January 04, 2005

Column 2005-01-04, commentary

Brooks begins the column with meaningless generalizations about conservatives and liberals. He states "Conservaties have tended to favor...", and also that "Liberals have supported programs...". The existence of such conservatives and liberals is obvious, as is the existence of conservatives who have not "tended to favor" what Brooks thinks of as the "American model" and of liberals who have not "supported programs" leading to the "European model". Thus, Brooks has insufficiently qualified these claims; they mean nothing.

In his second paragraph, Brooks asserts as a fact that "the European model is flat-out unsustainable". This is a theoretical prediction, not a fact.

Generally, and in the third paragraph specifically, Brooks writes "Europe" but presumably means the members of the European Union at the time his sources were published. As the European Union has recently expanded to include a number of countries in Eastern Europe, all of which are considerably poorer than the old members, this introduces some ambiguity.

To begin his fourth paragraph, Brooks makes a comparative claim that he does not explain and that, more importantly, is irrelevant to the paragraph's purpose. Regardless of whether European pensions are "more generous" than American pensions and European retirees "more reliant" upon them, government spending on pensions will have to increase if the population ages. And, contrary to what Brooks claims, this does not imply an increase in government spending overall; other expenditures could be scaled back accordingly.

In his fifth paragraph, Brooks quotes a survey that "predicts that France and Germany could see their public debt grow...". Brooks does not specify the assumptions underlying this prediction, making it impossible to evaluate its quality or applicability.

Sixth paragraph: "Europe may find itself locked into a vicious circle...". Or, it may not.

As he did earlier, Brooks fails to give the prediction in paragraph seven any context.

Eighth paragraph: "Already, high European taxes make the European model look obsolete." To whom? Brooks also states "... Americans work 50 percent more than Germans, French [sic] and Italians..."; presumably he means the statistically averaged American works more than the statistically averaged German, Frenchman and Italian.

In his ninth paragraph, Brooks says "Either way, high taxes have made Europe less productive just as it needs high output to support its retirees." If Brooks means that high taxes exclusively are responsible, then he is making a causal claim that is obviously unsupported by data. If he is claiming that high taxes are in some sense partially responsible, then his claim is too vague to contain meaning.

Tenth paragraph: "Back in the 1970's, European standards of living were catching up to U.S. standards. Now American G.D.P. per capita is about 30 percent higher than Europe's and the gap, if anything, is getting wider." Here, Brooks conflates two disparate economic measures, GDP per capita and standard of living. An increase in one does not necessarily imply an increase in the other.

In the eleventh and twelfth paragraphs, Brooks claims that the problems caused by aging populations in the United States -- specifically, problems with Social Security -- will be less severe than those in Europe because of the superiority of his "American model". In doing so, he ignores the fact that European populations are aging more rapidly than the American population, due mainly to the higher level of immigration to America.

When Brooks says "To the extent that's true, it is because we have not been taking their advice for the past 50 years.", he asserts a causal claim without identifying "their advice" or providing any support for the claim. We note also that Ronald Reagan's payroll tax increase unambiguously and signficantly improved Social Security's solvency. Although Brooks, as we said, does not specify just what "their advice" is, it seems to us that raising payroll taxes qualifies.

The last paragraph is totally meaningless.

In the ways described above, Brooks's column is unfit to print.