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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press David Brooks Complains That He Can't Get Access to Inequality Data

David Brooks Complains That He Can't Get Access to Inequality Data

Tuesday, 01 November 2011 04:34

Actually he didn't complain about his lack of access to data, but he probably should have given the column he wrote today. Brooks purports to lecture the Occupy Wall Street crew about how they are focused on the wrong inequality.

He tells them that that there are two inequalities in the U.S. On the one hand we have the CEOs, the Goldman Sachs crew, the lobbyists and the other members of the one percent who have done incredibly well in the last three decades. Brooks calls this the "blue inequality" since the really rich crew tends to live in places like New York City and Washington, DC that tend to vote Democratic.

Brooks tells us that this is less of a big deal than the red inequality, which he defines as the gap between college educated workers and those without a college degree. He tells us that this is the more important form of inequality. He tells us that this is a much bigger issue, since it affects so many more people.

This is where Brooks lack of access to data is so important. The wage gap between college grads and non-college grads is really a 90s story and even more an 80s story. In the last decade, workers with only a college degree (i.e. no professional or advanced degree) did not share in the benefits of economic growth. The ratio of the wages of those with just college degrees to those without college degrees has not risen much since the early 90s. 

Wages of non-college educated workers did suffer badly in the 80s due to policies such as the over-valuation of the dollar that made many U.S. manufactured goods uncompetitive internationally, the deliberate increase in unemployment during the Volcker years which threw millions of non-college educated workers out of work, and anti-union measures (e.g. the firing of the PATCO strikers and an anti-union National Labor Relations Board). However since the 90s, the wages of workers with high school degrees have not departed much from the wages of workers with just college degrees, the vast majority of the economy's gains have gone to the top 1 percent. It is too bad that David Brooks apparently does not have access to this data.

Comments (15)Add Comment
Education Has Nothing to Do with Added Value Productivity, Low-rated comment [Show]
Today's Trial Balloon
written by Ron Alley, November 01, 2011 8:32
Brooks, always a loyal Republican, is attempting to lead from the front. The Occupy Wall Street movement has brought their policies to light and encouraged a broad swath of the electorate to question the legitimacy of Republican policy. Republican hopes for retaking the White House are threatened by a focus on the inequality and the Republican leadership is searching for arguments to blunt criticism of its policies that have done so much to propel inequality.

In today's piece, Brooks floats a trial balloon argument.

He asserts that the effects of Republican generated inequality are profoundly different in Red states than in Blue states. When we speak of federal tax breaks for the rich that generate deficits, the state of residence is irrelevant to both the 1% and the 99%. The federal tax laws apply in every state.

Brooks argues that Red state voters and Blue state voters are affected differently by inequality. Blue state voters face primarily economic consequences while Red state voters face primarily social consequences. The thrust of his argument is that while Blue state voters may benefit from addressing the economic issues, Red state voters will realize benefits only by addressing social issues.

As Dean points out, Brooks stresses the inequality between college graduates and high school graduates in Red states is more worrisome than the Blue state inequality. The purpose of this suggestion is two-fold. First, Brooks wants college graduates in Red states to identify with the 1%. Second Brooks wants those college graduates to feel threatened by Democratic initiatives to reduce inequality.

Of course, he offers no data to support his arguments. To offer data is a Democratic approach to argument and not a conservative, Republican approach.

This trial balloon seeks to define a basis for perpetuating the Republican tactic of rewarding the 1% with tax and economic benefits, while distracting and dividing the 99% with wedge social issues. The Republicans cannot hope to capture the White House such a division.
Two sides of the same coin
written by Sean, November 01, 2011 10:48
The problem with Brooks's theory is that the folks responsible for "blue inequality" are the ones who have the power. And those folks have no interest whatsoever in fixing "red inequality". So until you fix the blue inequality, you've got no chance of fixing the red inequality, either.
No access to data?
written by David in NYC, November 01, 2011 11:31
What a shame he can't go to a source with lots and lots of data. Like, say, the New York Times.

Oops. Never mind.
marginal growth thinking
written by Tucker, November 01, 2011 12:07
I find it easier to explain to more conservative people using marginal growth- in the 80s and 90s the net growth in jobs and wages was in the broad class of knowledge workers, people with college degrees and so on. In the 00s there wasn't any growth in the number of jobs aside from demographic and the gains of that growth was distributed entirely to the people at the top. The people from the roughly 40-99th% didn't get any of the benefits of economic growth in that period.
How Dare You?
written by Steve, November 01, 2011 12:26
How dare you inject facts into David Brooks' fact-free zone.

You're ruining the storyline.
written by Roger Bloyce, November 01, 2011 1:04
David Brooks is paid to promote conservative ideology, which as expressed by current Presidential candidates upholding it consists largely of paranoidal fears and negative proposals. Never mind, again and again in his twice-weekly NYT column, Brooks tosses together a pseudo-sociological mishmash straight from Applebee's non-existent salad bar in an attempt to coin phrases that somehow justify conservative selfishness and shortsightness. Thus "Bobos" of the corporate upper class are highly tolerant of others, "cluster liberals" favor maximum unity, "network liberals" favor coalitions, "creedal conservatives" favor transcendent order, and "dispositional conservatives"are Burkean, tempermental types who prize epistomological modesty. Today (gasp), he provides us with two different kinds of inequality: "blue inequality" between the top 1 per cent and the rest in certain big cities, and "red inequality" between those with and without college degrees in certain smaller cities.

