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Posts Tagged ‘David Brooks’

Say It Again; Conservatives Don’t Care About the Deficits

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

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Fretting about the deficit, and the difficultly in addressing the deficit, is a constant source of posturing from pundits, but sometimes they remind you that they really have very weird views on the nature of the problem, and the possible ways of addressing it. Consider David Brooks:

Now some people think their elected officials are so rotten that only an unelected commission can save us. Snobs. The history of commissions is the history of failure. Stuart M. Butler of the Heritage Foundation and Henry J. Aaron of the Brookings Institution argue compellingly that it is simply impossible in a democracy to rewrite the social contract without popular consent. Commissions are fine, but they have to be embedded in a broader democratic process.The way to do that is to break free from the polarized committee structure. Invite a dozen handpicked senators and House members and stick them in a room three times a week for six months.

After they’ve come up with a debt-reduction plan, have them send it up in secret to the presidential deficit commission, which President Obama was smart enough to create.

This is a fine idea, so far as it goes, and it’s not something I’d have a problem endorsing. But what’s odd is that Brooks, like basically every other pundit that trades in deficit hawkery, completely ignores the main problem facing people who want to tackle the long-term deficit; Republican elected officials will not under any circumstances accept tax increases. Really, they won’t. Republicans in the federal government haven’t voted for a single tax increase since George H.W. Bush was President, and the conservative base revolted in response to that attempt to address the deficit. What’s even more maddening is the inevitable need to paint the deficit as a problem made by both parties, which both parties are equally reluctant to tackle.

Consider the last 30 years of fiscal policy. When Reagan was in office, he advocated drastic tax cuts, particularly for the wealthy, and large increases in defense spending. The result, naturally, was historically large budget deficits. George H.W. Bush attempted to take steps towards deficit reduction, and was villified by most of the Republican Party for it. Then came Clinton, whose 1993 budget not only reduced the size of the deficit, but turned it into a large surplus by the time Clinton left office. And not a single Republican voted for that budget. Every single Republican member of Congress opposed the most significant deficit reduction measure of the last 30 years. Let that sink in. Then of course, Dubya came along with a large surplus on the budget, and through a series of massive tax cuts, a completely unfinanced entitlement expansion, and two unfinanced wars created more historically large budget deficits. The current Democratic government, by contrast, constructed their major legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, in a way that was not just paid for, but actually reduces the deficit in the long term according to the CBO. Yes, there was the stimulus, but that was both a one-time, short term expeniture in the face of a massive economic downturn, and a textbook example of how government is supposed to react in situations where monetary policy is of limited effect in stimulating the economy according to modern economic theory.

The pattern here is pretty simple, moderate and liberal governments budget responsibly, and take deficit reduction seriously, even when it makes legislating more difficult, while conservative administrations mix large tax cuts with new spending on pet projects, specifically wars and military equipment, leading to exploded deficits. And at present, the obvious impediment to serious bi-partisan attempts at deficit reduction is Republican refusal to accept tax increases to generate new revenue. As is usually the case, the fact that pundits who are ostensibly concerned about this issue never make note of the problem suggests that they either don’t take the issue as seriously as they purport to, or simply don’t pay enough attention to know what the actual impediments to their goal are.

I Am Not A David Brooks Fan

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

A lot of other squishes like the guy, but frankly I find David Brooks totally insufferable and depressingly thin, and this column from last week is a good example of why that is exactly. How does this idiot hold down a job with a publisher who presumably holds his work in high esteem? Hell, how eactly did he convince anyone to hire him in the first place?

Let’s look at what Brooks trades in when he isn’t simply making shit up:

Human nature, in no form of it, could ever bear prosperity,” John Adams wrote in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, warning against the coming corruption of his country.

Yet despite its amazing wealth, the United States has generally remained immune to this cycle. American living standards surpassed European living standards as early as 1740. But in the U.S., affluence did not lead to indulgence and decline.

That’s because despite the country’s notorious materialism, there has always been a countervailing stream of sound economic values. The early settlers believed in Calvinist restraint. The pioneers volunteered for brutal hardship during their treks out west. Waves of immigrant parents worked hard and practiced self-denial so their children could succeed.

So let me get this straight, America’s monied class was unaffected by its affluence because poor people had to uproot their families to make a dangerous track across the continent for a chance to improve their economic status and new immigrants denied themselves by working 16 hours a day for subsistence wages in Gilded Age factories? Ok.

It doesn’t get much better:

Government was limited and did not protect people from the consequences of their actions, thus enforcing discipline and restraint.
Right. Government was super restrained back in those days. Well, if you don’t count giving away chunks of land to anyone willing to move to them or sending in armed police whenever a business owners profit margins were threatened by uppity workers thinking they could unionize themselves. Yeah, other than that, the government was pretty restrained I suppose.
When economic values did erode, the ruling establishment tried to restore balance. After the Gilded Age, Theodore Roosevelt (who ventured west to counteract the softness of his upbringing) led a crackdown on financial self-indulgence.
RIght, Teddy did lots of awesome stuff like…create the FDA, in part as a response to widespread fraud in medicines, which cost a lot of desperate people a lot of money looking for miracle cures. Because the government didn’t protect you from your own bad choices. Or something. Also. Too.
Some of the signs are seemingly innocuous. States around the country began sponsoring lotteries: government-approved gambling that extracts its largest toll from the poor.
Yes, we should get rid of state lotteries so that poor people can’t choose to piss away their money $2 a time on shiny scratch offs and over-makeuped 45 year old bottle blonds announcing random numbers at 7:29 PM every night. Because we don’t….I don’t think even David knows where he is at this point. Quick, dig up some trite cliche and bring it home.
If there is to be a movement to restore economic values, it will have to cut across the current taxonomies. Its goal will be to make the U.S. again a producer economy, not a consumer economy. It will champion a return to financial self-restraint, large and small.
So wait a second, we’re going to cut back our consumption, spend less money, and this is going to make us a “producer state?” Because lots of businesses exist to make units no one will buy or something? I mean seriously, what the fuck? It would be one thing if he were calling for a concientious choice to spend your dollars on products made within the United States, because that would, you know, make sense. But if people stop consuming, production isn’t going to rise to meet non-existant demand. This is Econ 101 level shit.

