David Brooks is Bummed that Wages for Men are Stagnant, Even Though Men Still Make More than Women

Citing an excellent article in The Atlantic, David Brooks begins a discussion that shows unusual promise. Brooks begins by encapsulating Davidson’s central profile, that of Maddie Parlier (who sounds lovely, by the way), a “Level 1” factory worker with Standard Motor Products in Greenville, South Carolina. Brooks accurately relates Davidson’s depiction of Maddie, describing for lazier readers (those who will not peruse Davidson’s excellent article) her particular struggles: broken family, single motherhood, and a lack of access to advanced education. One paragraph even made me doubt my usual disgust with Mr. Brooks’s facile faux-intellectual raconteuring:

“Across America, millions of mothers can’t rise because they don’t have adequate support systems as they try to improve their skills. Tens of millions of children have poor life chances because they grow up in disorganized environments that make it hard to acquire the social, organizational and educational skills they will need to become productive workers.”

Indeed, until this point it seemed that I might have to end my feud with Brooks. Alas, I suppose he was distracted by a wig and a codpiece, for he begins to go off the rails:

“Tens of millions of men have marred life chances because schools are bad at educating boys, because they are not enmeshed in the long-term relationships that instill good habits and because insecure men do stupid and self-destructive things.

Over the past 40 years, women’s wages have risen sharply but, as Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney of the Hamilton Project point out, median incomes of men have dropped 28 percent and male labor force participation rates are down 16 percent. Next time somebody talks to you about wage stagnation, have them break it down by sex. It’s not only globalization and technological change causing this stagnation. It’s the deterioration of the moral and social landscape, especially for men.”

Yes, quite suddenly Brooks has shifted the discussion toward the depressing inequality of opportunity for men. Which, having read Davidson’s article, I find to be a bit strange, for it seems quite the opposite of Davidson’s point. Rather, Davidson seems to imply (through his discussion of Luke, a skilled technician at the Standard factory) that opportunities for men are better. As Davidson notes, Luke has no children to take care of and has parents that were capable of supporting him when he decided to pursue his education. In fact, from Davidson’s description of the factory, it’s clear that women make up the larger portion of so-called “Level 1” employees. Nowhere does Davidson imply that the social fabric has failed men.

Of course in certain parts of the country, boys, especially minority boys, are getting the short end of the nation’s educational stick. But this is not Davidson’s point, and Brooks disingenuously slides his ridiculous and mind-bogglingly stupid worldview into what would have been a slam-dunk argument for social improvement through, of all fucking things, education. But is there hope, after all? Was David Brooks just messing with me? Cue his usual dissatisfaction with paradigmatic responses to social problems:

“The idiocy of our current political debate is that neither side seems capable of talking about the interplay of economic and social forces. Most of the Republican candidates talk as if all that is needed is more capitalism. But lighter regulation and lower taxes won’t, on their own, help the Maddie Parliers of the world get the skills they need to compete.

Democrats, meanwhile, have shifted their emphasis from lifting up the poor to pounding down the rich. Democratic candidates no longer emphasize early childhood education and community-building. Instead they embrace the pseudo-populist Occupy Wall Street hokum — the opiate of the educated classes.”

Dammit, Dems! Stop acquiescing to populist rhetoric and remember your place! Oh, and all of you Republicans remember to discuss education when you’re eliding the inherent inequalities that occur over time in a capitalist economic model. I’m glad to see that David Brooks is beyond such political frivolities; he truly is the Thomas Kuhn of New York Times opinion columnists.
Now cut to Brooks’s standard appeal to an Ivy League study (as a side note, I’m not sure where Brooks’s weird Ivy League penis-envy comes from—he went to Chicago, which is an excellent school, and he studied under Bloom, a jackass to be sure, but an intelligent one):

“As a survey of nearly 10,000 Harvard Business School grads by Michael Porter and Jan Rivkin makes clear, to get companies to locate their plants in the U.S., Obama is going to have to simplify the tax code, cut corporate rates, streamline regulations, make immigration policy more flexible and balance the budget over the long term.”

Yes, Obama, there it is; Brooks’s surefire plan to save America is to listen to 10,000 HBS grads. So get on it: slash the corporate tax rate, eliminate regulation (streamline is code for eliminate), make immigration policy more flexible (read: for highly educated Asian immigrants), and balance the Goddamn budget. Anything else, Mr. Brooks? Should Obama cure cancer, too? Or perhaps resurrect Burke from the dead so that you can live out your fantasies? Oh, wait, maybe not—but he should definitely also consider improving your rather ill-defined paeans to socially conservative issues such as classist job training, performance pay for teachers, and perhaps subsidies for religious organizations that provide early childhood education.

Because God knows that the only thing standing between America and greatness is a fat bonus check for some resume-building Ivy Leaguer sweating it out in a shitty TFA classroom.

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