Does David Brooks Really Think Student Loans, Public Universities, Public Infrastructure, and Small Business Loans Are Attempts at Socialist Central Planning That Undermines Creativity and Private Enterprise? I Mean … REALLY?* [Appended 1/23]
I’m a political junkie, born and bred. And so the number of political opinion pieces I’ve read in my life, dating back to my teenage years (me being a child of my parents, they of the ardent liberal Democrat variety– “Oh, no, Bevy! You have to return that purse. That company is anti-union!” “Okayyy, Mom.”)–run probably into the thousands. (Yikes.)
And I’ve certainly read, ah-hem, a few pieces by established, mainstream columnists in respected newspapers and magazines that have made my eyes roll or made me shake my head in dismay because of some obvious flaw in logic or some clearly false representation of fact upon which the writer’s premise lies.
But I don’t think I’ve ever before read such a mystifyingly wacky, whiplash-inducing, incomprehensibly-false-fact-based commentary as the one I just read, by David Brooks, in today’s New York Times. The premise: That Obama’s argument for returning the federal government’s domestic-policy emphasis to trying to increase economic and social mobility, improving public infrastructure, encouraging individual creativity, inventiveness and risk-taking, and trying to help limit climate change, Obama was arguing for … you guessed it! (at least if you read Brooks’s columns even occasionally, as I do) … European-style central-government control (commands from “headquarters”; seriously) over the private sector and the private sector’s creativeness and innovativeness.
No, sir! Wouldn’t want any of that socialist German-style engineering expertise to make its way across the Atlantic. Especially since all those engineers at, say, Siemens got their engineering degrees at — and this is really dangerous–places like the University of Heidelberg! Which is, OMG, a public university! Supported by German taxes. And financially accessible by some students whose families are not upscale!
Yup. And that engineering and computer science school at the University of Illinois, regularly rated among the top such programs in the country, can’t possibly have produced someone who, say, while attending the school, developed the World Wide Web by developing the first Internet browser, called Mosaic, which became Netscape. Uh-uh. Marc Andreessen only thinks his college memories of life in Champaign, Ill. But they’re really of life in Palo Alto. Or maybe Cambridge, Mass. And how did that Wisconsin native even manage to invent anything at all, given the “hammock” (Paul Ryan’s term, not Brooks’s) he found himself in when he (probably) took out a low-interest, no-repayments-required-until-five-years-after-graduation loan to pay that out-of-state tuition back in the late 1980s, and early 1990s, under a federal Great Society program?
The whiplash-inducing stuff in Brooks’s column appears at two points. The first one comes about midway through the column, when Brooks switches from praising the Obama speech as a strong argument for collective government policies to, say, assist in economic and social mobility. The second one comes late in the column, after paragraphs in which he says such things as that we have a much more dynamic and innovative private sector than does Europe because colleges and universities in the Unites States are private rather than public and Europe’s are public rather than private (I’m not joking or exaggerating; he says this), and that the programs Obama supports, such as student loan programs and financial support for schools and medical and scientific research and the like, are attempts by political progressives to undermine private enterprise and control the private sector from Washington. He then concedes, apparently unwittingly–he seems unaware, at least, of the irony–that public programs and financial regulations can (and do!) assist creativity and innovation.
You really have to read the whole column to get the full flavor. Just put on a neck brace first.
And while you’re reading it, remind yourself that Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and Henry Ford did not attend a private college. Nor did Enrico Fermi or some of the other great physicists who emigrated to this country in the late 1930s after receiving their education at public universities–in Europe!
And that David Brooks did attend a private university: the University of Chicago. And that his Philadelphia Main Line parents probably paid his tuition and room and board, free and clear.
Enough said. I think. Unless of course he’s invented something that I don’t know of. And that’s useful.
*PS: Indulge me in my obsession with idiocy from big-name, mainstream political pundits, writing in (or on) prestigious, widely read political-commentary forums. Neither David Brooks nor Dana Milbank is, after all, all that important, I recognize. But Brooks, if not Milbank, flatly crossed the line into misrepresentation of fact in a way that is really beyond the pale. And no one but me probably even noticed.
