According to David Brooks, Romneybot is More Like Edward and Less Like Dracula

Once again, that bloated sack of Burkean bon mots has come out swinging against those who would seek to defile the good name of private equity:

Forty years ago, corporate America was bloated, sluggish and losing ground to competitors in Japan and beyond. But then something astonishing happened. Financiers, private equity firms and bare-knuckled corporate executives initiated a series of reforms and transformations.

The process was brutal and involved streamlining and layoffs. But, at the end of it, American businesses emerged leaner, quicker and more efficient.

Apparently the last forty years of American capitalism was like a season of The Biggest Loser; muscular capitalists yelled at weak and flabby businesses and eventually turned the American economy into something you wouldn’t be ashamed to bang.

But those damned Democrats just released an ad besmirching the reputation of Bain Capital (they weren’t founded by the Batman villain, in case you’re curious) by calling into question their handling of GST, a failing metalworks:

The company was in terminal decline before Bain entered the picture, seeing its work force fall from 4,500 to less than 1,000. It faced closure when Romney and Bain, for some reason, saw hope for it in 1993. Bain acquired it, induced banks to loan it money and poured $100 million into modernization, according to Strassel. Bain held onto the company for eight years, hardly the pattern of a looter. Finally, after all the effort, the company, like many other old-line steel companies, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001, two years after Romney had left Bain.

This is the story of a failed rescue, not vampire capitalism.

You see, Democrats? Bain is more charity than anything else; besides, Romneybot left the Bain heezy before GST crashed and burned! And he probably had no effect on policy, so as soon as he left, Bain was like, “who the fuck was that guy”? This is some solid-ass logic, Brooks.

Of course, Brooks can’t write a column without shifting from the concrete to the abstract, or without mentioning a fancy study conducted by someone in the Ivy League; therefore, we have this half-assed justification for private equity:

This process involves a great deal of churn and creative destruction. It does not, on net, lead to fewer jobs. A giant study by economists from the University of Chicago, Harvard, the University of Maryland and the Census Bureau found that when private equity firms acquire a company, jobs are lost in old operations. Jobs are created in new, promising operations. The overall effect on employment is modest.

Hey, if a guy from the University of Chicago said that the throbbing knob of venture capitalism and private equity is a good thing for America’s middle-class, unlubricated anus, then it must be! Because that school has no history of capitalist stoogery.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of this essay is the way that it elides several key points. For instance, what does the study classify as a “modest” effect on employment? Is 25% modest? Or perhaps 30%? I do not consider the absence of 30% of a company’s labor force to be modest, especially when you consider that 30% as a contributor to the local economy. Here’s another gem:

Most of the time they succeed. Research from around the world clearly confirms that companies that have been acquired by private equity firms are more productive than comparable firms.

What is the precise number for “most of the time”? Did Brooks say “most” because 51% isn’t the hotness? You know, now that I think about it, that quote is an excellent summation of Brooks’s writing for the Times:

Most of the time he succeeds. Readers from around the world clearly confirm that conservative essayists for the New York Times that are named David Brooks are more productive than comparable essayists.

Also, Team Bain for the win!

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David Brooks Has a Fever, and the Only Prescription is…More Tradition?

It’s Friday, and you know what that means: someone at the New York Times filled up the burlap sack that is David Brooks and then slowly squeezed it until a steady stream of wind, reminiscent of flatulent poetry, escaped and filled the morning air. Today, in a column entitled “How to Fight the Man,” David Brooks regales us with his theory as to why the current ideological demeanor of youthful protestors is philosophically flaccid. Basically, Brooks suggests that you become the Man. Because fighting yourself is just silly.

Brooks starts slow today, however, preferring subtlety to the sledgehammer of stupidity he wielded on Tuesday. He begins by describing this video, which I will link to but not watch because I have no interest in watching a millennial rhyme about Jesus. In any case, this ersatz poet, one Jefferson (you’ve got to be kidding me) Bethke, apparently did not have the courage of his convictions and folded like laundry when confronted with the argumentative weight of a theological blogger. Yes, Mr. Bethke could not even withstand the pressure of someone who writes about Jesus on the Internet.

This impotence, Brooks argues, is significant because it belies a great problem with today’s protesters: namely, their coddled miens and the childish conviction that experience outweighs tradition make it impossible for them to oppose authority for any significant period of time:

Bethke’s passionate polemic and subsequent retreat are symptomatic of a lot of the protest cries we hear these days. This seems to be a moment when many people — in religion, economics and politics — are disgusted by current institutions, but then they are vague about what sorts of institutions should replace them.

