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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press David Brooks: Bard of the 1 Percent

David Brooks: Bard of the 1 Percent

Tuesday, 11 October 2011 04:37

David Brooks delved deep into his storage locker of misinformation to tell readers that the idea of blaming the richest 1 Percent for the country's problems is just silly. He told us that the really big ideas aren't about reversing the upward redistribution of income from the top, they are from centrists who want to do things like cut our Social Security and make us pay more for health care. Let's have some fun with Mr. One Percent.

First he begins his piece by telling us:

"The U.S. economy is probably going to stink for a few more years. It is beset by short-term problems (low consumer demand, uncertain housing prices, too much debt) and long-term problems (wage stagnation, rising health care costs, eroding human capital).

"Realistically, not much is going to be done to address the short-term problems, but we can at least use this winter of recuperation to address the country’s underlying structural ones."

In other words, Brooks wants all those people who are unemployed and losing their homes to just suck it up. Nothing is going to be done to help you: get over it.

And why is nothing going to be done to help the 26 million people who are unemployed, underemployed or have given up looking for work altogether? The reason is that people like David Brooks and rest of the 1 Percent don't give a damn about you.

We do know how to do something about unemployment. According to research, the stimulus worked just about exactly as planned. It was designed to create 2-3 million jobs in a context where the economy needed 10-12 million jobs. There is no economic reason why we can't go the route of more stimulus -- aid to state and local governments so they don't have to lay off school teachers, infrastructure spending, youth jobs programs etc. -- it is just powerful people like David Brooks who don't want us to do anything.

The Fed could also be more aggressive. For example it could move to deflate the debt that millions of households face from mortgages and student loans. This would mean following the path advocated by Ben Bernanke for Japan's central bank when he was still a professor at Princeton; deliberately targeting a somewhat higher rate of inflation (e.g 4-6 percent).

And of course we could go the work sharing route. With no better growth than us, Germany has used work sharing to bring down its unemployment rate to below its pre-recession level. If we can't raise the demand for labor by making the economy grow, then we can just share the work that we have.

This is all pretty simple, but David Brooks and his 1 Percent friends have already decided that they aren't going to let any of this happen. The 99 percent are just going to have to suck it up and protesting on Wall Street isn't going to make a difference.

Not only does Brooks want to tell the 99 percent that the 1 Percent are not going to allow anything to happen that will help them, he tells readers that they better not blame the 1 Percent for this situation:

"Unfortunately, almost no problem can be productively conceived in this way. A group that divides the world between the pure 99 percent and the evil 1 percent will have nothing to say about education reform, Medicare reform, tax reform, wage stagnation or polarization. They will have nothing to say about the way Americans have overconsumed and overborrowed."

Of course this is not true, even if the media rarely give attention to the views of the 99 percent. The reason that Americans "overconsumed and overborrowed," was that we had a huge housing bubble. As every graduate of an intro economics class knows, people will spend based on their housing wealth. The $8 trillion bubble led people to spend vast amounts of money, exactly as economic theory predicts.

That bubble was easy for people not in the 1 percent to see, and it was entirely predictable that its collapse would lead to an economic disaster, but Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and other people in the 1 Percent who had the responsibility for managing the economy opted to do nothing. This could have been due to astounding incompetence or it might have something to do with the fact that people in the 1 Percent with names like Angelo Mozilo, Richard Fuld, and Robert Rubin, were making money hand over fist off the mortgages that financed the housing bubble. In any case, this economic disaster was 100 percent due to the greed and/or incompetence of the 1 percent and was 100 percent preventable.

The other items on Brooks' list also have an awful lot to do with the greed of the 1 Percent and corruption of the political system. In the case of health care, we pay more than twice as much per person for our health care as people in any other wealthy country. The reason is that the richest 1 Percent -- executives in pharmaceutical and insurance companies, hospitals and highly paid medical specialists -- all make huge sums off our health care system. If we paid the same amount per person as people in any other country, our long-term budget projections would show huge surpluses, not deficits.

