Kristof v. Collins: The public face of don't care!


All hail our pseudolib heroine: The op-ed page of today’s New York Times is framed by two columns—columns written by Nicholas Kristof and Gail Collins.

Below, we’ll offer one complaint about one thing Kristof says. But his column discusses an actual, real-world concern—the rising share of American income being gobbled up at the top.

“In 2010, 93 percent of the gain in national income went to the top 1 percent,” Kristof notes at one point. Also this:

“America’s Gini coefficient, the classic measure of inequality, set a modern record last month—the highest since the Great Depression.”

Kristof’s column is a review of a new book by Joseph Stiglitz. Whatever you think of his views or approach, Kristof is asking people to think about an actual part of the world.

And then, on the other side of the page, we get the latest from Collins. It’s hard to be more detached, more uncaring, than this blight on the liberal world.

Collins starts her piece in her standard way, complaining that the election is boring. We’re quoting her piece as it appears in our hard-copy Times, not as it appears on-line:
COLLINS (10/4/12): Give yourselves a little pat on the back, interested citizens. You really have been through a lot. Two more presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate to go. Then we will be moving into the final days, sometimes known as the Actually Having an Election period.

(Did you read John Noble Wilford’s article in The Times about the discovery of the remains of a dinosaur the size of a house cat? A paleontologist told Wilford that it might have looked like a “nimble two-legged porcupine.” I am telling you this because the race for the Republican nomination first began at about the time these creatures became extinct. Michele Bachmann shot the last one when it hopped across her front yard.)
Collins builds an astonishing number of columns around the idea that politics and citizenship are just amazingly boring. Her attention then shifts to Irish setters, armadillos, coyotes, horses or dinosaur/porcupines.

In this, her preview to last night’s debate, Collins could have presented some framework which might have helped her readers understand what they saw and heard. But Collins’ entire career as a columnist is built around the idea that watching a debate, or a speech, is just impossibly dull—an affront to upper-class humans.

At any rate, in Collins’ revised, on-line column, the porcupine stays in! As a columnist, Collins is constantly seeking ways to kill time by talking to the animals.

Earlier this year, Collins published a book about Texas. Her portrait of the Texas public schools is rank with misinformation. The book is so full of misinformation, it constitutes an act of journalistic fraud.

Why is a person like this in print? Why do liberals accept this?

Alas! The Potemkins who pose as our journalists call this the information age! It seems these gods must be joking.

Our one complaint about Kristof: Unlike Collins, Kristof discusses an actual real-world concern. We don’t think his column really advances the discussion of this matter. But he isn’t killing time discussing his boredom and talking about porcupines.

We do have one complaint about Kristof’s column. It’s a sign of the times when Kristof feels he has to say what follows:
KRISTOF (10/4/12): This dismal ground is explored in an important and smart new book, “The Price of Inequality,” by Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate who was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton. It’s a searing read.

“We are paying a high price for our inequality—an economic system that is less stable and less efficient, with less growth,” Stiglitz warns.

The problem is not that the rich are venal or immoral, and I buy into the Chinese mantra of the reform era: “To get rich is glorious.” But today’s level of inequality is unusual by American historical and global standards alike, and, as Stiglitz notes, evidence is mounting that inequality at the levels we’ve reached stifles growth and employment.
That highlighted statement is very odd. Obviously, Kristof is massively smarter than that.

Crackers! Some of the rich certainly are “venal or immoral.” To a large extent, that certainly is “the problem.” This has been true through the annals of time, as every sentient person knows. And just for the record, some of us who aren’t rich today would quickly turn “venal or immoral” if we got rich tomorrow.

This is known as human nature. That statement is very strange.

Many wealthy people are thoroughly decent, of course. But wealth and power have always tended to lead us humans astray.

Today, the wealthy are very powerful in the world where our insider pundits dwell. Smart people end up saying odd things, bowing low to that wealth and its power.


  1. It's become pc to preface criticisms of wealth concentration and plutocracy or oligarchism with declarations of love for success and entrepreneurship. Obama did it last night. Even Chris Hayes did it last night when interviewing Rudy Giuliani and "America's Mayor" kept accusing him of "ad personam" (is that the pc version of "ad hominem"?) attacks whenever his business interests and government contracts were broached.

    Describe somebody as rich these days and you'd better be prepared to add -- "not that there's anything wrong with that."

    It all reminds me of a Michael Kinsley column long ago wherein he pointed out that the majority of people on the Forbes' 400 list got there through inheritance or owning land on top of an ocean of oil or some other valuable mineral.

  2. It's comforting to know that Charles and David Koch and Richard Mellon Scaife are not venal or immoral, but only act that way.

  3. What Kristof means is that something else is the real problem: some are venal and stupid, most are not, but enough of them, and apparently the most influential and wealthiest among them, are frightfully stupid. They are too stupid to realize that their real wealth was actually greater before Bush made his tax cuts giving the greatest benefit to the wealthy -- how in the hell is giving extra money to people who aren't going to spend it help? -- too stupid to realize that when you destroy the ability of working people to have some slight say in the terms of their employment, you also diminish their purchasing power and their confidence in the future; too stupid to realize that confidence in the future and ample discretionary purchasing power among the great mass of citizens is what powers the economy and makes the rich richer, too stupid to realize that progressives focused on full employment and higher wages are the true pro-business party, and on and on and on.

    Of course, if you are trying to make progress in enlisting enough of the wealthy to allow us to attack the real problems in the world, it's not very smart to attack "them" as venal and immoral. The majority apparently would not object to seeing top marginal rates rise from 35% to 39.5%. Possibly a majority would not object to seeing some increase in capital gains rates, and probably a majority would not object to seeing us go back to the historic treatment of dividends as ordinary income just like wages. They are not venal and immoral, unless you believe only Saint Francis of Assisi qualifies for that dispensation.

    1. The reason these billionaires act this way is that they halfway believe the cant of social Darwinism.
      The ideology is for the rubes: The willing stooges and the water carriers, i.e., the Tea Partiers.

      These billionaires, most of whom inherited their wealth and started halfway up the ladder, DO believe that some of us are natural rulers; aristocracy, if you will, and the rest of us are rabble.

      The stooges and water carriers are part of the 47% that support Romney, and believe that, but for the lack of a million bucks or so, they are REALLY part of the 1%.

    2. Your willing stooges--the Tea Partiers--are small town people interested in less government. Your stooges are wealthy Jews, like Bernie Madoff, interested in ensuring more government through their donations to the Big Government party.

  4. Quick question: what is the difference between " presenting your framework" and spinning?

  5. ...the rising share of American income being gobbled up at the top.

    I would argue that income is created, not gobbled up. It's certainly the case with myself.

    Until just a few years ago, I was consulting part-time in Bermuda at a generous hourly rate. Since Bermuda has no income tax, my Bermuda income was subject to full US and California rates as well as a self-employment tax. My net pay was substantially less than half of what I earned.

    Now I'm fully retired (in part because I got to keep so little of what I earned.) Does my retirement mean that I'm gobbling up less income? Of course not. It means that I'm creating less income. And, government no longer receives the taxes I had been paying on my consulting earnings.

    1. Exactly!!

      The people merely *working* for a living aren't creating wealth. That's why, even though their supposed "productivity" has been soaring, they've been taking home less and less of the wealth.

      It's only fair!

      Because it's the owners and financial elites who really create it all!

      Thanks for pointing us in the right direction, Douchebag in California!

    2. No David. It means you are stupid.

      Mitt Romney and his ilk would roar with laughter at anyone stupid enough to pay half his foreign income in US taxes.

      You are definitely a 99 percenter that cheerfully carries water for the one percent.

      "The stooges and water carriers are part of the 47% that support Romney, and believe that, but for the lack of a million bucks or so, they are REALLY part of the 1%."

      Thank you for demonstrating so promptly that people like you really do exist.