Arthur Brooks: “Only a crusade for social justice will stand a chance at winning this fight”

by Ryan Streeter on January 31, 2014. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

I’ve heard Arthur give 2 speeches that are versions of this wonderful Commentary essay. He talks about a conservative view of social justice, based on interviews with low-income Americans:

Interviews with poor and vulnerable citizens, especially those whose struggles to lift themselves up have yielded success, provide more insight in these conversations than any survey database could impart. From my experience conducting such interviews, many express an apolitical contempt for all politicians, liberal and conservative. They denounce with equal force the progressive politicians who believe that cash and redistribution alone can solve poverty and the conservatives who act as though every poor person should simply start a small business.

What, then, do poor people say they truly need to lead prosperous and satisfying lives? The real answer is both simple and profound. They need transformation, relief, and opportunity—in that order. On these three pillars, conservatives and advocates for free enterprise can build the basics of the social-justice agenda that America deserves.

Read the whole thing, but to summarize the 3 pillars, here are some key passages:

Transformation: “As one digs deeper into the data, four transformational values prove to be concentric to a well-ordered, successful, and happy life: faith, family, community, and work.”

Relief, as summarized by – believe it or not – Friedrich Hayek: “There is no reason why, in a society that has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision.”

Opportunity: “An opportunity society has two basic building blocks: Universal education to create a base of human capital and an economic system that rewards hard work, merit, innovation, and personal responsibility. So opportunity conservatism must passionately advance education reform and relentlessly defend the morality of free enterprise.”