Paul Krugman Is Off Today: Notes on David Brooks

Look, let’s just say it. David Brooks is a moron. He’s an embarrassment to the New York Times, and the fact that he’s chief opinionist for America’s Paper of Record is an embarrassment to our entire country. Furthermore, his baffling incompetence when it comes to metaphor is an embarrassment to English speakers the world over.

This time on “Paul Krugman Is Off Today”:

(I don’t know, obviously David Brooks had to throw this together at the last second, but it’s not like the stuff he spends time working on is appreciably better, just more full of details that it turns out he’s making up.)

(Oh, yeah, has no one mentioned that Brooks’ books are typically full of lies?)

David Brooks is Concerned About the Youth, and how Kids These Days bounce around from job to job without any guidelines or apparent future, consumed with anxiety and driven to drink. Now, if you’re the sort of person who had to live through something like this, you might start to wonder if actually the method of approaching life that Brooks grew up on was always a delusional fantasy — what if, for example, the only way the Boomers could succeed the way they liked is because they were borrowing from a future generation who’d be stuck with the bill? Not only is the present different from the past, but the present is actually caused by the past! A novel idea, I know, and maybe too novel for David Brooks.

(You might even think, “gosh, all things considered, I wonder if there’s something happening at exactly this moment in time that might illuminate this idea I have about how young people feel like they have no future,” but to think that you’d have to be someone other than David Brooks, who can always be relied on to, no matter the situation, always reach precisely the same conclusions.)

Anyway, here, he lays it out:

When I graduated from college there was a finite number of career ladders in front of me: teacher, lawyer, doctor, business. Now college graduates enter a world with four million footstools. There are many more places to perch (a start-up, an NGO, a coffee shop, a consultancy) but few of the footstools pay a sustaining wage, seem connected with the others or lead to a clear ladder of rungs to climb upward.

See if you can guess what Brooks identifies as the problem — the reason why “teacher” or “business” isn’t a career with a future in it, or why the jobs that do exist (“coffee shop”, I guess?) don’t go anywhere — I mean, there’s not a lot of answers to this, right? There’s a politics of employment, of what kinds of jobs are sustained, about what obligations a company has to its employees, about what businesses succeed or fail. I mean, I don’t necessarily want to blame Ronald Reagan for purposefully destroying the American middle class so he could return money to the very wealthy, but it seems like Brooks has got no choice here, right?

“Why is modern society bad for young people? Well, as an old person, perhaps I ought to look at my own choices to see what kind of society I left — ”

Hahahah, no, no, please don’t be silly. It’s character! The problem that young people have is that they don’t have character!

People in their 20s seem to be compelled to bounce around more, popping up here and there, quantumlike, with different jobs, living arrangements and partners while hoping that all these diverse experiences magically add up to something.

(Please, briefly imagine what it takes to write these two paragraphs — “There are no jobs with a future” and “Young people just bounce around from place to place” — next to each other as though you can’t see the connection between them. Is it a strain to purposefully ignore something painfully obvious? Well, now you see why David Brooks is a master; for him, it’s easy!)

Of course, we all know that young people don’t create their lifestyles merely to spite the old; young people live in the world that’s been left for them, and their lifestyles are an adaptation to that world. Do they bounce around from job to job? Yes, because the world they’ve inherited is one in which companies have no loyalty to their employees, and the only way to get a raise is to find a new job. Do they bounce around from different living arrangements? Of course, because in the world they’ve inherited no one can afford a fucking house, and your rent keeps going up every year. Do they bounce around from partner to partner? Sometimes they do, sure, because it turns out, it’s really difficult to plan and sustain a future when no one knows where they’re going to live or what kind of job they’re going to have.

Similarly, we all know that an old guy like David Brooks, were he to be stripped of his undeserved prestige and resources, and left like any other common college graduate to make his own way in the world, would be eaten the fuck alive by this circumstance, adapted as he is to one that simply showered success on any bonehead born into a moderate amount of privilege. You might think that this notion — that young people suffer because the world that Brooks helped build for them is actually much worse than the one that he grew up in — would engender some feeling that the world might be changed for the better!

I mean, you might think that if you didn’t know Brooks who, as I mentioned earlier, is only ever capable of reaching one conclusion, and that conclusion is always “the world is fine, it’s the children who are wrong.”

I’m beginning to side with Meg Jay, who argued in her book “The Defining Decade” that telling people “30 is the new 20” is completely counterproductive.
Jay’s book is filled with advice on how to get on with life. For example, build identity capital. If you are going to be underemployed, do it in a way that people are going to find interesting later on. Nobody is ever going to ask you, “What was it like being a nanny?” They will ask you, “What was it like leading excursions of Outward Bound?”

Why try to make the world less uncertain for young people, when we can simply advise them to build “identity capital”? Sure, of course, there’s no money, there’s no property, there’s no trade to inherit, no stable future. But this is David Brooks’ world, where you’ve got to sell something to merit his consideration at all. What have you got?

It’s like some perverse Giving Tree, where each succeeding generation sees its apples plucked, its branches shorn, its trunk chopped down and planed, until there’s nothing left of them but a stump for old people to sit on.

Soon enough my lads and ladies, David Brooks will have assessed the very last thing that you’ve got to sell, and he’ll offer up a column about how you should market it, so as best to squeeze the very last vestiges of livability from his world.

Anyway, bonus “David Brooks doesn’t even understand his own concepts edition”:

But then the great engine of the meritocracy spits people out into a young adulthood that is less structured than it has ever been.

The “meritocracy” is the whole system you doofus, not just “public education”, what the hell is wrong with you? Also, it’s not fucking real, which couldn’t more transparently be the premise of your own fucking column.

Double-Bonus David Brooks Is Bad at Metaphor:

An “engine” is a device that burns fuel in order to do work. What it “spits out” is exhaust. Here we find the rare example of David Brooks being so bad at metaphors that he’s come around and said something true in spite of himself: what he means to describe is an intricate system that sorts the smartest, go-gettingest young kids to the top; what he’s actually described is a mechanism for burning them up and leaving them spent and wasted, all to drive the economy that keeps Brooks’ own generation in cashmere polos and diamond-studded cargo shorts.