Friday, January 17, 2014

David Brooks Joins Forces with Ryan, Rubio, and Paul on Income Inequality. Surprise!

I agree with Ryan, Rubio, Paul, and Cruz. Shit, I guess that makes them my tribe...

It's the immorality, stupid! No, it's the income inequality, stupid!

Okay, that gets us nowhere, I know. But just check out Brooks' new op-ed on income inequality (of course he had to chime in!), and immerse yourself:
That’s because raises in the minimum wage are not targeted at the right people. Only 11 percent of the workers affected by such an increase come from poor households. Nearly two-thirds of such workers are the second or third earners living in households at twice the poverty line or above.
The primary problem for the poor is not that they are getting paid too little for the hours they work. It is that they are not working full time or at all. Raising the minimum wage is popular politics; it is not effective policy.
Third, the income inequality frame contributes to our tendency to simplify complex cultural, social, behavioral and economic problems into strictly economic problems. [His italics.]
Good on ya, Brooks. You figured it out.
  1. If enough poor people live together, they're not poor!
  2. Their problem is that they're not working full-time. It's their fault that minimum-wage employers like McDonald's and Walmart don't hire many full-time workers in order to avoid having to pay benefits. Also, it's the poors' fault that a full-time minimum job wage yields about $14,778 a year.
  3. It doesn't matter if the poor suffer because of low wages because there are complex cultural, social, behavioral and economic reasons, by which Brooks couldn't possibly mean the poor are losers because they do drugs and have too much sex, could he? Of course not.
So, let's give Brooks the benefit of the doubt on this and check it against the key thesis of the op-ed:
There is a very strong correlation between single motherhood and low social mobility. There is a very strong correlation between high school dropout rates and low mobility. There is a strong correlation between the fraying of social fabric and low economic mobility. There is a strong correlation between de-industrialization and low social mobility. It is also true that many men, especially young men, are engaging in behaviors that damage their long-term earning prospects; much more than comparable women.
Low income is the outcome of these interrelated problems, but it is not the problem. To say it is the problem is to confuse cause and effect. To say it is the problem is to give yourself a pass from exploring the complex and morally fraught social and cultural roots of the problem. It is to give yourself permission to ignore the parts that are uncomfortable to talk about but that are really the inescapable core of the thing.
There, you had to go and say it, didn't you, Mr. Brooks. Your thesis is that the fraying of the social fabric is the reason for the poor's problems. We've got all these correlations, don't you know!

But taking money from the top, you know, the people with all the money, and giving it to those at the bottom that don't have it, can't be a solution. No, because that would be a really huge moral hazard. And besides, the Republicans would never stand for it, so give up.

Here's Brooks, in the end, at his perfectly perfect, intellectually heartless best:
If we’re going to mobilize a policy revolution, we should focus on the real concrete issues: bad schools, no jobs for young men, broken families, neighborhoods without mediating institutions. We should not be focusing on a secondary issue and a statistical byproduct.
For fuck's sake, Brooks, the statistical byproduct is that wages are too damn low.  The statistical byproduct is that the really rich have, proportionally, too damn much money. Who gives a shit about your frightened sensibilities, about your fucking concern trolling, that someone who dropped out, or had a baby, or came from a broken family, or went to a bad school in a bad neighborhood, you know, one without a fucking mediating institution, might somehow get a hold of some more money than a pitiful minimum-wage, part-time job might give them. That would provide a moral hazard! That would be a bridge too far!

Please, Mr. Brooks, find a nearby bridge, nowhere near a moral hazard, and do jump off of it, and save us from your poor, poor, pitiful braying, your bleating, your harumph! Do save us from that.

"That Brooks, he's one of us, isn't he?" "Oh, most certainly, Mortimer, most certainly."


  1. The problem here is actually quite simple: Many businesses are just too damn profitable. That profit comes from optimizing the work product of employees without regard for the life quality of those employees. If employee quality of life were an actual consideration, many businesses would be significantly less profitable, and profoundly more humane.

    Until we culturally re-frame the duties of "businesses" to include the ethic of providing a sustainable quality of life to all employees, we will not see a change. Socialism is one solution to this challenge, but well-regulated capitalism could also achieve the goal of full employment at living wages.

    1. I agree with you. I would also add that social democracies are best when they succeed in properly regulating capitalism, leading to a free enterprise that doesn't enslave its working class. Many free marketers don't get this. Libertarianism fails when its objective is individual, not universal, success. Libertarians would, of course, never agree.