CEPR - Center for Economic and Policy Research

Multimedia

En Español

Em Português

Other Languages

Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press David Brooks' Trouble With Arithmetic Leads Him Astray Again

David Brooks' Trouble With Arithmetic Leads Him Astray Again

Print
Tuesday, 22 January 2013 07:30

David Brooks would benefit hugely from a remedial course in grade school arithmetic. It might keep him from saying silly things in his NYT columns like:

"We are now a mature nation with an aging population. Far from being underinstitutionalized, we are bogged down with a bloated political system, a tangled tax code, a byzantine legal code and a crushing debt."

If he were more acquainted with arithmetic he would be able to go to government publications and discover that far from being "crushing," the interest burden of our debt is near a post-war low. In fact, if we subtracted the $90 billion in interest that is refunded from the Fed to the Treasury the interest burden would be at a post war low.

interest-per-gdp-2013-01

Source: Congressional Budget Office.

Brooks' confusion then causes him to assert:

"Reinvigorating a mature nation means using government to give people the tools to compete, but then opening up a wide field so they do so raucously and creatively. It means spending more here but deregulating more there. It means facing the fact that we do have to choose between the current benefits to seniors and investments in our future, and that to pretend we don’t face that choice, as Obama did, is effectively to sacrifice the future to the past."

In fact there is no reason to make such a choice between meeting obligations to seniors and investing in the future. If we fixed our health care system so that our per person health care costs were in line with those in other wealthy countries we would be looking at long-term budget surpluses, not deficit.

Thanks to Robert Salzberg for calling this one to my attention.

 

Comments (16)Add Comment
...
written by Last Mover, January 22, 2013 8:46
David Brooks wants to start another culture war, Kevorkian economics.
It's Ideology, not Arithmetic
written by Robert Salzberg, January 22, 2013 8:49
Brooks and the Fix the Debt crowd have convinced themselves that the only way to save our country is by slashing the social safety net.

Maya MacGuineas from Fix the Debt:


"The focus of the plan should be reforming the nation's entitlement programs that their own trustees have declared to be unsustainable. The changes should be gradual and protect those who depend on them, but align our promises with our ability to pay."

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/01/13/proposing-the-unprecedented-to-avoid-default/only-a-broad-debt-plan-can-avert-the-ceiling

If we would "align our promises with our ability to pay", we'd have the best social safety net on the planet not the mediocre one we have now.
...
written by Ziggy, January 22, 2013 9:35
David Brooks is such a shoddy establishment propagandist that I think one of two things is actually happening:

a) He's sick of what he's doing and is trying to get himself fired – like George Costanza driving the World Series trophy around the Yankees' parking lot.

b) He's hedging against being a defendant in future Nuremberg like trials of the criminals who brought down the system – he can claim his defense of establishment b.s. was so transparently bogus that anyone could see he was writing satire.
quite simple fixes
written by pete, January 22, 2013 10:01
Brooks and Baker could compromise...combining their better suggestions might make a difference.

1) As Dean has suggested, open the borders so that underpaid European doctors and nurses can compete down health care costs here.
2) As no one has suggested...allow 14 year olds to begin serious trade training a la Germany rather than embarassing them in college-or-fail high school programs.
3) As some have suggested...eliminate the payroll and most income taxes, and instead raise serious pigovian taxes on carbon.
4) As per Brooks and the infamous Obama (aka Bowles Simpson) commission: Don't give Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and the Kochs medicare or social security.
did he really say .
written by Russ Davis, January 22, 2013 10:21
"raucously?" I things are already a bit too raucous in the economy.
...
written by kharris, January 22, 2013 10:41
"Reinvigorating a mature nation means using government to give people the tools to compete, but then opening up a wide field so they do so raucously and creatively."

That line is nothing more than bloviation. Is there a history of "reinvigorating" mature nations? Other than simply recovering from recession, of course. If there is a list of examples, does it include people who were "given tools to compete"?. More to the point, does every instance on the list involve handing out such tools? (If so, I'd then want to ask whether the list amounted to anything more than a list of countries picked to suit Brooks' premise.) How does one "open a field"?

For market religionist, perhaps this blather sounds like a catechism. Does anybody else think they see any substance here?
...
written by Chris Engel, January 22, 2013 1:36
Excellent chart and point.

It's a good way to put the debt in perspective against the deficit hawks. The debt is only as burdensome as the interest we pay on it, so "omgz 16 trillion!!111" doesn't mean anything when you put it in perspective historically.

Not to mention these interest payments help sustain a massive market that is the closest representation of the theoretical risk-free asset that financiers rely so heavily upon in valuation. This makes it so that we can have a solid supply of assets for the risk-averse in society who don't want market whims to endanger savings. As long as we stick to the debt being a serious necessity (and it's a necessity for introducing money into the economy by the Fed) then the interest isn't a big deal at all.

