David Brooks on the Economy: One Hem for Every Haw


New York Times columnist David Brooks (he's the conservative one, right?) notes that the Bush and Obama administrations have "made a hash" of "the idea that people have to live with the consequences of their decisions," a principle on which "our moral and economic system is based":

The Bush and Obama administrations have compensated foolishness and irresponsibility. The financial bailouts reward bankers who took insane risks. The auto bailouts subsidize companies and unions that made self-indulgent decisions a few decades ago that drove their industry into the ground.

The stimulus package handed tens of billions of dollars to states that spent profligately during the prosperity years. The Obama housing plan will force people who bought sensible homes to subsidize the mortgages of people who bought houses they could not afford. It will almost certainly force people who were honest on their loan forms to subsidize people who were dishonest on theirs.

But Brooks is not complaining, because compensating foolishness and rewarding irresponsibility are necessary "in times like these," when "government is fundamentally in the business of stabilizing the economic system as a whole." Then again, "actually executing this is a near-impossible task," resulting in "technocratic Rube Goldberg schemes that alter incentives in lots of medium and small ways." But at least the president's men "seem to be driven by a spirit of moderation and restraint." And after all, "greedy idiots may be greedy idiots, but they are our countrymen. And at some level, we're all in this together. If their lives don't stabilize, then our lives don't stabilize."

At that point, Brooks reaches his limit of 800 words and four self-contradictions per column.