David Brooks
David Brooks has his knickers in a knot. Sandra Bullock won an Oscar – I’m surprised Brooks knows that that’s not a hot dog – and, as luck would have it, her husband is allegedly an adulterous jerk, which pretty much means the honeymoon and the marriage are over. Mr. Brooks uses that as a metaphor for the trade-offs women face: professional success or satiating their men to keep them from prowling Sunset Boulevard or the beach in Malibu.

Two things happened to Sandra Bullock this month. First, she won an Academy Award for best actress. Then came the news reports claiming that her husband is an adulterous jerk. So the philosophic question of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?

Could it be that Mr. Brooks is spending too much time at home on the couch? Or is he retrieving the Reagan-era "Keep ’em barefoot and pregnant" posters that he has kept hermetically sealed in mayonnaise jars on Funk & Wagnalls’ front porch since before Carnac the Magnificent gave his last performance? Actually, the Bullock story is red flannel, waved to catch the reader’s eye and poke fun at the immorals of "liberal" Hollywood.

Bobo’s job is to channel the far right’s angst. He often does it by portraying isolated extremes as if they were their opposite: representatives of a universal problem. He then layers on his patented special sauce made from obscure references to two hundred-year-old dead white guys such as Edmund Burke.

Like Dick Cheney, Bobo’s message is often fear. This time, it’s that women may outperform their men. Bobo’s he-men, instead of having the courage and self-esteem they’ve demanded of their women for millenia, can’t take it and go fuck around until they get caught.

If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not. The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.

Bobo’s nominal point is that marriage is a social good that makes people happier and prolongs their lives. Government ought to promote it. So much for keeping government out of the bedroom, the living room and the kitchen (where most of the fights about money, overwork and mismatched priorities take place). Actually, I say fine. Let’s start by really reforming health care and Wall Street. Let’s collect taxes from the wealthy, enforce labor laws and make it easier to unionize, permit bankruptcy courts to revise first mortgages and discard credit card debt, and work to make higher education more affordable.

Mr. Brooks fails to tell us whether those are examples of what he has in mind. He only says that government policies ought to pay attention to "non-material well-being" and to watch their "spiritual blind side":

This may be changing. There is a rash of compelling books — including “The Hidden Wealth of Nations” by David Halpern and “The Politics of Happiness” by Derek Bok — that argue that public institutions should pay attention to well-being and not just material growth narrowly conceived.

Governments keep initiating policies they think will produce prosperity, only to get sacked, time and again, from their spiritual blind side.

That strikes me as an empty platitude and a snipe at the gubmint do-gooders Bobo has just argued should do more. That’s because he ignores the routine corporate behavior that drastically works against enhancing our well-being. He ignores how Democrats and Republicans enable that, at the expense of the people who live on Main Street or rural route 8 and who have to make ends meet.

Bobo’s lack of suggestions also seem marvelously uninformed by having had to single parent, to work two jobs and see one or both sent off to China, to make ends meet on an income that’s been flat in real terms since 1980, or watch as health care and college costs escalate beyond the ability to repay any loan one could take out to pay for them.

If government wants to help, those would be places to start. Except that Mr. Brooks is selling comfort food for the comfortable, not policies that would change government priorities and people’s lives for the better. As with other high-fat, fast food diets, Mr. Brooks substitutes temporary comfort for long term economic and family health.

earlofhuntingdon

earlofhuntingdon

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