Tuesday, March 11, 2014


You know David Brooks is tired of his job when he's devoting his latest column to a three-month-old Pew survey of Americans' attitudes on global engagement. Brooks actually does an okay job at first -- he's right to say that while Americans want the United States to stop being the world's policeman, they don't want to shut out the world:
For the first time in recorded history, a majority of Americans believe that their country has a declining influence on what's happening around the globe. A slight majority of Americans now say that their country is doing too much to help solve the world’s problems....

But ... America is not turning inward economically. More than three-quarters of Americans believe the U.S. should get more economically integrated with the world, according to Pew.

America is not turning inward culturally. Large majorities embrace the globalization of culture and the internationalization of colleges and workplaces.
But this is where Brooks's grip on the subject starts to slip. Americans support certain aspects of workplace globalization. More foreign companies setting up shop here? Sure. More foreigners coming to work here? Um, not so much. And American companies operating overseas? Not popular at all:

What do you think is going on? I think it's obvious: people want jobs, and if you're here providing those jobs, they don't care what nationality you are. But they associate U.S. firms setting up shop overseas with job flight -- in some cases inaccurately, though after the last few decades you can't blame them for making the association. And they're not sure whether immigrants to the U.S. (high-skilled or low-skilled) keep the economy humming or take our jobs, so they're ambivalent.

Brooks misses all this.

He gets that we don't have much faith that government institutions, including the military, can do us much good right now -- but he sees an alternative American optimism that makes him all buzzword-y and Tom Friedman-esque:
Americans are not even turning inward when it comes to activism. They have enormous confidence in personalized peer-to-peer efforts to promote democracy, human rights and development....

Over the ensuing decades, ... faith in big units has eroded -- in all spheres of life. Management hierarchies have been flattened. Today people are more likely to believe that history is driven by people gathering in the squares and not from the top down. The liberal order is not a single system organized and defended by American military strength; it's a spontaneous network of direct people-to-people contacts, flowing along the arteries of the Internet.
I'm looking at the Pew poll and I can't figure out where the hell he sees all that peer-to-peer grooviness in the results. Or maybe he's not saying it's reflected in the Pew results -- maybe he's just pulling it out of his own keister.

Except for the teabaggers, who ignore how thoroughly their movement is directed from above, I don't know any Americans who really believe that our history is now "driven by people gathering in the squares" -- maybe Moral Monday protesters in North Carolina or Stand Your Ground opponents in Florida hope that it is, but I think they know they're fighting an uphill battle. They know where power really lies.

I think Americans know that power resides with, well, the powerful, and that the powerful have failed the vast majority of us in this century. The economy collapsed and didn't recover except in the topmost stratum. The wars the powerful have fought recently have been a disaster.

And then there's business -- which at least hires some of us, and sells us stuff we want. So business gets one or two cheers, provisionally. I think that's what's going on in this poll, David.


Victor said...

"Brooks misses all this."
And that.
And that, over there.

He misses what he's paid to miss.

Why the NY Times continues to pay him, is anybody's guess...

Yastreblyansky said...

I think what's going on with the 3-month-old poll is that what he's actually doing, consciously or otherwise, is putting the new Pew poll, on Millennial political views, "under erasure" as the deconstructionists say; note how he calls his "the most recent Pew Research Center survey" (meaning presumably the most recent one on its subject, but that isn't what he says). He's writing about the old poll by way of denying that the new one, with its news of how liberal young people are, exists.

On the Friedmaniacal language in the middle, I believe Brooks thinks that stuff is bad: that vision of ideas percolating up from the public square sounds good to us because it sounds good to anybody who believes in democracy, but it fears Brooks with horror vacui: we don't have enough Leadership! Which will make us naive and unable to cast the evil out of Ukraine or Iran or wherever he wants to cast the evil out of this week.

And where he gets it is from thinking about that Millennials poll, and his not very observation-based views on how younger people behave, with their social media and disrespect. Note how he actually goes back and quotes some numbers from it it his next-to-last paragraph, without apparently realizing he's leaving the dance with a source he never danced with.

Yastreblyansky said...

I mean fills Brooks with horror vacui.