Brooks and Krugman

Bobo has written what one commenter called “one of the most bizarre columns to ever emerge from David Brooks’ quill.”  In “The Home Buying Decision” he babbles that choosing where you rest your head is a story of falling in love and knowing yourself.  “Socrates” from Verona, NJ will have something to say.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Age of Face Policy,” says hyping the trivial obscures reality.  Here’s Bobo:

I’ve been thinking about the big decisions in life: How do people choose careers, colleges, spouses and towns. Of those decisions, buying a home ranks with the most difficult.

It is difficult emotionally. Like a lot of the biggest decisions, it is more emotional than coldly rational. People generally don’t select a house; they fall in love with it.

Part of that falling-in-love process is aesthetic: the sense you get within 10 seconds of walking into a place that it just feels happy and right. Part is aspirational: When people fall in love with a house, they aren’t really falling in love with the walls and the roof; they are falling in love with a beautiful vision of their future lives.

That process of falling in love is confusing and mysterious. When you’re buying a house, you’re making a stressful major financial decision based on a set of emotions you can’t control, don’t fully understand and can’t pin down in any concrete way.

Cupid’s housing arrow has a tendency to strike you unawares. You walk into a place and just start behaving differently. You find yourself talking about where you’re going to put your furniture; you feel defensive when the Realtor mentions some of the place’s flaws; you feel the urge to brag about the house to your friends; you feel comfortable walking into the bedrooms and bathrooms, even on the first tour; you feel bereft at the thought of not having it. You’re just buying an object, but your heart is suddenly on the line.

Choosing a house is also difficult psychologically. The whole process forces you to separate what you think you want from what you really want. Realtors have a phrase, “Buyers lie,” because at the start of the process so many people don’t know what they desire.

You may have dreams of being the sort of person who has a fantastically eclectic house, filled with beautiful and exotic objects and where you can host squads of people for big dinners and parties; and that you can have a house that is a crossroads for diverse populations.

But when you actually survey the homes you are drawn to, you realize that you in fact love your privacy; that you don’t care enough about interior design to spend years searching for the fascinating objets; that in real life the thought of neighbors constantly coming over fills you with exhaustion; that a sense of quiet, tranquillity and privacy is more important to you than the frenetic chaos that comes with running Grand Central Station.

House hunting is cognitively challenging. At some point the inspections, the appraisal and the price negotiation impose cold rigor on this hot process. You don’t know what the seller (that jerk!) is thinking, or how exactly you are getting shafted in the process (though you are!). At some point the head has to check and set boundaries on the heart, employing certain mental tricks to self-distance. For example:

How do you make the major decisions about offers and conditions? Pretend you are advising a friend, not yourself.

How do you know you’ve fairly sampled the market and haven’t missed a better house somewhere out there? At the start, tell yourself you’re going to see 50 homes total. Visit 18 without making an offer on any of them. Then make an offer on the next house that’s better than the first 18.

How do you force yourself to remember in the middle of a negotiation that you’ve got to be willing to walk away? Remind yourself that this is not a narrow-framed binary buy-or-not-buy choice. There are many other housing options out there on the market.

Finally, house hunting is morally difficult. This is where Donald Trump comes in. We’ve become a ferociously fragmented country. People move close to people just like themselves. Every town becomes a cultural ghetto while Americans become strangers to one another and the civic fabric lies in ruins. People feel more comfortable in their insular neighborhoods, but self-segregation is damaging to one’s own open-mindedness and to the country at large. In 2017 it’s probably necessary to put a moral onus on realty decisions, to be seriously bothered by the temptation to talk about diversity but move to homogeneity.

The process of house hunting focuses your attention on the wrong things. It focuses your mind on the features of the house rather than on the features of your life. Think of all the people who fall for some expansive far-off home, without counting the cost of a long commute. They’ve got a happy home but a miserable existence.

It focuses on the features of the house, not on the social relationships that will happen in them, which is all you’ll remember decades hence. Choosing this or that house has only a moderate effect on joyfulness. The neighborhood you choose, and the social fabric you enter, is more important than the structure you adore.

Let us all remember that Bobo rattles around in a $4 million house with “vast spaces for entertaining…”  Here’s what “Socrates” had to say:

“David Brooks has been thinking about the big material decisions in his privileged life while the country he resides in and the poltical party he has cheerleaded for prepares to shred basic health insurance for tens of millions of his countrymen.

Do I want I want to live in the Alt-White House or my golden tower of greed, says the world’s most famous grifter promising to return America’s healthcare-deprived masses backward to the glory of ‘free-market’ health insurance that produced the world’s most systematic economic violence and price-extortion of 320 million terrorized Americans.

