No regular reader of the NYT expects great insights from David Brooks, but the sort of name-calling in today's column is the sort of thing one expects from a grade schooler. It turns out that if you don't agree with Brooks' view of the world you are a "downswinger," you have gone from an "optimistic, progress-embracing view toward a pessimistic, system-doubting view."

Well hey, who wants to be a downswinging pessimist, as opposed to someone who embraces progress? How about we instead divide the world between those who live in reality and work for a living and those who earn a good salary lying in NYT columns.

David Brooks begins his piece by telling us these are the best of times, especially for those of us who live in the United States. Here's his second paragraph:

"In 1980 the U.S. had a slight edge in G.D.P. per capita over Germany, Japan, France and the U.K. But the U.S. has grown much faster than the other major economies over the past 37 years, so that now it produces about $54,000 of output per capita compared with about $39,000 for Japan and France."

Hmmm, a slight edge in 1980? Here are the numbers according to the International Monetary Fund.


Per Capita GDP, Purchasing Power Parity (International Dollar)

 

1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

2016

 France

10,764 

14,640 

19,662 

23,161 

28,515 

33,571 

37,284 

41,480 

42,336 

 Germany 

11,274 

15,550 

20,726 

25,013 

29,840 

34,484 

40,851 

47,430 

48,449 

 Japan

8,736 

13,477 

19,624 

23,642 

26,850 

31,755 

35,157 

40,280 

41,220 

 UK

8,851 

12,782 

17,501 

21,095 

26,425 

33,246 

35,869 

41,483 

42,421 

 US

12,576 

18,232 

23,914 

28,763 

36,433 

44,218 

48,310 

56,437 

57,608 

Source: International Monetary Fund.

Contrary to what Brooks tells us, the United States has not pulled away in living standards from the countries on his list. While France's per capita GDP did fall from being just over 85 percent of U.S. GDP and Germany slipped from 90 percent to 84 percent, Japan's per capita GDP increased from 69 percent to 72 percent of U.S. GDP. The UK's rose from 70 percent to 74 percent.

But wait, this is only part of the story. In the United States, there has been little change in average annual hours of work since 1980. According to the OECD average hours of work fell by less than 2.0 percent since 1980, from 1,813 hours in 1980 to 1,783 hours a year in 2016. By contrast, average annual hours worked fell by almost 20 percent in France to 1,472 a year in 2016. In Germany, hours fell by more than 12 percent from their 1991 level (the first year available) to 1,363 in 2016. Average annual hours fell by more than 19 percent in Japan and almost 5 percent in the UK. 

The decline in average hours of work in these countries results in large part from mandated family leave, sick leave, and paid vacations, as well as shorter standard workweeks. These were all policies supported by the public in these countries. Brooks may think its better that people would work longer hours and have more money, but why should anyone care what Brooks thinks?

But wait, there's more. The United States has a considerably higher level of inequality than Brooks' list of competitors. As a result of the rise in inequality over the last four decades, most people have seen very little of the gains from growth in the last four decades.

Okay, so Brooks got his basic story about how well the U.S. is doing completely wrong, no one's perfect. But what about calling his political opponents "downswingers" and "pessimists?"

Is it pessimistic to think that we can replace patents and copyrights, relics of the medieval guild system, with a more modern system that doesn't redistribute so much income upward? Is it pessimistic to think that we can make the financial system more efficient with a modest financial tax and sharply reduce the number of people getting incredibly rich from financial engineering? Is it pessimistic to think we can keep the Fed from raising interest rates and needlessly keeping millions out of work and depressing the wages of tens of millions? Is it pessimistic to believe that we can have a more modern system of corporate governance that prevents CEOs and other top executives from ripping off their companies? (Yes, these are all topics in my book Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer [it's free].)

Obviously, Brooks doesn't like these ideas since he associates with the people who benefit from the upward redistribution of the last four decades. He apparently is unable to engage his opponents in serious debate, so we get the name-calling in this article. 

So, we know Brooks doesn't like his political opponents. Maybe one day he will be able to argue with them.