This seems to be a moment of fervent protest movements that are ultimately vague and ineffectual.

We can all theorize why the intense desire for change has so far produced relatively few coherent recipes for change. Maybe people today are simply too deferential. Raised to get college recommendations, maybe they lack the oppositional mentality necessary for revolt. Maybe people are too distracted.

What could Brooks possibly be alluding to here? I vaguely recall a recent protest movement that galvanized thousands of individuals and led to occupations of land in major urban areas, but I’ll be damned if I can remember the name of that protest. I suppose it doesn’t matter anyway, because protesting current political or cultural situations is ultimately a waste of time if you haven’t had the honor of choking on the fetid wind of the Enlightenment philosophers. But Brooks, as we all know, has some ideas about what’s going on. And as you probably guessed, it has something to do with tradition:

If I could offer advice to a young rebel, it would be to rummage the past for a body of thought that helps you understand and address the shortcomings you see. Give yourself a label. If your college hasn’t provided you with a good knowledge of countercultural viewpoints — ranging from Thoreau to Maritain— then your college has failed you and you should try to remedy that ignorance.

In other words, stop playing Xbox and smoking weed and read some Thomist philosophy. That will set your whiny, millennial ass straight, because nothing spurs social change like some post-Aquinian metaphysics.

I’ll admit that today’s column is not Brooks’s worst; all he’s really saying is “do your fucking homework.” I can’t disagree with that, as much as it pains me. What I find problematic is the implication that a countercultural ideology is somehow a waste of time unless one has a degree in philosophy. Moreover, I doubt that subservience to tradition is inherently good, especially where tradition is plainly wrong.

Also, I just saw part of that video. Someone needs to slap that wanker in the face.

David Brooks Thinks the Problem with the Pauper’s Rabble is Simple: The Rabble Does Not Live like the Rich

David Brooks, that defier of Burkean intellectual entropy and deflating sack of philosophical wind, believes the problems with the poor in America are simple: they aren’t rich, and they don’t live like the rich. Nailed it, Brooks! Now that you’ve solved that mystery, who’s up for some cocktails and antiquated, conservative British thinker circle-jerkery?

This week in Brooks’s “Mildly Classist Studies in Weak Correlative Inferences” book club is Charle’s Murray’s Coming Apart. Murray’s tale of two Americas begins in the 60s, when men were men, and women would let you squeeze their nips without too much complaining. Oh, and Caddy Eldorados were cheap, too! Apparently, during this utopian time in American history, the sweaty unwashed lived nearly on top of the soaped and powdered, and what’s more, neither group (the lows and the highs) misbehaved:

Roughly 98 percent of men between the ages of 30 and 49 were in the labor force, upper class and lower class alike. Only about 3 percent of white kids were born outside of marriage. The rates were similar, upper class and lower class.

Unfortunately, this gallant time was not to last, and since the 60s the “American tribes” have inamicably divorced. Case in point: Manhattan, that isle of center-stage dreams and backalley bildungsromans. Apparently, in the 60s utopia, the rich and poor lived together on Manhattan Island, but now everything south of 96th Street is available only to the upper crust. And this class segregation is not local to Manhattan, Murray argues in his book; rather,

…there is an archipelago of affluent enclaves clustered around the coastal cities, Chicago, Dallas and so on. If you’re born into one of them, you will probably go to college with people from one of the enclaves; you’ll marry someone from one of the enclaves; you’ll go off and live in one of the enclaves.

But worse than this limited class mobility is the corresponding decline in the good behavior of the lower classes! Without their betters to lead by example, the pauper’s rabble engages in all sorts of misbehaviors:

Roughly 7 percent of the white kids in the upper tribe are born out of wedlock, compared with roughly 45 percent of the kids in the lower tribe. In the upper tribe, nearly every man aged 30 to 49 is in the labor force. In the lower tribe, men in their prime working ages have been steadily dropping out of the labor force, in good times and bad.

People in the lower tribe are much less likely to get married, less likely to go to church, less likely to be active in their communities, more likely to watch TV excessively, more likely to be obese.

Oh, and did I mention that Murray’s data comes largely from white Americans? As Brooks notes, this is where Murray shines, because dealing with race only serves to obfuscate and complicate. Nothing like making generalizations about all Americans based on a group of white guys.