ANOTHER PS: As I said in response to a comment in the Comments thread, Brooks’s longtime shtick is anti-European–as in, Europe’s standard of living is lower than ours and that’s because their socialist policies deter creativity and innovation and therefore “dynamism.” He’s apparently run out of plausible-sounding arguments to support his belief, so he just blathers the claim incoherently, as needed.
I personally favor a much larger role for government in our economic lives, and I can assure Mr. Brooks that the depressingly mainstream Obama is not my cup of tea.
Yeah. Notice the PS that I just added to my post. Thanks for commenting, Dan.
Let’s add Chuck Todd and David Gregory to this list. Via C & L, Tod wants to know what OFA pac is going to do to attract republican voters? That’s funny.
Yes, yes, I can see Todd’s point. There are just so many Republican voters these days that Democrats can’t win anything! And the ranks of Republicans is growing exponentially!
I trust that your comment about Todd’s point, whatever it may be, is sarcastic. Fortunately just the opposite seems to be a demographic truth. Far be it for David Brooks to recognize that or even the end of his own nose. I cannot bring myself to read his biased and bogus commentary regarding any issue. I do like browsing through comments that he evokes from NY Times readers. They often tear Brooks a new rear end. This one from a Brooklynite named Joshua reflects my own point of view. “How can anyone objectively view and listen to the actions and statements of the extremists in our government and declare, subjectively, that we are a mature nation? That we are the oldest sustaining political entity is purely a chronological fact. Our country was designed to be constantly changing, growing, and evolving. It would be preferable if it were a mature country with reasonable thinkers working for the common good. It is not. Instead, it is a country that is being stymied by fanatical hysterics, trying to force the general public to cling to their extreme economic and religious philosophies while fully willing to cause irreparable damage to the nation as a whole. This is not a sign of maturity, it is a sign of childish greed and stupidity. We were one of the last nations in the world to end slavery. Let’s not forget that, and let’s not forget that the United States of America is an idea that has no set race, culture, religion, or language that defines it. Instead, it is a democratic republic that is constantly evolving with changing races, cultures, religions, non-religions, and people who speak hundreds of different languages. That’s what makes us the envy of the rest of the world.”
University of Chicago, eh?
well, so much for an elite education.
Coincidentally, regarding government “intrusion”, Huff Post had this about Siri:
Someone should remind Brooks who REALLY invented the Internet.
It always amazes me when the CNBC types reverently refer to hot-shot CEOs as “risk takers”. Hell, they only bet on a sure thing, or as near to it as they can get, which is why they are happy to let us taxpayers take the first steps. If it fails miserably, we’re the only ones out anything and they don’t even have to interrupt their golf game.
You left out two of my favorite examples of government intervention in the ecnomy: funding Eli Whitney to manufacture guns with interchangeable parts and funding Samuel Morse to run telegraph lines from Baltimore to DC. Let’s face it, the government has to fund all the really serious advances. No private entity can afford to. One physics blogger, Bea at Backreaction, described people who don’t want the government funding basic and speculative research as people who think water comes out of the tap set in the wall. As with the water supply, you turn the tap, but the government has to do the rest.
Oh, I know, Sandi. I guess Brooks doesn’t think the Internet–which the Defense Dept. invented–is among the best of this country’s inventions. He apparently doesn’t rate the medical breakthroughs whose research was funded entirely or largely by the government as among the best inventions, either. But setting that aside, I can’t even fathom what he thought Obama was advancing in his speech yesterday that would hinder creativity and innovation. It’s sort of like the Repubs’ incessant insistence that the federal government dramatically cut spending, yet they won’t actually identify cuts, and amounts, that they have in mind.
Brooks’s longtime shtick is anti-European–as in, Europe’s standard of living is lower than ours and that’s because their socialist policies deter creativity and innovation and therefore “dynamism.” He’s apparently run out of plausible-sounding arguments to support his belief, so he just blathers the claim incoherently, as needed.
I really wish Obama would make the point that Bea makes, Kaleberg, using that very example and a few others.
The No Government in the economy crowd forgets the land give aways for the rail roads. What would Rockerfella have done with out that?
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