AEI president discusses treatment of marginalized, flaws of political discourse
Mike Dugan | Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), delivered a lecture Tuesday regarding the treatment of the marginalized in society and the flaws of American political discourse. The lecture was titled “Bringing America Together.”
Brooks opened his lecture by discussing his views on the purpose of think tanks and American higher education.
“Why do great universities exist? To crank out more students with bachelor’s degrees and graduate degrees? No,” Brooks said. “The idea of a factory of ideas — a laboratory with a combination of ideas — is to solve problems, isn’t it? That’s why we’re all together, blending or wiring our intellect batteries together.”
Brooks explored the guiding principle behind how the AEI does its thinking.
“When you have a big problem and you don’t know the solution, the answer is never to think harder in the [conventional] way. … You can get everybody in the world thinking in the old ways about old problems,” Brooks said. “You need to think differently about old problems — that’s the solution.”
After giving a personal story about his son’s struggles with high school academics, Brooks, a Catholic, said he considers treatment of the marginalized to be the single largest policy issue in the United States.
“Our biggest problem is the way that we treat people at the margins of our society,” Brooks said. “Our biggest problem is not economic growth; our biggest problem is not our tax system; our biggest problem is not the conduct of our economy or foreign policy. Those are issues, those are important. But my view as a Catholic, my view as an economist and my view as an American, is that the biggest problem that we have is the way we treat people at the periphery of our society in America today and indeed around the world.”
Brooks said that his view is not controversial, and attempts to reduce the percentage of Americans in poverty have generally been unsuccessful. He also said it is important to examine America’s roots in order to change the way we look at those in poverty.
“[We live in] the only country in the world where we’re proud of being the descendants of riff-raff,” Brooks said. “[But] we don’t think about where we came from quite so much and we don’t have relationships with the new generation of people who look an awful lot like our great-grandparents did.”
Brooks said free enterprise provided the means to create America’s social safety nets, but that the way our country approaches aid to the poor is misguided.
“The poverty program and the safety net … are the greatest achievement of the free enterprise system. The problem is how we do it,” Brooks said. “Our country — since the mid-1960s — has gone from ‘needing’ poor people to ‘helping’ poor people. … Our welfare state treats poor people in this country as liabilities to manage.”
Later, Brooks said the spread of ‘contempt’ is the central problem in modern American politics, warning the audience against holding contempt and giving his advice on how to conduct discourse.
“If you want a permanent enemy, show contempt,” Brooks said. “Contempt is what you do when you’re not in control of yourself. You’re sort of reacting like a snail when stimulated with an electrical prod. Warmheartedness is for strong people.”