As the Founding Chairman of the AEI Executive Council at Baylor University and a Student Fellow for the Baugh Center for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise, I had the pleasure of hosting an event with Arthur Brooks on campus last April. I first heard Dr. Brooks speak at AEI at the Values and Capitalism conference for college students in Washington, DC. Soon afterward, I started the Executive Council at Baylor and made it my mission to get Dr. Brooks on campus before I graduated. Fortunately, two weeks ago, I fulfilled that goal.
Arthur Brooks is such a compelling speaker on the topic of free enterprise because he is able to connect with young people and the politically uninformed in a way that most people in DC are completely unable to do. Some of this owes to Dr. Brooks’ exotic past – he was a French horn player who traveled the world before deciding to go back to college at 30 years old. As such, he is not the typical policy speaker who drones on about tax rates and changes in legislative appropriations. He even said during the speech: “I don’t care about the marginal tax rates of billionaires.”
The key to Dr. Brooks’ message is “abundance without attachment.” He differentiated between “money” and the “love of money” and talked about why capitalism is such an important system to fight for. Thanks to capitalism, more than 2 billion people have been lifted out of poverty, said Brooks. We should not be so quick to criticize a system that has had such powerful effects.
However, Brooks acknowledged that it is easy to become too attached to money and material things. When people focus on exogenous goals such as money, power, or fame, they report lower levels of life satisfaction, said Brooks, citing a recent study. Instead, the happiest people focus on memories, experiences, and good relationships with their family, friends, and spouse. “If you want to buy a Mercedes, buy a Mercedes,” said Brooks. “Just don’t fall in love with the Mercedes.”
Where people criticize capitalism for corrupting our morality and incentivizing materialism, Brooks would push back. Attachment to material things is a personal problem, he said. It’s not created by the system itself – the system that has done more to eradicate poverty than any government program or foreign aid shipment.
“My number one issue is fairness,” said Brooks. Capitalism is the best way to achieve fairness – by giving both poor and rich people the opportunities to succeed, it allows them a chance at a better life.
Over 500 people (mostly students) attended the lecture, and it was all made possibly by AEI and Baylor’s Baugh Center for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise. What a great success!