Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Mister Brooks—He delusional

Dear Mister Nice Blog community: At my place I almost invariably do a response to every Tuesday and Friday David Brooks column in the Times, a full-on parody, an analysis, a source study, or a Shorter; Brooks is practically my raisin of être, if you know what I mean (it means "grape of wrath", I believe). They don't really belong here, and today's effort isn't an especially good one, but since none of the gang has posted anything today, here goes:

Mombasa skyline, via
Dog whistles are everywhere these days, and if you listen close enough you might hear one that's meant for you, as when David Brooks lets liberals know that he's not opposed to this week's White House Africa summit, though taking care to leave it to the end of the piece, as if he'd just happened to think of it in the course of writing his big Africa column of the year and didn't want to leave it out altogether, and then sealing it with a dis (because it's not really a Brooks column without a dash of gratuitous spite):
President Obama is holding a summit meeting of African leaders in Washington this week. But U.S. influence on the continent is now pathetically small compared with the Chinese and Europeans. The joke among the attendees is that China invests money; America holds receptions.
I can't find a source for that joke, and suspect he made it up.

I'm pretty sure Brooks's ideas on Africa were largely formed in August 2011, when he went with the family on a safari trip to Kenya and Tanzania, getting three columns out of it at the time, when he interviewed (8/19) post-paleoanthropological jewelry entrepreneur Philip Leakey; (8/23) rugged altruists Blair Miller, Rye Barcott, Stephen Letchford, and Susan and Leland Albright; and (8/30) the nameless staff. Yes, the names of those who had one had something in common.

He may, however, have made contact with the owner of a partially non–Anglo-Saxon name, CEO James Mwangi of Equity Bank, because when a September 2012 profile of Mwangi appeared in African Business Magazine (out of London), a publication it is hard to imagine Brooks picking up off the side table at the Young Fogeys' Club (or Young Fogies' Club, as Mr. Pierce prefers to spell it), he read it, clipped it, and slipped it into his Rainy Day Column Prompts file under "Africa", from which it emerged to form about half of the current column.

It's not a bad story, though obviously better in the original than the undertold Brooks redaction, and I think I prefer the slightly drier but still sparkly version in The Economist:
Equity bucked the trend of branch closures around the country. It waived property-ownership requirements and allowed anyone with a national identity number to open an account. It was flexible about forms of collateral, accepting marriage beds or personal belongings. Some customers repaid loans with cow’s milk. Where there were too few customers for it to build branches Equity sent mobile ones, armoured trucks with a satellite dish on top and a bank manager inside.
New standards of service created a huge and loyal customer base. Insiders recall a small farmer in his 80s travelling for days by bus over the country’s crumbling roads to thank Mr Mwangi personally in Nairobi. Sceptics who thought providing financial services to the poor would entail a load of non-performing loans were confounded: such loans were 1.3% of the whole book in 2011.
I just want you to imagine for a second what Brooks and his friends would say about a US bank giving out mortgages with that kind of abandon, especially to persons of African heritage. Oh wait, you don't have to imagine it.

Both articles, of course, are two years old; for an update focusing on the rivalry between plucky people-centered, microcredit-offering Equity Bank and its monster cost-cutting financial-services rival Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), we may be talking George Bailey vs. Mr. Potter, and Mr. Potter may be winning, see the Kenyan business news at Standard Media. In real life, as opposed to his dream Africa, Brooks would of course prefer the efficiency and decentralized character of KCB.

Brooks is interested mainly in making use of his two-year-old anecdote before African economies slip back out of the news, which should be in about 15 minutes, to show that he has his own knowledge base and bright take on the Dark Continent. He doesn't actually have anything to say, as you probably guessed; the Mwangi tale of an African who rises to become exceptionally rich and transform the nature of banking in his country without being in any way a bad person is meant to show somehow that China doesn't necessarily have to take over Africa, and something about the ideological battle over Africa's soul:
Over the past few months, we’ve seen the beginning of a global battle of regimes, an intellectual contest between centralized authoritarian capitalism and decentralized liberal democratic capitalism.
Apparently the centralized authoritarian kind is the Chinese kind, and maybe Hungarian—he's trying to contribute to the Jonah Goldberg Liberal Fascism project by suggesting that the vile Hungarian rightist Viktor Orbán is a leftist:
On July 26, for example, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary gave a morbidly fascinating speech in which he argued that liberal capitalism’s day is done. The 2008 financial crisis revealed that decentralized liberal democracy leads to inequality, oligarchy, corruption and moral decline. When individuals are given maximum freedom, the strong end up stepping on the weak.
I thought for a while it might be funny how he's pushing the concept of a New Cold War in Africa, or a Cool War (economic) at least, between our democracy and China's undemocracy, given the American record of fighting for African democracy starting with the CIA overthrow of the elected Lumumba government in Congo 1960, etc., etc., until the tradition began to break a little in the Clinton administration, a history of which Africans are very well aware even if Brooks is not. But it isn't funny, just stupid.

If you want to know, I'm totally OK with the Africa summit too, probably more than Brooks is. I just don't think it's any of Brooks's business. Say, what is his business, anyway?

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.


Victor said...

Bobo's got nothing to say - and never has.

But, he still churns out 2 columns a week in the most valuable Op-ed real estate in the world, making some pointless point or other.

He starts off with a conservative POV, pulls some liberal straw-man out of his ass, defeats him, and then basks in the glory of his own wisdom - and, his ability to gild his turd.

I haven't read him in years.
He's insipid and stupid.

I DO however, enjoy reading someone like you, Yas, taking him down.
Great post - LOL!

Tom Hilton said...

Excellent post.

And yes, I think raison d'etre does mean grapes of wrath. Also, Notre Dame means notorious dame. Who says learning French is hard?

gocart mozart said...

Dog whistles are everywhere these days and getting so loud that only the beltway media cant hear them.