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


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: