Is capitalism broken? Terence Corcoran interviews Arthur C. Brooks ahead of Munk Debate appearance
On Wednesday night in Toronto, four ideological foes will take the stage at Roy Thomson Hall for the latest in the Munk Debate series. The motion before the debaters: “The capitalist system is broken. It’s time to try something different.”
Taking the affirmative side — that capitalism is an engine of inequality and environmental destruction — are Yanis Varoufakis, former Greek finance minister and star of Europe’s socialist movement, and Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation magazine.
Arguing that capitalism is the engine of economic and social progress are Arthur C. Brooks, former head of the American Enterprise Institute, and David Brooks, a columnist with The New York Times.
In advance of the debate, Terence Corcoran talks to Arthur C. Brooks about his debate strategy, the nature of capitalism, U.S. presidential politics and the Green New Deal. The interview has been edited and condensed.
Terence Corcoran: I must say I think you’ve got your work cut out for you at the Munk Debate. You are up against a raging European Marxist who thinks capitalism is a morally bankrupt failure of a system that needs to be blown up, and a leftist U.S. magazine editor who thinks Bernie Sanders is a moderate realist. Do you have a clear battle plan to take on these two radical anti-capitalists?
Arthur C. Brooks: I want to talk about the free enterprise system and how capitalism has helped people — and how it has failed to do so. The important thing about a debate is not winning, the important thing is letting people get a menu of ideas articulated in a respectful way.
Corcoran: Although at the Munk Debate, the audience is polled before and after the debate, as if to see who won.
Brooks: To see who was more persuasive in making their case, and whether the audience was moved one way or another. The point is to see who made the case most persuasively on a hot topic.
Corcoran: Now the debate is clearly about something called capitalism, although the motion is very odd: “The capitalist system is broken. It’s time to try something different.” What is your definition of capitalism?
Brooks: Capitalism is a theoretical concept that was derisively described by Karl Marx as one where the system rewards capital over labour. The problem is there isn’t actually a capitalist system in existence. It’s better to talk about free enterprise, and a free enterprise system is one where markets allocate capital and resources when they’re best equipped to do so. It doesn’t rule out the possibility of a social welfare system or government or anything like that. So I prefer to talk about the free enterprise system.