The reader of this ‘exit interview’ with Mr. Brooks might look bit premature, at least to this cynic , as he is leaving in June 2019. May 13, 2018 must have been a slow news day, or I’ve missed the point of the Politico Magazine, as a space for journalistic cultivation of sources. Mr Alberta prefaces his interview with this ‘evaluation’ of Mr. Brooks that can only be described as Access Journalism at high velocity.
Arthur Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute, the center-right Washington think tank that has, amid a decade of turmoil inside the Republican Party, remained a sober, respected voice on matters of policy—while gradually shedding its George W. Bush-era reputation as a leading voice for pugnacious, interventionist foreign policy.
Brooks, who is stepping down in June 2019 after 10 years at the helm of AEI, has consistently struck me as the smartest figure on the American right—someone not given to bouts of provocation or hyperbole, but rather someone who speaks with equal authority on macroeconomics and family budgeting, global starvation and American giving, corporate structure and worker behavior, cultural evolution and societal happiness.
There is more of this obsequious political chatter, but the reader just might read the ‘About’ on AEI web site:
The American Enterprise Institute is a public policy think tank dedicated to defending human dignity, expanding human potential, and building a freer and safer world. The work of our scholars and staff advances ideas rooted in our belief in democracy, free enterprise, American strength and global leadership, solidarity with those at the periphery of our society, and a pluralistic, entrepreneurial culture.
We are committed to making the intellectual, moral, and practical case for expanding freedom, increasing individual opportunity, and strengthening the free enterprise system in America and around the world. Our work explores ideas that further these goals, and AEI scholars take part in this pursuit with academic freedom. AEI operates independently of any political party and has no institutional positions. Our scholars’ conclusions are fueled by rigorous, data-driven research and broad-ranging evidence.
AEI welcomes comments on the policies and procedures described here. They should be sent to Arthur C. Brooks, President, American Enterprise Institute, 1789 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036.
Tim Alberta offers this caveat:
‘Excerpts of that conversation follow, edited for length and clarity.’
Mr. Alberta opens his interview with this question: For conservatism, for Republicanism, for the institutions of government and for the country as a whole, from your perch over the past 10 years, what went wrong?
The answer from Mr. Brooks is surprising, I’ve underestimated his mendacity as a propagandist. He begins here:
For me, unity is a really big deal. By that I don’t mean agreement. The founding model in this place was super old school—a competition of ideas is fundamental to a free society, which was so subversive in the ’30s and ’40s because there was no competition of ideas.
Here is his oblique attack on the New Deal, presented as a benign observation : which was so subversive in the ’30s and ’40s because there was no competition of ideas. The lack of the competition of ideas that Mr. Brooks refers to is the telling consequences of the 1929 Crash, and the Depression that followed it. Roosevelt saved Capitalism from its own greed, and put in place a series regulations, like Glass-Steagall, that worked till Capital reached one of its many expressions of its dysfunction, as the post war boom stalled. The catastrophic consequences of Wall Street’s unrelenting greed made the Myth of the Free Market, in the environment of the Depression, completely un-marketable, to use the dull witted patois of the Free Marketeers.
Mr. Brooks must think that the readership of this interview can’t read this laughable assertion, and critically evaluate it as an instance of a recursive self-apologetics, for a failed Free Market. The critical reader of his pronouncements cannot make a connection to his failed Neo-Liberal economic/political dogmas and the seemingly permanent state of the economic dysfunction, ten years after the Crash of 2008?
But just in that first paragraph, I’ve just quoted from , there is more, and it doesn’t disappoint in its moralizing earnestness, and mildness of tone : Mr. Brooks is the modest political moralist for the cadre of Economic Buccaneers.
Disagreement is the essence of how we can unify as a people. We have a moral consensus about pushing opportunity out to people who need it most. Then we actually have to become a constellation of disagreement around that so that we can find the best way to do it. In the same way that you need a competition within the economy so that you can serve consumers best. Competition is hugely important in all areas. It’s a moral good. When you basically see a culture that’s not trying to win competition vigorously and civilly and respectfully, but rather trying to shut down competition by any means necessary, that’s like an economy that’s going from free enterprise to mercantilism. That’s basically what’s happened. We’ve gone from free enterprise of ideas to mercantilism of ideas. That’s what’s happening on both right and left today. That’s really disappointing.
This interview is very long, let me quote a collection of his telling comments on America’s political scene, and his moral/political aperçus:
Now, I’m sanguine still. Why? Because that happens periodically and competition also always wins out. There are basically two kinds of people in life: people who want to win competition and people who want to shut it down. People who don’t understand competition actually are the ones who want to shut it down because they don’t understand that competition requires rules. It requires moral precepts.
