David Brooks presents us with an instant classic of the “let us have the comity and civility to all come together and concede that conservatives are right about everything” genre. The subject is inequality, and it actually induces this sentence:
There is a growing consensus that government should be doing more to help increase social mobility for the less affluent. Even conservative Republicans are signing on to this.
Hahahahahahaha, oh, you’re killing me. Conveniently, Brooks’s column makes abundantly clear that such as a consensus doesn’t remotely exist, and while some Republicans are willing to say that the same anti-mobility policies they’ve always favored will somehow help the poor, what they actually want to do to advance mobility is “nothing.”
Anyway, at least this has produced some inspired commentary. All of these are worth reading in full, but some teasers. Baker:
It’s not clear what social fabric Brooks thinks is fraying. The percentage of children in single-parent families has actually largely stabilized in the last three decades. The percentage of teen mothers is way down as is the crime rate. The high school graduation rate is way up. These changes have not been reflected in improved conditions for those at the bottom as minimum wage workers are more educated and experienced than ever.
As much we might want to take David Brooks’ plea for considering complex cultural, social, and behavioral problems, de-industrialiation looks pretty much like a good old-fashioned economic problem. An over-valued dollar makes our goods uncompetitive internationally. If the currency is over-valued by 20 percent it is roughly equivalent to having a 20 percent tariff on all U.S. exports and a 20 percent subsidy on imports. In addition, if we have trade agreements that expose manufacturing workers to competition with low-paid workers in the developing world, while largely protecting highly paid professionals like doctors and lawyers, then we will have a serious problem of deindustrialization. That’s pretty much economics 101, it’s hard to see why any bigger explanation is needed on this one.
The David Brooks Problem is that he writes opinion columns for the New York Times, but has no idea what he is talking about. The proximate causes are that 1) he doesn’t know how to do research, 2) he has no motivation to try because he lives an extravagant and distracted life in his $4 million home. In some ways, responding to him is a largely futile affair that misses the point, but sometimes I am called to do so, and so I will.
Since Brooks has taken a passing interest in the question of smarm, let’s note that arguing that reasonable bipartisan legislation should start with one party’s agenda topmost is definitive political smarm.