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Amy Traub

No Job? Better Change Your Culture

The United States is heading for an extended period of high long-term unemployment. Luckily, David Brooks has the solutions: male workers need to get over their lack of enthusiasm for low-paid, no-benefits service sector jobs; social workers need to get out of the cities that apparently make them feel comfortable; and "social entrepreneurs" ought to get to work creating social networks for all those jobless young people, because the government ain't going to lift a finger. The subtext? If we address the social "dysfunction," the lack of jobs won't matter so much. Leave it to David Brooks to address economic devastation with exclusively cultural solutions.

In a bitterly funny takedown, on his blog Beat the Press, economist Dean Baker nominates Brooks for a "Nobel in blaming the victim":

"Of course Brooks is right. Working class men are ill-prepared to deal with the effects of incredible economic mismanagement that has made them its primary victims. It has been conscious policy of David Brooks and his peers to weaken welfare state supports, making income and well-being almost entirely dependent on employment. Now, because David Brooks' highly-educated peers are incompetent economic managers, millions of working class people (disproportionately men) are facing extended periods of unemployment. And, naturally Brooks sees their difficulty in dealing with this crisis as a failure of working class culture."

Here's another thought: what if we actually tried to create the jobs we need to avert the "stark cultural consequences" Brooks bemoans? Actually giving people an opportunity to support their families might allay "underclass-style dysfunction" in cities and rural working class communities alike.

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Posted at 2:46 PM, Feb 16, 2010 in David Brooks critique | Economy
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