Follow by Email

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

David Brooks, "Men on the Threshold": "There but for the Grace of God, Go I"

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Men on the Threshold" (, David Brooks notes a steady decline in male labor force participation. Brooks writes:
"In 1954, 96 percent of American men between 25 and 54 years old worked. Today, 80 percent do. One-fifth of men in their prime working ages are out of the labor force.

. . . .

The definitive explanation for this catastrophe has yet to be written. Some of the problem clearly has to do with changes in family structure. Work by David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that men raised in fatherless homes, without as many immediate masculine role models, do worse in the labor force. Some of the problem probably has to do with a mismatch between boy culture and school culture, especially in the early years.

But, surely, there has been some ineffable shift in the definition of dignity. Many men were raised with a certain image of male dignity, which emphasized autonomy, reticence, ruggedness, invulnerability and the competitive virtues. Now, thanks to a communications economy, they find themselves in a world that values expressiveness, interpersonal ease, vulnerability and the cooperative virtues.

Surely, part of the situation is that many men simply do not want to put themselves in positions they find humiliating. A high school student doesn’t want to persist in a school where he feels looked down on. A guy in his 50s doesn’t want to find work in a place where he’ll be told what to do by savvy young things."

Is it truly because of fear of humiliation that older men are unable to find work?

Without computer skills today, you are illiterate. I am in my late 50s, and many years ago, when I was in high school, there were no computer courses. When in college, I remember taking organic chemistry tests using a . . . slide rule.

Change is coming ever faster to a workplace which is shrinking because properly programmed computers are making jobs obsolete. And if you're not among the best at communicating with those computers, you could have a problem on your hands.

Male dignity? Me? I want to be humiliated. When meeting for the first time with employees of a company, I want to be overwhelmed by the intellect of the youngsters in charge.

I recently participated in a two-hour meeting at a hi-tech company. Maybe I understood ten percent of what was being said, but I left the session immensely satisfied, knowing that this company was at the pinnacle of its field.

What can I still bring to the table? Simple: Human skills that enable a company to communicate its ideas to other people, e.g., potential investors, not just computers.

Am I also on my way to becoming a dinosaur? Quite possibly. And yet there are still moments of immense satisfaction (see:


  1. Oh people, I really don't have patience for this.
    Did I miss the word "outsourcing?"
    The most tragic aspect of the situation is that the wrong people ARE employed. Frankly, I am sick and tired of Brooks's and his colleagues babbling.
    It's irritating to think that they are paid for their garbage, destructive garbage, and are paid a lot.
    There is another aspect - the horrible future of a society of computer zombies. Already the neo-Nazi camps in Southern California and elsewhere are fully staffed with, frankly, illiterate geeks. They also dominate neo-Nazi websites. To get all excited about the fact that illiterate zombies have jobs and so much power is absurd. Deprived of broader knowledge and of any attachment to any code of ethics, but some comically absurd THEY create, they are easily manipulated and are dangerous. It is worth reading some of their typical masterpieces which have no contact with reality, are full of pompous slogans about love of people and animals and full of quotes - invariably from Gandhi or Eistein ("Gandhi said" or "Einstein said") - a prime indication of illiteracy.
    Can someone inform our Brooks that other jobs have been outsourced, insourced or killed?
    Or better, can someone finally fire this bozo, or even better can someone finally close this nonsensical paper?

  2. "...A guy in his 50s doesn’t want to find work in a place where he’ll be told what to do by savvy young things." ..."

    David Brooks has it backwards. Those 'youngsters' are intimidated by older, experienced, workers. That is what I was told last time I applied for a job (2003), that the 'young staffers were intimidated' by me.

    That was two years after I accidentally stumbled on a retirement party at a local restaurant (I was meeting a friend and saw the party) for a former colleague at a company where I had been replaced by a young man (who was paid more) about five years earlier.
    The retiree told me that all his young employees still spoke of me fondly for having taught them so much.

    I should have been more serious about golf - would still have a job despite the antisemitism that runs through America.
    Actually, I should have learned how to lie and cheat, but that is another story for the annals of vulture capitalism that destroyed America's jobs.


  3. "Actually, I should have learned how to lie and cheat, but that is another story for the annals of vulture capitalism that destroyed America's jobs."
    Yes, you won't see anything lying and cheating in Brooks's lying and cheating "meritocratic" view of America.

  4. Correction:
    You won't see anything ABOUT ...