At this point, however, you’re probably looking at your “How to Write an Essay by David Brooks” rubric and wondering “where’s the not-so-subtle politically centrist statement”? Don’t worry, it’s right here:

Murray’s story contradicts the ideologies of both parties. Republicans claim that America is threatened by a decadent cultural elite that corrupts regular Americans, who love God, country and traditional values. That story is false. The cultural elites live more conservative, traditionalist lives than the cultural masses.

Democrats claim America is threatened by the financial elite, who hog society’s resources. But that’s a distraction. The real social gap is between the top 20 percent and the lower 30 percent. The liberal members of the upper tribe latch onto this top 1 percent narrative because it excuses them from the central role they themselves are playing in driving inequality and unfairness.

Don’t you see?! The cultural elites have more values than the rabble! Poor people hate God because they’re poor and God never answers their prayers when they ask for a new screen door for their trailer or for Becky to not get pregnant (it was only the one time, Jesus! Please!). Conversely, rich people love God because they’re rich and all their clothes fit really well and they haven’t eaten at McDonald’s unironically since that one birthday party that they were forced to attend because the butler’s son had cancer or something.

As Brooks goes on to explain, it’s unfair to say that “the salt of the earth common people are preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite” because the elites are too moralistic to do something like that! The truth, according to Brooks, is that

… members of the upper tribe have made themselves phenomenally productive. They may mimic bohemian manners, but they have returned to 1950s traditionalist values and practices. They have low divorce rates, arduous work ethics and strict codes to regulate their kids.

Members of the lower tribe work hard and dream big, but are more removed from traditional bourgeois norms. They live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive.

That’s right, folks: while poor people are busy breeding, Winthrop and Eleanor are attending their Latin reading club while Mimsy and Poppy toil away in the financial sector, creating derivative products that the undisciplined, pomo “poorballs” will see as a gateway to their American dream (three flat-screen TVs, an iPhone, a mirror above the bed, and a used Range Rover).

But Brooks is never one to proselytize or allow his words to remain wind! No, Brooks is a man of action, a man of plans: according to Brooks, the solution is a National Service Program that would force the unlotioned K-Marters into contact with the L’Occitaned bluebloods.

Yes, Brooks, you’ve solved the problem. As soon as poor people stop being so Goddamn poor all the time we’ll return to those halcyon days where Ellen from stenography would just go see “Dr. Mitchell” on Saturday, and then keep her mouth shut if she knew what was good for her.

Holy Jesus, Thomas Friedman is a Giant Asshole

There are two New York Times columnists that I’d love to slap. The first is obviously David Brooks, and the second is Thomas Friedman, mustached douche and crony of global capitalism. The other day, Friedman wrote a column that was far more than slap-worthy, and funnily enough joined Brooks in citing Davidson’s essay from the Atlantic. While both men make similar points about Davidson’s essay, only Friedman escalates into the “I wish I could stab him for writing this” territory. And that’s saying something, considering how much of an idiot Brooks can be.

Friedman’s essay, entitled “Average is Over,” covers familiar territory: globalization, competition, Chinese slaves, blah blah blah. It’s nothing new, really; Friedman found his dead horse and he continues to bludgeon it with inexplicable fervor. Essentially, Friedman argues, American workers of the future cannot afford to be “average,” as they could in the past. Completely ignoring the subjectivity of averages, Friedman points out that now the American worker competes with “above average cheap foreign labor, cheap robotics, cheap software, cheap automation and cheap genius,” and thus every worker bee must “find their extra—their unique value contribution that makes them stand out in whatever is their field of employment.” Aside from being condescending, this point is obvious, and moreover has always been true—competitive workers, regardless of their field, have always had to demonstrate an “extra” quality.

But that was only the beginning of the essay! Wait ‘til Friedman gets going! Positively slavering over the idea that waiters and waitresses might be among the future unemployed, Friedman goes on to describe technology that, unless you’re an asshole, sounds pretty Goddamn shitty. Basically, it’s an iPad that allows you to order food from your table and then ignore your dining companions. Most important, however, is the significant reduction in employee costs:

Each console goes for $100 per month. If a restaurant serves meals eight hours a day, seven days a week, it works out to 42 cents per hour per table — making the Presto cheaper than even the very cheapest waiter.

