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Arthur C. Brooks

Arthur C. Brooks
Libertarian economics
Born (1964-05-21) May 21, 1964 (age 50)
Spokane, Washington
Nationality United States
American Enterprise Institute (2009-Present)
Syracuse University (2001-2009)
Georgia State University (1998-2000)
Field Economics, Arts policy, Politics, Social Science, Statistics, Culture
Alma mater Thomas Edison State College
(B.A.) 1994
Florida Atlantic University (M.A.) 1995
Pardee RAND (Ph.D.) 1998
Influences Milton Friedman, Charles Murray, James Q. Wilson, Irving Kristol

Arthur C. Brooks (born May 21, 1964) is an American social scientist and musician. He is the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. Brooks is best known for his work on the junctions between culture, economics, and politics. Two of his popular volumes, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism and Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America—and How We Can Get More of It, explore these themes in greater depth. He is a self-described independent.

Early life and musical career

Brooks was raised in Seattle's Queen Anne neighborhood. His parents were professors, and his upbringing has been described as "liberal."[1][2]

After high school, Brooks pursued a career as a professional French hornist, serving from 1983 to 1989 with the Annapolis Brass Quintet in Baltimore, from 1989 to 1992 as the associate principal French hornist with the City Orchestra of Barcelona in Spain, and teaching from 1992 to 1995 at The Harid Conservatory, Music Division.[3]


Toward the end of his professional music career, Brooks began pursuing his higher education with a bachelor's degree in economics in 1994 from Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey, a public university that offers distance and nontraditional education programs to working adults. He received a master's degree from Florida Atlantic University in 1995 before pursuing a doctorate at the Frederick S. Pardee RAND Graduate School, a public policy program located at the RAND Corporation, where he was also a doctoral fellow.[4]

After receiving his PhD in policy analysis in 1998, Brooks continued to be affiliated with RAND, for which he produced a number of studies, mostly on arts funding and orchestra operations. He eventually began to study the junction of culture, politics, and economics that would come to be his trademark. "He kept his head down during the early years of his academic career, publishing the usual economics fare on philanthropy—such as how tax rates and government spending affect giving," writes Ben Gose. Brooks himself said, "I made my academic career doing that stuff, but the whole time I knew I was missing something."[1]

After a stint at Georgia State University, Brooks landed at Syracuse University in 2001. In 2005, he became a full professor, and held the Louis A. Bantle Chair in Business and Government Policy from 2007 to 2008. At Syracuse, Brooks held joint appointments in the public affairs and management schools.

Rise to prominence

In the early 2000s, Brooks began to look deeper into behavioral economics, often using the General Social Survey. It is this work that launched him into the spotlight. During his time at Syracuse, Brooks continued his academic work on philanthropy and nonprofits, authoring several articles and textbooks.

Who Really Cares

Brooks's first foray into the limelight was in 2006 with Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism.[5] Originating in his research on philanthropy and drawing on survey data, he articulates a charity gap between the 75 percent of Americans who donate to charitable causes and the rest who do not. Brooks argues that there are three cultural values that best predict charitable giving: religious participation, political views, and family structure. Ninety-one percent of people who identify themselves as religious are likely to give to charity, writes Brooks, as opposed to 66 percent of people who do not. The religious giving sector is just as likely to give to secular programs as it is to religious causes. Those who think government should do more to redistribute income are less likely to give to charitable causes, and those who believe the government has less of a role to play in income redistribution tend to give more. Finally, people who couple and raise children are more likely to give philanthropically than those who do not. The more children there are in a family, the more likely that a family will donate to charity. One of Brooks's most controversial findings was that political conservatives give more, despite having incomes that are on average 6 percent lower than liberals.

Brooks adopts what he calls a "polemic"[1] tone when offering recommendations, urging that philanthropic giving not be crowded out by government programs and that giving must be cultivated in families and communities. He admits being surprised by his conclusion: "These are not the sort of conclusions I ever thought I would reach when I started looking at charitable giving in graduate school, 10 years ago. I have to admit I probably would have hated what I have to say in this book."[5]

Who Really Cares was widely reviewed and critiqued. Many commentators thought that Brooks played up the role of religion too much, arguing that a charity gap is largely erased when religious giving is not considered, despite the fact that Brooks addressed and forcefully disproved this argument in his research, as recorded in the book. Jim Lindgren writes, "Although the liberal v. conservative split is the hook for the book, the data are not nearly as stark as the hype surrounding the book might indicate."[6][unreliable source?] In February 2007, after the release of Who Really Cares, Brooks briefed President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush on his findings.[7] Later that year, Brooks joined the American Enterprise Institute as a visiting scholar.

Gross National Happiness

In April 2008, Brooks published a survey and analysis of U.S. happiness research entitled Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America—and How We Can Get More of It.[8] Drawing his title from the Bhutanese measurement of national well-being, Brooks argues that the United States is one of the world's only other countries to enshrine happiness in its credo. Yet, he argues, happiness tends to get discounted in public policy in favor of other priorities. Brooks reviews survey data to understand the contours of how happy individual Americans are and how individual happiness translates into nationwide satisfaction.

