David Brooks and the Terror of the Grey Poupon Set

Stop the presses!  New York Times columnist and cultural observer David Brooks knows what’s ruining America–and shocker or shockers, it has nothing to do with Donald Trump:

Over the past generation, members of the college-educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status. They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.

Got that?  Not only are those hoity-toity college types good at making sure their kids hold on to their elevated rank in the scheme of things, they’re amazingly good at it.  And when it comes to keeping the riff-raff on their designated side of the tracks, the sweater vest and Dockers crowd is just devastatingly effective.  When David Brooks deploys the adverbs like that, you can tell he must be on to something.

But wait, it gets better:

How they’ve managed to do the first task — giving their own children a leg up — is pretty obvious. It’s the pediacracy, stupid. Over the past few decades, upper-middle-class Americans have embraced behavior codes that put cultivating successful children at the center of life. As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids.

There go those upper-middle-class parents again, making their offspring a priority.  And what’s with those behavior codes?  Obviously that’s a dog whistle for people who get married, stay married and don’t have kids until they are married.  Don’t they know it’s not fair to put everybody else at a disadvantage like that?

Upper-middle-class parents have the means to spend two to three times more time with their preschool children than less affluent parents.

It’s an outrage.  Dad should be spending more weekends on the golf course, while mom makes some me-time for her and the pool boy.

As life has gotten worse for the rest in the middle class, upper-middle-class parents have become fanatical about making sure their children never sink back to those levels, and of course there’s nothing wrong in devoting yourself to your own progeny.

Yeah, sure.  Nothing wrong at all.  Keep telling yourself that, Dave.

It’s when we turn to the next task — excluding other people’s children from the same opportunities — that things become morally dicey. Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution recently published a book called “Dream Hoarders” detailing some of the structural ways the well educated rig the system.

The most important is residential zoning restrictions. Well-educated people tend to live in places like Portland, New York and San Francisco that have housing and construction rules that keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities.

Portland, New York and San Francisco…  What do all those places have in common?  Oh, that’s right!  They’re all run by liberal Democrats.  So how is it possible that those cities would deliberately zone themselves to keep poor people out of decent schools and nicer jobs?  I thought Democrats were supposed to be for the little guy.

It’s no wonder that 70 percent of the students in the nation’s 200 most competitive schools come from the top quarter of the income distribution. With their admissions criteria, America’s elite colleges sit atop gigantic mountains of privilege.

Wait, colleges?  Aren’t they also run by liberals?  With the way they’re keeping poor people down, you’d think that Newt Gingrich was in charge.

Still, even all that doesn’t compare to the even greater horrors that await the middle class in the cosmopolitan jungle.  Brooks elaborates:

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

Did they go to Trump Tower?  I hear the Taco Bowls are pretty good.

While you can enjoy a hearty laugh at all this (and heaven knows, I certainly did), I can’t fault Brooks too much for his intentions.  However unwittingly, he does score some solid points on how a lot of government policy, purportedly created to help the poor, actually ends up hurting them more.  San Francisco, for example. does make it nearly impossible to build new housing anywhere near the city–and as a result, young families of limited means can’t afford to live there.  New York City, meanwhile, has rent controls that make 500 square feet of crappy apartment cost more than the mortgage on a 4,000 square foot house upstate.  But he comes off as condescending to the subjects of his own sympathy, while at the same time scolding parents of better than average means for wanting to live in nice neighborhoods with schools that don’t need metal detectors.  Congratulations, Dave.  You managed to make everybody mad.

Meanwhile, Brooks ignores perhaps the most important thing he’s uncovered here, and that’s the question of why places like New York are so unwelcoming to those who don’t come from the right background.  For a city that didn’t mind when Occupy Wall Street was defecating on police cars, they’re awfully hard on someone who doesn’t know the difference between prosciutto and pancetta.  Why the intolerance?

Maybe if Brooks spent more time at Chili’s and less time at Per Se, he might know the answer.

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Marc Giller

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