Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 6, 2010

WHAT BROOKS CONSIDERS 'REALISM'.... The New York Times' David Brooks devotes his column today to offering President Obama some advice, which he considers "a little economic realism." That's probably not the best description of his economic vision.

Brooks doesn't seem especially impressed with "Demand Siders" -- those who believe additional economic stimulus will generate growth and create jobs. In some disappointing anti-intellectualism, Brooks derides these advocates for their "computer models" and "very high I.Q.'s," as if those who've been exactly right about practically every recent economic challenge are just nerds with charts, unworthy of serious consideration.

More specifically, Brooks insists, "The Demand Siders don't have a good explanation for the past two years." Sure they do. A housing crash led to a financial crisis, exacerbated by an unregulated Wall Street. Global stimulus efforts helped create a global recovery, which is now threatened by European debt crises and austerity measures that focus on debt reduction instead of growth. The Demand Siders have a perfectly good explanation for the past two years.

Brooks added that "it is certainly true that the fiscal spigots have been wide open. The U.S. and most other countries have run up huge, historic deficits." I'm not sure that's true, either. The "fiscal spigots" should have been opened much wider, and while the U.S. deficit is huge, history shows plenty of instances in which it's been much bigger.

Brooks thinks he's right in part because the public is confused: "Only 6 percent of Americans believe the last stimulus created jobs, according to a New York Times/CBS News survey." But I care less about what the polls show than what reality shows: the stimulus created millions of jobs and prevented an economic catastrophe. Brooks doesn't have to like it, and the public doesn't have to accept it, but facts are stubborn things.

Perhaps most troubling is the column's fear-mongering.

These Demand Siders have very high I.Q.'s, but they seem to be strangers to doubt and modesty.... Are you really willing to risk national insolvency on the basis of a model?

As Dean Baker explained, threats about "national insolvency" from additional stimulus are silly.

Mr. Brooks doesn't tell readers how he has determined that further stimulus carries this risk. He doesn't explain how raising the country's debt to GDP ratio by 4-8 percentage points over the next few years would jeopardize the creditworthiness of the U.S. government. This is certainly a rather strong assertion, given that even with this additional indebtedness, the debt to GDP ratio in the United States would still be far lower than it had been at prior points in its history.

Even after a decade of accumulating debt at a rapid pace, the U.S. would still face a lower debt burden than countries like Italy do today. Italy is currently able to borrow in financial markets at very low interest rates. Projections for 2020 show that the debt burden of the United States would still be less than half of the current debt burden of Japan, which still pays less than 2.0 percent interest on its long-term debt.

Financial markets also don't seem to share Mr. Brooks view that national insolvency is a serious concern. The people who are putting their money on the line are willing to buy 10-year Treasury bonds at just 3.0 percent interest rates. That would seem to suggest that insolvency in not a real concern, but Mr. Brooks insists that President Obama should hesitate on stimulus because he thinks that insolvency is a problem anyhow, and the people who disagree with him are arrogant.

That far too many policymakers here and around the world seem to buy into Brooks' vision is more than a little disconcerting.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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What's the problem with people with high I.Q.s? We used to look to people with high I.Q.s for solutions and innovation that would help lead us in new directions. Now they are to be derided? Sounds like he's jealous that he has no ideas and maybe has a low I.Q. especially on what our country needs right now.

Posted by: del on July 6, 2010 at 8:05 AM | PERMALINK

What's the problem with people with high I.Q.s?

People tend to distrust/fear/dislike anything they perceive as different from themselves and their friends.

Posted by: pheski on July 6, 2010 at 8:10 AM | PERMALINK

Has Mr. Brooks considered other ways of paying for the stimulus, such as decreasing defense spending or increasing taxes on the very wealthy, aka, the ones we recently bailed out who are back to making big bucks? Thought not.

Posted by: Betty on July 6, 2010 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

Dear 'Our Miss Brooks,'
All I have to do to see who's right and who's wrong is to look at YOUR track record: Consistently wrong.
You ain't Bloody Bill Kristol, but you're getting close.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on July 6, 2010 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

Now, now, Mr. Brooks serves a very important part in our political ecosystem. No one else has nearly the same skill for encapsulating thoughts that are widespread, conventional, and wrong. I view Mr. Brooks as a sort of twisted digest: I can read him and immediately know how the chattering classes are going to be wrong.

Posted by: Bernard Gilroy on July 6, 2010 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

Please, do not deride Eve Arden.

One sad side to this is the Oregonian will pick up his drivel in their eternal drive to be "fair and balanced".

Posted by: berttheclock on July 6, 2010 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

What's a public opinion survey doing in the middle of a column that is trying to make an economic point about the way the world works. Citing a poll result without putting it into the context of the tens of millions being spent by the right wing noise machine to achieve precisely those results is empty demagoging. Of course, now that I've said that I just left myself open to right wing charges that I am attacking the intelligence of the average voter for suggesting they are vulnerable to propaganda. Well, so be it. They are.

Posted by: Ted Frier on July 6, 2010 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

Mr. Brooks doesn't tell readers how he has determined...

But isn't that just the point of anti-intellectualism? It's common sense, the cool guy vs the nerd, conventional wisdom vs conspiracy theory. David Brooks is a master of disingenuous argument. That's what makes him so appealing to the NYT and perhaps PBS as well.

Posted by: Danp on July 6, 2010 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

Taiibi on Brooks (quoted in an otherwise fawning NY Mag piece:

"Matt Taibbi on True/Slant called Brooks, among other things, a “spineless Beltway geek” on a “pencil-pusher’s eternal quest for macho cred” who “looks like a professional groveler/ass-kisser” and is “the kind of person who even in his spare time would pay a Leona Helmsley look-alike a thousand dollars to take a shit on his back.”"

sounds like an entry in the Zagat's Guide, "Conservative Poseurs"

Posted by: Upper WEst on July 6, 2010 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

[T]hreats about "national insolvency" from additional stimulus are silly.

