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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press David Brooks Tells Us the Unemployed Are Really Concerned About Values

David Brooks Tells Us the Unemployed Are Really Concerned About Values

Friday, 29 October 2010 03:03

Hell no, I'm not kidding. Here it is:

"the public's real anxiety is about values, not economics: the gnawing sense that Americans have become debt-addicted and self-indulgent."

This is really priceless. There are more than 25 million people unemployed, underemployed or who have given up looking for work altogether, but they are not concerned about economics. They are worried about values.

Okay, I will stop with the ridiculing of David Brooks, I know it's cheap fun. But, I do have to point out one other real winner in this column:

" Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis." 

Yes, the column says "fiscal." Is this the mother of all Freudian slips or what? Brooks somehow wrote "fiscal," when he obviously meant "financial." Neither he nor his editor caught it on a second reading. You couldn't ask for a better example of the elite's fixation with making this into a fiscal crisis. The Wall Street boys wrecked the economy with their greed and ineptitude and now they intend to make ordinary workers pay for it with cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Talk about a crisis of values.

Comments (18)Add Comment
written by Ron Alley, October 29, 2010 5:24

Pray tell, if folks are so concerned about the economy, then who the heck would vote for Republican candidates who propose even more tax cuts for the rich and unemployment compensation cuts for the rest of us?
written by Mr Good, October 29, 2010 5:50
Mr Dean, excellent. You certainly help us to use critical thinking -- when the elite speak.
Recessions are Caused by the Id, the Ego and the Super Ego
written by izzatzo, October 29, 2010 6:37
"the public's real anxiety is about values, not economics: the gnawing sense that Americans have become debt-addicted and self-indulgent."

Freud was the first to recognize what Brooks is only passing on as common knowledge, the proven causality of recessions by the Id, the Ego and the Super Ego.

The Id emerges when one enters the world with a blank economic slate, on which it is enscribed that under free markets, when one earns what one is worth, there is also more for everyone.

When the Ego appears, one goes about maximizing utility in ones self interest according to the rules set when the Id was in control.

Then the Super Ego takes over when earnings start to peak. This is when members of the middle and lower class begin to emulate the ultra rich as confirmed by Veblen's conspicuous consumption theory.

For example they start buying cheap copies of famous art, then claim they're originals to the neighbors, or in reverse they buy identical art for higher prices just to show off that demand curves can slope upwards.

During the bubble they bought cheap houses instead, or as Brooks would say in the context of original sin, they knowingly and willingly bought expensive houses on the cheap.

Forgive me Lord for I have sinned with self indulgent debt. I was only a janitor but with the help of socialist government, I managed to lure in and trick a Wall Street Banker with my Super Ego and buy a house in the same neighborhood where he lives.
written by david s, October 29, 2010 8:52
Thanks for linking to that article. Brooks also believes health care costs can be addressed by special medical courts.Maybe these courts can help restore values as well.
Thank you, Dean Baker. That is all.
written by wayne burkhart, October 29, 2010 9:04
The CEPR site is really good--pulls together all of your [voluminous] writing. Beat the Press is so good and concise that I am whetted for more of your writing.

And I appreciate that it's not about David Brooks. Just--why can't he manage a bit deeper train of logic!!
written by fuller schmidt, October 29, 2010 10:29
Who would vote for the Republicans? People with no self of their true self. People who judge themselves and others by the useless crap they own. People with an empathy deficit. People who don't avail themselves of the brilliant knowledge available in libraries. Start with that.
Why Americans Vote Republican
written by Paul, October 29, 2010 10:50
Bloomberg is out with a new poll today that lays it out very clearly: Americans are utterly and completely ignorant about taxes, the economy and TARP - thanks Fox Noise!

written by Mike Toreno, October 29, 2010 11:02
"Yes, the column says "fiscal." Is this the mother of all Freudian slips or what?"

No, I think he's just dumb and doesn't understand what "fiscal" and "financial" mean
effort and result
written by diesel, October 29, 2010 11:04
Brook's entire column is an exercise in misdirection and misplaced emphasis. He doesn't outright lie, but he doesn't tell the whole truth either. There are, as you imply, too many flaws to respond to. To stick to the "values" issue, here is the whole quote in context, " the gnawing sense that Americans have become debt-addicted and self-indulgent; the sense that government undermines individual responsibility; the observation that people who work hard get shafted while people who play influence games get the gravy. Obama will have to propose policies that re-establish the link between effort and reward."

Few would deny that some who play influence games get the "gravy" while people who work hard get shafted, but what a sideways way to say that the system is rigged! Why not come out and say it forthrightly? And how can Obama fix it?

Conservatives, Republicans and Teabag heads reflexively respond to whatever troubles them with moral judgements. They are not by nature, thinkers who withhold judgement until they have heard all the facts, weighed the evidence, ferreted out the devilish details and pondered the inevitable contradictory nature of life. They lead with their moral judgements, and the foundation for their moral judgements were laid down in their early childhoods. So they, like Brooks, unconsciously project their personal bias into the schema with which they frame social issues.

"establish(ing) the link between effort and reward" is part of the larger developmental process in which a maturing individual develops a sense of "effectance". Today we call this empowerment, but effectance implies a sense of predictable connection between what an individual does and how the world responds. The notion of reward is secondary to this, and it is indicative that Brooks uses "reward" when the proper term is "result". He who sees his own life in terms of moral "efforts and rewards" will see the world as a moral battleground as well. This is why you can't reason in terms of neutral cause and effect with a Teabag head.
written by Ellen1910, October 29, 2010 12:03
Dean was against the terms of the original bank bailout and the design of the Obama administration's subsequent bailouts. Dean believes he was practicing his profession and his judgments were unemotional and rational.