Do I want golden 0.1% toilets…or healthcare dignity for my fellow Americans ?

It’s an age-old American puzzle.

Isn’t Greed Over People morally justifiable if you can just pretend that America’s glaring failures in basic humancy, livable wages, basic health care, voting rights, and representative government are nonexistent ?

Isn’t one’s own adorable ego preferable to the drudgery of having to think about the society we are members of ?

Should I have walk-in closets….and shouldn’t we force transgender people back into closets ?

Should I get a pool….and drown government and the public safety in it ?

Should I spend my new 0.1% $1 million tax cut on a new yacht or a new playground in Tuscany while we cut the food stamps program and Christmas-carol down a right-wing insane asylum ?

These are difficult questions to answer, Lord Brooks.

Let Greed Over People always be your guiding light.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Thursday, at a rough estimate, 75,000 Americans were laid off or fired by their employers. Some of those workers will find good new jobs, but many will end up earning less, and some will remain unemployed for months or years.

If that sounds terrible to you, and you’re asking what economic catastrophe just happened, the answer is, none. In fact, I’m just assuming that Thursday was a normal day in the job market.

The U.S. economy is, after all, huge, employing 145 million people. It’s also ever-changing: Industries and companies rise and fall, and there are always losers as well as winners. The result is constant “churn,” with many jobs disappearing even as still more new jobs are created. In an average month, there are 1.5 million “involuntary” job separations (as opposed to voluntary quits), or 75,000 per working day. Hence my number.

But why am I telling you this? To highlight the difference between real economic policy and the fake policy that has lately been taking up far too much attention in the news media.

Real policy, in a nation as big and rich as America, involves large sums of money and affects broad swathes of the economy. Repealing the Affordable Care Act, which would snatch away hundreds of billions in insurance subsidies to low- and middle-income families and cause around 30 million people to lose coverage, would certainly qualify.

Consider, by contrast, the story that dominated several news cycles a few weeks ago: Donald Trump’s intervention to stop Carrier from moving jobs to Mexico. Some reports say that 800 U.S. jobs were saved; others suggest that the company will simply replace workers with machines. But even accepting the most positive spin, for every worker whose job was saved in that deal, around a hundred others lost their jobs the same day.

In other words, it may have sounded as if Mr. Trump was doing something substantive by intervening with Carrier, but he wasn’t. This was fake policy — a show intended to impress the rubes, not to achieve real results.

The same goes for the hyping of Ford’s decision to add 700 jobs in Michigan — or for that matter, Mr. Trump’s fact-challenged denunciation of General Motors for manufacturing the Chevy Cruze in Mexico (that factory mainly serves foreign markets, not the U.S.).

Did the incoming administration have anything to do with Ford’s decision? Can political pressure change G.M.’s strategy? It hardly matters: Case-by-case intervention from the top is never going to have a significant impact on a $19 trillion economy.

So why are such stories occupying so much of the media’s attention?

The incoming administration’s incentive to engage in fake policy is obvious: It’s the natural counterpart to fake populism. Mr. Trump won overwhelming support from white working-class voters, who believed that he was on their side. Yet his real policy agenda, aside from the looming trade war, is standard-issue modern Republicanism: huge tax cuts for billionaires and savage cuts to public programs, including those essential to many Trump voters.

So what can Mr. Trump do to keep the scam going? The answer is, showy but trivial interventions that can be spun as saving a few jobs here or there. Substantively, this will never amount to more than a rounding error in a giant nation. But it may well work as a P.R. strategy, at least for a while.

Bear in mind that corporations have every incentive to go along with the spin. Suppose that you’re a C.E.O. who wants to curry favor with the new administration. One thing you can do, of course, is steer business to Trump hotels and other businesses. But another thing you can do is help generate Trump-friendly headlines.

Keeping a few hundred jobs in America for a couple of years is a pretty cheap form of campaign contribution; pretending that the administration persuaded you to add some jobs you actually would have added anyway is even cheaper.

Still, none of this would work without the complicity of the news media. And I’m not talking about “fake news,” as big a problem as that is becoming; I’m talking about respectable, mainstream news coverage.

Sorry, folks, but headlines that repeat Trump claims about jobs saved, without conveying the essential fakeness of those claims, are a betrayal of journalism. This is true even if, as often happens, the articles eventually, quite a few paragraphs in, get around to debunking the hype: many if not most readers will take the headline as validation of the claim.

And it’s even worse if headlines inspired by fake policy crowd out coverage of real policy.

It is, I suppose, possible that fake policy will eventually produce a media backlash — that news organizations will begin treating stunts like the Carrier episode with the ridicule they deserve. But nothing we’ve seen so far inspires optimism.

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