Well, indeed, but that isn't the biggest problem with Brook's position. The problem is his breathtakingly idiotic implication that only other people's approach carries attendant risks. If Brooks had a single honest bone in his body, he'd attempt to explain why the risks he wants to run are less likely and/or less serious than those being considered by Krugman et al.

But he can't, of course. He doesn't have the chops. So instead he just deploys a standard hack tactic: argue one position is flawed and therefore the alternative position can be deemed correct without any inspection whatsoever.

That on its own would be intellectually lazy and profoundly dishonest. But by combining this smug shell game with an accusation that those smarter, more hard-working and more experienced than he are "arrogant", he successfully pushes himself fully into the realm of the outrageously pompous and self-deluded mendacious charlatan. Y'know, again.

Still, I imagine Brooks will have a lot of company. There's always plenty of people queuing up to argue that obviously superior intelligence, knowledge and experience is worthless if the people who possess it don't captivate the crowd in exactly the way the peons allegedly demand. Reading these kinds of column always makes me feel like I'm watching a drunkard push Mozart away from a piano, shouting that their playing will be more exciting to listeners because they're going to hit the keys with monkeys that are on fire.

Posted by: SpaceSquid on July 6, 2010 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

Bashing high IQs is good old all-American anti-intellectualism, but his really interesting line is this:

"Most European leaders and central bankers think it’s time to begin reducing debt, not increasing it"

Since when do the likes of David Brooks look to Old Europe for policy guidance? Or should I say Alte Europa? Jawohl!

Posted by: al-Fubar on July 6, 2010 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

My thoughts on David Brooks generally and today: the reason he thinks economists show no doubt and modesty is that he has never encountered any himself. I'm also getting really really tired of the rich media folks who think that us fools who worked hard all our working lives in public service positions like teaching and police work should have our pensions gutted. Instead of pointing out what has happened to pensions throughout our society and working to protect pensions, health care, unemployment insurance and other social goods, we have the elite media calling for us to destroy what is left of the social safety net. It's real easy for Brooks to mock the demand siders, but if there is no money to spend in large segments of the society, we will not recover from this recession.

Posted by: ceilidth on July 6, 2010 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Only 6% support stimulus? Oh WHY is that? Because the GOP lies to the American public? ONE MORE TIME economics is being run by politicians. IGNORE the pundits, ignore the politicians and let the economists hammer it out. When did we become a country where EVERYONE thinks they FEEL how the economics should be done? EVERYONE is an expert? I DO worry about the state of EDUCATION in this country.

Posted by: SYSPROG on July 6, 2010 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Brooks, like Cal Thomas and Peggy Noonan, is nothing more than a text generator to fill space and to affirm the meager thought processes of the dullard populace.

They only thing he excels at is his level of sophistry. Which, in this society, could be accomplish by a urine-soaked bum.

Posted by: Zarbi on July 6, 2010 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Lists are the best part of life . My goodness but lists are stubborn things . Why even on a list of stubborn things it would be careless to forget the host .
Considering the faith required to support outrageous notions , the furthest ones from any tangible means repeatable demonstration are the ones that bring out the most dogged assertions of faithful belief . This actually stands amongst the most frequently traveled , comfortably fixed routes to acceptance for a faith .
The stew of raw emotions and ignorance , along with the providential , fixed events , that permit the observation of coincidences as a fixed scheme for the willing to be gulled , should make a nice list .
Why does it seem that the right wing apologists take a conclusion then start weaving mythologies around it to suit their masters ?
That would be a a list home to David Brooks and all his arch and canny little friends . They sure know a little bit about notions infinitely removed from any tangible means repeatable demonstration amongst their masters .

Posted by: FRP on July 6, 2010 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Brooks himself has a high IQ!

(for a cabbage.)

I hope Obama takes his economic advice from the NYT columnist who has a Nobel Prize in economics, and not the jovial cabbage David Brooks.

Posted by: biggerbox on July 6, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

It beggars the imagination trying to understand how this so-called "newspaper of record" justifies continued employment of Brooks.

Posted by: karen marie on July 6, 2010 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Very informative; thanks. The USA is not nearly as badly off as I had thought, and I'm afraid I also believed the deficit was the largest in history. Not because of Brooks, either, whom I rarely read any more - that's just the way it's marketed.

Posted by: Mark on July 6, 2010 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Are you really willing to risk national insolvency on the basis of a model?

We already did; or did Brooks miss the Reagan + GWB administrations?


Posted by: Zorro on July 6, 2010 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

"He doesn't explain how raising the country's debt to GDP ratio by 4-8 percentage points over the next few years would jeopardize the creditworthiness of the U.S. government."

He doesn't, because he probably doesn't know. But there is an explanation: if US debt/GDP hits ~16%, ratings agencies downgrade US credit rating, which will mean higher interest on debt, higher debt service. There is a very real effect from Debt/GDP growing 4-8%, since US debt is sitting at ~ 11% right now. Moody's has already warned of this.

This is great, of course, for the banksters: Wall Street, etc., get their goods and get out fast; now that the DEBT has grown substantially to bail out the bastards, they're all warning us about how we cannot spend anymore, or they'll sick the ratings agencies on T-bills. Convenient for them.

Posted by: anderson on July 6, 2010 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Looking forward to the follow up post.

Posted by: Joanne on January 5, 2011 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK



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