The policy proposals of the Obama administration are portrayed by Brooks as addressing the concerns of middle-income people uneasy about the workings of capitalism. But they are not aimed at giving these people more control and choices over the course of their lives -- rather the contrary.
The medical treatment they would receive under a government health insurance plan would be determined by centralized experts making decisions based on "comparative effectiveness research," which tends to produce different results from month to month. Their pay and working conditions would be determined, under the unions' card check bill, by federal arbitrators. The cost of their electricity and the size of their cars could well be determined by officials at the Environmental Protection Agency.
No doubt most of these centralized experts will have good intentions. But they will also have imperfect information and a lack of accountability. "As Tocqueville recognized long ago," Hillsdale College's Paul Rahe writes in "Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift," "human dignity is bound up with taking responsibility for conducting one's own affairs."
In the course of doing so, it becomes clear that voluntary associations, market capitalism and moral virtues are interlinked. American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks argues in The Wall Street Journal that tea party protesters were expressing the "ethical populism" of "homeowners who didn't walk away from their mortgages, small business owners who don't want corporate welfare, and bankers who kept their heads during the frenzy and don't need bailouts."
Brooks makes the moral case against bailout politics and crony capitalism, a case that should appeal to the Western movie folks David Brooks writes about. Republicans are not perfectly positioned politically to make this case -- the bailouts did start last fall. But voters will not be swayed just by rows of zeroes. They may be moved if they see that people are not getting their just desserts.