Thursday, May 5, 2011

Calling David Brooks on the Carpet

Here is an excellent post by Dean Baker in his Beat the Press blog that points out that David Brooks doesn't know what he is talking about. This is good. It brings Brooks down a peg. Brooks is a lovely writer, but he is in love with his words and not necessarily the truth. Brooks lives isolated from the lives of the bottom 90% so he uses his imagination to "fill in the gaps". But when you are upper middle income guy, your imagination about "how the other half lives" is fully of a lot of blarney:
David Brooks Shows How Far We Have Gone from the Founding Fathers: It Used to be That Columnists Had to Know What They Were Talking About

David Brooks told readers that:

"Over the past months, there has been some progress in getting Americans to accept the need for self-restraint."

This should have hundreds of millions asking who needs "self-restraint?" Does Brooks thinks that the 14 million unemployed need more self-restraint? Do the 8 million people who want full time work but who can only find part-time employment need self-restraint? Do the millions of people who are facing the loss of their home need more self-restraint?

Brooks isn't very clear on who he thinks needs to restrain themselves but he praises Senator Alan Simpson, Representative Paul Ryan and President Obama for helping to lecture us on this need. Those familiar with the basic economic data know that the richest 1 percent have used their control of the political process to hugely increase their share of national income over the last three decades. The bottom 90 percent has seen little gain from economic growth over this period. Of course Representative Ryan wants to give more tax breaks to the richest 1 percent, so he doesn't seem to be preaching self-restraint to those who have been showing the least in recent years.

If Brooks' concern is making the welfare state sustainable, then he should be talking about fixing the health care system. It is easy to show that if per person health care costs in the United States were comparable to any other wealthy country then we would be projecting huge budget surpluses, not deficits.

If Brooks bothered to take a few minutes to study the issues he writes about then he would know this. Fortunately for him, he has job for which this skill is not required.

Brooks also claims that there is an inherent tension between economic dynamism and economic security, telling readers:

"Republicans still mostly talk about incentives for growth, and Democrats still mostly talk about economic security."

Actually many Democrats have been actively talking about more stimulatory fiscal policy, monetary policy and currency policy (i.e. a lower valued dollar). All of these policies would boost growth. It is remarkable that Brooks is apparently unaware of the large number of Democrats, including several of his colleagues at the New York Times, who have been vigorously pushing these positions.
I enjoy Dean Baker. He has taken on the Sisyphean task of correcting the errors and lies in the media. I admire his sense of duty. It is a hopeless task. Not only does the media mostly ignore his corrections, they seem to glory in their ignorance and politically motivated perversions of the truth. A guy like David Brooks makes enough to hire fact checkers and take the time to talk to people outside his bubble of affluent types. But he would rather just make the stuff up.

Brooks is the kind of guy who during the Great Depression would be saying that the real problem was that people didn't know any peppy songs. They needed to sing some lively tunes and the economy would recover. It was all those people lining up to get their money out of the banks that was scaring the rich people from investing in the economy that had caused the Great Depression. If only the unemployed would go out for a good restaurant meal once a week, the Great Depression could have been stopped in six months instead of lingering for more than a decade.

Oh... and here is a bit from another Dean Baker post that is well worth reading. This goes after The Washington Post and not David Brooks:
Those who thought that the Washington Post (a.k.a. Fox on 15th Street) couldn't get any worse, have just been proven wrong yet again. The Post ran a little primer telling readers about Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

The Post tells readers:

"a GAO report found that total government health-care spending in the United States is somewhere in the middle. In the United States, spending on public health was 6.9 percent of gross domestic product in 2005, while it was 8.9 percent in France, 8.2 percent in Germany and 7.2 percent in the United Kingdom. On the lower end of the spectrum, Australia spent 6.4 percent of GDP on health care and Canada spent 6.9 percent. Some of the countries that spend more have had a demographic shift to an older population sooner than the United States."

Okay, boys and girls, can anyone see the problem with this discussion?

That's right! All the other countries included in this discussion have public health care systems. The figures cited for public health care spending comprise the bulk of their national spending on health care. Only in the United States do we have a large private health care sector that spends roughly the same amount as the public sector.

This means that rather being in the middle of the pack, as this discussion implies, we are way over the top. To pay for most of the health care needs of our seniors and our poor, our government pays almost as much Germany, Canada, and the U.K. do to provide for the health care needs of their entire population.

Of course this point should have been central to this whole primer. The reason that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are projected to "usurp much of the revenue from federal taxes," is that health care costs in the United States are out of control. If the U.S. paid the same amount per person for health care as any of these other countries it would be looking at huge budget surpluses in the long-term, not deficits.

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