to be asked to serve as the president of AEI," Brooks said. "With research ranging between prophetic ideas and technical policy details, AEI has always acted as a steward of American ideals of private liberty, individual opportunity, and free enterprise. Time and again, AEI's mix of great people and strong values has produced the right ideas at the right time for America and the world. To serve as the Institute's president in the coming era is a truly wonderful and humbling opportunity, and I am fully committed to building on the Institute's amazing record of success." Brooks became AEI's eleventh president on January 1, 2009. In March 2018, Brooks announced his intent to step down as AEI's president.
In 2015, Brooks defined the role of the American Enterprise Institute as providing "a conservative intellectual movement that helps us to understand how culture and policy can be propelled forward. That's how we think of ourselves. So experts – true experts who are on the level of the best university professors – that are dedicated to the ideas of freedom, and opportunity and enterprise and human betterment and flourishing working together for a better world."
In 2014, Robert Doar was appointed the inaugural fellow in AEI's Poverty Studies Program. In a conversation with President Barack Obama in 2015 at the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty at Georgetown University, Brooks said he is in the free enterprise movement because poverty is "the thing I care about most." He has been cred with shifting Republican politicians' focus towards poverty in recent years.
In the fall of 2013, Brooks traveled to Dharamsala, India to meet with the exiled leader at his temple. At this meeting, Brooks invited the Dalai Lama to visit AEI in February 2014 for a conference on happiness, free enterprise, and human flourishing. In 2016, Brooks and the Dalai Lama contributed to a joint op-ed in the New York Times entitled Dalai Lama: Behind Our Anxiety, the Fear of Being Unneeded.
Brooks left the AEI in mid-2019, explaining that staying in the job longer would ultimately be bad for the organization and for himself personally. He described the job of running the AEI as one requiring more fluid, rather than crystallized, intelligence, and that he was moving into teaching, which benefits from more crystallized intelligence.
Brooks is married to Ester Brooks, and they have three children. They live in Washington, D.C. At age 16, he converted to Roman Catholicism after having a "semi-mystical experience" while at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico during a school band trip. In the past he has been registered as both Democrat and Republican, he now identifies as independent.
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