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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press David Brooks Denounces Economics, Is Biology Next?

David Brooks Denounces Economics, Is Biology Next?

Tuesday, 14 February 2012 05:19

David Brooks is upset that liberal economists keep harping on the loss of middle class jobs as the main factor behind the disruption of working class families and communities. In expressing his anger he creates a caricature, since there probably is no economist who would claim that the problems of working class people are exclusively their poor employment prospects.

Bad economic prospects lead to a variety of ills that cannot be simply reversed when the economy turns around. This is why many of us left-wing economic types are angry with the Brooks types who think it is just fine if we wait until 2020 to get back to normal levels of employment. 

Brooks also has an interesting theory on the loss of skills. He tells readers:

"The American social fabric is now so depleted that even if manufacturing jobs miraculously came back we still would not be producing enough stable, skilled workers to fill them."

Five years ago we had two million more people employed in manufacturing than we do today. Has the social fabric become so depleted in this period that these people or others could now not fill these jobs if they came back? If Brooks really thinks that the ill effects of unemployment are that extreme he should be screaming for more stimulus in every column.

Comments (9)Add Comment
Brooks: Muddled And Desperate
written by Charley James, February 14, 2012 6:57
I'm glad that you read David Brooks' column so I don't have to anymore. And I'm delighted you call him out since the Times' editors won't let Paul Krugman.

Mr. Brooks has become so detached from reality over the past three or four years that he's become a characature of a "Very Serious Conservative Columnist." He's stopped making sense and simply rails at how the world refuses to work the way he wants it to. It's all very sad.
Crossing brooks
written by David, February 14, 2012 8:25
The only thing interesting about David Brooks these days is that he's not as crazy as the rest of his party and, yet, still is a loon. It's proof that the mad right (and 'mad' as insane, not angry) has totally infected the GOP.
written by skeptonomist, February 14, 2012 9:26
Brooks' claim about the "depletion" of the social fabric leading to a "scarcity" of qualified workers is the standard conservative propaganda line, not something that Brooks or Charles Murray invented. The historical experience of WW II, when production of highly technical things like airplanes was ramped up almost instantly after Pearl Harbor, shows that when there is sufficient demand, industry will get the workers they need; industry will pay them and it will train them if necessary. It's just a lot cheaper to do this in China and other (formerly) third-world countries now.
written by AndyfromTucson, February 14, 2012 9:58
I thought you were going to call him on this howler:

"I don’t care how many factory jobs have been lost, it still doesn’t make sense to drop out of high school. The influences that lead so many to do so are much deeper and more complicated than anything that can be grasped in an economic model or populist slogan."

Conservatives insist that rich people need low tax rates in order to have an incentive to invest in their businesses, but somehow worker bees must be morally deficient if poor employment prospects lead them to invest less in their educations. Let's rephrase Mr. Brook's position for rich people:

"I don't care how high the capital gains tax rate is, or what new regulations are imposed, it still doesn't make sense to decline opportunities to expand businesses. The influences that lead so many wealthy people to not invest and create jobs are much deeper and more complicated than anything that can be grasped in an economic model or populist slogan."
Empty Sacks, and the Party that Empties them
written by poor richard, February 14, 2012 10:38
Remember the socialist who said this one?

"I therefore filled all the little Spaces that occur’d between the Remarkable Days in the Calendar, with Proverbial Sentences, chiefly such as inculcated Industry and Frugality, as the Means of procuring Wealth and thereby securing Virtue, it being more difficult for a Man in Want to act always honestly, as (to use here one of those Proverbs) it is hard for an empty Sack to stand upright."

Yup, our Founding Father, Ben Franklin. He understood that "it is hard for an empty sack to stand upright," because "it is difficult for a Man in Want to act always honestly."

Clearly because he was a crude materialist who thought that economic conditions entirely determine human behavior, and he did not understand the simple virtues of an earlier time.

Nobody ever said that you can make people honest merely by preserving them from poverty. But it's a hell of a lot harder to see the point of being honest when you are desperate, and all of your chances for honest advancement are closed to you.

The Republicans created this mess by destroying the middle class. Now they want to blame it on the poor morals of the lower class.

And as always, Brooks acts as their paid liar. What a despicable man.
written by fuller schmidt, February 14, 2012 2:13
Excellent touche for David about screaming for more stimulus. Excellent comments.
written by Ethan, February 14, 2012 2:15
Andy from Tucson nailed it.
At some point the inheritance tax should be 100%. Otherwise we invite the children of the rich to be lazy and indolent.
I remember the halcyon days of the Eisenhower administration when the economy was booming, growth was high, unemployment was low, and the highest marginal tax rate was 92%.
Since I couldn't say it better myself...
written by diesel, February 14, 2012 2:50
I just lifted this quote from Rob Urie's Debunking Charles Murray...Again essay....

"Mr. Murray [Brooks] argues that rates of out of wedlock births and labor participation (typical 1960s era measures of social stability) are the defining metrics of morality. But what makes them so? Why not define morality in terms of economic predation (greed, avarice); of publicly endorsing overseas military adventures that one is unwilling to go and fight one’s self (cowardice); of failing to know the details and consequences of public policies that one publicly supports (sloth), of being indifferent to the working conditions of the people who produce the goods (including the good folks of Fishtown) that Americans buy?

With morality thus re-defined, could choosing not to work or get married be considered virtues? Does making sub-prime loans to people whose lives will likely be destroyed by them add social value? Does selling insurance that is designed not to pay legitimate claims add social value? Does making armaments to be used in wars of economic conquest add social value? Might not the world be a better place if people didn’t do these things?

My point is not to replace Mr. Murray’s [Brooks] idea of morality with my own, but rather to suggest that his definition is designed to “prove” his point, not to engage in a public discussion of what morality is, what is moral, and the relation of morality to social well being. If I could suggest, one reason for setting up the problem as he has is that it limits the realm of possible answers, rather than engaging in actually searching for answers."

Thank you Rob Urie, well said.
My favorite comment about Brooks:
written by Rob Lewis, February 14, 2012 4:41
Can't remember who said it, but it was along the lines of:
Brooks isn't even capable of following his own logic to reach a conclusion.

And boy, is he a willing and eager lapdog for his rich puppet masters (pardon mixed metaphor).

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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.