Friday, September 12, 2008


David Brooks' Op-Ed in Today’s "New York Times" (Sept. 12, 2008)

David Brooks' op-ed piece, “The Social Animal,” in today’s New York Times provokes thought, and I thank him for that.

Perhaps as the result of a recent revelation personally experienced, Brooks correctly states what really is an obvious truism, that we are not a society “of self-creating individuals gloriously free from one another, but of autonomous creatures deeply interconnected with one another.” Of course.

He continues, “Recent Republican Party doctrine has emphasized the power of the individual, but underestimates the importance of connections, relationships, institutions and social filaments that organize personal choices and make individuals what they are.”

After reading his piece, one wonders why this conservative refuses to support the man, Barack Obama, who best espouses the social connections that Brooks extols.

More important, Brooks misses the central point that America’s many huge financial debacles—with trillions of dollars of taxpayer money stolen or lost—have not been caused by interconnected individuals “at the bottom” somehow collectively making bad decisions, but rather by GOP operatives at the top who gamed the system.

The gaming of the system breaks Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”—a sometimes useful metaphor which holds that individuals pursuing their own interests tend in the aggregate to produce the most good for the larger society—because that “invisible hand” assumes a free market, a level playing field.

That level playing field did not exist with respect to any of the humongous financial disasters of the last three decades. From the S&L scandals and bailouts of the 1980s, to government contracting fraud in Iraq, to the recent home mortgage financial fiasco, rigged structures are plainly visible.

Huge casinos were established, with the winnings going to the “lucky” few—the GOP’s constituency of “top two-percenters” and huge corporations—and with the losses, countless trillions of dollars, being shouldered by U.S. taxpayers.

Always, here’s the key question to ask when the GOP talks about reform: “Does the proposed scheme involve taxpayer money or a guaranty by the government, and, if so, which parties stand to gain most when things go well, or not so well.”

When John McCain and the GOP talk about “reform” and use wonderful words like “freedom,” “deregulation” and “privatization,” be sure to count your fingers.

We should applaud David Brooks for the steps—albeit baby steps—that he has taken on the road to recovery from the GOP Dark Side, and we should pray that this conservative continues to evolve.

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