David Brooks: Bard of the 1 Percent

David Brooks delved deep into his storage locker of misinformation to tell readers that the idea of blaming the richest 1 Percent for the country's problems is just silly. He told us that the really big ideas aren't about reversing the upward redistribution of income from the top, they are from centrists who want to do things like cut our Social Security and make us pay more for health care. Let's have some fun with Mr. One Percent.

First he begins his piece by telling us:

"The U.S. economy is probably going to stink for a few more years. It is beset by short-term problems (low consumer demand, uncertain housing prices, too much debt) and long-term problems (wage stagnation, rising health care costs, eroding human capital).

Realistically, not much is going to be done to address the short-term problems, but we can at least use this winter of recuperation to address the country's underlying structural ones."

In other words, Brooks wants all those people who are unemployed and losing their homes to just suck it up. Nothing is going to be done to help you: get over it.

And why is nothing going to be done to help the 26 million people who are unemployed, underemployed or have given up looking for work altogether? The reason is that people like David Brooks and rest of the 1 Percent don't give a damn about you.

We do know how to do something about unemployment. According to research, the stimulus worked just about exactly as planned. It was designed to create 2-3 million jobs in a context where the economy needed 10-12 million jobs. There is no economic reason why we can't go the route of more stimulus -- aid to state and local governments so they don't have to lay off school teachers, infrastructure spending, youth jobs programs etc. -- it is just powerful people like David Brooks who don't want us to do anything.

The Fed could also be more aggressive. For example it could move to deflate the debt that millions of households face from mortgages and student loans. This would mean following the path advocated by Ben Bernanke for Japan's central bank when he was still a professor at Princeton; deliberately targeting a somewhat higher rate of inflation (e.g 4-6 percent).

And of course we could go the work sharing route. With no better growth than us, Germany has used work sharing to bring down its unemployment rate to below its pre-recession level. If we can't raise the demand for labor by making the economy grow, then we can just share the work that we have.

This is all pretty simple, but David Brooks and his 1 Percent friends have already decided that they aren't going to let any of this happen. The 99 percent are just going to have to suck it up and protesting on Wall Street isn't going to make a difference.

Not only does Brooks want to tell the 99 percent that the 1 Percent are not going to allow anything to happen that will help them, he tells readers that they better not blame the 1 Percent for this situation:

"Unfortunately, almost no problem can be productively conceived in this way. A group that divides the world between the pure 99 percent and the evil 1 percent will have nothing to say about education reform, Medicare reform, tax reform, wage stagnation or polarization. They will have nothing to say about the way Americans have overconsumed and overborrowed."

Of course this is not true, even if the media rarely give attention to the views of the 99 percent. The reason that Americans "overconsumed and overborrowed," was that we had a huge housing bubble. As every graduate of an intro economics class knows, people will spend based on their housing wealth. The $8 trillion bubble led people to spend vast amounts of money, exactly as economic theory predicts.

That bubble was easy for people not in the 1 percent to see, and it was entirely predictable that its collapse would lead to an economic disaster, but Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and other people in the 1 Percent who had the responsibility for managing the economy opted to do nothing. This could have been due to astounding incompetence or it might have something to do with the fact that people in the 1 Percent with names like Angelo Mozilo, Richard Fuld, and Robert Rubin, were making money hand over fist off the mortgages that financed the housing bubble. In any case, this economic disaster was 100 percent due to the greed and/or incompetence of the 1 percent and was 100 percent preventable.

The other items on Brooks' list also have an awful lot to do wiith the greed of the 1 Percent and corruption of the political system. In the case of health care, we pay more than twice as much per person for our health care as people in any other wealthy country. The reason is that the richest 1 Percent -- executives in pharmaceutical and insurance companies, hospitals and highly paid medical specialists -- all make huge sums off our health care system. If we paid the same amount per person as people in any other country, our long-term budget projections would show huge surpluses, not deficits.

Education reform, in the sense of students learning in school, will fare much worse with Brooks' period of a stinking economy. When people lose their jobs and their homes they cannot provide the sort of stable environment that children need to do well in school. And of course wage stagnation and polarization has everything to do with the trade and regulatory policies that the 1 Percent have adopted to redistribute income upward.

In fact, the 99 percent-1 Percent divide has almost everything to do with current situation. But, David Brooks' 1 Percent status depends on him telling people the opposite twice a week in the NYT. You might as well learn to enjoy Brooks' ill-informed semi-weekly diatribes, realistically, not much is going to be done to address the situation.

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