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Thursday, August 30, 2012

David Brooks, "Party of Strivers": The End of the Party

At the age of 58, I often give thought to realizing my dream of returning to school to study film making, and my wife of more than 25 years inevitably encourages me to pursue this ambition, but then reality impinges upon this vision. There is a large mortgage which needs to be paid, and there are three children at the outset of their adult lives, who require assistance with their schooling. Then, too, there are deserving charities knocking on our door, and unexpected bills, medical or otherwise, which inopportunely arise. In short, my scholastic vision must be tempered by budgetary realities.

In his New York Times op-ed "Party of Strivers" (, David Brooks takes the Republicans to task for focusing at their convention on individual ambition as opposed to collective societal needs:

"If you believe, as I do, that American institutions are hitting a creaky middle age, then you have a lot of time for this argument. If you believe that there has been a hardening of the national arteries caused by a labyrinthine tax code, an unsustainable Medicare program and a suicidal addiction to deficits, then you appreciate this streamlining agenda, even if you don’t buy into the whole Ayn Rand-influenced gospel of wealth.

On the one hand, you see the Republicans taking the initiative, offering rejuvenating reform. On the other hand, you see an exhausted Democratic Party, which says: We don’t have an agenda, but we really don’t like theirs. Given these options, the choice is pretty clear.

But there is a flaw in the vision the Republicans offered in Tampa. It is contained in its rampant hyperindividualism. Speaker after speaker celebrated the solitary and heroic individual. There was almost no talk of community and compassionate conservatism."

Like Brooks, I don't buy into "Atlas Shrugged." I also agree with Brooks that government must provide individuals with avenues to strive, build and flourish, while at the same time providing a safety net for the poor, elderly and unemployed.

However, I disagree with Brooks when he claims that "American institutions are hitting a creaky middle age." Rather, I believe that several of these institutions, e.g., Medicare and Social Security, are showing signs of collapse.

Regarding social security funding, Yahoo! News reported earlier this month (

"The projected shortfall in 2033 is $623 billion, according to the trustees' latest report. It reaches $1 trillion in 2045 and nearly $7 trillion in 2086, the end of a 75-year period used by Social Security's number crunchers because it covers the retirement years of just about everyone working today.

Add up 75 years' worth of shortfalls and you get an astonishing figure: $134 trillion. Adjusted for inflation, that's $30.5 trillion in 2012 dollars, or eight times the size of this year's entire federal budget."

Individual ambition versus compassionate collectivism? There is a need for both, and I do not regard them as mutually exclusive. Meanwhile, however, Republicans and Democrats had best come up with concrete answers how to prevent the disintegration of the edifice housing both of these commendable goals, so as to enable further contemplation of their relative merits.

1 comment:

  1. Jeff, is there any special reason not to tax earnings above some 100 thousands (too lazy to check the exact amount now)? Only little people should pay taxes? Is the cap ordered by the Bible or Constitution? I doubt it. But it's the Republicans who oppose to fair taxing. Don't you think this would help?