November 25, 2011 · 2 Comments
By Marie Burns:
Paul Krugman never takes a holiday. Even when David Brooks has taken the day off, Krugman shows up to debunk Brooks.
Before we discuss Paul Krugman’s latest attempt to save the New York Times op-ed page from its uninformed and/or purposely misleading writers, I should clarify what I mean by David Brooks’ Day Off. Today he has indeed spared us from reading — and Krugman from having to correct – a new Brooksian economic theory. But Brooks still has turned in his requisite 800 words. We saw this coming. At the end of last month, Brooks asked older readers to report on their life lessons, which he said “would be useful to the young.” He promised to share some of these essays on his blog and in his column “around Thanksgiving.” So here we are. And here is the advice Brooks thought would be “useful” to cut and paste for the edification of the nation’s clueless youth:
Cheating on your wife can lead to divorce. Also, cheating on your wife makes you feel ashamed. If you drink too much, you might cheat on your wife, which has the aforementioned downsides. When a loved one dies, you will feel really sad. When a child is hit by a car, God is more likely to mend the child’s injuries than are doctors. (We do not learn why God let the driver of that car hit the child. Perhaps that will be a life lesson for another day.) When you yourself get sick, it’s nice to have friends and be cheerful.
With all due respect to the elderly writers, who were only doing as Brooks asked, it doesn’t seem these particular life lessons are much more “useful to the young” than are Brooks’ own writings. With the exception of the dubious claim about God’s superior medical expertise, I suspect most young people could intuit all of this advice without benefit of first-hand accounts.
Now let us return to Paul Krugman’s superior economic expertise. Early this month, David Brooks wrote a risible column in which he intended to debunk the Occupy Wall Street slogan: “We Are the 99 Percent.” Brooks argued that Americans who live in small cities experience “Red Inequality.” “… the crucial inequality,” Brooks posits, “is not between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent. It’s between those with a college degree and those without.” (Emphasis added.) By contrast, the “Blue Inequality” experienced in big cities is the product of urban “liberal arts majors” whose protests have received unwarranted special attention from elite media – who are themselves merely a subset of urban liberal arts majors. Occupy Wall Street, then, is an urban elite liberal arts conspiracy against “doctors, bankers and C.E.O.’s.” (By the way, if you see any Occupy signs of the “First, Kill All the Doctors” variety, do let me know.) “But,” Brooks writes, “the fact is that Red Inequality is much more important.”
This was not David Brooks’ first attempt to delegitimize Occupy Wall Street and the interests of the 99 Percent. In his October 12 column, Brooks called OWS a “trivial sideshow” aimed at making the 99 percent feel “cheated by the richest and greediest 1 percent.” Besides making a sideways attempt to tie OWS to antisemitism and suggesting the protesters “hate capitalism,” Brooks pours out a litany of economic and social problems that won’t be solved by blaming “the evil 1 percent.” Here’s why: according to the conservative Tax Foundation, Brooks writes,
Even if you tax away 50 percent of the income of those making between $1 million and $10 million, you only reduce the national debt by 1 percent…. If you confiscate all the income of those making more than $10 million, you reduce the debt by 2 percent.
James Kwak of Baseline Scenario quickly corrected Brooks’ arithmetic. While Kwak doesn’t recommend taxing the super rich at 100 percent, doing so, he calculates, would make “the entire long-term deficit problem [go] away.” Kwak writes,
Saying these tax changes would reduce the deficit by 3 percent (that’s 1 percent + 2 percent, by the way) is a mistake that guts the rest of the column, which is based on the idea that major tax increases on the rich wouldn’t matter. It doesn’t surprise me that David Brooks can’t do basic math, but doesn’t he have a fact checker? Or at least an editor? … Why is the Times letting someone who doesn’t understand arithmetic write about budgetary issues and the national debt?
Absent a fact-checker and editor, the Times does have Paul Krugman. In today’s column, Krugman replies to David Brooks’ assertion that “the crucial inequality is … between those with a college degree and those without.” Here’s Krugman’s lede:
‘We are the 99 percent’ is a great slogan. It correctly defines the issue as being the middle class versus the elite (as opposed to the middle class versus the poor). And it also gets past the common but wrong establishment notion that rising inequality is mainly about the well educated doing better than the less educated; the big winners in this new Gilded Age have been a handful of very wealthy people, not college graduates in general.
Krugman goes on to explain that the biggest winners are not the top one percent but “the top 0.1 percent — the richest one-thousandth of the population.” And their increased wealth has not come as a result of “the wonderful things they supposedly do”:
Very few of them are Steve Jobs-type innovators; most of them are corporate bigwigs and financial wheeler-dealers…. And these are not, to put it mildly, professions in which there is a clear relationship between someone’s income and his economic contribution…. Much of the apparent value created by modern finance was a mirage…. Seemingly high returns before the crisis simply reflected increased risk-taking — risk that was mostly borne not by the wheeler-dealers themselves but either by naïve investors or by taxpayers, who ended up holding the bag when it all went wrong.
That is, David Brooks’ claims notwithstanding, Occupy Wall Street has it right. The super-rich are major contributors to our economic problems. For the most part, they are overpaid leeches, not overtaxed “jobs creators.” Krugman concludes, “the 99.9 percent … should ignore all the propaganda … and demand that the super-elite pay substantially more in taxes.”
To answer James Kwak’s question, doesn’t Brooks at least have an editor? – Yes, he does. The editor of the New York Times op-ed page is Andrew Rosenthal. In a Times-honored tradition, Andy is a legacy: he is the son of A. M. Rosenthal, the former executive editor of the Times and a 56-year veteran of the paper. Today Rosenthal the Younger, instead of editing David Brooks’ cut-and-paste of other people’s writings, was busy cutting and pasting a post which Times editorial writer Lincoln Caplan wrote last year, a post which was itself an inspired cut-and-paste of a Thanksgiving proclamation made by Wilbur Cross, a former Connecticut governor and Shakespeare scholar. Gov. Cross wrote his stirring proclamation in 1936, during the Great Depression. It began,
Time out of mind, at this turn of the seasons when the hardy oak leaves rustle in the wind and the frost gives a tang to the air and the dusk falls early and the friendly evenings lengthen under the heel of Orion, it has seemed good to our people to join together in praising the Creator and Preserver, who has brought us by a way that we did not know to the end of another year.
Caplan – and by extension, Rosenthal, who has republished it – leave us with this Brooksian thought:
In a period more trying than our own, Cross did for Connecticut what no leader seems able to do for America today. He buoyed hearts with reassuring words about shared blessings — ‘the yield of the soil that has fed us and the richer yield from labor of every kind that has sustained our lives.’
Yes, indeed. We of the fortunate 99 Percent need only work hard, buck up and thank God for that diminishing percentage of blessings coming our way. Since we’re into cutting and pasting today, I shall leave you with a question by Zandar, which she posed last month in Balloon Juice in response to yet another of David Brooks’ columns dissing Occupy Wall Street,
Why would the silly masses actually want anything more in a country where the wealthiest 400 individuals have more than the bottom 50% combined, and banks continue to report billions in profit this week after taking hundreds of billions in taxpayer loans?
The Divine Right of Job Creators, indeed. Real Americans suffer in silence, apparently.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com and until recently was a popular commenter on New York Times op-ed columns. A short time ago, she began boycotting the Times because of a change in Times policies that stratifies “trusted” and “mistrusted” commenters.