Brooks's findings were controversial. Conservatives, he writes, are twice as likely to call themselves "very happy" than liberals. Those with extreme political beliefs, right or left, tend to be happier than moderates—although their provocations lower happiness for the rest of society. Devout people of all religions are much happier than secularists. Parents are happier than the childless, even though their children often upset them. But child-rearing, Brooks writes, offers "meaning" to life, a sort of deep happiness that Aristotle called eudaimonia. Balancing freedom and order also brings optimal happiness, Brooks writes, because "too many moral choices leave us insecure and searching, unable to distinguish right from wrong, and thus miserable."

The second section of the book is dedicated to the economic dimensions of happiness. Opportunity breeds happiness, Brooks writes, and "efforts to diminish economic inequality--without creating economic opportunity--will actually lower America's gross national happiness, not raise it." Opportunity allows for good jobs, and "job satisfaction actually increases life happiness." Brooks argues that work makes people happy because they are creating value, a theme he explored in a textbook also released in 2008 on "social value creation."[9]

To the extent that happiness can be "bought," it is with charity: giving—of effort, time, and money—makes people much happier, says Brooks, and it correlates with many other characteristics of the happy. Brooks, identifying himself as a libertarian, writes that the government does a poor job of making us happy but that "the government can help us pursue happiness."

Gross National Happiness was widely reviewed and featured in many news outlets, especially on talk radio. In addition to his media for Gross National Happiness, Brooks has blogged for the New York Times's Freakonomics blog and written dozens of op-eds for the Wall Street Journal and several other major papers. The Economist devoted an entire "Lexington" column to Brooks's findings in Gross National Happiness, referring to it as "a subtle and engaging distillation of oceans of data."[10] Richard Land wrote that he "found Arthur Brooks’ slaying of pop culture myths to be stimulating and informative."[11]

Will Wilkinson criticizes Gross National Happiness for downplaying European statistics on happiness. Brooks argues that happiness is highly correlated with religiosity, but Wilkinson points out that some of the world's happiest places--such as some Scandinavian countries--have very low religious participation rates. "Brooks just doesn't bring it up," writes Wilkinson. "He seemed to me to encourage the idea that the relationship between religiosity and happiness is deep, perhaps universal. But it just isn't." He continues: "It would be a simple error to infer that 'gross national happiness' would be damaged were the culture to become less conservative or religious."[12][unreliable source?]

The Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future

In April 2010, Brooks published The Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future in which he lays out a moral vision for the resurgence of the ideals of individual liberty, equal opportunity, entrepreneurship and self-reliance that have formed the American identity.

He asks the reason why, if America is a 70-30 nation favoring free enterprise, are the 30 percent who want to change that culture in charge? He submits that while these numbers appear to favor a traditional free enterprise culture, the 30 percent coalition has a tremendous amount of influence in key places such as academia and entertainment, and has effectively influenced a large number of young Americans.

Brooks believes the financial crisis of 2008-2009 was an opportunity for the statists to attack the free enterprise system as too risky for America to allow to continue in its current form, while ignoring the role of government policy and focusing instead on greed and stupidity in the private sector.

According to Brooks, the "battle" is a peaceful culture war and its outcome will determine whether America continues to exist as a traditional free enterprise system or transforms into a redistributionist European-style social democracy.[13][14]

This book was named WORLD magazine's 2010 "Book of the Year" in June 2010.[15]

The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise

Brooks released his first New York Times bestseller, The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise (Basic Books), on May 8, 2012. The book attempts to explain the paradox discussed in his previous book, The Battle, which stated that even though vast majorities of Americans claim to support a free enterprise system based on limited government, the size and scope of federal and state governments has steadily increased over the past century. Brooks argues that this is because advocates of limited government often rely on complex, data-driven arguments while progressives wrap their arguments in moral language, appealing to Americans hearts rather than their heads. In making this claim, Brooks relied heavily on the work of psychology professor Jonathan Haidt, which shows that humans process moral judgments more quickly than rational ones. The answer, then, according to Brooks, is for the right to defend free enterprise on its moral foundations.

Part One of the book lays out a moral case for the free enterprise system in three parts. First, Brooks argues that only free enterprise encourages true happiness based on earned success. This portion drew a great deal from his work on happiness from Gross National Happiness and The Battle. Next, Brooks claims that only free enterprise creates true fairness by rewarding merit. Last, Brooks states that only free enterprise lifts up the poor and vulnerable. For this last section, Brooks cites many statistics regarding world poverty reduction from increased trade and globalization, as well as statistics concerning limited government breeding charity.

