David Brooks, never worse!

FRIDAY, MAY 18, 2012

The undisguised soul of class preference: This morning’s column by David Brooks is truly one for the ages.

Looking down from the heights of Olympus, Brooks starts by explaining how human life works. It isn’t that what he’s saying is “wrong.”

But who is he talking about?
BROOKS (5/18/12): The people who pioneered democracy in Europe and the United States had a low but pretty accurate view of human nature. They knew that if we get the chance, most of us will try to get something for nothing. They knew that people generally prize short-term goodies over long-term prosperity. So, in centuries past, the democratic pioneers built a series of checks to make sure their nations wouldn’t be ruined by their own frailties.

The American founders did this by decentralizing power. They built checks and balances to frustrate and detain the popular will. They also dispersed power to encourage active citizenship, hoping that as people became more involved in local government, they would develop a sense of restraint and responsibility.


Though the forms were different, the democracies in Europe and the United States were based on a similar carefully balanced view of human nature: People are naturally selfish and need watching. But democratic self-government is possible because we’re smart enough to design structures to police that selfishness.
It isn’t that what he’s saying is “wrong.” But when he talks about all that selfishness which needs all that watching, who is he talking about?

Is he talking about average people—average people who might want help getting their (over-priced) health insurance? Or is he talking about Masters of the Universe, the billionaires, hustlers, gamblers and swells who have destroyed the American system?

As he continues, it’s stunningly clear who Brooks means. This is the shape of the “depravity” which has our high lord so upset:
BROOKS: James Madison put it well: “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind, which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.”

But, over the years, this balanced wisdom was lost. Leaders today do not believe their job is to restrain popular will. Their job is to flatter and satisfy it. A gigantic polling apparatus has developed to help leaders anticipate and respond to popular whims. Democratic politicians adopt the mind-set of marketing executives. Give the customer what he wants. The customer is always right.

Having lost a sense of their own frailty, many voters have come to regard their desires as entitlements. They become incensed when their leaders are not responsive to their needs. Like any normal set of human beings, they command their politicians to give them benefits without asking them to pay.
Rather clearly, it’s the average Joe and Josephine against whom we need protection. Brooks isn’t discussing our billionaire masters. He’s discussing “many voters,” “the popular will.”

According to Brooks, “many voters have come to regard their desires as entitlements.” In his various constructions, no billionaires can be found!

Are we "voters" sometimes selfish? Yes, of course we are! But it’s astounding to review events of the past twenty years and think that we average shlubs are at fault. And yet, that’s the way Lord Brooks paints the picture all through this remarkable column.

Only once in his long diatribe does he pretend to cover his keister. In our view, this just makes it worse:
BROOKS: The American decentralized system of checks and balances has transmogrified into a fragmented system that scatters responsibility. Congress is capable of passing laws that give people benefits with borrowed money, but it gridlocks when it tries to impose self-restraint.

The Obama campaign issues its famous “Julia” ad, which perfectly embodies the vision of government as a national Sugar Daddy, delivering free money and goodies up and down the life cycle. The Citizens United case gives well-financed interests tremendous power to preserve or acquire tax breaks and regulatory deals. American senior citizens receive health benefits that cost many times more than the contributions they put into the system.

In Europe, workers across the Continent want great lifestyles without long work hours. They want dynamic capitalism but also personal security. European welfare states go broke trying to deliver these impossibilities.
Can you spot the one little sentence which acknowledges the fact that billionaires (“well-financed interests”) can sometimes be grasping too? Just in case you missed that needle, we highlighted it there in the haystack.

Brooks just bought a $4 million house. As he prepares to move in and up, he’s troubled by the little people. So grasping! So greedy! So unrestrained in their appetites, whims and desires!

Meanwhile, what did Brooks do to receive his four million? People! Other journos won’t ask!

Same general idea: On Wednesday evening’s Hardball, Chris Matthews was pretending to be very upset. How did Mitt Romney make all that money, the world’s biggest phony asked:
MATTHEWS (5/16/12): Why is Romney ducking the press? He’s on the plane being cute about it, but he’s saying he doesn’t have to answer your questions. He’s laughing about it in that sort of phony laugh of his. Is he afraid of questions this time? What’s he going to do when he’s president? No more press conferences, no more answering?

By the way, Bain Capital. That’s where you worked. That’s how you got rich. Explain the money! Show us how you made the money!

This is Hardball, the place for politics.
How quaint. No one whored for his millions any more than Matthews did. First he slimed the Clintons for Jack Welch, then he spent two solid years sliming Candidate Gore.

Reward: $5 million per year! Eight years of Bush in the White House!

Watching Mathews ask questions like this is a study in the way our "press corps" works. The pseudo-liberals of the corps have always tolerated Chris. They want the fame and the money too—and his show was a route to “success.”

He made up shit about Gore for two years. (By now, of course, he has been repurposed.) Everybody kept their traps shut tight.

Today, Joan and David adore him.


  1. "But, over the years, this balanced wisdom was lost. Leaders today do not believe their job is to restrain BANKERS' will. Their job is to flatter and satisfy BANKERS... Democratic politicians adopt the mind-set of marketing executives. Give the BANKERS what they wants. The BANKER is always right.

    Having lost a sense of their own frailty, many BANKERS have come to regard their desires as entitlements. They become incensed when their leaders are not responsive to their BANKS' needs. Like any normal set of human beings, BANKERS command their politicians to give them benefits without asking them to pay."


  2. Every word of David Brooks is meant to provoke disdain for ordinary people. that is what Books is all about always.

  3. i nhave read the daily howler and i love the gentle sarcasm that brings out the truth so well. I have learned alot about how to parse the news i read and watch, though i do like rachel maddow though i like ezra klein a bit better.

  4. I love the bullshit about "European welfare states", as if a bit of health care and a decent pension are the only problem.

    What a fucking arsehole Brooks truly is.

  5. So professor Brooks says clearly that it is impossible to "have dynamic capitalism but also personal security." What a prick! Can anyone truly argue that there is no social benefit to social insurance? That entrepreneurs might not actually take more risk if they know that bankruptcy will not lead to a lack of personal health care coverage and destitution? Or that it is OK for a health care tragedy to leave people destitute?

  6. Brooks sounds like an old-line Darwinian or Malthusian: “survival of the fittest”. “People don’t deserve what they get because they don’t work hard enough.” I’m 62 years old. Let me tell you a little story.

    When I was in my 20s, I worked in Idaho one Fall on a mechanical potato harvester. This thing was HUGE. As we went up the rows, then back, every time we would come to this one low spot in the field, the blades would get stuck in the dirt and fall off. Then the guys had to get an even bigger tractor, four-wheel-drive with eight-foot tires, to pull it out. Then the blades would have to be re-attached, a time-consuming process. This happened several times as we went back and forth up and down the field, until finally the guys figured out the problem. There was a 100-foot wide stretch of heavy clay at that spot, extending all the way across the field, one-quarter mile. Every time thereafter, whenever they came to that stretch, they simply lifted the blades, kept them up for 100 feet, then dropped them, and we went on our way, pulling up potatoes and sorting the rot. The potatoes in the 100-foot wide low clay stretch were simply left in the ground.

    Do the math. One-quarter mile times 100 feet is 132,000 square feet that was bypassed. Figure two pounds (minimum) of potatoes per square foot. That’s 264,000 pounds of potatoes left in the ground to rot. IN TWO DAYS! That’s 2,460 standard sacks (100 pounds), which comes to about 60 standard truckloads. That’s a lot of potatoes. This amounted to 7.5% of the field. Most of the crop left behind would eventually have gone to potato chips, but still.....

    The land was rented from an Indian tribe. When the members heard about this, they came down to the field with sacks and pickup trucks and potato forks and began to dig the potatoes up by hand for their use at home. Even back then, most harvesting was done by machine, but every household still kept a couple of old-fashioned potato forks in the tool shed, just in case. Fifty people with forks didn’t even make a dent in what was left.

    So don’t ever let anyone tell you that “there’s not enough to go around”. Production methods today are hugely intensive. They can crank out the goodies like nobody’s business, and the economic analysis shows it — huge overproduction of food, houses, cars, clothes, computers, toys, gasoline, etc. etc., but nobody’s buying. Our problem is, they don’t need the workers. Most of our economic (and social, and political) problems today would be solved if we had a 30-hour work week, with double pay for overtime. Sound outlandish? This would simply be a ratcheting up from the 40-hour week we instituted (by law) in 1937. Work for those doing nothing, more leisure for those who are working too much.

    A nifty solution. It worked before. But David Brooks is not going to tell you that. He’d kill you instead (if he could). This is a man who’s obviously never worked in a field or a factory. When Obama faced down the bankers in 2009, he is supposed to have said, “ I don’t want you fellas to forget, I’m the only one between you and the pitchforks” (or potato forks?). He should tell that to David Brooks.