In The Conservative Heart, Arthur Brooks presents what he considers should be the basis of a conservative political discourse in American society and–why not?–the rest of the world.
As president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an important conservative think-tank in the United States, Brooks has a long history advising Congress and promoting policies in favor of free competition, deregulation of trade and the development of free enterprise. This makes Brooks a connoisseur of conservative political discourse, as he has to use it to help promote initiatives, and this book aims to attack what he understands are the weaknesses of the rightist political and economic discourse.
Although a number of surveys indicate that people identified as politically conservative are recognized by society by their leadership skills and, in turn, are more charitable—perhaps attributed to that they are more inclined to religion, notwithstanding they have lower average income than the rest of the citizens, Brooks submits evidence suggesting that conservatives are identified as anti-government ice machines only concerned in protecting the interests of large corporations and lacking the slightest compassion for the disadvantaged citizens. This mistaken appreciation, in the words of Brooks, is mostly due to the way how the Conservatives have turned their political discourse to citizens: always appealing to the homo-economicus!
Brooks began his book with a defense of the free market capitalist system and how the business development has helped to increase the prosperity of mankind in every corner. Brooks is bold showing examples of how the capitalist and entrepreneurial spirit characterizing American society has contributed to improving the quality of life of both their citizens and immigrants from around the world who have gone to the United States in search of the American dream. However, the search for a better quality of life has constantly been hampered by bureaucracy and restrictions on competition imposed by the government, problems that are part of the battle array of the conservative speech.
Conservative politicians, as well as Liberals, want to promote ideas to improve the welfare of all citizens. However, this is not perceived by the population because the conservative discourse has been overloaded with confusing financial jargon and a strong attachment to reason. Brooks argues that, without falling into populism, the key to expanding conservative ideas and proposals should be leading the discourse towards the heart of the voter, promoting the values of faith, family and “earnest work” characterizing the lifestyle of a conservative. Brooks notes that despite their low levels of popularity, the Conservatives still are perceived as having great leadership skills and, therefore, should be called upon to use these skills.
Issues such as the importance of fiscal responsibility and debt sustainability have very little meaning for the citizen who is unemployed and goes through serious difficulties to put a meal on the table. To give meaning to speech, Brooks suggests that emphasis should be placed on how a fiscally responsible government is better able to respond to short-term needs of citizens and/or how can ease entrepreneurship through a less onerous and restrictive tax system.
It is no coincidence that the Conservative Heart is published at the beginning of the US election campaign. To Arthur Brooks, the key to a good conservative speech is to connect more ideas with people and promote the values of faith, family unit, community life, and work characterizing the conservative ideology. With this book, Brooks aims to help conservative candidates bring their speech to a greater number of citizens, because, in times of uncertainty and economic difficulties, not only in America but also in the rest of the world, we must recognize that it is very difficult for a Conservative candidate face populist arguments as “let’s give America a raise!” when they have only few seconds to gain the public’s attention.
Brooks suggests those who are more in a hurry to know how to quickly improve the conservative speech, jumping from chapter one to chapter seven of the book. However, I think the book has much to offer, even for well-trained economists on how to improve the exposure of economic arguments, especially from mainstream economics, in non-academic environments.
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