Sunday, April 29, 2012

David Brooks of the New York Times – How Can One Man be So Ignorant?

Is Gross Stupidity Now a Requirement for a Conservative Columnist in the Times?

The New York Times has tried for decades to get a thoughtful and intelligent Conservative commentator for its opinion pages.  The closest it ever came was the late William Safire, who tried to mix humor with opinion and who served as a conduit for Conservative Israeli politicians to get their views into the Times.  Currently theTimes has David Brooks and Ross Douthat as their latest attempts, and one can only render judgment that both are colossal failures.

Here is Mr. Brooks discussing economics and past policy like the most recent Stimulus package and the New Deal, apparently something he knows nothing about.

We went ahead and spent the roughly $800 billion. What have we learned?
For certain, nothing. The economists who supported the stimulus now argue the economy would have been worse off without it. Those who opposed it argue that the results have been meager. It’s hard to think of anybody whose mind has been changed by what happened.

This is not entirely surprising. Nearly 80 years later, it’s hard to know if the New Deal did much to end the Great Depression.

Really!! the CBO has long ago passed judgment on the Stimulus and it like every other sane and rational economist has documented how successful the policy was in stopping the downward trend in growth and job losses.  As for the New Deal, does anybody other than rock-ribbed Conservatives who refuse to recognize any history and economics that does not fit their pre-conceived ideas really think that the New Deal was not instrumental in helping to end the Depression?  What is wrong with this man?

Mr. Brooks laments the fact that government doesn’t conduct controlled tests, like pharmaceutical companies do with drugs. 

Pharmaceutical companies conduct thousands more. But government? Hardly any. Government agencies conduct only a smattering of controlled experiments to test policies in the justice system, education, welfare and so on.

And his conclusion is that government does not do so because

the general lesson of randomized experiments is that the vast majority of new proposals do not work, and those that do work only do so to a limited extent and only under certain circumstances. This is true in business and government. Politicians are not inclined to set up rigorous testing methods showing that their favorite ideas don’t work.

Apparently Mr. Brooks has never heard to the thousands of pilot programs and projects that have taken place at all levels of government, many funded by the Federal government that have occurred just over the past several years.  In fact even a person who is not smart enough and lucky enough to write in the New York Times knows that substantial testing of social programs takes place before they are implemented on a large scale.  Medicare and Medicaid alone are replete with pilot studies.

But such knowledge would interfere with Mr. Brooks position, and he goes on to say this.

The first step to wisdom is admitting how little we know and constructing a trial-and-error process on the basis of our own ignorance. Inject controlled experiments throughout government. Feel your way forward. Fail less badly every day.

To which we would all reply that he is correct in the sense about that first step of wisdom, but that it is a step that Mr. Brooks himself not only has not taken, does not only seems capable of taking but a step that Mr. Brooks doesn’t even know he needs to take. 

So in order to be helpful we encourage Mr. Brooks to step up to the plate and admit how little he knows.  Yes for him that journey to wisdom is a very long road, but at least he could say he has taken the first step.

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