Within minutes of taking the stage in DU’s Reiman Theater at the Daniels College of Business, Arthur Brooks announced he was going to prove that free enterprise is good for poor people and dangerous for rich people.
Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, was brought in by the Business Ethics and Legal Studies Department as part of the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative Speaking Series.
Brooks, who spoke to a group of DU students, faculty, staff and Denver community members Oct. 6, told the audience they all should be able to answer why they do what they do.
He shared his own experience of growing up wanting to be a musician. He was so passionate about about playing the French horn, in fact, that he skipped classes in college to play . He was eventually kicked out of school but became a classical musician in the United States and Spain. Years later, as he studied the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach, he learned something that would change his path. When Bach was asked why he wrote music, he responded that his aim was for the glorification of God and the enjoyment of man.
Brooks wondered what profession he could pursue to provide that same meaning for his life.
“I went on a vision quest,” he said. “What could I actually do to help mankind? That’s what I wanted to do.”
He ended up going back to college and graduating at 30 with his B.A. in economics from Thomas Edison State College. “Economics helped me see how I could help mankind.”
Brooks went onto pursue a master’s in economics and a Ph.D. and M.Phil. in policy analysis from the Pardee RAND Graduate School. His studies focused on why it’s only in the past few hundred years people have stopped being poor.
Eighty percent of the world’s poverty has been eradicated because of globalization, free trade, property rights, the rule of law and entrepreneurship.
“Capitalism is great for poor people!” he said. “Do you love the poor? Then show it by fighting for free enterprise.”
Brooks explained that capitalism doesn’t mean a life of pursuing money or accumulating wealth. In fact, he emphasized that people were happier when they did not pursue wealth and they gave money away.
“The world’s formula is to love things and use people,” he said, adding that a better formula is to “use things and love people.”
He encouraged the audience to give away the one thing they were most attached to and use their resources to acquire things with endogenous value, like experiences with the people they love.
Brooks urged the students in the audience to move beyond politics and create a movement of lifting people up, using capitalism to improve lives. And by doing this, he assured, “You’re going to have a better life and give me a better country.”
Brooks is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and the bestselling author of 11 books on topics including the role of government, fairness, economic opportunity, happiness, and the morality of free enterprise. His latest book is the New York Times bestseller “The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America” (Broadside Books, 2015). He has also published dozens of academic journal articles and the textbook “Social Entrepreneurship” (Prentice Hall, 2008).