Note that in the above quote Mr. Brooks riffs on Ayn Rand’s Producers vs Drones, in another key. Competition is the engine of everything in the world system, as conceived by Brooks. Whither The Republic and its institutional expressions?
Mr. Brooks offer an unqualified endorsement of Reinhart and Rogoff’s book, This Time Is Different.
The two things to read are Reinhart and Rogoff’s book, This Time Is Different. It came out in 2010—the single best book ever on financial cycles and financial crisis.
Here from The Economist of April 20, 2013:
Headline: The 90% question
Sub-headline: A seminal analysis of the relationship between debt and growth comes under attack
GOVERNMENT indebtedness matters. Default and financial panic are the stuff of finance-minister nightmares. Government borrowing can crowd out private investment, dragging growth down. Yet economists have struggled to specify when a country needs to worry about its debt load. In a 2010 paper Carmen Reinhart, now a professor at Harvard Kennedy School, and Kenneth Rogoff, an economist at Harvard University, seemed to provide an answer. They argued that GDP growth slows to a snail’s pace once government-debt levels exceed 90% of GDP.
The 90% figure quickly became ammunition in political arguments over austerity. Paul Ryan, a Republican congressman, cited their “conclusive empirical evidence” in a budget plan calling for swingeing cuts to public spending. In a February letter to European Union finance ministers Olli Rehn, the vice-president of the European Commission, touted the “widely acknowledged” 90% limit as a reason to press on with European fiscal cuts. Such rhetoric has helped to make the Reinhart-Rogoff number the subject of bitter dispute. And this week a new piece of research poured fuel on the fire by calling the 90% finding into question.
The sharpness of this turning-point excited lots of attention. In economic jargon the debt-growth relationship was not “linear”, with growth rates gliding steadily downward as borrowing rises. Instead, debt levels look benign until a critical point is reached, and then they don’t. The authors reckoned that beyond the 90% threshold, market perceptions of risk can jump. That could translate into soaring interest rates or financial-market stress, forcing hard choices: austerity, inflation or default.
Firm conclusions on thresholds are elusive. A 2010 IMF paper turns up “some evidence” of a 90% threshold; a 2011 study by the Bank for International Settlements identifies a threshold of 85%. But another IMF analysis published in 2012 found that “there is no particular threshold that consistently precedes sub-par growth performance.” The costs of even moderately slower growth can quickly add up, however: Ms Reinhart and Mr Rogoff warn that the average debt overhang lasts more than 20 years.
The latest dust-up does nothing to answer the question of causation. Slower GDP growth could be the cause of a rising debt load rather than the result. Ms Reinhart and Mr Rogoff acknowledge in their academic work that this conundrum “has not been fully resolved”, but have sometimes been less careful in media articles. This is perhaps their biggest mistake. The relationship between debt and growth is a politically charged issue. It is in these areas that economists must keep the most rigorous standards.
Mr. Brooks assumes that the readership of his interview, don’t have the intelligence, nor the resourcefulness, to do the most basic kind of research for themselves, on his enthusiasm for the Reinhart/Rogoff stumbling Political Economy, and its wobbly statistical matrix.
On to American politics: Brooks pronounces on Populist Bernie Sander:
Bernie Sanders is a populist. Bernie Sanders’ populism is all about scapegoating. It’s rich people, it’s bankers, it’s Republicans—it’s all these people who got your stuff. That’s the kind of populism that we frequently see as opposed to a kind of ethical populism, which basically says we have good values, let’s go share. Let’s make sure that our values are ascendant to save our country. Right?
Mr. Brooks accuses Mr. Sanders of ‘scapegoating’, when in fact he simply focused his campaign in the rhetoric of The New Deal, as expressed in the Occupy Wall Street slogan, that has dominated the whole of the economic debate since Zuccotti Park, of the disparity between the 99% and the 1%.
On Trump: Its the usual denial of responsibility invoked by Brooks, and whole of the American Political Class, for the rise and victory of Trump: the failed generation long economic/political experiment in Neo-Liberalism, and its collapse. And the failure to appear of that cornerstone of the Free Market Dogma, The Self-Correcting Market. The disparity between the 1% and the 99% evokes the dismal economic/political present with telling brevity.
At this point I’ve run out of patience with Mr. Brooks’ self-serving, yet inept propagandizing chatter. Mr. Brooks’ twitter account has an irresistible candid photo and self-description.
Final thought: the preppy, clean cut Paul Ryan looks like the perfect replacement for Mr. Brooks at AEI. A blood thirsty Social Darwinist, that looks like the boy next door, from Central Casting.