Economics

Bob Herbert Goes With Auto-Generated Column in NY Times Finale

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After almost 20 years (and a Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza declares that his name is not as fun to say as former NFL quarterback's Bobby Hebert—go ahead, say it, it's a fun name to say), New York Times columnist Bob Herbert mails in his final piece as an op-ed page regular. Like many workers who know they're moving on, Herbert essentially did a cut-and-paste job of, oh about the last 20 years' worth of columns. Snippets:

Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living….

Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone….

 Instead of a land of opportunity, the U.S. is increasingly becoming a place of limited expectations. A college professor in Washington told me this week that graduates from his program were finding jobs, but they were not making very much money, certainly not enough to think about raising a family….

In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation's wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent….

Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.

Whole thing here.

I'm with you Bob, when it comes being pissy about the wars, that's for sure. And I appreciate that you stick to your guns on the issue, writing memorably that "Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House."

I only wish that you'd that insight a couple of steps farther along. Bush did stimulus spending too in his last dreadful year in office and it flopped even more so under Obama. Because, just like stupid foreign policy, it doesn't work, no matter who is throwing the dollars out of the helicopter and no matter what magic incantations are being recited as the dollars disappear into thin air, leaving nothing but a memory (and the occasional Joe Biden-themed Amtrak station).

As for the young 'uns, and the rest of us too, let's spare the cliched echoes of today's kids being the first generation to be poorer than their parents (fatter, probably, and there's nothing wrong with that). Those college grads who are getting jobs according to your perfessor source? They averaged offers of $48,000 in 2010. That's not chump change. As the Pew Economic Mobility project puts is, that hasn't been happening over the past 40 years and there's no reason to assume it's going to become the new normal:

Focusing on the household incomes of working-age adults (those aged 26 through 59), the report assesses how income gains, drops, and recovery have varied from 1967 through 2004. The analyses include both short-term and longer-term fluctuations in income, examining how many people are able to recover from income declines, how long their recovery takes, and differences across demographic groups in both.

The findings indicate that the American economy promotes upward mobility over two- and ten-year periods just as well as it has in the past. Americans are no more likely to experience income drops than they have been in the past, and they recover from those drops at similar rates.

It's a shit economy, that's for sure, and the recession has been made worse by virtually every intervention committed in the name of ending it, from policies designed to keep housing prices up (yet affordable! go figure); the Fed monkeying around with every aspect of the money supply short of putting ads on dollars (I'm just brainstorming here); and we haven't even start paying down the principal on the money we borrowed ten years ago, much less in these last mad ones.

You're right to point to the Times' own reporting on the scandal that is General Electric, whose CEO is best buds with Barack Obama and which pays no corporate taxes due to a super-complicated tax code rigged specifically to benefit companies whose CEOs are best buds with the president (doesn't matter who). The answer here is to take a page from Thoreau and "simplify, simplify, simplify." Make taxes fairer, flatter, and more transparent. And while we're at it, let's do the same with government. Every citizen should read the recent damning GAO report on government waste and redundancy that details exactly why government can't be expected to spend well or wisely. What's the right amount of wealth for the top 5 percent to snag? If 64 percent is too damn high, then give a number and a plausible way you think we can get to that number without endlessly replicating the dynamic that is precisely behind GE's tax avoidance (and its ability to keep a contract it lost for an "an alternative engine" for a fighter jet). And without indulging in the fantasy that the government can simply command a certain percentage of economic activity be given to it in the form of taxes.

And the idea that we haven't spent a ton of dough on addressing the "employment crisis" and "nation-building" here at home is just wrong, whether we're talking Obama or Bush (a.k.a. "a Big Government Disaster").We've spent badly, but cheapness hasn't been the problem in this or in K-12 schools, where per-pupil spending has gone up dramatically. If conventional school systems misallocate that dough, it's all the more reason to get rid of them and replace them with more of the charters for whom you sometimes have kind words.

Good luck to you, Bob, as you go on to write a book that will "expand my efforts on behalf of working people, the poor and others who are struggling in our society." As you're clearing out your desk, I hope you listen to this interview we did recently with Walter Williams whose new memoir, Up From the Projects is powerful stuff. Like you, Williams has thought a lot about the poor, working people, disadvantaged minorities, and how policies designed to ameliorate tough situations often make them intractably bad. His solutions are radically different than yours, but you might get some new ideas that have been around for a while too:

NEXT: Reason Morning Links: Bloody Photos, Passports, and the End of the World

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  1. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders

    They will certainly be less free; but Herbert has never impressed me as a guy who would be too concerned about that.