In developing his ever-growing list of quickly forgotten buzz words, Brooks invariably misrepresents readily available statistical facts, and then various honest columnists have a field day. But does anyone out there really take Babbling Brooks seriously these days? Does anyone even read him anymore? Really?
Brooks just plain wrong
written by Ben, November 01, 2011 1:08
Great piece by Dean and good comments above. There is another basic fallacy in Brooks' writing...that somehow Blue States have higher educational attainment than Red. It is actually false.

STATE NAMEPercent of population with less than a high school diploma or equivalent
Massachusetts (2006)13.0
Montana (2006)8.0
Nebraska (2006)9.0
Pennsylvania (2006)14.0
Rhode Island (2006)19.0

The % population with less than a high school diploma is higher in Blue States like Mass, PA and RI than in Red States like Montana and Nebraska. This was just a random sample and I am sure you can find others.
Speaking to the points raised.
written by Elizabeth Meckes, November 01, 2011 1:10
I normally agree with much of what I see here and little of what I read in Brooks' columns; nevertheless, I have two problems with this post. One is the claim that somehow Brooks' point is irrelevant because "the ratio of the wages of those with just college degrees to those without college degrees has not risen much since the early 90s." But what is the ratio? Just because the situation has not gotten worse since the early nineties doesn't mean it's good or that it shouldn't be addressed somehow. I don't know the numbers here; perhaps there isn't any great problem. But simply talking about the ratio changing or not does not address the fundamental point.

Secondly, Brooks says that his actual fundamental point is not as much about the economic divergence as the social one: marriage rates, divorce rates, births out of wedlock, etc. I am not interested in the moralizing that usually accompanies such discussions, but his point is (at least trying to be) that social stability in one form or another is important; this is a legitimate issue.

As usual, Brooks offers no suggestions for what to do about these problems, and I suspect that his attempts to move attention to them from the 99/1 issue does not stem entirely from the most altruistic motives. Nevertheless, it does no good to sidestep his points.

College/HS gap continued to grow through 2009
written by James Harrigan, November 01, 2011 1:13
Dean says "The ratio of the wages of those with just college degrees to those without college degrees has not risen much since the early 90s." There are different ways to measure this, but the best available is recent work by Acemoglu and Autor, NBER WP 16082, June 2010. Their Figure 1 shows the college/HS premium continuing to rise through 2009 (the latest available data). The premium measured by Acemoglu and Autor is now close to 100%.
written by billyblog, November 01, 2011 1:52
Appreciate Elizabeth Meckes caution. But stare a bit closer at those social negativities: divorce, smoking, out-of-wedlock births, etc. Those are much more in the nature of effects than causes. Where the underlying causes point directly back to economic inequality.

And all well and good for Brooks to say that the poor should just "git more book learnin'." Right, in the face of rising tuitions and declining public support -- under the influence of cost cutting (largely) Republican state legislatures and Republicans at the Federal level who still want to roll back the modest reforms in Federal student loan programs (that came in under the aegis of ACA) which cut out the obscene risk free (for the Ginnie Mae vampires) 3% or so waste and fraud that the private sector was creaming from the student loan pool of funds.

Brooks supports all this Republican regressiveness. His job is to distract with data free false equivalence arguments that sometimes appear "reasonable" to someone who hasn't checked the facts.
written by quinnwheel, November 01, 2011 7:26
While I agree with almost everything said above, let me try a defense of David Brooks from a very unusual angle. I just experienced Halloween in a modestly gentrified (and mostly white) but certainly not rich or even close to super rich neighborhood in a southern state; 350 trick-or-treaters in 1 hour; mostly driven in from surrounding poor (and heavily African American) neighborhoods; very noticeably many were without costumes or manners; even occasional adults had their bags out for candy. Whatever you want to believe about how we got to this point, it sure seems much worse than anything I experienced in very modest middle class neighborhoods in my youth a half century ago. It may be the economy; the schools; the advertising on TV; the breakdown of the family -- pick your favorite reason. It's a disaster -- I can't imagine hiring a disturbingly large fraction of the trick-or-treaters to whom I gave a treat as they enter the work force. There's something to this divide -- one critique above is that it started much earlier than Brooks realizes -- fine, but it sure seemed real last night.
What Would Tyler Durden Say
written by scott, November 01, 2011 7:31
Brooks must have seen Fight Club:

The first rule of income inequality is you don't talk about income inequality
written by Blissex, November 02, 2011 10:24
«Ithe firing of the PATCO strikers»

That firing was well deserved by the PATCO for doing an irresponsible strike and handing over to anti-labor forces a golden opportunity to set back the labor movement.

In the 60-70s there was a unionization bubble, with constant strikes by entirely selfish unions holding bits of critical infrastructure hostage for ransom. The same happened in the UK with the NUM and the coal miner strike.

Eventually by behaving like today's bankers PATCO, the NUM and others attracted an amazingly strong overreaction, giving a stink of exploitative selfishness to unionization, and turning the public against the idea.

Sometimes I think that PATCO and NUM were setup as patsies, but their leaders seemed stupid and arrogant enough to have done what they did without any help.

Let's just hope that in the next few years the political class decide that bankers holding hostage the national and international payment system for ransom has also been unacceptable and cut them down to size. In the UK there are indeed proposals to separate the utility and speculative sides of banking again.
Blue inequality
written by rick, November 02, 2011 1:52
Sure, access to [good] education (for those who want it) is important. But, to me, the real problem with the Blue Inequality is that "the CEOs, the Goldman Sachs crew, the lobbyists and the other members of the one percent" got there at the expense of the rest of us. Are the mega-overpaid CEOs adding that much more value to their companies (and society) than they were 20 years ago? Nope. Are the financial *wizards* adding that much to society? I would argue that the financial industry actually subtracts from society.
So I think that Occupy is fighting the correct inequality.

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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.