“Around the world, it is the moral case, not an economic one, that leads people to take risks for freedom,” Brooks writes. “Advances in the cause of freedom and free enterprise -- while less dramatic than the collapse of communism -- have succeeded when advocates have made a compelling moral case for it.”
Brooks also warns against the opposite of “earned success,” which he calls “learned hopelessness.” This is what happens when people cease to believe that they’re capable of controlling their own destiny or improving their lives. Consider welfare before the 1996 reform package.
“Welfare programs created a permanent underclass: the unemployed received unearned support, lost job skills (or never acquired them), and thus became unable to gain stable employment, making them chronically, miserably, reliant on state aid,” Brooks writes. Too many people had “learned” that there was nothing they could do to improve their lives.
It took decades to make the moral case for welfare reform. But millions of Americans are better off today than they were when they relied on the federal government.
Since 1970 alone, free-market economic policies have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. They have saved and improved countless people’s lives.
That’s worth keeping in mind as we debate policy in the public square. Yes, we need numbers. But Brooks is right: If we want to build a better society, we need to seize the moral high ground as well.