I often disagree with David Brooks. But I read his columns in The New York Times because I find them interesting and occasionally intriguing. On Friday, he predicted that the Republican attempt to "reform" Obamacare would fail. But then he went on to suggest that its failure marked the dawn of a new era in American politics. It is an era, he writes, that has been presaged by three crises:
First, the crisis of opportunity. People with fewer skills were seeing their wages stagnate, the labor markets evaporate. Second, the crisis of solidarity. The social fabric, especially for those without a college degree, was disintegrating — marriage rates plummeting, opiate abuse rates rising. Third, the crisis of authority. Distrust in major institutions crossed some sort of threshold. People had so lost trust in government, the media, the leadership class in general, that they were willing to abandon truth and decorum and embrace authoritarian thuggery to blow it all up.
For Brooks, the Republican attempt to destroy Obamacare is a symptom, not a cause:
If President Obama had made these crises the center of his administration, instead of the A.C.A., Democrats wouldn’t have lost Congress and the White House. If the Tea Party had understood the first two of these crises, there would have been no opening for Donald Trump.Trump came along and exploited these crises. But if his administration’s health care approach teaches us anything, it is that he has no positive agenda for addressing them. He can tap into working class anxiety negatively, by harnessing hostility toward immigrants, foreigners and the poor. But he can’t come up with a positive agenda to make working class life more secure.
For the last four decades we have operated on a thesis popularized by the Austrian professors and their acolyte, Milton Friedman. They believed that a strong market is preferable to a strong state. But Brooks suggests we need both:
The core of the new era is this: If you want to preserve the market, you have to have a strong state that enables people to thrive in it. If you are pro-market, you have to be pro-state. You can come up with innovative ways to deliver state services, like affordable health care, but you can’t just leave people on their own. The social fabric, the safety net and the human capital sources just aren’t strong enough.
Can we have both? I have not thought through Brooks' thesis. That will take time. But I'd be interested to know what readers think of it.
Over to you.