I swear to God, major Op-Ed pages are, at this point, nothing but a side wager between the publisher’s of the papers betting on which one of them can publish the dumbest shit and still have it taken seriously. There’s no other explanation for it.

Political Speak

Monday, March 9th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Following up on my last post, it occurs to me that the most obvious answer for the “discrepancy” between what Ezra Klein and David Brooks were told by anonymous sources inside the White House; they weren’t contradictory at all. Sounds like a stretch but consider the clips Greenwald uses to build his case. First, from Ezra:

What people at the White House have told me on Social Security — and what I wrote in the post she’s referencing — is that there’s no intention to touch Social Security in the foreseeable future. It’s not a priority and it’s not a political winner. . . . The problem, they say, is health care, not Social Security, and that’s where the White House is focusing.

And from Brooks:

Besides, the long-range debt is what matters, and on this subject President Obama is hawkish.

He is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security as well as health spending.

Now, at first blush those statements certainly seem mututally exclusive. But it’s important to remember that it’s politicians giving these quotes, and adminitration officials are always going to choose their words carefully, and that because of that you really need to parse what they say before you do something definitive like publish a blog post about them. So let’s game these out. On the one hand, someone told Ezra Klein that the administration was going to use the fiscal responsibility summit to make the arguement that Social Security was more or less sound, and that healthcare reform was much more important for our fiscal stability (they did), and that there was no political room to make changes to Social Security at the moment (which seems fair enough), and so there were no plans to do anything with Social Security for “the foreseeable future.” It’s important to remember that the source is hedging, as administration officials are always going to do. Anyone who sets some sort of concrete proclomation about the future years out isn’t in a position to be informed on these things, because political actors of that caliber just don’t do that. And what was told to Brooks is even less specific and substantive. Basically we’re told, second hand, that Obama is “extremely committed” to something, and that something is defined very broadly as “entitlement reform.” Indeed, we don’t even know if the sources mentioned Social Security themselves, or if Brooks embellished somewhat. The more I think about it, the more it seems that anonymity is a rather large red herring here, at least in Brooks’s case, and the larger issue is the sloppy and ambiguous write up of a completely empty quote he got.

It’s also important to consider that these are two different things. While Brooks is publishing second hand conjecture about things Obama is committed to doing “in the long term,” at least one of the issues Ezra addressed, the nature of the fiscal responsibility summit, has been proven to be accurate. That should pretty clearly tip the scale, at least for now, in Ezra’s favor, and cast more skepticism in Brooks’s direction. When adding in that the quote Brooks relayed didn’t really say anything and leaves a football field’s worth of political wiggle room (the nice thing about committing to “the long term” is that you can always come back and claim that things are just different down the road), I don’t really think it’s helpful to give the two equal weight. Clearly, Ezra has infinitely more credibility than Brooks at this juncture, and giving them equal credence is a false equivalency. That it helps build the desired case against anonymous quotes doesn’t really change that.

Brooks and the Problem With “Stimulus”

Friday, January 30th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Writing in today’s New York Times, David Brooks criticizes the stimulus package in probably the most irritating way possible:

In a fateful decision, Democratic leaders merged the temporary stimulus measure with their permanent domestic agenda — including big increases for Pell Grants, alternative energy subsidies and health and entitlement spending. The resulting package is part temporary and part permanent, part timely and part untimely, part targeted and part untargeted.

It’s easy to see why Democrats decided to do this. They could rush through permanent policies they believe in. Plus, they could pay for them with borrowed money. By putting a little of everything in the stimulus package, they avoid the pay-as-you-go rules that might otherwise apply to recurring costs.

But they’ve created a sprawling, undisciplined smorgasbord, which has spun off a series of unintended consequences. First, by trying to do everything all it once, the bill does nothing well. The money spent on long-term domestic programs means there may not be enough to jolt the economy now (about $290 billion in spending is pushed off into 2011 and later).

This, to put it mildly, is the sort of lazy, semi-romanticized, junior high thinking that’s dangerously infected out pundit class. Long story short; not everything is going to have the increasing returns of infrastructure development, new technology, or retrofitting buildings. You can’t put all your money to one thing, or to one industry, because then you’d just be propping up those places. Indeed, many appropriations are just going to be about getting money into the economy, and that’s ok. After all, it was Reagan who said “the best welfare program is a job,” and there’s at least something right in that formulation. In this case, the most effective “stimulus” in the short run (which really should be understood more as stabilization, but that doesn’t sound as good I suppose) is stemming the tide of job losses, and keeping people working. That keeps them earning a paycheck, paying their bills, and consuming a certain amount.

Add in the fact that the rest of Brooks column reads like it could have been written by any generic Republican in the last 15 years, and this isn’t exactly Brooks in top form.

Also, no mention of the fact that the CBO report he based his column on last week doesn’t exist. Shocking.

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