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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press David Brooks' Inspiring Rhetoric and Lack of Truth

David Brooks' Inspiring Rhetoric and Lack of Truth

Friday, 11 February 2011 05:15
David Brooks concluded a piece, "The Freedom Alliance," calling for a mass movement to cut Social Security and Medicare:

"It’s not only about debt; it’s about freedom. It’s about whether we get to make budget choices or whether we have our lives dictated by the inexorable growth of programs beyond our control."

Wow, I've got "God Bless America" going on the stereo and I'm getting out my marching clothes!

Brooks better hope that the masses march before they think, because if the sequence goes in the other direction, the march will never happen. As everyone knows, there is no story of programs with out of control costs.

The whole story is of out of control health care costs. This is a problem of a broken private sector health care system. This becomes a budget problem because we pay for more than half of our health care through public sector programs like Medicare and Medicaid. If per person health care costs in the United States were the same as in any of the countries with longer life expectancies, we would be looking at huge budget surpluses, not deficits.

The evidence would suggest that Brooks' mass movement should be directed at reforming our health care cesspool. We pay 10 times what we should for prescription drugs because of our absurd method of financing research through government granted patent monopolies. This government intervention gives an enormous incentive for drug companies to lie about the effectiveness and safety of their drugs, something which they do with considerable frequency. There is a similar story with medical devices.

Our doctors also get paid far more than doctors in other wealthy countries. This is not true for our retail clerks and our steelworkers. The reason is that our doctors enjoy much greater protection from international competition than less politically powerful workers. If Brooks, who fashions himself as a free trader, really wanted to get our deficit under control, he would be revving people up to reduce the barriers that sustain the high salaries for doctors in the United States.

Brooks could also be trying to motivate people to support a Medicare buy-in that could save hundreds of billions in administrative costs over the next decade. Or, in keeping with his "freedom" theme, how about just giving Medicare beneficiaries the option to buy into other countries' health care systems with the beneficiary and the government splitting the savings? This one is all about freedom -- let our beneficiaries go!

So, the basic question is whether we confront the powerful interest groups who profit from our broken and corrupt health care system or whether we beat up the retired and disabled workers who depend on Social Security and Medicare. David Brooks told us where he stands.

Comments (16)Add Comment
written by foosion, February 11, 2011 5:22
There's extensive polling data on this. The American public want social security and medicare to continue, don't want any benefit cuts and want tax increases on high income earners to be increased to finance any shortfalls.

The Washington, media elite have also spoken. They want to gut social security and medicare in order to prevent social security and medicare from being gutted.

With any luck, they'll notice that the repubs did so well in the last election because they scared seniors into believing the dems wanted to cut social security and medicare.
The Brooks Argument in a Paragraph
written by Ron Alley, February 11, 2011 6:24
Brooks is up to his fervent cheerleading for the GOP. Here is the essence of his message:

Over the next few weeks, Republicans will try to cut discretionary spending to 2008 levels and tell their constituents they are boldly reducing the size of government. That is a mirage. Anybody who doesn’t take on entitlement spending is an enabler of big government. The supposedly rabid Republican freshmen are actually big government conservatives. They will cut programs that do measurable good while doing little to solve our long-range fiscal crisis.

His characterization of the discretionary programs as "doing measurable good" vaguely suggesting that the "entitlement" programs should be cut because they are not doing "measurable good" is the core of the Republican message. Such an argument falls flat in the face of the number of patients treated under Medicare and in the VA system.
and tucked away in parapgraph 13 ...
written by David S., February 11, 2011 6:35
Do Tea Party Republicans read columns like those of David Brooks from beginning to end?

If so, they will notice that -- at the very end of the thirteenth paragraph -- he calls on the people "to embrace plans to (wait for it) ... produce more revenue."

Now, unless Mr. Brooks is proposing that we return to the sophistry of the long-discredited Laffer Curve nonsense, "produce more revenue" for federal programs is a disguised euphemism for higher tax rates.

To be fair, if he is proposing more government spending to stimulate the demand side of the economy, that would raise revenue too, but I guess his column inch limit did not allow for a ringing endorsement of Keynesian economics or an expanded Obama stimulus (and I doubt that "produce more revenue" is Mr. Brooks's euphemism for "go Keynes!").

Besides, if we wanted to use more government spending to stimulate the economy to obtain ... um ... more government spending -- for research and education, we should just skip the middleman and spend on those programs with stimulus dollars.)

So, not only does Mr. Brooks conflate an entitlement issue with a health care/insurance crisis as Dean points out, he also "buries the lede," by tucking away in paragraph 13 his concession that tax revenues must increase.

