Monday, September 19, 2011

Comment on, among others, Steve Benen, on David Brooks.

How is David Brooks absurd -- let me count the ways.

Here he slips into assuming that the poor are made poor by their sins. This is a typical conservative assumption and it is demonstrably absurd.

I think his logic is to consider "voters" to be singular -- to be one entity capable of collective sin. "voters" sinned, because some borrowed and some lent recklessly. So the "voters" brought suffering upon itself. This is a typical error of Rousseau, Hegel and Marx and of communists and fascists. Brooks being an intellectual imports it.

But he makes two other absurd claims. First he ignores Congress. It is simply not true that "When you are the president in a financial crisis, you have the power to pave roads and hire teachers." That requires spending money which can only be disbursed as appropriated by Congress. Pretending to cut Obama slack, Brooks has declared him responsible for all of the actions of Republicans in Congress. He doesn't argue that they bear no blame (he can't) so he pretends that they don't exist. This is pure partisan hackery.

He also presents himself as an expert on macroeconomics. He claims, as if it were obvious, that the Federal Government can ameliorate the suffering due to a recession but can't turn the economy around. The data beg to differ. The Federal Government changed a slack economy with high unemployment to a booming economy almost instantly during WWII. It also turned a growing economy into a depressed econonomy in 1937 (and back again in 1938). There is no evidence pre WWII that recessions have a life span -- the probability of a recovery starting in a month did not increase as the recession got older. Since WWII there hasn't been a recession without a policy response, and there hasn't been an effort at stimulus which wasn't quickly followed by a recovery.

Brooks might argue that this is not true when the economy in recession is also in a liquidity trap -- that the effective policy is cutting interest rates which can't be cut any more (and never mind 1933, 1937, 1938 and 1942). But he doesn't. He just assumes that stimulus ameliorates but can't cure.

He also just asserts that cutting taxes and deregulation causes higher growth. There is almost exactly zero evidence that cutting taxes causes higher growth. Deregulation (in large part via bills signed by Bill Clinton) caused the crisis by allowing bankers (and non bank mortgage companies) to sin against the Gods of sound banking.

There are almost no actual economists who agree. Many think that fiscal stimulus doesn't stimulate at all. Others think more can and should be done. Almost none think policy so far was about right (I think Narayana Kocherlakota might be the only one). Notably, Obama doesn't claim that the Federal Government has done all it can. He rejected Brooks' defence of himandCongress and proposed the jobs act.

Frankly the only explanation of the column is that Brooks is trying to make Krugman's head explode.


Anonymous said...

How is this moralistic fallacy typical of Rousseau, Hegel, and Marx?

I'd say it's a typical error (on the left and the right alike), but I don't associate it with those thinkers in particular.


Robert said...

I expressed myself poorly. I was objecting to holism not moralism. The particular view which I tried to criticize just then is the belief that a country can be treated as a single agent. So it is asserted that America does something, when, in fact, some Americans do it and others are just along for the ride (or try to resist).

The references are to concepts like "the will of all", "species being","Zeitgeist", and "acting as a class."

When typing I knew I was being unfair to Rousseau, who only noted that, with consensus, the will of each could be the same and so would be the will of all. I was also being unfair to Marx. I don't know if I was being unfair to Hegel, since wild horses could drag me to water but couldn't make me read Hegel.