In the least shocking development of the day, David Brooks jumps at the chance to condescendingly tut-tut Obama for hinting that his belief in the magical powers of "free trade" is anything less than absolute.

Needless to say, Brooks' analysis is embarrassingly simple-minded: he posits that the economic changes in America over the past 30 years are due to forces that are conveniently beyond our control, namely, "technological change" (that old blameless chestnut). It's convenient because it allows Brooks to dodge the evidence that the economic fortunes of Americans are fully within our control, but that Republicans really suck at improving Americans' economic fortunes!

Brooks also claims that "[f]or the first time in the nation’s history, workers retiring from the labor force are better educated than the ones coming in." Now, Brooks basically stole this line from Clive Crook, who in describing a new Peterson Institute study, wrote, "For the first time in decades, and probably ever, workers retiring from the US labor force will be better-educated on average ... than their much younger counterparts." But the problem is, that's not entirely true (and Crook offers a qualifier in his summary), as this chart from the Peterson Institute study shows:

As you can see, 31.8% of 30-34 year olds have a bachelor's degree or better, compared to only 27% of 60-64 year olds. Further, 28.4% of 25-29 year olds have a bachelor's degree or better, and the educational attainment of that age group is sure to improve as they get more time to actually finish their master's degrees. The only way you can say that the workers retiring are "more educated" than the workers entering the labor force is if you measure only master's degrees: 12% of 60-64 year olds have a master's degree or better, compared to only 9.8% of 30-34 year olds. So using the normal definition of an "educated worker" -- that is, having at least a bachelor's degree -- then the workers coming into the labor force are actually more educated than retiring workers. That's why you actually read the studies before parroting summaries of their findings, David. Try it sometime. It may make you sound -- gasp! -- less retarded.

Finally, at the end of the column, Brooks makes this rather odd assertion:

"American voters aren’t so stupid as to think their problems are caused by foreigners []."
No, David. As surveys have consistently shown, Americans do think their problems are created by foreigners. Fully 47% of Americans think that a "major reason" the economy is not doing better is that "there are too many immigrants." Additionally, 54% of Americans think that trade agreements have "cost the U.S. jobs." They're not right about foreigners hurting our economy, but they definitely believe that a lot of their problems are caused by foreigners.

(As an aside, apart from the tangible policy differences between Republicans and Democrats, are the "forces transforming the American economy" really as hard to control as Brooks implies? Broadly, there are three factors that have driven our economic growth over the past 30 years: (1) human capital; (2) physical capital; and (3) technology. The pace and penetration of "technological change" is quite clearly a function of human capital: an uneducated society won't make many technological breakthroughs. Properly viewing technological change as a function of human capital, it becomes apparent that technological change is not some external force over which we can exercise no control. Human capital is absolutely something we can control. In fact, we can even affect the number of Americans who go to college through -- horror of horrors -- government policy!)


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