Arthur C. Brooks says that despite the heated rhetoric of the far right, the compassionate conservatism once touted by George W. Bush isn't dead. It's alive and well at the conservative American Enterprise Institute -- AEI - where Brooks became president in 2009.
Residing now at the top of the conservative pecking order in Washington, Brooks advises Republican leaders in Congress and spreads AEI's message to a wider audience. His specialty, as Newsweek describes it, is "translating ideas from policy speak into soaring moral prose." One of his key ideas: The endgame of free enterprise is not to preserve wealth but to create opportunity for the poor.
This week on Moyers & Company, Moyers and Brooks engage in a lively exchange over the safety net, which Brooks supports for the very poor, and a hike in the minimum wage, which he opposes. "The problem with the minimum wage is that it hurts the people it's supposed to help," he claims. "...It's the worst way to try to wipe out the unemployment scourge that we have in this country. We don't have a low wage problem. We have an unemployment problem in the bottom 50%. America has left the bottom behind. And we have a conspiracy -- we have a left wing politically that talks about solutions, but has no implementable answers that actually help poor people. And we have a right wing that traditionally doesn't even talk about poverty."
Moyers presses Brooks on why companies like Target, McDonald's and Walmart don't pay a living wage to their employees who then have to rely on public programs to support themselves - in Walmart's case, about $4,000 per worker. Brooks argues the market doesn't support higher wages and agrees that the country needs public policies that make work pay for those who perform it. While "free enterprise is a system of institutions and cultural values that respect the individual," he says, "... it has no hostility" toward the idea of government or a safety net.
Once a classical musician who took his French horn on the road with the fabled guitarist Charlie Byrd, - Arthur Brooks taught economics, government and social entrepreneurship at Syracuse University. He is the author of hundreds of articles and ten books, including his most recent, "The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise."
Bill Moyers hosts a weekly hour of compelling and vital conversation about life and the state of American democracy, featuring some of the best thinkers of our time.