I suggest that Dean's objections were based upon his values and that if he were to admit that truth he would see that the 40-45% who will vote in this election (maybe not '12) are, as well, basing their votes on values -- as Brooks points out.

N.B. Brooks' advice to Obama is a whole nother thing entirely.
written by Victoria Else, October 29, 2010 12:29
The most interesting thing here is that David Brooks, while completely wrong in his facts and (hem, hem) perspective, is nonetheless onto something. Recent research shows that "self-respect" and "respect" in general have climbed in importance among a set of values tracked since the 1970s. This aligns to other studies that show that when people feel collectively harmed, they feel collectively humiliated, angry, and "bumptious"--making self-respect difficult to achieve and therefore more important. From this we can extrapolate that the swing to the "right" is truly an anti-incumbent reaction to the reality that a huge group of hard-working people has been systematically betrayed by its leaders over a long period of time. Watch out, Mr. Brooks--the bell also tolls for thee.
written by Victoria Else, October 29, 2010 12:33
And, sorry, just one more point. A renewed focus on hard work and honest labor as a reaction to the sickening excesses of the parasitic classes may express itself in concern about the national debt, but I think you would be hard-put to find many working-class people who feel that they have personally been self-indulgent. I'm just saying.
The values of David Brooks
written by Tom Shillock, October 29, 2010 1:02
Values and economics do not denote dichotomous domains. Economics is after all a set of values. By portraying them as opposed Brooks is trying to rekindle the gambit that worked so brilliantly to help Bush get elected, viz., to divert the attention of the poor, working class and lower middle class from their basic economic / financial interests. In this, Brooks is acting in his role as publicist for Republican politicians. Demagoguery has proven its worth as political tool over time. In the late 1830s the Whigs figured out that demagoguery and obfuscation were more effective ways to win than intellectual honesty and clarity that incisively addressed issues of political economy. They couched their aristocratic interests in democratic rhetoric in hope of fooling enough of the people enough of the time.
David Brooks Tells Us the Unemployed Are Really Concerned About Values
written by caseyf5, October 30, 2010 8:23
Hello Dean Baker,

Regarding David Brooks column, the first three sentences in your last paragraph Yes, the column says "fiscal." Is this the mother of all Freudian slips or what? Brooks somehow wrote "fiscal," when he obviously meant "financial." I have a slightly different train of thought. Mr. Brooks might be thinking of the song "Lets Get Physical" by Olivia Newton John instead of fiscal. Since Americans do not exercise enough his brain could easily make this mistake. Unfortunately I can't say the same for his editor unless he doesn't have one. Since his columns seem to be the endearing quality of "night soil" I would recommend them to someone who wants inexpensive fertilizer for their garden.
Every Rose has It's Thorn
written by MinnItMan, October 30, 2010 1:34
or something like that. I'm actually from Pittsburgh, and I just found out that Bret Michaels is, too. Not that I knew who Bret Michaels was, but whatever. I've been in the cold up here in Frostbite Falls forever it seems.

Anyway, attacking Brooks is misguided. He is a "conservative" who actually gets what's wrong with American conservatism, its essential plutocratic upper-hand bias. Like Brooks (presumably), I voted for President Obama, but I have doubts about whether I voted for the right guy. Senator McCain had a good biography (not enough). He also had the "maverick" factor (not enough). But he also had been corn-holed by the finance sector (a definite maybe in his favor). On balance, my sentiment tilted towards Sen. Obama, the first Democrat I ever voted for.

Problem is, President Obama has been the best weak-kneed Rockefeller Republican this country ever elected. Whether it was health care (already 50% socialized) or the financial sector (which was 99% socialized), he blinked in making the necessary political push, just when he could have made the rational argument why that push wasn't any big change (e.g. it's the "private" insured who get screwed by Medicare/MedicAid anyway).

I will likely vote for Democrats this time around, too. That said, I'm equally turned off by their partisanship and I have yet to be impressed by their ability to define the public good.

Long-time readers of Brooks have to recognize that he at least pretends to care about that. IMO - and I don't know him - he probably does care about that. This type of coulumn fall into the "he's doing a favor" category. HTH are Democrats going to get control of fiscal matters? A Republican congress is at least empirically defensible as an answer.

That said, my own opinion is that Republicans are uniquely unsuitable for dealing with the problems at hand, and that is the President's problem, one that he may have been able to avoid if he'd been screwed by plutocrats the way McCain had been.
written by MinnItMan, October 30, 2010 1:45
In other words, I would say the Republicans are the least deserving electoral winners (presumably) we have ever been saddled with. I thinks Brooks would agree 100%.
O the times! O the morals!
written by Paul Sunstone, October 31, 2010 6:48
Brooks is not alone. Quite many people resort to blaming values or morals if and when they are without a clue about the real cause(s) of something.

The tendency to blame values or morals has been around for a while. Even the ancient Romans did it.

It should be more widely recognized for what it most often is -- a sign of incompetence in a subject.

written by boxer, November 02, 2010 6:28
Keynesian government, not socialist Izzatzo.
Realtors are just behind bankers in offering bribes on behalf of their schemes. They were the ones who pushed for subprime mortgages, not the government on behalf of the poor. You sound like a tea partier with your anti-socialist digs. This government has not and will not enact any policies to benefit people unless it is threatened by social upheval, which I fervently hope will happen soon. So you are saying that Barney Frank et al. who are awash in corporate/banking bucks initiated a program to help the people trick the banks? Your Ideology is tripping up your rationalizations.

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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.