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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press David Brooks Reports that the NYT Can't Find Conservative Columnists Who Know Arithmetic

David Brooks Reports that the NYT Can't Find Conservative Columnists Who Know Arithmetic

Monday, 31 December 2012 23:59

Some of us didn't take the skills deficit seriously, but David Brooks shows us that it is a real problem. Apparently the New York Times cannot find a conservative columnist who can deal with basic issues of logic and arithmetic. Brooks is very upset because the budget deal apparently does not include any cuts in Medicare.

He also is very angry that so many people insist on relying on arithmetic and pointing out that the "$1 trillion" deficits are almost entirely due to the economic downturn caused by the collapse of the housing bubble and not some fundamental imbalance of taxes and spending. He scoffs:

"They have found that the original Keynesian rationale for these deficits provides a perfect cover for permanent deficit-living."

Wow, those damn math nerds!

On the more fundamental question of the long-term deficit projections that have Brooks so excited, fans of arithmetic keep pointing out, to Brooks' frustration and anger, that it is all due to our broken health care system. If our per person health care costs were comparable to those in Germany, Canada, or any other wealthy country we would be looking at huge budget surpluses in the future, not the enormous deficits that have Brooks so excited.

Serious people therefore talk about fixing our health care system. (Trade is one possible route, although committed protectionists like Brooks apparently never even consider it.) In fact, recent cost numbers suggest that we may already be on the right track. But Brooks doesn't look at numbers. He is really angry because the public doesn't want to suffer and politicians who want to keep their jobs are not anxious to make them suffer.

It's best to let Brooks tell the story himself:

"Ultimately, we should blame the American voters. ...

"Most members of Congress are responding efficiently to the popular will. A large number of reactionary Democrats reject any measure to touch Medicare or other entitlement programs. A large number of impotent Republicans talk about reducing the debt, but are incapable of forging a deal that balances tax increases with spending cuts."

Comments (9)Add Comment
written by David, January 01, 2013 1:01
Apparently the American voter ate Brooks' math homework.
an austerity suggestion for the NYT
written by JDM, January 01, 2013 3:09
I'm sure the NYT could save a lot of money by heading on over to E-Bay and buying one of those old "Math is hard" Barbie dolls to write their columns.
written by r. nemo, January 01, 2013 3:21
People like Brooks are emotional thinkers. They don't know fact from opinion. This is a real problem in the post-modern world we now live in. Willful ignorance is Brook's other problem. He can't make money off of the truth. Lies pay good dividends. Such is our sad world.
written by Chris, January 01, 2013 4:12
Brooks is one of those pundits whose persistence in his job is difficult to understand. He has been shown not to know what he is talking about time and time again, yet the NYTimes and other outfits keep him on for the "conservative" viewpoint. But perhaps there is an unstated method in this madness. He gives "conservatism" a bad name. Maybe THAT is why the sly NYTimes keeps him writing.
Becoming Broder
written by RW (the other), January 01, 2013 7:06
It appears that David Brooks great ambition is that he be regarded as the true heir to David Broder: The self-annointed spokesperson for the Very Serious People.

Those who respected Broder may or may not entirely agree but if they were unreflective (or innumerate) enough to respect Broder they doubtless think Brooks has something to say even if it doesn't add up.
written by bailey, January 01, 2013 1:02
Why don't reasoned Progressives consider that a large portion of the deficits are the result of increased (wasteful) Governmental spending of increased receipts during the Dot.com AND Housing Bubbles? The real story is about investment in infrastructure, research & education, and Democrats are every bit as guilty as Republicans (AND even Economists for selling their integrity for stipends) in what we're living through.
written by Chris, January 01, 2013 6:15
Dr. Baker, I'm curious if you would make some comment on the IMF paper Brooks's "We need to increase taxes permanently 35% and reduce benefits permanently by 35% to meet obligations" statement in the article. The IMF paper is here:


It's from April of last year, or, rather, 2011. It didn't get a lot of press and I think I see why now, the 35% number is very misleading and seems to assume closing the "fiscal gap" entirely, and assumes lower discount rates consistently as well as low population estimates.

It also overly simplifies the problem by, in the abstract, making the bold general statement that 35% is the magic number of cutting benefits and raising taxes".

I just found the statement by Brooks as very "authority-positioning" by dropping the IMF as a source and making readers think the situation was a lot more serious and short-term than it really is.

An obscure working paper isn't exactly an authoritative IMF position, I'd say. But it's getting harder and harder to determine the validity of sources.

Any help or guidance is appreciated.
written by Chris, January 01, 2013 6:19

The dot-com bubble produced surpluses that Bush squandered by passing tax cuts that were unfunded on the spending side so that by definition drove the deficit. "Wasteful spending" wasn't the chunk of deficits that point onward.

That's why progressives blame the tax cuts instead of wasteful spending...
written by doncastro, January 02, 2013 1:01
If Brooks did his homework, were objective and rational, and adhered to historical reality and basic math, he would be a liberal, in which case, he would lose his audience. Hey, works for me.

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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.