The NYT’s block of editorial blockheads have had quite a week for themselves. First Tom Friedman embarrasses himself by writing about economics as if he knew what the word meant, and now David Brooks notices the country isn’t in very good shape after years of the austerity and corporate theft he’s been championing as solutions without actually realizing that’s what he’s doing. Pretty good trick for a normal person but a necessary skill for right-wingers. Without it their heads would explode collectively.
First, he does a brilliant job (well, he doesn’t but the source he’ ripping off did) drawing a word picture of the economic devastation that is trickle-down America. The excuse for the column is his concern that Americans lack the “energy” they used to have, which is proved for him by a study that says we don’t move as often as we used to. A slim reed to be sure, but in the process of discussing various theories about why, look at he detail he comes up with. And the explanations they led him to.
It’s also true that labor markets are getting more homogeneous. It used to be that the jobs found in Pittsburgh were different than the ones found in Atlanta. But now they are more similar, so there is less reason to move from one city to another. But that also fails to explain the tremendous drops over decades.
No, a big factor here is a loss in self-confidence. It takes faith to move. You are putting yourself through temporary expense and hardship because you have faith that over the long run you will slingshot forward. Many highly educated people, who are still moving in high numbers, have that long-term faith. Less-educated people often do not.
This loss of faith is evident in other areas of life. Fertility rates, a good marker of confidence, are down. Even accounting for cyclical changes, people are less likely to voluntarily vacate a job in search of a better one. Only 46 percent of white Americans believe they have a good chance of improving their standard of living, the lowest levels in the history of the General Social Survey.
So we’ve lost faith in capitalism. We no longer believe it’s going to make our lives better or that the “better” job we might move to look for actually exists. To David, this is an attitude problem. We’ve gotten lazy and don’t want to move because nobody’s guaranteeing us a soft landing when we get…wherever we’re going. And this doesn’t faze him:
Fifty percent of Americans over 65 believe America stands above all others as the greatest nation on earth. Only 27 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 believe that. As late as 2003, Americans were more likely than Italians, Brits and Germans to say the “free market economy is the best system on which to base the future of the world.” By 2010, they were slightly less likely than those Europeans to embrace capitalism.
Thirty years ago, a vast majority of Americans identified as members of the middle class. But since 1988, the percentage of Americans who call themselves members of the “have-nots” has doubled. Today’s young people are more likely to believe success is a matter of luck, not effort, than earlier generations.
This, as all of us stuck down here rather than in the rarefied atmosphere of private schools, limousines, gated communities, and private jets can attest, is a simple acknowledgment of reality in corporate-run America. We don’t “embrace capitalism” because it’s perfectly clear to us that capitalism is tying to kill us. David runs down all the reasons we feel that way and then acts like it’s, like, a fad. He even calls it a “trend”, like pink Ipads or sneakers with lights on the heels. Those kids today…
His solution when he finally gets to it? Vouchers.
I kid you not.
No one response is going to reverse the trend, but Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute believes government should offer moving vouchers to the long-term unemployed so they can chase opportunity. If we could induce more people to Go West! (or South, East or North) in search of opportunity, maybe the old future-oriented mind-set would return.
Vouchers, tax cuts, and no govt regulations are the three answers the right-wing has for every problem you can think of. And btw, looking for solutions from anybody that works for AEI is like asking an arsonist to take over the fire department.
It’s amazing to me that at his level of disconnection from reality David Brooks has the mental capacity to dress himself in the morning. OTOH, maybe he doesn’t. Hmmm. That could explain one or two things….