Education reform, in the sense of students learning in school, will fare much worse with Brooks' period of a stinking economy. When people lose their jobs and their homes they cannot provide the sort of stable environment that children need to do well in school. And of course wage stagnation and polarization has everything to do with the trade and regulatory policies that the 1 Percent have adopted to redistribute income upward.

In fact, the 99 percent-1 Percent divide has almost everything to do with current situation. But, David Brooks' 1 Percent status depends on him telling people the opposite twice a week in the NYT. You might as well learn to enjoy Brooks' ill-informed semi-weekly diatribes; realistically, not much is going to be done to address the situation.

Comments (20)Add Comment
Inflation without demand
written by Tom, October 11, 2011 7:28
I have heard the idea that the Fed could target higher inflation many times. I am wondering whether you can get higher inflation merely through monetary policy rather than through increases in demand, or at least, high enough to be of help.
More like this, please
written by Drew Kime, October 11, 2011 8:22
The reason is that people like David Brooks and rest of the 1 Percent don't give a damn about you.

Please please PLEASE more plain, blunt language like this. There has been a culture war going on for decades. It's time to start calling out the people who are waging it.
written by Kat, October 11, 2011 9:06
I am disappointed in Mr. Brooks today. Not one study from the behavioral sciences to prove that there's nothing that you can really do about wealth inequality, it won't make you happy anyway, and hey, the rich really are pretty great!
written by eric, October 11, 2011 10:23
Thanks, Dean. You are right that the worst thing for education is poverty; even the testing touted by billionaire ed reformers shows this, though the billionaires tend to ignore the obvious. In fact, America's relatively poor test scores can be explained by our country's high levels of economic inequality. Reading scores are actually excellent in American schools with low poverty levels (levels similar to those in countries that do well in international reading tests).

My favorite example: the 2009 PISA reading scores for low-poverty American schools (less than 10% free and reduced lunch) are actually BETTER than the scores for super-high-scoring Finland (the poster child country for great education, and not coincidentally a country with a 3% poverty rate).

If you're interested, see the table on p. 15 of this report:

written by Jay, October 11, 2011 11:16

I appreciate the repetition in the posts. It helps people remember the important issues.

In a perfect world, Brooks would lose his job and gain insight. But in all likelihood, he would regain his economic comfort and forget all that he learned from standing in another's shoes.

The Times needs to stop publishing opinions like this without publishing a counter perspective at the same time.

Trickle Down is Not Zero Sum, Low-rated comment [Show]
Roger Bloyce
written by Roger Bloyce, October 11, 2011 12:23
It is gratifying to read a rebuttal to just about anything written by David Brooks. While one can have sympathy for Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor of the NYT, who is obliged to publish conservative commentary at a time when many Republicans in the Congress are determined to obstruct (and thus destroy) the democratic process, Brooks is a sloppy, dishonest writer and clearly not up to the task. William Kristol, who served a memorable stint as a Times columnist, always seemed a brick or two short of a full load, but at least he could write.
Yell the Truth Louder
written by jumpinjezebel, October 11, 2011 12:46
Why aren't your editorial opinions featured in more newspapers. I consistantly see the "Swill from Sewell" in my paper. What a funded joke he is and 1%'r outlook.
the 99 percent believes they themselves are no better than Al Qaeda
written by Peter K., October 11, 2011 1:20
Nothing get Brooks more in a tizzy than hippies on parade. The thing is a lot of the protesters are very young so Brooks has to insult them with:

"A third believe the U.S. is no better than Al Qaeda, according to a New York magazine survey, but since the left no longer believes in the nationalization of industry, these “radicals” really have no systemic reforms to fall back on."

