The conservative social justice agenda

When I started this blog a year ago, I naïvely believed that no one else was seriously talking about how free market, conservative principles are the most effective means of fixing the problems of poverty and social inequality. How glad I am to have been wrong.

Over the weekend I found this video and this TED talk from Arthur Brooks, who is an economist and the president of the American Enterprise Institute. Go watch them. The few minutes you’ll spend with those videos could be the most valuable time you’ll spend this week.

In those videos, Arthur effectively makes one of the central points I’ve been trying to make for over a year now: “[Y]ou know what we need? You know what the social justice agenda is for conservatives today? It’s a hope agenda. And a hope agenda has three parts: work, entrepreneurship, and education.”

 

I passionately agree with the vision Arthur lays out. He’s not only describing why we as conservatives should be concerned with the prosperity of all Americans, both those who agree with us and those who don’t, he lays out a framework that will help to answer how we can start to achieve it.

At its core, the free market—Adam Smith’s capitalism—is about enriching the lives of every single person. We can make this vision of capitalism a reality through simple changes in the way we approach our businesses and our neighbors. Those changes start with taking a fresh approach, with thinking about how we can help others see the virtue in work and in the enterprise of building their lives.

For me at least, that change will start here. I haven’t yet figured out what it will be, but I’m changing the name of this blog. “Better Than Capitalism” is a strawman – I’m not writing about something better than capitalism, I’m writing about how to help more people through the application of conservative principles and a right understanding of how the world works.

In the longer run, the change will also involve doing more than blogging. Arthur Brooks can make his living as an economist, a thinker, and a speaker, but I want to be a doer. I want to take the principles that we have identified and put them into practice. More than that, I want to show you that they work in the hope that you’ll emulate them.

We don’t need the government to fix the problem of poverty. We can do it ourselves and it will mean so much more if we do.

 

Measuring up

Samuel Johnson is said to have once written that “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

I think that’s true.

But as poetic as it is, it suffers from entirely too much symmetry.


 

I listened to a fascinating conversation this week between Marc Andreessen and Clayton Christensen. In that discussion, Clayton talked about some of the things that got him to write his book How Will You Measure Your Life.

Right before the conversation ended, Clayton talked about an experience he had as a young business consultant. Faced with a looming deadline and a team who expected him to step up, Clayton was asked to work over a weekend. Despite the intense pressure from his boss, Clayton steadfastly refused to work the weekend because it would have meant violating commitments he had made to his wife and to God.

Angry and bewildered at his obstinacy, Clayton’s boss asked him whether “Just this once, in this particular extenuating circumstance,” if Clayton could just make the sacrifice to get the project done.

But still Clayton refused.

Now, years later, Clayton explains, “It turns out that that decision is one of the most important decisions I ever made, because it turns out that my whole life has been filled with an unending stream of extenuating circumstances and if I had said ‘Just this once’ the next time it occurred and the next time, it’s easier and easier. And I decided that it is easier to hold to our principles 100% of the time than it is to hold on to them 98% of the time.”


 

You see, it really doesn’t matter whether we’re dealing with people who can do us good or not. The true measure of a person is how we treat anyone we meet.

So it’s really important to hold on to the right things.

The culture we’re building here is the kind of culture that doesn’t stop at the free market. Having taken stock of the world in which we live, with all its beauty and its injustice, this culture pushes us to ask what we can make right.

Running into the dip

The funny thing about writing a blog is that anybody can do it, which I’ve proved for the last 52 weeks.

One year in, I’m convinced of a few things:

  1. Winning in business means much more than maximizing ROI in terms of dollars and cents.
  2. In blogging as in anything, maturing is a hard process.
  3. Transparency lowers the transaction cost of everything.
  4. The old saying about actions speaking louder than words is true. Talking about being otherish in business, by itself, isn’t going to change the world. I may not succeed, but my message doesn’t stand a chance of spreading unless I do more than write about it.

The culture we deserve

It’s been said that we get the culture we deserve.

It’s as true in politics as it is in business as it is in home life.

We are building our culture every day. When we make decisions or don’t. When we cut corners or insist on doing it right. When we give up or press on.

And the thing is, you never build your culture in a vacuum. It will rub up against the outside world and pick up scratches and nicks. It will bleed into everything that it touches. And you don’t get to control how those things happen.

The one thing we can control is how deliberate we are about creating our culture; we can focus on creating a certain kind of culture.

That focus means changing. You. Your motivations. Your habits. What you will do and what you won’t do. When you’ll do it. How you’ll do it.

Why you’ll do it.

So take half an hour today and make your first decision. Make a list of your most important priorities. Rank them against each other and put them in order of importance. Be radically honest with yourself. Make sure to include things you know you need to change. Then do something to affect the top one. Keep at it until you can knock out the top three, then reevaluate.

I’ll offer one suggestion: make at least one of your top three priorities something that benefits someone else but not you. It doesn’t have to be huge but it should be meaningful.