David Brooks is Always Wrong — NPR Edition, Part One.
I know, I know. It should be Megan McArdle up there; in some views, she’s retired that title, and it sits up there above the right field bleachers next to the 1, the 4, the 6 and the rest. (Sacrilege! Must this blog stoop so low?)
But the problem is, David Brooks is always wrong. I keep on not finishing the piece I’ve been trying to get to you about a column he published last December, just because my brain explodes twice a week, and I faff and fiddle trying to figure out how to nail down that slab of jello that is Mr. Brooks’ approach to the task of reasoning.
Seriously. His picture is next to that entry in the dictionary of quotations that reads ““It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
And so, though McArdle’s body of work remains a uniquely target-rich environment, Brooks, vastly more influential than Mme. Galt, and hence the more dangerous, must needs become the object of our attention with ever greater regularity.
Hence, this. (And this: part two here.)
The occasion? His weekly appearance last Friday on NPR’s All Things Considered, opposite E. J. Dionne. There discussing the politics of the health care bill, he repeated two claims he’s making with increasing frequency as he grapples with the ongoing refusal of Barack Obama to take his advice.
These were that, for all that he applauded Obama and Pelosi for succeeded in the mechanics of passing the bill, he still hated it, because it was (a) a fiscal disaster, and (b) implicated in the projection that the deficit will be 90% of GDP by the end of the decade, which he termed calamitous (not his exact words — but the sense was there — Mr. Brooks sees current policy as driving us over a precipice.
The only problem? Both of these statements are convenient nonsense. This is what conventional wisdom looks like. Everyone knows — especially that professional everyman, Mr. Brooks — that spending on social programs is purely optional (and has no society-wide positive effect), that the current federal tax rate is the highest that it is possible to imagine sustaining, and that hence every choice to spend must drive deficits ever upward — and, as well all know, that deficits are the devil.
Now, this isn’t the post in which I’m going to dive deep into the usual — and true — observation, that it’s hard to take deficit hawks seriously who cheerfully swallow unfunded wars while rejecting explicitly budgeted reforms like the recent health care effort. But it is important to push back on what seems to be the “serious” USDA approved™ meme on the health care issue — nice job, Dems, but you’ve bankrupted the country again.
So here’s the scoop. Without being a Congressional Budget Office fetishist, it is important at least to acknowledge the data that one can gather. And, as everyone knows who has paid even a scant bit of attention to the whole HCR farrago, the CBO has scored the bill that finally passed for its impact on the deficit.
It’s conclusion: that the bill will lower the deficit by 130 billion dollars over the next ten years, and those savings could reach past a trillion over the next decade (though the CBO notes that such long term forecasts are wildlly unreliable). For further discussion of these points, and some more conservative estimates of the deficit lowering capacity of this bill, see here, here and here.
That is to say, Mr. Brooks had it exactly reversed when he claimed that this bill was fiscally irresponsible. It saves federal budget dollars. It doesn’t do enough, IMHO, and I hope the murmurs are true that the public option and other cost-saving and coverage-expanding measures will make their way into the reform over the next few years, but it is better than what we got. It is, to state it plainly, more fiscally responsible than any of the realistic alternatives, whether the status quo or the GOP death by rationing approach, by any coherent understanding of the term, “responsible.”
But for all of the annoyingly lazy repetition of what has been a false GOP talking point for months, (I heard you were supposed to be the thoughtful one, Mr. Brooks), it’s the second of the genial pundit’s two claims that is truly dangerous. The campaign, in which Mr. Brooks is really no more than a willing subaltern, to portray the deficit as a kind of domestic policy al Qaeda, is really an effort to lock the current balance of power and social distribution of wealth into more or less it’s status quo. It’s up and running with a vengeance, and at stake are not merely the spoils of wealth now, but the long term prosperity (and hence power) of the nation. For details, please turn to part two.
For the second half of Mr. Brooks’ errors of fact and argument, please turn to part two.
Image: Albert Bierstadt, “Falls of Niagara from Below” before 1902.