Hooray! Now I can displace a worker, order extra bacon without talking to a human being, and play Angry Birds while waiting for my food! Dinner conversation is usually boring anyway; I mean, how many different ways can a person describe their day?

By now, Friedman has already ensured a swift kick in the ass, delivered by me, should I ever meet him. But he’s not content to stop there, oh no! Friedman wishes to drive home the point that average is simply unacceptable. Do you know why? Because of the Chinese, that’s why!

What the iPad won’t do in an above average way a Chinese worker will. Consider this paragraph from Sunday’s terrific article in The Times by Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher about why Apple does so much of its manufacturing in China: “Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly-line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the [Chinese] plant near midnight. A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day. ‘The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,’ the executive said. ‘There’s no American plant that can match that.’ ”

Wow! Chinese workers sure are dedicated to their jobs! I bet they love cranking out iPad cases and breathing in aluminum dust and being set on fire occasionally. At least they get biscuits and tea! Friedman is basically marveling at the efficiency of slavery. In the interest of balance, here’s an excerpt from another excellent article that appeared in the Times on the topic of Apple’s manufacturing in China:

Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.

More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for workers’ health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning.

Friedman’s probably right, though—it would be tough to get American workers to apply for manufacturing jobs with 12-hour shifts (sometimes doubled), no safety protections, and a salary that doesn’t exceed $22 per day.

Is there any way an iPad could replace Thomas Friedman? That’s an app I’d happily download.

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.

David Brooks Thinks You Should Shut Up About Romney’s Riches

Not content to allow the pauper’s rabble to sully the Romney name, David Brooks, that ever-expanding and balding bag of Burkean bollocks demands that we take a moment to consider the real Mitt (short for Gaius Julius Mittensus Caesar) Romney:

“Is Romney a spoiled, cosseted character? Has he been corrupted by ease and luxury?”

And like so many individuals who pose questions to themselves so that they may answer to their own satisfaction, David Brooks assures that no, Mittensus is not, in fact, a Simpsons-esque caricature of a Gilded Age gazillionaire.

At this point, based solely on Brooks’s reputation, I’m sure you’ve forgotten your previous impression of Romney as a moneyed twat and are now picturing him as the descendant of a hardscrabble pioneer, eking a living from the land and demonstrating with his every action that hard work strengthens the soul. Congratulations, David Brooks might say, because now you’re seeing the real Mittensus:

“All his life, Romney has been a worker and a grinder. He earned two degrees at Harvard simultaneously (in law and business). He built a business. He’s persevered year after year, amid defeat after defeat, to build a political career.”

Where some might take a hint and fuck off, Mittensus perseveres against all odds or common sense. But you’re probably also asking yourself “how did Mittensus come to be such a noble specimen of a hominid?” Cue the standard Brooksian appeal to a conservative philosopher, thus demonstrating his advanced learning and familiarity with a great books curriculum:

“Where did this persistence come from? It’s plausible to think that it came from his family history. The philosopher Michael Oakeshott once observed that it takes several generations to make a career. Interests, habits and lore accrue in families and shape those born into them.”

Not content to reference but one author, Brooks delights in relaying to us the highlights of his “Monarchist’s Monday” book-club selection “The Real Romney,” which details the Romney family history, and probably has no pictures. According to “The Real Romney,” Mittensus’s great-great grandfather Miles struggled against heathen mobs in Nauvoo, Illinois, and was eventually forced west to Salt Lake City after those damn mobs burned his temple down. Thus, it would seem that at least one Romney was capable of taking a hint.

Brooks follows with even more Romney history in an attempt to pin an American metanarrative badge squarely on Mittensus’s noble chest, and in a sly attempt at winning an AIPAC endorsement for our favorite Mormon campaigner, compares the Mormon struggle to the historical struggle of Jewish people:

“It is a story of relentless effort, of recovery and of being despised (in their eyes) because of their own success. Romney himself experienced none of this hardship, of course, but Jews who didn’t live through the Exodus are still shaped by it.”

I invite you to read that last sentence one more time, just to savor it.

Ultimately, one should not be surprised by Brooks’s spirited defense of Mittensus. After all, Mittensus is rich, comes from a moneyed family, and went to Harvard—he’s prime material for Brooks’s “Burkean Beefcakes” calendar. But if Brooks’s argument is still a fly in your ointment, a monkey in your wrench, a pain in your ass, fear not, for consistency is not, ironically, one of Brooks’s strong suits.

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