Arthur Brooks, The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America (New York: Broadside Books, 2015) 246 pgs.
Arthur Brooks, the President of AEI, contends that Conservative economic and political policies will do the best good for the poor when they are implemented, but that they are unlikely to find wide appeal because Conservatives are bad at getting their message across. The bulk of “The Conservative Heart” is dedicated to unfolding this first premise, and then helping people who believe in these principles learn how to communicate them in ways that address the moral issues people care the most about.
It is commonly thought that Progressives care more for people (polls show that people overwhelmingly give the edge to Progressive politicians on the “they care for me” score even when the same people disagree with their policies) while it can be shown that Progressive policies have been bad for the poor and for the working class. On the other hand, Conservative economic principles have nearly always been better for the poor and increasing their social standing, but they are rarely implemented due to this political climate where the compassion edge is given to the Progressive ideas. How can this change? Brooks argues that Conservatives not only need to have the courage of their convictions, they need to start seeing these economic issues as moral issues. It is popular, for instance, to champion the poor by advocating for raising the minimum wage. That sounds compassionate, but when it is raised, it is the poor worker who is laid off and hurt. Why continue advocating for it? Additionally, perpetual welfare wealth transfers have long-term negative effects on individuals and families, so why not advocate for welfare reform with a work requirement?
It may appear that The Conservative Heart is a policy wonk book intended to unfold economic policies in pretty dry and laborious fashion. The truth is very different. Brooks is himself deeply concerned for the poor, the working class, and the health of the family. He argues convincingly that our economic and political systems need to adopt Conservative principles in order to reverse many of the negative trends and bring health back into so many corroded parts of our culture. He says, “Conservatives are in possession of the best solutions to the problems of poverty and economic mobility. Yet because we don’t speak in a way that reflects our hearts, many Americans simply don’t trust us and are unwilling to give us the chance to implement those solutions” (pg. 15). The goal, as he says over and over, is not the creation of millionaires and billionaires, it is the infusion of opportunity, dignity, and family strength back into the economy.
Brook’s book is a wonderful survey of how economic policies affect the poor and the working class, and is a tremendous presentation of Conservative principles. From several surveys of economic research, to fascinating case studies, to a discussion on how to best communicate these principles, this is a wonderful case for the Conservative heart.
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