Friday, January 10, 2014

Paul Krugman Versus David Brooks On The War Against Poverty

Today's New York Times contains two articles about how to deal with poverty.  Paul Krugman defends the liberal approach, and David Brooks defines the "emerging" conservatism of skeptical reform.

Conservatives, according to Krugman, have argued that government cannot reduce poverty because it is a "social disease".  They don't believe that government can fix the problem of broken families and immorality.  Therefore, government is part of the problem because it leads to a culture of dependence.  The fact that poverty in America has not been reduced by the use of government programs reinforces the conservative position.  Consequently, Krugman provides some evidence that public programs like food stamps and the earned income tax credit have actually reduced poverty when the value from these programs is added to wage income.  He also argues that the conservative position that the problem of poverty would go away, if the government discontinued public programs that increased dependence, is no longer a winning strategy.  The public is looking for solutions to the poverty problem.  He also argues that rising inequality is part of the poverty problem.  We can't fix the poverty problem as long as we continue to have wage stagnation.  Almost all of the gain in wages has gone to high wage earners.  The benefits of rising productivity have not been widely shared.

David Brooks seems to agree with Krugman about one of his major points.  He is critical of Republican politicians who argue that government cannot be a part of the solution to poverty.  He takes the position that a group of conservative policy wonks exist who are creating an emerging conservatism in which government is not the only solution to the poverty problem, but it can be part of the solution.  It is a conservatism of skeptical reform.  The skepticism is based upon the traditional conservative assumption that social problems are very complex and most solutions will not work.  It is better to rely upon a large number of decentralized approaches to poverty reduction than it is to look for centralized solutions.

Brooks is also an opponent of populism in most of its forms. This is consistent with traditional conservative philosophy which strongly supports the need for social hierarchy and reliance upon an educated elite.  He rejects liberal populism but he also has strong words against the populism that has captured politicians in his favorite political party.  They should be listening to the conservative elites that are defining the emerging conservatism.  Compromise is not selling out, the solution to complex social programs will require political solutions that both parties can support.  Furthermore, there is no need to argue against solutions proposed by populist factions on the right.  They have not offered any solutions.  The emerging conservative proposals will just fill in the vacuum that presently exists. 

It is pretty clear to David Brooks that a populist Republican Party cannot abandon the growing number of Americans, who are looking for solutions to our economic problems, to the populism that he fears on the right or on the left.  It is also clear to Paul Krugman that problem of poverty cannot be solved without programs to reduce wage stagnation and rising inequality.  Neither of them proposed any solutions to the changes that have been taking place in the labor market. 

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