David Brooks is a God Damn Clown

Does David Brooks have any serious economic qualifications, or does writing for the New York Times give such credibility that we are expected to be blinded to his clownishness?

My comments are in [brackets].

Make Everybody Hurt

Josh Haner/The New York Times
Over the past few weeks we’ve begun to see the new contours of American politics [what evidence do you have of this?]. The budget cutters have taken control of the agenda, while government’s defenders are waging tactical retreats. Given the scope of the fiscal problems, it could be like this for the next 10 or 20 years [where do these numbers come from? 10 or 20?]. 

No place is hotter than Wisconsin. The leaders there have done everything possible to maximize conflict [really? this sentence means nothing]. Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, demanded cuts only from people in the other party [All people in unions are Democrats?]. The public sector unions and their allies immediately flew into a rage, comparing Walker to Hitler, Mussolini and Mubarak [evidence?].

Walker’s critics are amusingly Orwellian. They liken the crowd in Madison to the ones in Tunisia and claim to be fighting for democracy. Whatever you might say about Walker, he and the Republican majorities in Wisconsin were elected [does this therefore justify everything an elected official does? doesn't Brooks make his career based on criticizing politicians?], and they are doing exactly what they told voters they would do [when did he tell voters he would end collective bargaining?]. It’s the Democratic minority that is thwarting the majority will by fleeing to Illinois. It’s the left that has suddenly embraced extralegal obstructionism [which laws have they broken?].

Still, let’s [who?] try to put aside the hyperventilation. Everybody [who?] now seems to agree that Governor Walker was right to ask state workers to pay more for their benefits. Even if he gets everything he asks for, Wisconsin state workers would still be contributing less to their benefits than the average state worker nationwide and would be contributing far, far less than private sector workers [those greedy teachers!].

The more difficult question is whether Walker was right to try to water down Wisconsin’s collective bargaining agreements. Even if you acknowledge the importance of unions in representing middle-class interests, there are strong arguments on Walker’s side [yeah, fuck the middle class!]. In Wisconsin and elsewhere, state-union relations are structurally out of whack [yeah, fuck the unions! they must have caused these massive deficits, right?].

That’s because public sector unions and private sector unions are very different creatures. Private sector unions push against the interests of shareholders and management; public sector unions push against the interests of taxpayers [those greedy teachers! i wish we didn't have to pay them anything!]. Private sector union members know that their employers could go out of business, so they have an incentive to mitigate their demands; public sector union members work for state monopolies and have no such interest [the premise of this entire article is flawed. did the unions cause this recession?].

Private sector unions confront managers who have an incentive to push back against their demands. Public sector unions face managers who have an incentive to give into them for the sake of their own survival [survival?]. Most important, public sector unions help choose those they negotiate with. Through gigantic campaign contributions and overall clout, they have enormous influence over who gets elected to bargain with them, especially in state and local races [the unions are the puppet masters? that must be why they're getting slammed by the political establishment, even though you just noted that 'Everybody now seems to agree that Governor Walker was right to ask state workers to pay more for their benefits.'].

As a result of these imbalanced incentive structures, states with public sector unions tend to run into fiscal crises [every state in the country is in a fiscal crisis because tax revenues have decreased due to the recession]. They tend to have workplaces where personnel decisions are made on the basis of seniority, not merit [evidence?]. There is little relationship between excellence and reward, which leads to resentment among taxpayers who don’t have that luxury [is there any evidence of this theory?].

Yet I think Governor Walker made a strategic error in setting up this confrontation as he did. The debt problems before us are huge. Even in Wisconsin they cannot be addressed simply by taking on the public sector unions [but we should take them on anyways??]. Studies done in North Carolina and elsewhere suggest that collective bargaining only increases state worker salaries by about 5 percent or 6 percent. That’s not nearly enough to explain current deficits. There are many states without collective bargaining that still face gigantic debt crises [oh wait, didn't you just say that 'As a result of these imbalanced incentive structures, states with public sector unions tend to run into fiscal crises?' hmm...maybe something else is going on here. Oh well, time to move on!].

Getting state and federal budgets under control will take decades [evidence?]. It will require varied, multipronged approaches, supported by broad and shifting coalitions [like cutting unions?]. It’s really important [like, really important] that we [who?] establish an unwritten austerity constitution [how the fuck would this work?]: a set of practices that will help us cut effectively now and in the future [what happened to the union-bashing?].

The foundation of this unwritten constitution has to be this principle: make everybody hurt [especially the teachers' unions and the poor! but not the bankers! it's called 'democracy'!]. The cuts have to be spread more or less equitably among as many groups as possible. There will never be public acceptance if large sectors of society are excluded [so is it everybody or is it large sectors?]. Governor Walker’s program fails that test. It spares traditional Republican groups (even cops and firefighters). It is thus as unsustainable as the current tide of red ink [is this economics or politics? where is he grounding this analysis?].

Moreover, the constitution must emphasize transparent evaluation [the unwritten one, right?]. Over the past weeks, Governor Walker increased expenditures to pump up small business job creation and cut them on teacher benefits. That might be the right choice, but if voters are going to go along with choices such as these, there is going to have to be a credible evaluation process to explain why some things are cut and some things aren’t [oh yeah, but i thought the voters elected Walker, so that is democracy, so then, if people criticize his decisions they must be anti-democratic. what happened to that line of argument?].

So I’d invite Governor Walker and the debt fighters everywhere to think of themselves as founding fathers of austerity [oh say can you see?]. They are not only balancing budgets, they are setting precedent for a process that will last decades [or like, you know, 10 or 20 years]. By their example, they have to create habits that diverse majorities can respect and embrace. The process has to be balanced. It has to make everybody hurt [and ignore the causes of the recession].

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