Friday, August 27, 2010

Brooks v Krugman Round Eleventyeleven

Shorter version of this post: It's easy to say anything when you know nothing or David Brooks is often or usually in error but never in doubt.

In his column tomorrow David Brooks, who has a BA from U Chicago in sociology and is just plain silly, argues that Germany is doing better than the US in terms of its recovery from the recent unpleasantness because of something or another.  Paul Krugman, who is an actual economist, shows that the facts, being stubborn things, tell a different story:
Who is right?  My money's on Krugman and not just because he is a real economist, I don't find economists to be particularly  compelling when it comes to explaining the world as it really is.

Nope my money's on Krugman because of this aspect of Brooks' argument:
Nations rise and fall on the intertwined strength of their cultures and governing institutions.
Can it possibly be the case that a professional blatherer has the information and knowledge necessary to pronounce on why nations rise and fall?  I mean really. Much of the work done on the development of the nation-state, which I assume is what Brooks means when he writes nations, suggests that a nation-state's rise has to do with the ability of an elite dedicated to the creation of a nation-state to convince a bunch of folks that they are a nation and that they deserve a state.[1]

Keeping in mind that nation-states are more or less a19th century invention,[2] the examples we have of their fall have little to do with the strength of their culture or political institutions but rather has to do with their ability to withstand other nation-states' military might, ability to manipulate of other nation-states diplomatically, or luck in avoiding or having the right side win a civil war.  Consider Poland's rich and miserable history.  Or the various states created in Paris in 1918-1923.  Or what happened in Russia in 1918-1921 or eastern Europe in 1945-1992 or Israel 1917-present or, for that matter, Germany in 1871-1918, 1918-1933, 1933-1945, 1945-1990, 1990-Present or, well, pick your own nation-state and read some its history.  It's might over culture and institutions every time except when it isn't.[3] 

In other words, why does this man have a column in America's Greatest Newspaper, when his expertise is in making stuff up and pretending that it's both truthful and serious.

[1] For example see Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities.
[2] If we accept, as I think we must, that the 19th century starts at 1789 and ends at 1914.
[3] If you're interested Spain is a good one enduring as it did reactionary Europe's destruction of its nascent liberalism in the early 19th century followed by a civil war in the late 19th century and another war in the 20th that involved a group of revolutionary reactionaries and European and, this time American, indifference.  Now that I think about I wonder what America's reaction was to the reactionary interventions in Spain and Italy in the 19th century was.

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