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.