Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Great Moral Correction. As Imagined by David Brooks.

In the alternative reality inhabited by David Brooks the vast, silent part of America, the people whose thoughts are interpreted by only Mr. Brooks, has decided for a Great Moral Correction:

Without doing anything about the lack of norms and regulations in the upper stratospheres of financial wealth, those Ordinary People (as explained by Mr. Brooks) are simply deciding to gird their loins and tighten their belts, for moral reasons! They have decided to have fewer children, less debt and, most astonishingly:
Second, Americans are trying to re-establish the link between effort and reward. This was the link that was severed on Wall Street, where so many made so much for work that served no productive purpose. This was the link that was frayed by the bailouts, when people who broke the rules still got rewarded.
In sphere after sphere, strong majorities want to see a balance between what you produce and what you get. The bank bailouts worked and barely cost the government anything, but they are ferociously unpopular because the unjust got rewarded. The auto bailouts mostly worked, but they are unpopular even in the Midwestern states that directly benefited because those who failed in the market still got the gold. Public sector unions are unpopular because of the perception that benefit packages are out of balance.
The third norm is that loyalty matters. A few years ago there was a celebration of Free Agent Nation. But now most people, even most young people, would rather work long-term for one company than move around in search of freedom and opportunity.

All this is utterly hilarious.

First, it is not the case that the workers wanted to end the life-long employment model, and moving around in search of freedom and opportunity has never been something the vast majority of those Silent Americans could do. You were happy to have a job with prospects. It was the firms who wanted easy access to the cheapest possible labor force, whether by getting rid of the older workers or through outsourcing.

In short, it was to the firms that loyalty no longer mattered. But this upside-down aspect of Brooks' writing applies to most everything he says.

Second, how are those Silent Americans trying to re-establish the link between effort and reward, leaving aside the question whether the two were ever linked in some simple and obvious manner, for all Americans? Clearly, it is unacceptable to do this through protests. Those, we are told, are by fringe elements. The Silent American does not protest, does not complain, but simply goes on to re-establish the link between effort and reward, all alone. HOW that will actually work out is left unclear. Unless the Silent Americans really are stock brokers, banksters and politicians, or at least the employers of many, it will have no impact whatsoever.

But the whole column is unclear, until one realizes that Brooks wanted to write a piece which would somehow both acknowledge the current economic disaster AND make every possible policy to change it useless. Or put in another way, in Brooks' world the vast masses of Silent Americans are both utterly helpless to affect anything but also the engines of real change.

This wouldn't be too bad if his evidence actually was about a change in morals. It's not: It's about a change in circumstances which causes a change in behavior. The large amount of pain behind those changes is something Brooks pays no attention to.