David Brooks’s NYT column is essential reading because, by studying his words, one can discover what the ruling class thinks about everything. It is quite fascinating! For example, Brooks, like many of his peers, honestly believes that the only thing standing between an un/underemployed person and a job with health care benefits is a college degree. Of course, it has to be the right college degree from the right institution. No middle-class standard of living for you English majors! Like his colleague, Thomas Friedman, Brooks would prefer if all the unemployed people went to MIT and studied Engineering or some other Technology field. Do you know how to make those microchips that make the Apple computers work? Then you will be employed for life because you have a valuable skill!
Indeed, those MIT Engineers do really well, so obviously Brooks thinks this is a scalable model of upward mobility. It doesn’t matter to him that, if everyone got degrees in Engineering from MIT, those degrees would be worth about as much as a gently used waffle iron. (This would be the case for any widely-held degree, by the way). Yet, somehow, in Brooks’s mind, a college degree has an inherent and magic ability to produce a good job for the degree holder even in the face of devastating economic policies that force workers to out low-bid each other for whatever crap jobs the capitalists haven’t bothered to outsource yet.
Sociologists Grubb and Lazerson call this type of thinking the education gospel. I prefer to call it Bizarre-O World. It’s really an ingenious way of making individuals responsible for their economic conditions. The important thing is that elites now have to preach the education gospel while also, at the same time, mentioning (quickly, to get it over with) that maybe, just maybe, we have a teensy weensy inequality problem in this country. That is why elites need members of the intellectual class (like David Brooks) to make their arguments for them. It’s actually not that easy to make incoherence sound meaningful.
In a recent column entitled “The Wrong Inequality,” for example, Brooks wrote that “the zooming wealth of the top 1 percent is a problem, but it’s not nearly as big a problem as the tens of millions of Americans who have dropped out of high school or college.” This is a very interesting sentence, rhetorically speaking. See what Brooks did there? He acknowledged that inequality “is a problem” because to not acknowledge it would make it seem like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he can’t have that! Stories about the wealth grab by the top 1% have been on the front page for weeks.
Even though Brooks cannot completely ignore the facts, he must acknowledge them in a way that simultaneously dismisses them as irrelevant. This goal is what enables Brooks to argue, with a straight face, that if more people earned college degrees, there would be more broadly-shared prosperity and equality in the world. See, one can’t be allowed to read Brooks’s column and come away with the idea that the “zooming wealth of the top 1 percent” and students not completing college degrees is the same problem! Therefore, Brooks makes the stupendously absurd argument that people not graduating from college is somehow a greater crisis than people not being able to afford college in the first place.
I think all of David Brooks’s columns from now on should be given the title: “Pay no attention to that economic collapse created by global elites around the corner!” Every week, we can all gather round the New York Times Op-Ed page to listen to Father Brooks explain what we should really care about while our wages stagnate and all the houses on our block are put in foreclosure.
The moral of the story is that elites are on the defensive. That doesn’t mean we’re winning. It just means that hoi polloi anger has got the ruling class to a point where they must at least mention the facts before they dismiss them outright. Until they regroup and develop even more illogical arguments (and they will), they must rely on the old adage that has served them so well for so long: the difference between the well-off and the struggling is not a question of the 1% getting everything. Instead, it’s all just a simple matter of who has a college diploma (the right diploma) and who doesn’t. This argument is absolutely essential to the Neoliberal agenda, and the ruling class will keep repeating it over and over again because they have no other explanation for why poor kids in America can still die from a toothache.