We need to go full-court-press on this point, because the austerians are getting louder it seems, with "OMG THE DEBT IS SO BAD" meme being conventional wisdom at this point and not even being contested by anyone but a handful including yourself.
...
written by Chris Engel, January 22, 2013 2:38
I thought this view was interesting so I took a look at the Interest Payment on National Debt as % of Total Federal Spending:

http://i.imgur.com/HSkLrbv.jpg

Could only find interest expense data from Treasury from 1988 onward -- but the same story is being told: just because we have nominally high debt right now and relatively high deficits, the high demand bringing down market interest rates on the debt made new issuance cheaper and thus the true burden of the debt (cash payouts of interest) is lower than it has been in decades.

This really is something that should be put out there more often...
...
written by liberal, January 22, 2013 2:38
pete wrote,
4) As per Brooks and the infamous Obama (aka Bowles Simpson) commission: Don't give Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and the Kochs medicare or social security.


Yawn. Dean's pointed out time and time against that means-testing doesn't save much, unless the cut-offs are really really low.
The hea;lth care system is a giant make-believe employement machine
written by Blissex, January 23, 2013 5:20
«If we fixed our health care system so that our per person health care costs were in line with those in other wealthy countries we would be looking at long-term budget surpluses, not deficit.»

Sure, but if health care went from 14-16% to 7-8% of GNP, then a lot of people who currently get jobs or get dividends from health companies would be out of luck.

A bloated inefficient health care sector, is like a bloated, inefficient finance sector, or a bloated, inefficient military/security sector: huge generators of underemployment, like agriculture or home service were in the past.

All these sectors have generated the overwhelming majority of "jobs" in the past 20 years...

So called "productive" sectors have been deliberately offshored and destroyed because they were unionized, and they aren't coming back, unless the politics change, and they won't change until voters stop thinking of themselves as being rentiers.
How is Yglesias' math?
written by Avedon, January 23, 2013 8:35
I've been wondering how you'd unpack him ever since I saw his piece on why the elites hate social security http://www.eschatonblog.com/20...aders.html

The important thing to note about this hatred is that it's not unjustified. The haters aren't wrong. I loved both of my grandmothers, but they spent a lot of years just sitting around consuming goods and services while producing nothing of economic value. Retired people don't boost The Economy. Trimming their cost of living adjustments does. The more you trim, the more boost you get. Doing the reverse of Social Security and saying that everyone over the age of 65 has to write a check to the government or be turned into Soylent Green would boost The Economy even more.
Time And Again
written by Jeffrey Stewart, January 23, 2013 10:15
How many times does Brooks write this same column? He changes the beginning and the end, but it the middle it's tax and social program cuts and deregulation. Geez!
Sure - blame the Doctors
written by JS, January 23, 2013 12:39
Our rising healthcare costs are not driven by payments to Doctors or other healthcare professionals. Professional salaries make up about 20% of our national healthcare expenses so if you were to cut Doctors' salaries by 25% you would anger the people who treat you when you are sick and decrease healthcare spending by about 5%. Importing European Doctors, as some have suggested, is also not workable. It is true that they are paid less than American Doctors but this also enjoy free universal healthcare, public transportation, college tuition for their kids, far less malpractice, and shorter working hours. American patients are very demanding of a physician's time compared to their European counterparts - don't expect your German-trained Doctor to put up with you calling him at all hours of the night with questions about your treatment. Isn't going to happen.
Peasant
written by JP, January 23, 2013 9:44
While probably being best described as a "lurker" I follow Dean's blog regularly and pay close attention to
the comments section as much for education as for balance. Quite often an old synapse will fire and I learn something.

Comments are sometimes made which reinforce or refute, validate or nullify, but allow me to identify previous concepts I've held to be right or wrong.

Avedon's comment allowed such an old synapse to fire. Just a few years ago, when the country was under an
overinflated "Bird Flu" scare, cities were practicing emergency response procedures in case of epidemic.

When determining who was to get care and who was not I learned that I was in the 65 and over group, a group
whom the CDC had determined would get no treatment or preventive measures.

My interpretation (rightly or wrongly) was that I was considered to no longer be a producer of any value and
was, if anything, a member of a group that was now thought to be a drag on the economy and society.

It is not really an age thing. It is simpler than that. I am simply a peasant in the eyes of the Important People.
...
written by liberal, January 24, 2013 1:55
JP wrote,
My interpretation (rightly or wrongly) was that I was considered to no longer be a producer of any value and
was, if anything, a member of a group that was now thought to be a drag on the economy and society.


IIRC there was a flu scare sometime in the past few years for which it was predicted that older age cohorts would be relatively spared due to limited immunity from some epidemic from the 1950s or something.

In most flu epidemics, ISTM that the groups that get the highest priority are health care workers, the very young, the very old, the infirm and those with weakened immune systems, and possibly pregnant women.
...
written by watermelonpunch, January 24, 2013 11:11
Could you tell us what you really think of David Brooks math skills?
LOL :D


But seriously... is that he doesn't know?
Or is it that he has his reasons for pretending like he doesn't know?

I don't know. I'm really asking.


Write comment

(Only one link allowed per comment)

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

busy
 

CEPR.net
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.

Archives