Timbuktu and our Serious People!


David Brooks’ basket case: In this morning’s New York Times, David Brooks lays out the case for comprehensive immigrations reform.

The evidence all supports it, he says. He ends his column with a warning:
BROOKS (2/1/13): The first big point from all this is that given the likely gridlock on tax reform and fiscal reform, immigration reform is our best chance to increase America’s economic dynamism. We should normalize the illegals who are here, create a legal system for low-skill workers and bend the current reform proposals so they look more like the Canadian system, which tailors the immigrant intake to regional labor markets and favors high-skill workers.

The second big conclusion is that if we can’t pass a law this year, given the overwhelming strength of the evidence, then we really are a pathetic basket case of a nation.
Are we “a pathetic basket case of a nation?” Why does Brooks have to ask?

To see Brooks’ question answered, just skip over to Paul Krugman’s column, remembering the mess which occurred when he did Morning Joe this week.

Krugman writes a highly instructive column, a variant on the instructive column he’s now written dozens of times. He describes the way the western world’s Very Serious People insist on a certain set of economic nostrums.

He then walks us through the evidence. Those nostrums turn out to be junk.

Krugman has written this column again and again and again. It doesn't make any real difference. His demonstrations rarely affect the things said by Serious People—people like Mika and Joe.

Implicitly, his column describes us as “a pathetic basket case of a nation”—as a society whose elites refuse to react to real events in the real world.

This brings us today’s front-page report from Timbuktu, an ancient city which has recently suffered under the imposition of Shariah law.

Lydia Polgreen’s report is fascinating all the way through. Near the end, without intending to do so, she describes suffering Timbuktu as a version of our own nation.

She quotes local residents describing the way they suffered under the strictures of invaders. In what way does the conduct of these invaders differ from the conduct of the people Krugman keeps describing?
POLGREEN (2/1/13): Mr. Tandina said he tried to use his decades of Koranic education to argue with the Islamists, citing verses about respecting the burial places. They would not listen.

Before long, he said, amputations started. Then came the executions. Again he said he tried to intervene, going to the Islamic court with stacks of Islamic law books under his arm.

“Islam was whatever they said it was,” he said. “They did not respect the holy book. They respected nothing but their own desires.”

For hundreds of years, Timbuktu was one of the world’s most important centers of Islamic learning. The city has dozens of mosques, and it is famous for the ancient, handwritten manuscripts that city residents have collected for generations, preserving them against waves of invaders and creating a priceless trove of knowledge about the Islamic world and beyond. Many families have long traditions of Islamic learning, passed from father to son.

So many here bristled when the Islamists called the population to lecture them about the proper practice of the religion in which they had been raised.

“What they call Islam is not what we know is Islam,” said Dramane Cissé, the 78-year-old imam at one of the city’s biggest and oldest mosques. “They are arrogant bullies who use religion as a veil for their true desires.”
Be sure to read Polgreen’s full report. But in fact, Krugman has written that column dozens of times.

It doesn't matter what he says. As in Timbuktu, so here: The people in question aren't going to listen. They have their own desires.


  1. We are not a basket case of a nation. First of all, the government isn't the nation. Brooks and Krugman are each arguing that the federal government is a basket case. Their evidence is that the government hasn't adopted certain policies that they support.

    Amnesty for illegal immigrants is very controversial. Both sides have substantial support. Ditto for the proper amount of deficit spending and money creation. The fact that the government is slow to adopt controversial policies isn't a sign of being a basket case. On the contrary, it shows that democracy is working.

    1. Troll, neither Brooks nor Krugman nor Somerby is arguing that the government is a basket case. It would be nice for you to learn how to read before interjecting your endless string of non-sequiturs at nearly every post.

  2. I would add gun control to that list of controversial proposals. Many Americans, perhaps a majority, oppose more gun control than we have at present. And, the anti-additional-gun-control side has many passionate adherents. If Congress fails to add additional gun control at this time, that's merely the normal working of democracy, not a paralyzed nation.

    1. Would you care to support your assertion that "perhaps a majority" of Americans "oppose more gun control than we have at present"?

