David Brooks

Mr. Brooks, Mr. Bentham and Mr. Hume On Innovation and Policymaking

David Brooks has authored a somewhat amusing column on the future of innovation policy in the United States. He tells a story of Mr. Bentham and Mr. Hume, each of whom has a distinct approach to innovating toward solutions to major governing challenges. Bentham, the expert, designs complex, wonk informed solutions to the challenges of the day, while Hume, the underachiever, admits that he has no idea how such things work, and just tries to create markets that do the job for him. Here's Brooks' conclusion:

I've introduced you to my friends Mr. Bentham and Mr. Hume because they represent the choices we face on issue after issue. This country is about to have a big debate on the role of government. The polarizers on cable TV think it’s going to be a debate between socialism and free-market purism. But it’s really going to be a debate about how to promote innovation.

The people on Mr. Bentham's side believe that government can get actively involved in organizing innovation. (I've taken his proposals from the Waxman-Markey energy bill and the Baucus health care bill.)

The people on Mr. Hume's side believe government should actively tilt the playing field to promote social goods and set off decentralized networks of reform, but they don't think government knows enough to intimately organize dynamic innovation.

So let's have the debate. But before we do, let's understand that Mr. Bentham is going to win. The lobbyists love Bentham’s intricacies and his stacks of spending proposals, which they need in order to advance their agendas. If you want to pass anything through Congress, Bentham's your man.

In all fairness to Congressional efforts, it's important to note that both Health Care and Energy/Climate legislation include the market based, low government involvement ideas that Brooks/Hume seems to prefer – health care in an exchange and climate in a market based carbon pricing regime.  

The truth is that it’s not as if the Bentham-esque details of reform proposals are some sort of new arrival to policymaking; rather, many are sought to counter decades of policies that benefit incumbents. For example, fossil fuels are still massively out-subsidized compared to clean technology, so of course clean tech advocates should fight for theirs. (Many policy intricacies obviously still do help incumbents – climate legislation does give permits away to energy intensive industries as opposed President Obama’s desired 100% auction.)   

Rather, the question for Brooks is: Who will make Mr. Hume's case? I feel for Brooks, I want his debate to happen now (Can Mr. Hume have Glenn Beck's pulpit?), and I'm all for elegant policymaking. I'm also pretty sure Brooks is right that complexity is going to win because legislating is complex. And the likeliest outcome is that Mr. Hume isn't even going to make it to the table. What I know for certain is that Brooks can't possibly be implying that this Republican Party is capable of assuming the role of Mr. Hume. That would be a party worth having.

Brooks Unloads on Republicans, Rep. Kingston Proves His Point

David Brooks today hammers the Republican Party for its wholly inadequate response to the Great Recession and to President Barack Obama's plans for economic recovery:

The Democratic response to the economic crisis has its problems, but let’s face it, the current Republican response is totally misguided. The House minority leader, John Boehner, has called for a federal spending freeze for the rest of the year. In other words, after a decade of profligacy, the Republicans have decided to demand a rigid fiscal straitjacket at the one moment in the past 70 years when it is completely inappropriate.
The G.O.P. leaders have adopted a posture that allows the Democrats to make all the proposals while all the Republicans can say is “no.” They’ve apparently decided that it’s easier to repeat the familiar talking points than actually think through a response to the extraordinary crisis at hand.

If the Republicans wanted to do the country some good, they’d embrace an entirely different approach.

If Republicans were to treat this like a genuine emergency, with initiative-grabbing approaches, they may not get their plans enacted, but voters would at least give them another look. Do I expect them to shift course in this manner? Not really.

Instead of offering reasonable policy choices, Republicans argue that we shouldn't do anything other than try to change a couple banking rules to restore lending. This, and many of Brooks' proposals, shows a deep misunderstanding about the causes of the Great Recession. There were fundamental problems in the American economy long before the financial meltdown, including the stagnation of wages and incomes for everyday Americans, despite strong productivity and GDP growth. This wage-productivity gap had never been seen before in American economics, and, unless policymakers move to create a 21st century economy, recovery will not come the way we'd like. This necessitates, unlike Brooks argues, bold action to restructure much of what was not working.

As an example of the backwards response that Republicans are exhibiting on the economy, enjoy U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia on Morning Joe:

Honestly, I’m not sure which part of his argument is more ridiculous, that the President can't walk and chew gum at the same time or that E-verify is more important to economic recovery than building a 21st century economy.

David Brooks Hammers Bobby Jindal & Mike Pence Says Crazy Things

Via Ben Smith, this clip of conservative pundit David Brooks laying into Bobby Jindal's speech last night is pretty astounding-- he calls the speech "stale," "insane," and "a disaster for the Republican Party:"

But he's right, of course. The people of Louisiana (who have perhaps benefitted more than the people of any other state from government spending in recent years) should be very concerned that their governor is liable to turn down funds from the stimulus package, or turn off the flow of other money coming from Washington.

These hackneyed old ideas about government spending being the problem are not only wrong-- in an economic climate like this, they're dangerous. Here's Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana making the same argument Jindal made, asking congress to "freeze federal spending."

If this were only one crazy congressman, I wouldn't be concerned, but these are the standard talking points of the right-- Jindal was saying essentially the same things last night.  It's alarming that the Republican Party is so obviously out of ideas that they've fallen back on suggesting we shut down the government to combat a recession.

UPDATE: Paul Krugman explains pretty well why this argument is so crazy. It's because there are, you know, things the government needs to do.  And then, at the end:

And leaving aside the chutzpah of casting the failure of his own party’s governance as proof that government can’t work, does he really think that the response to natural disasters like Katrina is best undertaken by uncoordinated private action? Hey, why bother having an army? Let’s just rely on self-defense by armed citizens.

The intellectual incoherence is stunning. Basically, the political philosophy of the GOP right now seems to consist of snickering at stuff that they think sounds funny. The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead.

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