Informed Tea Party Republicans (pardon the oxymoron) may want to know!
Why US MDs are paid so much: monopoly powers and illiberal "liberals"
written by Rachel, February 11, 2011 8:18
An important reason US doctors are paid so much more than overseas doctors is that we restrict access to training. There are also very important restrictions on nurse practitioners.

There is also the increasing problem of monopolies among health groups, which the media and other commentators are apparently not disinterested enough (or educated enough) to observe.
Why the Obsession about Cutting the Deficit?
written by Paul, February 11, 2011 9:16
If Congress somehow managed to cut the deficit by $100 billion or $500 billion this year, what would be the benefit of that? Lower inflation or interest rates?

OTOH, a $500 billion cut would seriously risk another recession and, at a minimum, would massively re-arrange our economy just as it is recovering from the worst recession in several generations.

Clearly, deficit cutting is another GOP "faith-based" initiative.
Dean is right on with the waste, Low-rated comment [Show]
written by liberal, February 11, 2011 10:53
With no skin in the game, consumers simply over consume...simple economics of choice at work here...zero marginal cost, more consumption.

Yep. Everyone likes going to the doctor!
Wow I did not think that was controversial
written by pete, February 11, 2011 11:48
Lets see, should I take two aspirin and call in the morning, or go visit the doctor and have him tell me to take two aspirin and call in the morning....zero cost, why not ask the doctor...this isn't rocket science.
over-consumption of low cost/free services
written by Ethan, February 11, 2011 12:05
I am a senior citizen living in Chicago. As such, I ride free on all public transit -- both Chicago Transit and suburban commuter trains.
Yet I do not go someplace just because getting there would be free.
If two aspirin will do it, why in the world would I take the time and effort to go to the doctor? Even if my transportation is free.
Give some credit to people's thinking.

written by Tom Allen, February 11, 2011 12:06
Brooks stands with the corporations that pay his salary and keep him on TV. Why on earth would you expect him to challenge his paycheck?
ounce of prevention/pound of cure
written by frankenduf, February 11, 2011 12:58
yo pete- ur point is not so much controversial as it is facile- our problem is that a majority of our citizens don't consume until they throw up (literally)- lack of health coverage precludes preventative services and increases ER visits- what we need IS overconsumption of preventative services, overconsumption of clinic visits, overconsumption of yearly physicals, etc.- what we have now is overconsumption on the back end (dialysis costs gazillions more than blood sugar/pressure control), but this is driven by the business model of health care, where the industry makes more the sicker you are, and makes much less if you are healthy- in the end, ethically speaking health care is a right of any affluent society, and to claim it would be abused by 'free riding health care consumers' reminds me of reagan's myth of the cadillac drivin' welfare queens- it sounds scary up front, but in reality is nonsense
High Deductible Medical Insurance
written by BabyBoomerInTX, February 11, 2011 1:36
This retiree would like my high deductible with lower payments back, but BP, the oil company, took them away last year. No union made them change it.

My out of pocket premiums went up 400 percent for family coverage. It certainly crossed my mind they're trying to run me out of a plan they promised me when I was making decisions whether to keep working for them all those years ago when I was younger and had options.
Not that silly claim again!
written by Bill H, February 11, 2011 2:42
"With no skin in the game, consumers simply over consume"

This canard keeps cropping up, and it is total nonsense on the face of it. How much "skin in the game" do the French have? Zero. How much "skin in nthe game" do the British have? Zero. We have far more "skin in the game" in the form of copays and deductibles. Whatever the cause of our high cost of health care, and we all know what it is, it is not that the consumer has no "skin in the game."
written by PeonInChief, February 11, 2011 3:43
The problem in the US system is not overconsumption. The problem is that we pay much more for what we consume than the French, the Germans, the British etc., which is amazing, given that we have a large number of fellows who don't get to consume at all. And anyone who thinks that malpractice reform will have more than a negligible effect hasn't studied California. The most that malpractice reform (denying people more than a token "pain and suffering" award for egregious misconduct) has saved is about 2%.
written by cosmo1, February 12, 2011 4:59
I find Mr.Brooks to be an amusing idiot. Period!!!!
written by Joe Bridges, February 13, 2011 5:35
The author incorrectly claims that our health care costs are caused by a broken private health care sector, and this seems preposterous given the government control and regulation of health care in this country.

The most efficient health care in this country is a doctor's office that does not accept any insurance, posts a list of fees for procedures, and accepts only cash.

The government run health care system we have today in Medicare and Medicaid keeps the purchaser/patient from paying for their own care or even knowing what that care truly costs.

When the basic premise of an article is inaccurate it's hard to proceed constructively from there.

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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.