David Brooks and the mendacity of comfort
Republicans are waking up to the political and policy malpractice of their vote for the Ryan plan to kill Medicare (hello, New York 26th Congressional District!). Facing the reality that Americans don’t want a voucher substituted for comprehensive healthcare for the old, desperate pouting is taking hold.
I can’t think of another way to describe David Brooks’ column in today’s New York Times, which tries to link the country’s jobs crisis to our lack of will to shift government spending from “programs that provide comfort and toward programs that spark reinvigoration.” Writes Brooks:
But, of course, that’s not what is happening. Discretionary spending, which might be used to instigate dynamism, is declining. Healthcare spending, which mostly provides comfort to those beyond working years, is expanding. Attempts to take money from healthcare to open it up for other uses are being crushed.
Healthcare spending, he argues, is an indirect cause of a decline of the nation’s “vital and industrious” quality, as seen in the fact that one in five men age 25-54 are out of work — more than any other G7 nation. The solution? Divert federal healthcare spending to:
. . .a broad menu of policies attacking the problem all at once: expanding community colleges and online learning; changing the corporate tax code and labor market rules to stimulate investment; adopting German-style labor market practices like apprenticeship programs, wage subsidies and programs that extend benefits to the unemployed for six months as they start small businesses.
I couldn’t agree more that we need to stimulate jobs growth, although my worry extends to unemployed women and older workers (remember that we’re all going to be working longer as we boost the eligibility age for Social Security to 70 and 67 for Medicare, right?). But it’s not a choice between providing healthcare to seniors or creating jobs. That’s a false either-or argument, trotted out often by opponents of the social safety net, e.g., money spent on Medicare or Social Security diverts resources from the young and our future.
All other job-growth policies are off the table. Focus short-term policy on stimulating demand instead of deficit reduction? Continue aid to states to forestall massive layoffs of teachers, cops and firefighters? Just worn-out ideas people “on the left are still fantasizing about,” Brooks says. Plan for long-term deficit reduction by ending the Bush tax cuts, cutting military spending and adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act? Nowhere in sight.
The Brooks jobs ideas aren’t bad, although those “German-style labor practices” sound a bit like euro-socialism. I’m all for retraining programs at community colleges, although many already are stuffed to the gills with the unemployed and struggling with state and federal budget cuts. I’m not sure what Brooks means by “changing the corporate tax code and labor market rules to stimulate investment,” although policies that stem the flood of outsourcing and encourage corporations to create jobs at home would be welcome.
Now, how about that New York 26th race?