Again, David Brooks

From the NYTimes:

The United States is becoming a broken society. The public has contempt for the political class. Public debt is piling up at an astonishing and unrelenting pace. Middle-class wages have lagged. Unemployment will remain high. It will take years to fully recover from the financial crisis.

This confluence of crises has produced a surge in vehement libertarianism. People are disgusted with Washington. The Tea Party movement rallies against big government, big business and the ruling class in general. Even beyond their ranks, there is a corrosive cynicism about public action.

But there is another way to respond to these problems that is more communitarian and less libertarian. This alternative has been explored most fully by the British writer Phillip Blond.

Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.

Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.

The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they perversely ended up creating greater centralization. They created an atomized, segmented society and then the state had to come in and attempt to repair the damage.

… Economically, Blond lays out three big areas of reform: remoralize the market, relocalize the economy and recapitalize the poor. This would mean passing zoning legislation to give small shopkeepers a shot against the retail giants, reducing barriers to entry for new businesses, revitalizing local banks, encouraging employee share ownership, setting up local capital funds so community associations could invest in local enterprises, rewarding savings, cutting regulations that socialize risk and privatize profit, and reducing the subsidies that flow from big government and big business.

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  • Brooks is right on target. Both left and right should take heed.

  • AHH

    While I don’t disagree with Brooks, some of this gives the impression that local is always good and upright as opposed to the big evil forces.
    But “local” can be just as rapacious — take his example of “local banks”. Many local banks have dreams of hitting it big, and often their owners are just as greedy as those on Wall Street. In my wife’s hometown there was a local bank that plunged into risky investments (and maybe fraud) with just as much gusto as those on Wall Street who have made headlines. When it collapsed, hundreds of local farmers were left in very bad financial positions.
    There may be value in incentivizing the local — but it might be more important to de-incentivize greed (easier said than done). Maybe that’s what he means by “remoralize the market” but I didn’t see any specific suggestions for that.

  • Blair D Bertrand

    I’d be interested in knowing what Blond writings Brooks draws from. Blond seems to be part of the Radical Orthodoxy group but writes on the intersection of faith and economics. Any ideas where to start?

  • Rick

    But many of those solutions would have to come from that “centralized” state. Giving up that much power would be difficult for it. Therefore, pressure would have to be mounted externally (public giving it a carrot/stick approach), and internally (voting new people into office).

  • mick

    Good stuff. I think Brooks is the most sound and balanced analyst editor on page and screen today – even when I don’t agree with him.

  • Micah

    Did Walmart really decimate family businesses?
    That’s not my experience. In my experience, Walmart mostly kicked the stuffing out of stores like Kroger and Marsh. The small stores have stayed afloat just fine.
    I see this consistent line about Walmart killing local businesses but I haven’t seen it. Mostly Walmart seems to kill mid-sized chains with a unionized workforce.

  • I lost a short comment. I’m having a hard time guessing what one letter is that we have to type in to send a comment and unlike last time this time I was wrong! ha.
    I have relatives in a town whose small family run business is having a hard time competing with a chain store in a nearby small city which can sell the same products at better prices.