Tuesday, February 12, 2013

This is no country for old women

Updated 2/19/2013

David Brooks writes:
Via Eliva Hellena.
The Europeans who settled North America escaped the lazy, improvident parents who were holding them back and crossed the Atlantic without ever looking back, like stones from a slingshot, in the belief that a single-minded focus on money-making would enable them one day to give their own children something cooler for Christmas than that same dumb-ass sweater. So did the pioneers who traveled the Oregon trail, and each generation of immigrants after that, except for the Asians and Hispanics, who insist on living ten to a bed so they can send remittances back to the Black Hole from which they have fled, as if a little money could make a difference to those haggard, toothless invalids in their opium dens and botánicas.

That's why they call America the Land of the Future, even though technically everywhere you go it's still the present, and time traveling is actually physically impossible; because every true American's mind used to be fully occupied with counting chickens from eggs that hadn't even been laid. We couldn't see the wilderness we were in for the tract houses and strip malls that would one day be there. And so the government invested heavily in things like railroads and canals.*

But nowadays this has all been turned upside down, and instead of starving our parents in order to put our kids in the sleepaway camps where they'll meet kids that will be able to give them jobs ten or fifteen years down the line, we're neglecting the kids to take care of the parents, putting them in luxurious nursing homes, making videos of them telling their stupid stories about the Depression, and generally keeping them alive until they're 120 or 130 years old.

The Federal government is the most obvious example. It's become nothing but a kind of vacuum cleaner to suck up value out of the economy and shower it on the elderly. This harms children in two ways. First, it takes money that could be used for investment in the future and essentially throws it away on this idiotic ancestor worship.** Second, it's the children that will end up paying for it.*** A report from the International Monetary Fund says that their taxes will have to go up 35%, even as entitlement spending will have to be cut by the same amount.****

Via webmd.com.
But it's not just the government, it's private enterprise as well. Banks have slowed down on business investment even more than on real estate, devoting their time instead to credit cards, for some reason.***** And student loans. Meanwhile, companies are pouring billions of dollars into their retirement funds to keep their diabetes-crippled retirees tooling around on their imported scooters and spending nothing (compared to Germany, Finland, and South Korea) on research and development.****** 
What happened to turn us around from that traditional throw-mama-from-the-train fascination with risk and adventure to our current terrorized selves? I'm guessing it was the Depression and World War II, in which we sacrificed so much that, like Scarlett O'Hara, we decided we'd never sacrifice anything again.******* There's less of a sense of obligation to the future, in a chain linking the dead (who don't need any money) to the unborn (who certainly will).

Nevertheless Republicans and Democrats just keep arguing about government and business, who started it, and who needs a time out, and President Obama's address tonight looks likely to be another salvo in the same tired battle. He's going to quote Sun Tzu, I understand ("Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across", whatever the hell that's supposed to mean), as if he were the one teaching Grand Strategy at Yale instead of me.

If he would just address himself to the future instead he could give a fantastic speech. He could agree to give a permit to the Keystone XL pipeline, which is a totally futury thing (we won't know if it will make Nebraska uninhabitable until the future). He could cut corporate taxes and pay for it with a progressive national sales tax, one of my most futuristic ideas ever, and he could make cuts in Social Security and Medicare, yielding money for the National Institutes of Health and charter schools and maybe charter universities. Maybe the NIH could come up with a drug to make those old people stop whining so much—for God's sake, Grandma, man up!
*As well as subsidizing industry and occasionally owning it themselves, picking winners and losers, and using tariff policy to reinforce the choices. They had this insane idea that government could somehow beat the market to the next big thing!

**Absolutely. If we could only cut the Social Security and Medicare budgets, Congressional Republicans would be jumping to put that money into infrastructure and schools.

*** Except that they won't, nor is there any good reason to do so. Although they will have to pay the interest, meaning it's a better idea to borrow now, while the rates are low, than later.

**** Oh, you precious little Brooks! No, what that report said (in April 2011) is that we should have raised taxes and cut entitlements by 35% then, or if you prefer you could leave entitlements alone and raise taxes by 88%. And you know you have to listen to the IMF, because they're the ones who advised Ireland, and Greece, and Spain, and UK. And Latvia. And Iceland—oh, wait, smarty pants little Iceland thought they knew better than the IMF and, uh, actually they were sort of right.

*****Wouldn't have anything to do with deregulation, would it?

******Those figures are for growth between 1999 and 2006. For what it's worth, in 2011 the US spent a higher proportion of GDP on research and development than any industrialized country except Japan, South Korea, Israel, Sweden, and Finland; more than Germany, Taiwan, Austria, Switzerland, or Singapore, to say nothing of total laggards like China, France, and UK.

Via AgeNorthernIreland.
*******Yes, undoubtedly. How else do you explain why after the war we didn't build the Interstate highway system, win the race to the moon, create the state university systems of California, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York, etc. (of course only losers go there), invent the Internet, or decode the human genome. The failure to invest certainly had nothing to do with the antitax movement and its triumphs from around 1978!


Tom Levenson has a wonderful post on this column. While I still really like my own post here, his covers many extremely important points that I didn't, or didn't even notice. How can there be so much wrong with one little essay? The moral is:
Of the faking of Brooks there is no end.

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