Posted by: Doug Henwood | April 9, 2011

David Brooks can’t add

Fact-checking David Brooks could be a full-time job. Just yesterday, he wrote this about the federal budget problem:

Raising taxes on the rich will not do it. There aren’t enough rich people to generate the tens of trillions of dollars required to pay for Medicare, let alone all the other programs.

Almost every word of this is wrong.

Medicare doesn’t require “tens of trillions,” unless your budget horizon is something like twenty years. This year, Medicare will cost $572 billion. In 2020, according to the CBO, it will cost $949 billion. Over the next ten years, it will cost $7.6 trillion, which isn’t even a ten of trillion, much less “tens of trillions.” (And that doesn’t include “offsetting receipts”—$80 billion this year, and $1.2 trillion over the next ten, which reduce those outlays significantly. Supporting spreadsheet is here.) Right now, the top 1% of the U.S. pop has something like $1.4 trillion in income. The next 4%, $1.3 trillion. The next 5% has almost a trillion. (Computed from Piketty and Saez data here.) In other words, you could entirely fund Medicare by hitting up the top 1% for about a third of its income. Yeah, I know that’s politically impossible, but they’ve got the money—we just can’t have any of it.

As for the rest of it, Social Security is a trivial budget problem, if it’s one at all. Medicaid is a problem, but, as with Medicare, the best way to solve that budgetary problem is with a single-payer system, which wouldn’t require any new tax revenue at all, but would actually save money by eliminating administrative costs.

Brooks has a hard time getting anything straight. Back in 2006, Sasha Issenberg fact-checked his Bobos book and found it rather challenged (“Boo-Boos in Paradise”). Some choice excerpts: “False.” “Entirely manufactured.” “[I]t became increasingly hard to believe that Brooks ever left his home.” “Brooks, however, does more than popularize inaccessible academic work; he distorts it.” “Brooks satisfies the features desk’s appetite for scholarly authority in much the same way that Jayson Blair fed the newsroom’s compulsion for scoops.”

For some reason, though, the New York Times seems to think that giving op-ed space to this mediocre fiction writer is an apotropaic charm against being accused of liberalism. And for some other reasons, liberals find Brooks to be a tolerable conservative, presumably because he doesn’t move his lips when he reads. But, really, never believe anything this guy says without checking his sources. Newspaper editors were once expected to do that sort of thing, but some combination of economic pressure and ideological anxiety earns Brooks a pass.

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Responses

  1. I just tried to share this on FB and it said that this content had been flagged as “abusive or spammy” and wouldn’t let me post! I complained, don’t know if it will make any difference.

  2. This type of treatment is exactly what the David Brooks (likewise the Thomas Friedmans, the Matt Bais, etc.) of the world need right now.  It is precisely those, like Brooks, who are in a position to be taken seriously by a largely well-educated, professional readership, and are assumed to be speaking with some level of authority and intelligence that need to be kneecapped in full view for their patent nonsense.  AM radio and Foxnews are too often the focus of indignation, while this variety of dreck tends to get a pass.  It is still more insidious than the “move-their-lips-when-they-read” reactionary pap for reasons of proportion; a sort of multiplier effect based on a combination of target audience and assumed respectability and intellectual heft.  More direct, targeted hits like yours, (and Dean Baker’s, among others) may go some distance in reversing the ideological stranglehold the right has had for so long all the way across the spectrum of acceptable discourse (the question of ideology was mentioned during your talk on “post-financial crisis” at NLF), if for no other reason than the likelihood that more of the professional class seems to be looking to non-print sources for analysis, many of which are not (yet) fully-enclosed by capital.  Over the next few months, in Title 1 public high schools throughout the country, scores of children with empty stomachs will be be handed their Scantron sheets as part of an annual, quasi-religious rite of class bludgeoning.  When enough of these students happen to forget trigonometric functions on the day of the math test, or chance to make a slight error or miscalculation while solving a system of equations, their schools will, yet again, be deemed “failing” by the respective state departments of education.  Meanwhile, The New York Times will pay someone who can’t handle basic operations to write opposite the editorial page.  Or maybe, as David Harvey has it, Brooks knows damn well what he’s up to.  No matter.  A new flier for the faculty break room in at least one of the above-mentioned schools shall read: “Don’t lose too much sleep over falling math scores.  When the state finally does away with our union, and a new, test-based evaluation costs you your job, consider a career in journalism. The newspaper of record is hiring, and you don’t even need to know addition.”

  3. Mofos. What wanker did that?

  4. Correction: NLF – meant LF, of course (don’t know where the “N” came from).

  5. FB share works now. Complaints must have worked!

  6. Perhaps Brooks, like Sen Kyl, didn’t intend it to be a factual statement.

  7. Reminds me of the disclaimer in a Simpson’s commercial “not for actual use”.

  8. hurrah Doug, well done. here’s a vote for more on Brooks and similar topics and less on WBAI.


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