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.