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Guest Editorial

Enlisting in 'The Battle'

At the age of 19, Arthur Brooks dropped out of college to follow his dream. He joined a touring chamber music group.

"I made little money and spent months every year driving around America in a van with four other guys," Brooks writes in his new book, "The Battle." Grueling work, yet "I had control over my artistic destiny," he writes. Brooks later found a "better" job with more pay and less travel. But, "I was miserable," he writes, because he didn't have control.

His lesson? "The more control you have over your life, the more responsible you feel for your own success (or failure)."

Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, Heritage's cross-town ally, isn't writing about music. The gist of his outstanding volume is summed up in its subtitle: "How the fight between free enterprise and big government will shape America's future." And his thesis is simple: Free enterprise is popular because it gives people -- rather than governments -- control over their lives.

Poll numbers show that an overwhelming majority of Americans -- 86 percent, according to Gallup -- have a positive view of free enterprise. And yet a minority group, which Brooks dubs the "30 percent coalition" (because when cobbled together it represents roughly 30 percent of Americans) is working to move America away from free enterprise and toward greater government control of all aspects of our lives.

"FDR created today's 30 percent coalition," Brooks writes. "[President] Obama wants to finish the job by turning it into a permanent ruling majority. There's nothing new about the Obama Narrative. It is the FDR Narrative on steroids. It is intended to lead to greater statism and political gain."

Brooks explains how our recent economic problems, including a recession, the collapse of the housing and stock markets and a series of federal bailouts, have empowered the 30 percent coalition as never before.

The supposed struggles of free enterprise are coming at a bad time, since tomorrow's leaders -- adults under 30 -- have "exhibited a frightening openness to increased statism and redistribution." This may be because the administration has "three long-term strategies to keep the young in the 30 percent coalition: pay off their debts, give them government jobs, and make sure they never have to pay for the services the government provides," Brooks writes.

But he also explodes the myth that our economic struggles were triggered by a lack of regulation. "One study shows that the costs of social and economic regulation skyrocketed by an amazing 60 percent under [George W.] Bush," he writes, "compared to 8 percent during Clinton's first term and 21 percent during his second."

In fact, government intervention in the marketplace helped over-inflate the housing bubble.

Federal mandates dating to the Clinton years "required Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to increase their low- and moderate-income loans to 55 percent of their mortgage purchases," Brooks notes. "These government-sponsored companies and their enablers in Congress sparked the fire that burned down our financial system."

He also lays to rest the idea that, with more power, federal regulators could protect Americans from future meltdowns. Brooks points to Bernard Madoff, who defrauded thousands of investors while a whistleblower spent years delivering detailed evidence to regulators from the Securities and Exchange Commission. There's no reason to believe new regulations would work better than the existing ones did.

"For the leaders of the 30 percent coalition, money buys happiness, as long as it is distributed fairly," Brooks says. "This is why redistribution of income is a fundamental goal, and why free enterprise, which always seems to reward some people and penalize others, cannot be trusted to get things right."

Indeed, his entire book illustrates that the free enterprise system is the only way forward.

"The Battle" is on. Are you on the right side?

- Ed Feuler is president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

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