A Culture War By Other Means

Brink Lindsey demolishes AEI President Arthur Brooks's new book:

Brooks' book isn't about policy; it's about ideology and how to engage in politics. And it is, I'm sorry to say, a thoroughly wrongheaded way to approach these questions. The attempt to turn economic policy disputes into a populist cultural crusade rests on deep-seated confusion about the nature of those disputes and how best to effect constructive policy change. Brooks’ key move is to cast our “free enterprise system” as an instance of American exceptionalism in contrast to the social democracy of Europe and other advanced nations. Thus, economic policy becomes fodder for cultural politics: Supporters of free markets are defending a unique and precious American heritage, while members of the “30 percent coalition” have thrown in with the foreigners worst of all, with effete, decadent Europeans.

Why this is utterly off-base:

Plenty of European countries have markets about as free as those in the land of the free. Look at the ratings provided by the annual Economic Freedom of the World report, co-published by the Cato Institute. On four broad categories of economic freedom legal structure and security of property rights; access to sound money; freedom to trade internationally; and regulation the United States was slightly “freer” than Sweden, the United Kingdom, Austria, Finland, and Switzerland. Meanwhile, Ireland, the Netherlands and, by a wide margin, Denmark were found to have freer markets. Note that the two highest scorers have two of the biggest welfare states in the world which just goes to show that blurring issues of regulation and redistribution, as Brooks tries to do, leads to intellectual confusion.

I think what Arthur is doing is trying to reset to the 1980s as if the 1990s and the 2000s had never happened. This is a classic piece of abstract ideology, not political engagement with reality.