What's nice about the slogan "we are the 99%" is that it's saying "we are America, we are the majority." The truth as Henwood points out is more like 80% with much of 20% propagandists and servants like Brooks. Maybe the respoondents were confused about the survey question.
written by Chris, October 11, 2011 2:00
It's really a disgrace that the NY Times continues to employ Brooks and give him a platform for his misunderstandings. Shame on the Times.
written by Kat, October 11, 2011 2:21
The way I see it, Brooks should be kissing the ground the occupiers walk on. After all, if everyone were to capitulate to our plutocratic overclass he would have to find some other way to make a living. You think they would be paying him if they didn't have to?
written by SteveK9, October 11, 2011 3:08
There has to be some way to be sure that Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone sees this article. Not many people hate Brooks the way he does and for all the reasons in the article and the comment. Labeling Brooks 'Mr. One-Percent' is brilliant. The kind of thing the right-wing has been so good at.
written by nanute, October 11, 2011 7:30
If you'd like to see more of deconstruction/neutering of Brooks, may I suggest Doghouse Riley at bats left throws right. Look him up, you won't be disappointed.
written by urban legend, October 11, 2011 9:48
The thing is, you know that Brooks absolutely does not give a crap whether he's spouting complete nonsense or not. His one and only goal is to write something that sounds different from typical Republican talking points while reinforcing them indirectly. That way he keeps his gig as the "conservative columnist" who isn't as crazy as the rest of them.

The editors don't care, either, as long as he fits that slot for them.
Brooks perpetuating myths
written by David, October 12, 2011 12:52
Brooks is perpetuating the myth that the 99r;s over consumed causing the debt problem. Ok hyperbole on my part. He should watch this lecture by Elizabeth Warren about 6 years ago at Berkeley predicting the implosion of the middle class.


Its a great watch. Over 30 years the typical mum dad two kid family went from a one job to two job family yet spent less on food, appliances, toys etc. But greatly more on mortgages healthcare, education and childcare. And greatly increased the possibility of disaster if one of the breadwinners lost a job or had a medical emergency. Brooks should real y watch and absorb and maybe he would gain more sympathy for the 99r;s. Too much to hope for.

Brooks on the breadline
written by John Crampton, October 12, 2011 7:02
I'd like to see Mr. Brooks do his bloviating from a bread line.... suck it up buddy!
Shades of his comrade Tom Friedman
written by Aunt Bee, October 12, 2011 8:15
Telling Iraqis the same thing:
"What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying, 'Which part of this sentence don't you understand? You don't think, you know we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we're just gonna let it grow? Well, Suck. On. This.'
"That, Charlie is what this war is about. We could have hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could."
Karl Marx Warned Us
written by Bill Turner, October 12, 2011 1:59
This could have been due to astounding incompetence or it might have something to do with the fact that people in the 1 Percent with names like Angelo Mozilo, Richard Fuld, and Robert Rubin, were making money hand over fist off the mortgages that financed the housing bubble.

In fact, those in the 1 percent may have been fully aware, were making tons of money, and perhaps even drooled over the prospect of being able to pick so many assets at fire sale prices when the economy collapsed. They knew they would be in a position to do so, whereas so many others were not. A clear example of this is the bull stock market that existed after the crash. I am sure that was a lot of other asset transference to the top one percent as well. This is what Marx warned us about, that the boom/bust (especially the bust) cycles would inevitably lead to a concentration of wealth into fewer and few hands.
Suggested Reading
written by Eric Dynamic, October 14, 2011 7:29
Michael Parenti's "The Face of Imperialism" is an excellent concise summary of what our world faces (and our citizens face) from America today. How we got here, see David Harvey's "A Brief History of Neoliberalism", and David Brock's classic, "The Republican Noise Machine".

It is a tactic to first starve people by hidden and unaccountable means, and then to "rescue" them with high-interest loans and IMF-imposed "adjustments" => enforce NeoConservatism/NeoLiberalism upon us against our will. Yes, the Elites absolutely know what they are doing to the rest of us: doing their best to prevent us ever from impeaching them from corrupt control of the world. Making vast sums of money in the process is just the icing on that cake.
I think I love you.
written by SB, October 18, 2011 12:16

The summary was pure genius. I laughed so hard, I cried!

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.