Krugman vs. Brooks

I real the editorial page of the New York Times just about every day.  I am fascinated by the battle that plays out each week between the Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman and his nemesis David Brooks. 

Krugman is trying to steer America into a bold new world of government-led economic management.  Sometimes he is preachy, sometimes wonky and sometimes condescending but he vacillates from teacher to denouncer and lately he has been in the denouncing stream – Tea Partiers, GOP, dissenting economists, Obama (for not doing enough), – they all get hammered.

Brooks, on the other hand, is trying to slowly and deliberately reorient American thinking – at least those folks who read the NY Times.  Every column is a light lesson in American fundamentalist ideas – the free market, the pursuit of happiness, government as playing field leveller not guarantor of success – all done in a centerist, calm way – he uses references to popular culture – stories that resonate with the reader.

While Krugman comes across as increasingly apoplectic – Brooks is calm and methodical.  If you ever watch these two on the TV news talk shows, that is how they come across on screen as well.  Krugman as the brilliant but a bit hysterical one and Brooks the slow talking, patient interlocutor trying to persuade you with references to a better day.   Krugman is impatient with anyone who doesn’t agree with him.

I raise this because I struggle with my posture on things here in New Brunswick.  My tone has been increasingly Krugmanesque (it varies over the years) but my soul is essentially Brooks.    I think we have to find a way to come to a gentle consensus on what needs to be done.  I am not sure brilliant hysterics works much anymore.

I think it animates small groups of partisans (to the ideas) but the masses chafe against the tone and tune it out.

Most folks don’t sit around thinking about things like economy, demographics, deficits, out-migration, immigration, etc.  They are living their lives and preoccupied with their own micro-universe of issues – job, family, social groups, neighbourhoods, health, etc.  And so they should be.

But most people feel in a general sense that things are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘unsettled’.  This general tone is set by informal conversation, by interaction with media, and increasingly by content on the Internet, etc.  I continue to wonder what the average joe or jane thinks when they read the comment threads on CBC.ca or the Telegraph-Journal.   I would say 95% of all comments are angry, frustrated or cynical screeds from anonymous venters that add very little to the core issue but add a lot of noise.

But my fundamental premise is that the public needs to be brought along – a la David Brooks – to a set of  ideological core ideas  – not by a Krugman-style beatdown but by patient reasoning.

New Brunswick has just sort of drifted along for many years now.  When the call centre and forestry jobs were booming in the early 2000s, things were pretty good – the structural issues were there but on the surface things were pretty good.  We spent all the new fed transfers beefing up public services which gave an additional economic boost.

I think we need to figure out a way to convince people that New Brunswick can be more than just a collateral player in the larger Quebec narrative in Canada (remember the Equalization and EI changes that injected hundreds of millions into the NB economy were primarily focused on garnering Quebec votes). 

There is no inevitability here.  New Brunswick could be a place that is attracting people into good paying careers and building a national reputation as a significant player in ‘industry a’ or ‘industry b’.   

I think I’m going to swing my writing more Brooksian and less Krugmanesque.   I still like to pivot off data and statistics to prove my points but the core narrative will be less about apocolypse and more about choice. 

Because New Brunswick is not a large part of the Canadian economy, it doesn’t much matter in the national narrative what happens here and that core premise, I think, has embedded itself at a cultural level here.

There is more shoulder shrugging than fist pounding.

I’m now focusing on the eyebrow raising.

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5 Responses to Krugman vs. Brooks

  1. richard says:

    “But my fundamental premise is that the public needs to be brought along – a la David Brooks – to a set of ideological core ideas – not by a Krugman-style beatdown but by patient reasoning.”

    David, I think that those doing the ‘reasoning’ have to be using reason. In oher words, you need to have data and some sound thinking to back up your ‘reasoned’ position.

    Krugman does not sound hysterical to me, but I can understand why others might think so. I am sure he is getting pretty frustrated with what is happending south of the border. Over the past decade, his predictions have been pretty much dead-on, yet his advice keeps getting ignored. I do not believe it is ignored because of perceived hysteria – it is ignored because few in the media are interested in sending out his message.

    Brooks, I am sure, hopes that everyone will forget his terrible track record – he has supported nearly every failed policy of the past decade. His ‘reasoned’ approach is just a sham; the phony cover of someone who has gotten nearly everything policy-wise wrong. Yet he keeps his job. Why? Because the media and the interest groups that run them like his ‘reason’. They don’t want the real data to get out there. Brooks’ strong suit is rhetoric, not data analysis; he used that to sell an ideological position that is not fact-based, and that has failed the reality test.

    You say you want to use ‘patient reasoning’ – that is exactly what you have been doing. I don’t see an ‘apocalypse’ in your posts. our Whatever the approach, however, it must remain data-based. I think a lot of people read your posts and the influence might be greater than you imagine.

  2. mikel says:

    Buddy, if you think ANY blogs you have written have amounted to a ‘screed’ then you are watching too much american TV (who the heck reads the NY Times anyway?:)
    I don’t know who’s been emailing you making such complaints but the gloom and doom is primarily restricted to the hard belief that federal transfers WILL decline. They might, but they are often cyclical and highly dependant on things controlled far beyond NB’s borders.
    It is true that people are tuned out, worried about their own lives, but that’s NOT how it should be. In ancient Greece people were given coloured whips to roam the street marking those who weren’t in attendance at political meetings (but again, they had the option of actually voting on issues, not other people to do it for them). Those who didn’t attend were called ‘idios’, one whose selfish motivations were bad for politics.
    Granted, we are different. I would probably advance the policy of marking people who didn’t attend meetings where referenda were being held-by definition it is the people making those decisions and every vote counts. I’d go as far as following Australia and making voting the law.
    As for ‘choice’, the unpleasant reality is that NBers HAVE no choice. Choice is in the political arena, not the social one. Unless you are talking about organizing lobby groups, protest marches, or even letter writing campaigns. However, outside of politics, what exactly do people DO with their ‘choice’. Raising eyebrows is about as effective as nose picking when it comes to politics.
    And with two political parties running the game in insanityland it is clear that people WILL want ‘choice’. The fact that Alward isn’t walking away with this election is a real analogy to the US where Kerry’s policies were SO similar to Bush’s that he lost to one of the most unpopular politicians in US history. I’ve spoken with a lot of people working the polls in NB, and its interesting to note that the Green party’s nominee’s are mostly from Fredericton, and even party stalwarts in the conservative party can’t even find local party members to go door to door with them.
    Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see what ‘choices’ you start to offer up. The sad simple fact is that only in the US, where corporate control is so absolute can you have a guy talking seriously about libertarian policies. It’s true that everybody hates it when government gives money to a company that fails-its also true that everybody wants a job.

  3. Marcel says:

    New Brunswick lacks vision economically and leadership on the political scene. Here’s an idea, if you are incompetent in running a company and therefore the province, hire some consultation / expert advise. McKenna had done so in the early 90s and he actually gave New Brunswick a running change of becoming something. Information Technology was the new segment of the New Brunswick economy. I’m appalled by the inability to recognize that manufacturing is dead. Move on…

  4. Scott says:

    Well said. I enjoy Krugman’s writings too. Read a lot of his stuff this summer. Really enjoyed The Return of Depression Economics. Have you ever read anything by the other Brooks (Arthur)? He’s a good read on the right even if he did have a hand in firing David Frum.

  5. Scott says:

    Well said. I enjoy Krugman’s writings too. Read a lot of his stuff this summer. Really enjoyed The Return of Depression Economics. Have you ever read anything by the other Brooks (Arthur)? He’s a good read on the right even if he did have a hand in firing David Frum.

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