      Because the polls I have seen have shown overwhelming majorities in favor of strengthing and broadening background checks, and banning military grade assault rifles and high capacity magazines, clips and drums.

      Which, of course, would be the only "gun control" measures under serious consideration at this time.

    2. You're probably right, Anon. I do think the anti-additional-gun-control side has more passionate adherents and, becasue of the NRA, is better organized.

    3. Quaker in a BasementFebruary 1, 2013 at 4:06 PM

      "Many Americans, perhaps a majority, oppose more gun control than we have at present."

      Oh, really?

  3. For several years we have had real unemployment over 20 million people -- that's people who want a job, and a real (full-time) job at that. That's already a basket case. When one party blocks even mere floor debate on every single proposal to address this or any other obvious problem we are facing (such as a score or so innocent school kids being mowed down in seconds every few months), that's definitely a basket case. Government? Country? Does it make a difference when it's the country that suffers from the problems?

  4. Yes, Krugman and Somerby have been saying the US is a basket case in that the government can't take any kind of constructive action. But if the US is a basket case, what is the UK? Voters there chose the Tory-Liberal coalition and if they are suffering from it it's their own fault. Europe is not much better. Voters in Spain actually kicked out a quasi-socialistic government and brought in a more conservative one. If people in the US really wanted progress, and wanted a government that could solve problems they could have brought one in in 2012. If they want gun control, why do so many keep voting for Republicans who are absolutely clear about opposing gun restrictions?

    Somerby's consistent theme is that progressives don't explain these issues well enough. But really, do people have to be told that if they want background checks they should not vote for the candidates endorsed by the NRA? Shouldn't it be obvious to the meanest intelligence that a vote for a Republican means lower taxes for the rich? The problem is not that people don't understand and have to have things explained more clearly, it is that their prejudices (racism) and party and regional identification overwhelm any positions they might otherwise arrive at on logical or financial grounds.

    1. It's = It is
      Its = belongs to it.

      Basic English. Please learn it.

    2. What r u moaning about, you pedantic twit?

    3. The use of a mathematical symbol amidst random capitalization and punctuation in a complaint about the idiomatic use of an apostrophe might be an attempt at humor. However, the sentence fragments that complete the complaint indicate frustration at the lack of a better rejoinder rather than a pithy sense of mischief.

    4. Oh, and it looks like he used the correct "it's" anyway.

  5. The government isn't paralyzed. During Mr. Obama's Presidency, the government has taken major, far-reaching actions, such as

    1. Enacting a sweeping health care law
    2. The biggest Stimulus in history
    3. The biggest deficits and national debt in history
    4. By far, the biggest debt limit ever
    5. A surge in Afghanistan
    6. A decision to completely withdraw from Iraq
    7. Regulation of CO2 emissions by the EPA
    8. Generous funding of clean energy firms like Solyndra
    9. Support for overthrow of Kadafy in Libya

    We may not all agree on whether these actions made things better or worse, but they demonstrate that the government is doing plenty. Granted, its decision-making process is messy and ugly. But, it's simply not the case that the government isn't able to take actions.

  6. Re: @6 -- The decision happened under Bush; Obama tried to wriggle off it, but the Iraqi government wouldn't budge.

    But anyway, I don't think Krugman's assertion is that we're a basket case because nothing happens in government. He's well aware that things do happen.

    Your #2, while completely false (I'll get to that in a minute), is a case where Krugman argued strongly that the proposed stimulus was entirely too small.

    Now, Krugman's beef is not that government didn't do anything, and not that it didn't do precisely what he wanted. His beef is that it is impossible to get any engagement with the ideas. His blog post today makes this very clear:


    So, on to your bullshit: We by no means had had the biggest stimulus in history under Obama. First of all, because of the many offsets, you need to consider the net of ALL government spending Federal and State, not merely Federal. Doing that netting withers your case utterly.

    More to the point: You may have heard of a little thing called World War II?

  7. Nona Nym - I agree that it's difficult or impossible within government to get engagement with the ideas.