Sunday, September 18, 2005

The road to serfdom

I am offering a few remarks today on the last David Brooks column I will be able to read at a fair price, and very likely the last David Brooks column I will ever feel obliged or even tempted to read, given that the New York Times wants $50 a year to read their op-ed columnists, starting tomorrow. (I'll miss Krugman, but I wouldn't be surprised if he finds another venue, whether by being fired or by looking around one day at the company he is keeping, and deciding to move on.)

Brooks in his over-the-top effusiveness today sounds like like he is channeling a Pravda editorialist after Uncle Joe announced the Hitler-Stalin Pact. I mean, you'd think Brooks had been listening to the Gettysburg Address or the Sermon on the Mount. Now what Bush actually said, was that he proposed to open the floodgates of wealth to Halliburton and Bechtol in rebuilding New Orleans even as wages are cut and public schools are shut down. The rush of the heavyweight porkers to the public trough could be heard as a low, if metaphysical, rumble providing the true musical accompaniment to Bush's speech. For Brooks, that's the music of the spheres.
Bush proposed an Urban Homestead Act, which will draw enterprising people to the area, giving them an opportunity to own property so long as they're willing to work with private agencies to put up their own homes. He proposed individual job training accounts, so much of the rebuilding work can be done by former residents. Children who have left flooded areas will find themselves in a proto-school-choice program, with education dollars strapped to each individual child.

What does this mean? Well, substandard wages, and school vouchers. Brooks cannot fail to be cheered by the clear and obvious impossibility of a person working for the proposed sub-minimum wage pay scale to be able to buy one of the replacement housing units in the new and nicely gentrified New Orleans. So we will have the best of Brooks's possible worlds, a nice, southern white, Republican New Orleans. No wonder he was so ecstatic at Bush's speech.
This is an effort to transform the gulf region, which had become a disaster zone of urban liberalism. All around the South, cities are booming, but New Orleans never did. All around the country, crime was dropping, but in New Orleans it was rising. Immigrants were flowing across the land in search of opportunity, but as Joel Kotkin has observed, few were interested in New Orleans.

Translation: New Orleans was full of poor black people, criminals who voted democratic. This changes everything. Hurray!
Now the Bush administration is trying to change all that. That means trying to get around the corruption that made the city such a rotten place to do business. The White House is trying to do this by devising programs in which checks and benefits flow directly to recipients, not through local agencies.

The "direct recipients" of which Brooks speaks would be Halliburton and the friends of Mr. Allbaugh, who are, as we already see, busy on the ground.
His administration is going to fight a two-front war, against big government liberals and small government conservatives, but if he can devote himself to executing his policies, the Gulf Coast will be his T.V.A., the program that serves as a model for what can be done nationwide.

Translation: Irresponsible spending AND even lower taxes.

There is kind of an astonishing chutzpah here, even for Brooks. I guess it goes with the job, and is what it takes to imagine that heaping syrupy prose over a plan to "help" poor African Americans by paying them slave wages, and to house them in a trailerhouse shantytown while they do the heavy lifting, will hide the bitter truth. And after the reconstruction is done? Well, in tandem with the new bankruptcy laws which assure that, if they fall into bankruptcy by, say, by defaulting on the mortgages on their houses that have been bulldozed but that they still have to make payments on, or if they can't pay their medical bills if they fall off a scaffold, they will live the rest of their lives with their sub-minimum wage paycheck being garnished by the courts, in a state of perpetual indentured servitude. The old name for that condition is serfdom.

And it will be a roadmap for the future of not only America's poor, but of America's one-time middle class.

The deluge will come later.

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