It’s no secret that many conservatives view welfare as wasteful. But that doesn’t mean they’re unsympathetic to the plight of the poor, argues Arthur C. Brooks, president of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute think tank. In fact, it’s quite the opposite–and conservatives need to communicate as much if they hope to win the White House in 2016. Programs like welfare, Brooks argues, are a short-term solution: they make poverty less painful, not less permanent. It would be far more beneficial for the government to spend less on public assistance and more on measures that create jobs–offering travel vouchers, for example, so that jobless people in low-opportunity areas can relocate to regions that need more workers. “We need to remind every American that it can be done and they can do it,” Brooks writes, “and we need to build an economy that lives up to that promise.”
This appears in the August 31, 2015 issue of TIME.