Tag Archives: David Brooks

Monday Morning

The weekend that was: I was sick all weekend.  I have a virus that has greatly affected the neurapathy.  Combine that with this torn rotator cuff and I am a bit of pain.  Nothing unmanageable but quite uncomfortable.  I took some time to rip a lot of CDs to iTunes including some that I have been putting off for years.  I did learn that Wendy has a weird taste in music and was totally removed from pop culture in her music tastes.  Meanwhile my music is trying to figure out what went wrong with the neighbourhood.  So am I.

Where I am at the moment: Work.

On my to-do list this week: There is always a lot but I am trying out a new to-do list that I got from reading a Lifehacker feature on Caterina Fake.  It’s working for me.

Procrastinating about: 

Book I’m in the midst of: The Social Animal by David Brooks

Music that seemed to catch my attention this past week: The White Stripes.

How I’m feeling about this week: I wasn’t feeling that great about it but then some things came together and it’s going to be a really good week.

Best photo I saw this week: How about a grizzly bear checking out a kid in a grizzly bear costume?

The failure of poverty programs

David Brooks in the New York Times.

Let’s say you want to reduce poverty. We have two traditional understandings of poverty. The first presumes people are rational. They are pursuing their goals effectively and don’t need much help in changing their behavior. The second presumes that the poor are afflicted by cultural or psychological dysfunctions that sometimes lead them to behave in shortsighted ways. Neither of these theories has produced much in the way of effective policies.

Eldar Shafir of Princeton and Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard have recently, with federal help, been exploring a third theory, that scarcity produces its own cognitive traits.

A quick question: What is the starting taxi fare in your city? If you are like most upper-middle-class people, you don’t know. If you are like many struggling people, you do know. Poorer people have to think hard about a million things that affluent people don’t. They have to make complicated trade-offs when buying a carton of milk: If I buy milk, I can’t afford orange juice. They have to decide which utility not to pay.

These questions impose enormous cognitive demands. The brain has limited capacities. If you increase demands on one sort of question, it performs less well on other sorts of questions.

Shafir and Mullainathan gave batteries of tests to Indian sugar farmers. After they sell their harvest, they live in relative prosperity. During this season, the farmers do well on the I.Q. and other tests. But before the harvest, they live amid scarcity and have to think hard about a thousand daily decisions. During these seasons, these same farmers do much worse on the tests. They appear to have lower I.Q.’s. They have more trouble controlling their attention. They are more shortsighted. Scarcity creates its own psychology.

Princeton students don’t usually face extreme financial scarcity, but they do face time scarcity. In one game, they had to answer questions in a series of timed rounds, but they could borrow time from future rounds. When they were scrambling amid time scarcity, they were quick to borrow time, and they were nearly oblivious to the usurious interest rates the game organizers were charging. These brilliant Princeton kids were rushing to the equivalent of payday lenders, to their own long-term detriment.

Default: Bachmann vs Boehner

Joe Trippi & Paul Goldman writes in Politico

The debt ceiling issue is the first defining GOP presidential event because Bachmann is the only serious candidate with a vote in Congress. Tea party backers want to see her self-proclaimed “titanium spine.” If she plays it right, she can win huge. If not, she can become yet another fallen idol.

The Canadian rock group Bachman-Turner Overdrive scored big with “Takin’ Care of Business” back in the ’70s. Now Bachmann realizes that the wrong vote puts her out of business as a presidential aspirant.

President Barack Obama understands that default would inflict incalculable damage to the United States and add to the advantage of the nation’s foreign competitors. He is right to want to repeal unfair Bushonomics.

But let’s be honest: When Obama took office, the Democrats reneged on 2004 and 2008 platform promises to repeal Bushonomics — claiming the economic recovery was too fragile. Yet Democratic leaders attack Republicans as defending Bush’s “tax cuts for the rich” though the recovery is now even shakier.

No wonder Americans are cynical. Obama knows avoiding the economic damage from a default is of greater urgency than a fairness fix.

Bachmann’s tea party posse will not accept any agreement deemed dictated by the president. And GOP legislators, vulnerable to a primary challenge from the right, are understandably nervous about appearing to compromise with Obama.

Conservative columnist David Brooks writes from the GOP perspective and wonders if Republicans are even pretending to govern responsibly. 

But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.

The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.

The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.

The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name. Economists have identified many factors that contribute to economic growth, ranging from the productivity of the work force to the share of private savings that is available for private investment. Tax levels matter, but they are far from the only or even the most important factor.

But to members of this movement, tax levels are everything. Members of this tendency have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation. They are willing to cut education and research to preserve tax expenditures. Manufacturing employment is cratering even as output rises, but members of this movement somehow believe such problems can be addressed so long as they continue to worship their idol.