The David Brooks difference! Plus, our schools were best in the world!

TUESDAY, MAY 8, 2012

Where do narratives come from: Finally, in this morning’s Times, we learn the difference between Paul Krugman and David Brooks when it comes to the nation’s economy.

The explanation comes from Brooks himself. Here it is:

Krugman is a “cyclicalist”—but Brooks is practicing “structuralism!” That said, these aren’t two equal schools of thought, as we learn from Brooks’ boxed sub-headline:

“True reform versus cyclical patchwork”

Brooks is seeking true reform. Krugman traffics in patchwork.

Read the column for full details. For ourselves, we were struck by Brooks’ list of the three major structural elements screwing up the economy. This is his second key element:
BROOKS (5/8/12): Then there are the structural issues surrounding the decline in human capital. The United States, once the world’s educational leader, is falling back in the pack. Unemployment is high, but companies still have trouble finding skilled workers.
Where do narratives come from? They come from repeated throw-away comments like the one we highlight.

Was the United States “once the world’s educational leader?” That claim may be true in some respect, though Brooks doesn’t explain what he means. But this claim gets tossed off very easily in our current political discourse. Not knowing what such claims are intended to mean, people may find themselves imagining all sorts of past glories.

Two thoughts came to mind when we read that claim this morning. We thought of some comments to Gail Collins’ recent know-nothing education column—comments in which her readers insisted that our schools were once just superb.

We also thought of a news report by Rehema Ellis. NBC was staging its annual, highly propagandistic “Education Nation” week. Reporting on NBC Nightly News, Ellis had a dream:
ELLIS (9/26/10): Good evening, Lester. It was an exciting event. For two hours today the teachers who joined us were inspiring, some even emotional about the job that many say is stressful and extremely demanding.

Right now, the teacher's job is under critical review because of what is and what is not happening in the classroom. America's public school students are in trouble. On nearly every major ranking, the results are disappointing.

Forty years ago, American students were first. Now, among 30 developed nations, our students rank 24th in math, 17th in science and 10th in reading. Sixty-eight percent of American eighth graders cannot read at grade level. Nationwide nearly 70 percent of our students graduate from high school, but among African-American, Latino and low-income students, just over 50 percent graduate each year.
“Forty years ago, American students were first!” Like Brooks, Ellis didn’t explain what she meant. But as far as we know, American students never scored first in the world on any international assessments of reading and math.

Here at THE HOWLER, we helped you recall what some schools were like in the glory days Ellis recalled. Jonathan Kozol was teaching in Boston, a well-known city, during the era Ellis recalled. We quote from his book, Death at an Early Age, which won the National Book Award and helped attract us to Baltimore:
KOZOL (page 9): Many people in Boston are surprised, even to this day, to be told that children are beaten with thin bamboo whips within the cellars of our public schools and that they are whipped at times for no greater offence than for failing to show respect to the very same teachers who have been describing them as niggers.
For more from Kozol’s brilliant book, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/30/10. It’s easy to recall glory days, sometimes perhaps incorrectly.


  1. Interesting. I have always thought of Krugman, and Keynes as being anti-cyclical. There is a view of economics that holds that the economy is inherently cyclical, given to crises that happen about every 20 years or so. This was Marx's views and he saw this as a critical and insoluble problem. I have always had a sense that the Austrian school, raised as they were in an environment where Marx was an important influence, both accepted this view, and reacted against it. Yes, they said, capitalism is cyclical, but that's a good, not a bad thing. Cyclicality clears away the unproductive so the productive can replace. Keynesianism isn't a reaction to Marx and the Austrians, it's an outright rejection. It says that capitalism, with some monetary adjustments can be protected from cyclicality, the euphoric highs, the devastating lows. The problem I have with Keynesianism is more based on psychology than economics. We like the euphoric highs a bit too much to give them up too easily.

  2. On last week's Bill Maher, Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's Chief of Staff, claimed that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell cut the higher education budget to one-fifth of what it had been.

    Arizona also made huge cuts to education in all levels, and many other states responded to the recession by cutting education budgets first.

    We will quickly lose all the gains we have made in the last 50 years.

    Brooks' other points are bogus as well.
    Why should superstar salaries rise into the stratosphere while others stagnate? He doesn't say.
    Engineers have always done well, but they have never made 40, 50, 350 times as mush as the worker on the assembly line, as some executives do.

    Nor does he explain that the special interest deals are a direct result of lobbying, with lobbyists being the class whose wealth has been growing the fastest.

  3. This does a pretty good job of sending Brooks' idiocy packing -- Anyone thinking "Well, Brooks does raise some good points" ought to at least consider this rebuttal:

    1. Ooh, a reference to my second favorite blog on my favorite one!

  4. IMHO Brooks lost this debate to Krugman by failing to focus on Krugman's term of art, "austerity." Check your understanding by this multiple choice question.

    Given that annual federal spending was about $2 trillion in 2000 and about $3 trillion in 2008 and is about $4 trillion today, what does Krugman mean by "austerity" going forward?

    A. Return spending to $2 trillion.
    B. Return spending to $3 trillion.
    C. Hold spending where it is.
    D. Continue to increase federal spending.

    Answer: D

    1. Last night, Krugman appeared on Al Sharpton's Politics Nation.
      He stated that the recession could be ended if government replaced all the teachers, policemen , and firemen that were laid off by states and municipalities to cut their budgets.
      What stimulus the federal government had injected into the economy was OFFSET by state-by-state cuts.
      Krugman also said that the consumer demand created by the re-hired government employees would then encourage domestic business to hire and expand the private sector.

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