David Brooks calls on Obama to tie social issues in with his economic push

Jeff Poor Media Reporter
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On Friday’s airing of PBS’s “NewsHour,” New York Times columnist David Brooks offered support for President Barack Obama’s “worthy” new economic PR blitz, but suggested government needs to take a greater interest in Americans’ personal lives as well as their wallets.

In his weekly appearance with Creators Syndicate columnist Mark Shields, Brooks commented that the president has taken his argument away from a “cyclical debate” about the economy to put focus on that it is a structural debate.

“I agree that what’s nice is they’re moving from the cyclical debate we have been having over for the past five or six years, which is stimulus versus austerity, to a structural debate,” Brooks said. “And he’s talking about the big issues, globalization, technological change, widening inequality, all that kind of stuff. And I’m glad we’re having that debate. I agree with Mark [Shields]. The prescriptions are — they’re not bad. They’re just normal. And so they’re infrastructure spending, raising the minimum wage, improving education. That’s all worthy. They’re incommensurate with the size of the problems. We have had decades where men are just dropping out of the labor force, widening inequality. These are gigantic problems. And where I wish he would go and what would be creative and I think take an interesting turn in the debate is to combine the economics and the social.”

However, with that newfound focus on structural issues, Brooks suggested Obama should consider social aspects in society that inhibit the economy.

“So say you’re a young woman, you’re working in a factory, you’re making $9 an hour, you want the job that will get you to $14 or $20 an hour,” he continued. “It turns out you actually need to go back to school and get some technical skills. But say you’re a single mom with a kid. You can’t do that. And so this is the way the social and the economic interact in real lives. And if you’re that kid, your chances of dropping out of the labor force without a dad in the home are much higher. So having a debate where we talk about some of the social problems, the decline in marriage, some of the economic problems and how they interact, that seems to me where the debate is among economists and the academy. It would be great to see Obama merge those two.”

Later, Brooks said there seemed to a lack of focus with Obama and compared it to the so-called Progressive Era, which had a distinct message.  And part of that distinct message, he said, should involve the social aspects of labor force.

“If you go back to — there are moments of big economic transitions,” Brooks said. “So the progressive era in the 19th century, beginning in the 20th was a similar moment of transition. And you had this concentration of power in certain trusts and corporations. It took the progressive movement really to come up with an intellectual solution to that, which turned into progressivism, a whole chain of legislation. We’re at similar moment with these big shifts in technology and globalization. I wouldn’t say there’s been a movement like the progressive movement which even has a solution, which has an adequate description.”

“And so it’s tough to ask a president and his staff to come up with that which economists and academics have not done,” Brooks said. “And part of the problem, as I tried to indicate earlier, it’s not simply an economic problem. It’s a social problem. It has to do with social structures and family structures. So, until those answers come up from the world of ideas, it’s really hard for a president to come up with them on his own. He’s too busy.”

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