  2. The complaint is not, and never has been nor will it ever be, that the top n% have too much of the pie. The complaint is *always* that the speaker is not amongst the top n%.
    May weasels rip their flesh one and all.

    no hugs for thugs,
    Shirley Knott

    1. It’s not fair!!! Whine! Snivel!

  3. Entrepreneurship rates are at a 15-year high for college graduates of all ages, according to the Kauffman Foundation 2009 Index of Entrepreneurial Activity.

    Good news

    1. I think that’s as much a symptom of a crappy job market as anything else.

      1. Silver lining.

  4. There are a lot of typos in this post. 🙁

  5. Employment prospects for college grads and employment may have alot to do with what the degree attained is.

    Lately, I’ve seen employers widely passing on the softer non-technical degrees. I guess everyone figured out that the degree you got in crazy talk really isn’t worth anything.

    1. I guess everyone figured out that the degree you got in crazy talk really isn’t worth anything.

      Good thing I graduate when I did.

      1. Too bad they didn’t cover verb tenses in your course of study.

        1. Little did you know that MNG’s graduation actually took place after he typed “graduate,” but before he typed “did.” Now who’s Mr. Smartypants, huh?

        2. Between fighting the vast right wing conspiracy and telling everyone I encountered how great I am, there wasn’t much time left for studying grammar.

          1. That’s pretty gay. Reminds me a couple months back when I was visiting Scottsdale. I ate three grand slam breakfasts at Denny’s and then 2 hours later had a seriously loose movement.

  6. herbert strikes me as the kind of guy who believes the wealthy keep their cash in vaults, a la Scrooge McDuck, instead of investing it in the kinds of opportunities that provide paychecks for the vast majority of Americans. I’d also bet he eats in some of NYC’s finest restaurants and engages in other forms of conspicuous consumption while regaling his fellows about the plight of starving grannies and youth making do with old textbooks.

  7. lol, ya just never know what those guys are going to do lol.

    http://www.privacy-online.it.tc

    1. You know that “I Grew Hemp” speech bubble stamp that some people will stamp on the dollar bill? I think maybe it’s time we got a lot of people to get “Made in China” stamps and start defacing our currency. Rogue revolutionary art. Such activities are what force people to think and become more active.

  8. A shit economy where 22-year-olds are snagging an average of $48,000 a year?

    Where the stock market is up 20% over the last two years? (But it’s going to go down again because Tim Cavanaugh says so.)

    Also, a “reader” at Andrew Sullivan’s site (nameless because Andy likes the spotlite on him) reminds us that, back in the year 2000, Herbert was responsible for freeing the “Tulia 38,” dozens of innocent blacks herded into prison by a corrupt cop (more here http://www.law.northwestern.ed…..mmary.html)

    I don’t think Bob labored entirely in vain, though, yeah, the columns were repetitive (but no more so than many in Reason).

  9. “A Flip, a Jig and a Jew…”

    1. “Weren’t nearly as racist as you…”

  10. Is there any Times columnist besides Krugman that isn’t a profligate dispenser of monotonal banalities?

  11. “What’s the right amount of wealth for the top 5 percent to snag?”

    I’m thinking Herbert’s answer would be 5 percent.

  12. A shit economy where 22-year-olds are snagging an average of $48,000 a year?

    Those that get jobs after graduation are getting that much. I’m not sure how many are finding work.

    Where the stock market is up 20% over the last two years?

    Bubbles always look good, until they don’t. The stock market is in a liquidity bubble being pumped by the Fed, hoping to induce a “wealth effect” through which newly printed dollars will magically jump-start the economy.

  13. I did not see a single thing wrong with that column. In fact the world would be a far better place if others were as broad minded as this gentleman.

  14. I guess my main question about the economy is what the actual inflation rate is relative to currency devaluation?

    I am begining to believe that the powers that be think they can siply take care of the debt problem by devaluing the currency to the point it doesn’t matter.

  15. Although I’m inclined to sympathize with you on most issues, this petty attack on Herbert is an ungenerous piece of trash article.

    Soul-searching time, if you have one.

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