CEPR - Center for Economic and Policy Research


En Español

Em Português

Other Languages

Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press David Brooks Doesn't Want People to Focus on the 1 Percent

David Brooks Doesn't Want People to Focus on the 1 Percent

Tuesday, 31 January 2012 05:46

Even though the data on income show the top 1 percent of the population pulling away from everyone else, New York Times columnist David Brooks tells us that focusing on the 1 percent is a "distraction." He bases this assertion on, well absolutely nothing.

Brooks goes to tell readers that:

"the truth is, members of the upper tribe have made themselves phenomenally productive."

This is striking for two reasons. Since his upper tribe is the whole top 20 percent, much of this group that has become phenomenally productive has seen little benefit from their productivity. Wages for the second decile have risen over the last three decades, but not by very much.

The other part of the story is that this group has made itself phenomenally productive largely through its control of the political process. For example, it has used the political process to get an implicit government guarantee for too big to fail banks that can pay its top executives phenomenal amounts of money. It maintains protectionist barriers for doctors, lawyers and other highly educated professionals that allow their pay to soar relative to workers who must compete in the international economy. And it has garnered ever stronger patent protection that has shifted income from ordinary workers to those able to earn patent rents.

It was control over the political process that has allowed the 1 percent to profit at everyone else's expense. Their productivity, whether phenomenal or not, was secondary.

Comments (14)Add Comment
Why the Best Hunters Got the Biggest Piece of Meat - Tribal Values, Low-rated comment [Show]
written by Kat, January 31, 2012 6:53
Is Brooks so willfully blind that he cannot see that market "values" are precisely what undermine his beloved traditional values. They do so far more effectively than any welfare state could. He may be blind or he may doing exactly what he is paid to do. Either way, he's a jackass.
The NYT solicits readers to donate so that schoolchildren may receive a classroom subscription to their fine publication. The nerve.
It ain't just the top 20%
written by NB, January 31, 2012 7:28
As far as I can tell from the economic statistics, many people in the US have become much more productive over the last few decades, not just the top quintile. I mean, look at what's happened in manufacturing. But for some reason, Brooks seems to feel that only the top 20% has made itself more productive.
Dean's Point Is Well-Known on Wall Street
written by PAUL, January 31, 2012 8:11
It was control over the political process that has allowed the 1 percent to profit at everyone else's expense. Their productivity, whether phenomenal or not, was secondary.

On Bloomberg last night, two hot-shot traders were explaining their strategy: They have created an index of companies that spend the highest percentage of their revenues on Washington lobbying. Bottom Line: the top companies in their index consistently and significantly outperform the S&P 500 index.
written by ellis, January 31, 2012 9:59
First of all, the full title of Murray's book is: "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010." So, he's just talking about --you know -- the "real" Americans.
The other thing is that you forget that the one per centers don't just control the political process. More importantly they control the economy. That's the way capitalism works, doesn't it?
David Brooks & Morality...
written by Jerry Jones, January 31, 2012 10:01
David Brooks writes about morality. But it's tough for me to see the morality in columns that ignore or gloss over the corruption of the 0.1%.

written by kharris, January 31, 2012 10:58

That's WHY Brooks writes about morality - so he can gloss over the immorality that he favors. I'm not sure there's much new in that. Patriotism is the last refuge of scoudrels, pots call kettles black...that sort of thing.
Little known fact
written by fuller schmidt, January 31, 2012 12:07
Back on his home planet, Superman's family was right in the middle of the middle class. The 0.1r;s - they were really something.
David Brooks making stuff up--what a surprise
written by Eclectic Obsvr, January 31, 2012 12:16

It's bad enough that David Brooks is committing the Post Hoc fallacy in big ways, but relying on such a discredited social scientist as Murray is downright hubris
David's Travails
written by Mike, January 31, 2012 2:30
Poor David. He seems like a really nice guy, and he's obviously trying hard. Perhaps he should clear his columns with you before they're published.
written by TVeblen, January 31, 2012 5:05
Dean: I wish you would stop lumping MDs with lawyers, consultants, economists, and other "unproductive labor." The doctor that monitors my retinas and has to do occasional laser surgery is worth every he's paid (about $0.15 on the gross charge). I owe my sight to this guy's skills and what do you think that is worth to me? Since the reimbursement rate for this procedure has been steadily declining for several years he has to see more and more patients to mainatin his income. My guess is that if you adjust for inflation and "speed up," the real wages of MDs have been way below that of the CPI for medical insurance.
Hey! Engineers work hard.
written by jbartas, January 31, 2012 9:25
...and in line with TVeblen defending his doctor, I worry about the wording of this: "... ever stronger patent protection that has shifted income from ordinary workers to those able to earn patent rents." The vast majority of all patents are assigned to corporations. They don't "earn" anything because they don't invent anything - their employees do. Most people who invent patentable things are wage slaves, and their corporate bosses end up "assigned" the rights to their invention. This is arguably fair, since since the wage slave scientist or engineer (maybe a 20 percenter, not a one percenter) was paid while he thought up his idea - the corporation should get something or it might not employ the inventor. But getting all the Patent rights forever while the inventor gets a brass plaque is abusive. A better system would be one where patents (and for that matter Copyrights too) would be assignable for no more than, say, three years. After that the rights would revert to the creator. Now THAT is a system that would REALLY reward the content creators.
Supply Side Successes
written by Commentator, January 31, 2012 9:41
Hi Mr. Baker,

Saw you on Kudlow again tonight; Laffer let you out of it inadvertently. Obvious the point is the Kennedy was a supply-sider, cutting taxes 25% on the wealthy (91%-70%), i.e., cutting taxes unleashed healthy economic growth. And Reagan did, too. I looked at it and roughly, in real dollars, Reagan added 1/6th to the deficit what Obama had their first terns(taking the CBO's numbers for 2012) and created or saved - whatever - 6 times as many jobs. A stunning relative success story. Lastly Clinton lowered taxes on the rich over all, lifting the marginal (note not effective) tax rate 8%, 31% to 39.5%, but lowering capital gains from 20% to 15% and 0% brackets. Bush's efforts were mild but as Mr. Laffer points out Bush spent so much, too; and Bush's recovery was corrupted by the one-off catasrophic housing bubble. That bubble, by the way, was caused by government literally forcing banks to make bad loans. Goldman Sachs did not have to securitize them and Moody's did not have to rate them absurdly, but they did using the past reliability as a basis for doing so. So, it was both government and business failure.

By any measure supply side stimulus combined with zero or negative government spending increases has produced longer lasting and healthier economic growth. Reaganomics is the paragon of proofs. Deficits were the result, but I wonder if interest payments were about the same in '88 as in '83 given the drop in interest rates.

I believe in limited government, but whatever else Obama's policies have been not merely expansive; they've been corrupt (perhaps legally so), wasteful, counter-productive, and inane.

The 1% in this one year ...
written by Commentator, January 31, 2012 9:45
How you get away with this among social scientists is amazing, Mr. Baker.

That second 19% is rising towar the top 1% each year. A lot of those folks are 6th year associates in law firms, junior partners in medical practices, inchoate entrpreneurs, and senior VPs ... this year. In 5 years the ones among them who work hard will be the 1% for several years running and those in 2012's 1% will be retired. But in any case, would you rather 10% greater equality if it meant 10% more poverty? No.

Write comment

(Only one link allowed per comment)

This content has been locked. You can no longer post any comments.


Support this blog, donate
Combined Federal Campaign #79613

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.