The second half of The Road to Freedom outlines what Brooks describes as America’s “Statist Quo” and provides an alternate vision for the proper role of government. Drawing heavily from the work of Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, Brooks claims the only legitimate state functions are the provision of a limited social safety net and the correction of market failures when the state can act effectively and efficiently. Combatting what he believes to be unfair criticism of the right, Brooks says that “most believe that it is appropriate for the government to provide some safety net for its citizens … In my view, it is unacceptable for someone in America’s wealthy society to go without access to basic medical care, sufficient food, and basic shelter.” He continues, “But the safety net is not a means to increase material equality, a way to take any but the most grievous risks out of life, a way to pass out rewards to groups based on demographics or political clout, or a source of benefits to the middle class.”[16]

The Road to Freedom was widely reviewed by supporters and critics. Congressman Paul Ryan (R, Wisc.) provided a statement for the book cover, claiming “Arthur Brooks knows, as America’s Founders knew, that free enterprise underpins the moral case for human freedom. Economic freedom produces unimaginable material prosperity, but it’s also the only economic form that encourages individuals to freely pursue their destinies, develop the character of self-responsibility, and strengthen communities. Brooks eloquently confronts the growing threat to economic freedom and human fulfillment and describes the fundamental choices Americans must make to get back on the right road.”

However, several critics felt that Brooks’s arguments oversimplified the moral arguments for the free enterprise system by avoiding tough questions or using hyperbolic comparisons. For example, in The Atlantic, Clive Crook took issue with Brooks’s answer to whether or not America is an opportunity society, saying, “The question is not whether America is an opportunity society, but to what degree … Brooks argues that America is a land of opportunity because children of poor parents move up and children of rich parents move down. That's true, but the evidence is pretty clear that the US does not perform very well on this measure of mobility compared with other countries.[needs citation] Brooks might disagree with those findings but it's a serious weakness of the book that he doesn't even address them.”[17] In another example, Noah Kristula-Green wrote for The Daily Beast that “this is a book about U.S. domestic policy, not the benefits of adopting capitalism as opposed to communism. Arguments like this feel strangely anachronistic, especially since Brooks writes as if genuine communism was an option some were agitating for this in country … These sorts of global comparisons mean that Brooks can avoid confronting the inequality that actually exists in America. Why would you want to avoid discussing that topic? You avoid discussing inequality if you don't have to answer some very uncomfortable questions.”[18]

Commentary on America's Culture War

Brooks believes America is locked in a culture war in which either America will continue to be an exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise, limited government, a reliance on entrepreneurship and rewards determined by market forces, or America will move toward European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, a managed economy and large-scale income redistribution. Brooks states that while some have tried to dismiss the "tea party" demonstrations and the town hall protests as the work of extremists, ignorant backwoodsmen or agents of the health-care industry, this movement reveals much about the culture war that is underway, and it is not at all clear which side will prevail. Brooks submits that the rejection of her founding principles, in favor of redistributionist statism, will permanently lessen the wealth of The United States. However, the greatest danger is the abandonment of the pursuit of happiness, because only free enterprise brings happiness as a result of earned success.[19]

Presidency of American Enterprise Institute

On July 14, 2008, AEI president Christopher DeMuth announced that Brooks would succeed him. "I am thrilled and honored to be asked to serve as the president of AEI," Brooks said. "With research ranging between prophetic ideas and technical policy details, AEI has always acted as a steward of American ideals of private liberty, individual opportunity, and free enterprise. Time and again, AEI's mix of great people and strong values has produced the right ideas at the right time for America and the world. To serve as the Institute's president in the coming era is a truly wonderful and humbling opportunity, and I am fully committed to building on the Institute's amazing record of success."[20] Brooks became AEI's eleventh president on January 1, 2009.


Brooks is married to Ester Brooks, and they have three children. They live in Washington DC. He is a Roman Catholic, and although he has in the past been a registered Democrat and Republican, he states that he is now an independent.[2]


  • Arthur C. Brooks. The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise. New York: Basic Books, 2012. (ISBN 978-0465029402)
  • Arthur C. Brooks. The Battle: How the Fight between Big Government and Free Enterprise Will Shape America's Future. New York: Basic Books, 2010. (ISBN 978-0-46-502212-0)
  • Arthur C. Brooks. Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America—and How We Can Get More of It. New York: Basic Books, 2008. (ISBN 978-0-465-00278-8)
  • Arthur C. Brooks. Social Entrepreneurship: A Modern Approach to Social Value Creation. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 2008. (ISBN 978-0-13-233076-3)
  • Arthur C. Brooks. Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism. New York: Basic Books, 2006. (ISBN 978-0-465-00821-6)
  • Arthur C. Brooks, ed. Gifts of Time and Money: The Role of Charity in America's Communities. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. (ISBN 0-7425-4505-9)
  • Kevin F. McCarthy, Elizabeth H. Ondaatje, Arthur C. Brooks, and Andras Szanto. A Portrait of the Visual Arts: Meeting the Challenges of a New Era. Santa Monica, Calf.: RAND Corporation, 2005. (ISBN 0-8330-3793-5)
  • Kevin F. McCarthy, Elizabeth H. Ondaatje, Laura Zakaras, and Arthur C. Brooks. Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Debate about the Benefits of the Arts. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, 2004. (ISBN 0-8330-3694-7)
  • Kevin F. McCarthy, Arthur C. Brooks, Julia Lowell, and Laura Zakaras. The Performing Arts in a New Era. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, 2001. (ISBN 0-8330-3041-8)


External links

Biography portal
  • Arthur C. Brooks's profile at the American Enterprise Institute's website
  • Brooks's personal website
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Christopher DeMuth
President of the American Enterprise Institute
Succeeded by

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