Permissive editor watch: Letting David Brooks vent!

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2011

A tale of two ludicrous passages: When Kevin Drum read David Brooks' new column, he was struck by the following passage, in which Brooks rattles off an astonishing economic wish list. To read Drum's post, click this:
BROOKS (9/27/11): When you are confronted by a complex, emergent problem, don’t try to pick out the one lever that is the key to the whole thing. There is no one lever. You wouldn’t be smart enough to find it even if there was.

Instead, try to reform whole institutions and hope that by getting the long-term fundamentals right you’ll set off a positive cascade to reverse the negative ones.

Simplify the tax code. End corporate taxes and create a consumption tax. Reshape the European Union to make it either more unified or less, but not halfway as it is now. Reduce the barriers to business formation. Reform Medicare so it is fiscally sustainable. Break up the banks and increase capital requirements. Lighten debt burdens even if it means hitting the institutional creditors.
Really? Is that all? What would we do on Tuesday?

Drum was struck by that astounding wish list, the longest list we have seen since Homer listed the various scenes Hephaestus, the famous crippled smith, forged onto Achilles' shield. We too were struck by that passage when we read our Brooks this morning. But for ourselves, we were even more struck by this ridiculous passage:
BROOKS: Many Democrats are predisposed to want more government spending. So they pick up on the one current they think can be cured with more government spending: low consumer demand. Increase government spending and that will pump up consumer spending.

When President Obama’s stimulus package produced insufficient results, they didn’t concede that maybe there are other factors at play, which mitigated the effects. They just called for more government spending. To a man in love with his hammer, every problem requires a nail.
That's a completely absurd account of what the stimulus advocates said in real time. Paul Krugman says so again today, naming the pitiful Brooks by name and linking to Dean Baker.

What goes through the mind of an editor who is asked to put such nonsense in print? By now, Krugman has explained these bone-simple points about a thousand times. Krugman has now explained this point more often than Homer compared the sea to dark wine, the type Brooks seemsto be drinking. Can anyone seriously believe that Brooks was typing in good faith when he pimped this bogus material to his newspaper's readers?

New York Times editors rarely seem to know an excessive amount. "Everything in moderation" seems to be their classic ideal. But surely, the editor who reviewed Brooks' column knew that this passage was typed in bad faith. What goes through the mind of the fellow who waves such obvious crap into print? Who is willing to see his newspaper's readers deceived and disinformed in such an obvious manner?

How many times will Krugman explain this before the slow learners start to catch on? Before the editors at the Times tell Brooks he has to stop this?

12 comments:

  1. "What goes through the mind of an editor who is asked to put such nonsense in print?"

    Controversy creates clicks which yield relevance & revenue (in the form of subscriptions and ad sales).

    Really, the NYT is in the entertainment business (along with most commercial "news" orgs). Brooks is just a character designed to stir cheers or jeers. Like a clown in the circus.

    Meanwhile, Krugman argues that the people should have more bread.

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  2. Beautifully snarky ("the longest list we have seen since Homer listed the various scenes Hephaestus, the famous crippled smith, forged onto Achilles' shield"). And also valid.

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  3. One can debate how well Obama's stimulus worked, but it's not "bone-simple" as Bob Somerby alleges. Yes, Dean Baker found one way in which the post-stimulus economy fulfilled Obama's projections. OTOH Obama specifically projected that the stimulus would keep the unemployment rate below 8% and cause it to trend down. Obama's prediction was that thanks to the stimulus, as of today unemployment would be down to 6.5%. Actual unemployment after the stimulus went to 10% and now sits at 9%. By this measure, the stimulus failed badly.

    We're likely to enter the second half of a double-dip recession. That's certainly not what proponents said the stimulus would lead to.

    Furthermore, one must account for other economic factors. Economic recoveries after recessions are generally more rubust. Did the stimulus retard the recovery or were other factors responsible?

    There are also costs to the stimulus that are still to be seen. The money borrowed to fund the stimulus will have to be paid back -- a process that will harm the economy. Inflation has shot up this year, perhaps due in part to the stimulus. These imponderables and the various ways of looking at the numbers make it difficult to measure the value of the stimulus.

    One more point: If the value of stimulus were truly obvious, the proponents should be able to point to numerous examples where it worked in the past. AFAIK there is no example in history of a stimulus program unambiguously working. Stimulus failed for FDR during the Depression, it failed for Bush, and it was at best a question mark for Obama.

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  4. "Before the editors at the Times tell Brooks he has to stop this?"

    They really don't care as long as he phones in something that sounds contrarian from a conservative (but not loony right wing) point of view. Whether it has the slightest validity is quite beside the point.

    You wonder when the directors of these organizations will actually take an interest.

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  5. "Before the editors at the Times tell Brooks he has to stop this?"

    They really don't care as long as he phones in something that sounds contrarian from a conservative (but not loony right wing) point of view. Whether it has the slightest validity is quite beside the point.

    You wonder when the directors of these organizations will actually take an interest.

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  6. "Before the editors at the Times tell Brooks he has to stop this?"

    They really don't care as long as he phones in something that sounds contrarian from a conservative (but not loony right wing) point of view. Whether it has the slightest validity is quite beside the point.

    You wonder when the directors of these organizations will actually take an interest.

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  7. I was pleased to find myself remembering something from a long-ago college class (itself nearly ancient history at this point). The term for a long detailed description of a work of art in a Greek epic poem is 'ekphrasis'.

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  8. David, stimulus didn't fail under FDR. It was called WW2: full employment on the government's dime.

    I'm not sure what stimulus was tried under Bush, unless you mean tax cuts. Well yeah, they failed.

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  9. Maybe a fistfight in the NYT Columnist's Lounge will settle it.

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