Memo to David Brooks: It’s a Great Recession, not a Great Restoration

Contributor_johncassidyphoto2_p154_cropxrailJohn Cassidy in The New Yorker:

Dismissing Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party as overhyped minority pursuits, Brooks stares into the tortured soul of Middle America and sees a born-again Calvinist tearing up her credit cards and bemoaning the culture of bailouts. “While the cameras surround the flamboyant fringes, the rest of the country is on a different mission,” Brooks writes. “Quietly and untelegenically, Americans are trying to repair their economic values … the moral norms that undergird our economic system.”

I am tempted to ask D.B. whether he has turned on prime-time television lately, or visited Las Vegas, the site of tonight’s Republican debate, but tacky reality shows, cavernous gambling halls, and upscale jiggle joints are, perhaps, part of the “flamboyant fringes” of American society. So let’s look at the evidence that Brooks cites, beginning with an opinion poll suggesting that three quarters of Americans think they would be better off with no debt and the fact that eight million people have stopped using bank-issued credit cards.

The figure for credit-card usage is accurate enough, but it has nothing reason to with values. The reason many people are carrying fewer pieces of plastic in their wallets is that banks, considering them to be bad lending risks in a deep recession, have cut off their access to credit.