Friday, December 02, 2011


Or maybe it's "Pat Buchanan without the obvious goosestepping." Yeah, I know Brooks is Jewish, so that's offensive. But really: in the immortal words of Molly Ivins, wouldn't this (which is partly about Germany) have sounded better in the original German?

The Spirit of Enterprise

Why are nations like Germany and the U.S. rich? It's not primarily because they possess natural resources -- many nations have those. It's primarily because of habits, values and social capital.

It's because many people in these countries, as Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute has noted, believe in a simple moral formula: effort should lead to reward as often as possible.

People who work hard and play by the rules should have a fair shot at prosperity. Money should go to people on the basis of merit and enterprise. Self-control should be rewarded while laziness and self-indulgence should not....

Cut to Jon Stewart reading that last sentence in a Colonel Klink accent.

This is beyond saying, as Bill Clinton used to, that people who work hard and play by the rules shouldn't get the shaft. This is defining us as specially moral and other people as less moral and less virtuous because, presumably, they think rewards should be apportioned at random, or through some other appalling, decadent formula. And this moral superiority of Americans and Germans is based on nationality.

Brooks seems to know how this is coming off, because he adds:

This ethos is not an immutable genetic property....

Well, thanks for clarifying that, David. (Forgive me if I get squeamish when someone uses the words "Germany" and "immutable genetic property" in the same breath.)

This is creepy, and it's also hypocritical -- when it suits the arguments of Brooks and others like him, America isn't a country with moral virtue, it's a decadent cesspool full of flabby greedheads maxing out their credit cards and taking subprime loans. And the Germans are soft six-week-vacation-takers cosseted by a cradle-to-grave welfare state. But at this moment it suits Brooks to say that Angela Merkel and the people of her country are muscular strivers straight off a propaganda painting, which allows him to contrast them with the decadent lefties.

And, yeah, with banksters and American lobbyists as well. He does throw them in there, as examples of people who undermined this country's yeoman virtues. He gets a brief golf clap for that. But where you and I believe that what the banksters did was an economic crime against humanity on a global scale, and that fat-cat lobbyists are destroying American democracy, Brooks suggests that their actions are roughly as bad (that is, as "virtue"-undermining) as complaining about class inequality, or, in America, objecting to severe Medicare and Social Security cuts. You and Lloyd Blankfein: equally to blame.

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