What the Working Class Is Still Trying to Tell Us

And how we can make a difference in their lives.

Comments: 237

  1. I often read that the job market has changed; that the jobs of the past are no longer there; that factories now need far fewer folks 'on the line' but need more computer trained tech folks to run a mostly automated operation. I certainly support re-training of workers, offering them a way to move into the tech jobs. However, my impression from what many of them say is that they want their old jobs back. When Trump visited the Carrier plant in Indiana, many of the workers (even younger ones) scoffed at education and/or training benefits being offered by the company. Trump, true to form, focused on saving (or re-creating) the old jobs. The world is moving on. The jobs that once were are no more and they are not coming back no matter what this POTUS promises. Yes, bring back different tracks in high school (though care must be taken so that minority students are not tracked away from college paths when they are so qualified and inclined). Offer vocational training, but let's be realistic about what the jobs of the future will look like.

  2. @Anne-Marie Hislop You're hitting on something deeper and more subtle. A lot of men need to move on to the future, not fight it and cling to the past in resentment. That won't be accomplished by preaching and certainly not by condescension. Instead, who can reach out a hand, maybe one that feels like it's done some work, look someone in the eye, and then start the talk that's needed? (Actually, I'd bet that you can, but guys need to do this, too.)

  3. @J P/Actually, the President before President Pinocchio, told us the truth. President Obama told American workers that their old jobs were not coming back. He did so early on. I'm afraid ignorance is a real problem here. A failure to keep up with current events is sadly, a large factor.

  4. @Anne-Marie Hislop-agreed! The world has moved on: we’re not making buggy whips anymore either.

  5. I think you got this one correct, Mr. Brooks. But to do this, we will need school reform and restructuring. And we will need to build the educational infrastructure to revitalize the trades. This will include new buildings and shops and teachers. Yet there is strong resistance to tax increases, even for education. In order to make the reforms you suggest, we will need to sell the idea to workers to get them to vote for the taxes required to fund these programs. Tax increases are a big lift. I hope your argument is strong enough to stir up the needed muscle.

  6. David--- how about WE face that fact that workers in some of our largest retail transnational companies are not paid a living wage, and the result is that we, in fact, subsidize these corporations profits by providing welfare in support of these anemically paid workers? How about we provide greater support for single parent workers who are in need of quality child care when they are at work. How about we make community college a universally free opportunity to educate people in essential skilled trades. How about those ideas David... (by the way, the Democrats consistently support these notions and ideas and the Republicans consistently resist them).

  7. @James Landi Free community college for all? Everyone needs at least a little skin in the game, albeit a mortgage-sized student loan is exactly what we don't need. Never-the-less, "free" doesn't cut it in my book, and you usually get what you pay for.

  8. "Today, we have an old, adversarial labor union model that is inappropriate for the gig economy and uninteresting to most private-sector workers." Actually, today only 6.7% of private sector workers are in labour unions. We don't have the "old" labour union model. We simply don't have labour unions. (And in the few industries where we have them, guess what? Labour is paid well.) Maybe we need to bring back that "old" labour union system. It worked.

  9. @617to416 & it's worth remembering that other countries, notably Germany, manage to have unions without the adversarial relationship with management. There is nothing inevitably destructive about the management-union relationship

  10. @617to416 Echoing CSadler: Why adversarial? Conflict does not occur in a vacuum. The corporation has an active part as adversary in this equation. So much so that it has simply dispensed with the process and rewritten the rules of play at the legislative level (literally, via ALEC and others), stigmatizing and delegitimizing unions at every turn. Admittedly, unions have not always behaved well. Which came first? A pervasive lack of respect for workers in US corporations (unlike German acknowledgment of workers' professional expertise and contributions) seems to be why the working class is where it is today.

  11. I don't have a solution but a good start is always to face the facts. By definition, 50% of people have IQ's below 100. Anyone reading this (and her peers) is well above that number. In the olden days when Americans could cut forests, fish, build railroads , make steel , it was a world where a good work ethic and a strong back, rather than a sharp intellect could shape a fulfilling life. Maybe we need to reshape education to give value and respect to what use to what used to be called 'the trades' . Sending non academically inclined people to college only lowers educational standards and produces frustrated and overly indebted 'graduates'.

  12. @Mark Evans Firstly, thank you for scoring the readers as having IQ's "well above" 100!! In New Zealand we have polytechs that teach trades, and university. School kids "know" that the smart kids (and the wealthy kids) go to university, so there's an automatic status gap. If universities offered both academics AND trade courses, that would put the value of "trades" on a more equal footing with professional careers.

  13. @Mark Evans When did the choice between vocational & academic degrees disappear? When I went to high school 30 years ago in the mid-Atlantic, there was a choice made in middle school to pursue 1 of 3 high school tracks - academic/college bound, vocational/trades (for boys), and business/secretarial/bookkeeping (for girls) that had nothing to do with IQ but lifestyle preference & finances. Obviously, the gender constraints rightfully collapsed. Now, teacher acquaintances in my old city tell me the choices are an 1) "international" degree which means academic and 2) attendance degree which means state requirements for showing up & passing standardized tests were met but no vocational/technical classes are offered. The fact that students require post high-school training/education to obtain designations like medical coder or college degrees makes me wonder what students learn in high school.

  14. @Mark Evans False assumption there Mark. Can't do my old job (I'm just retired) as a master carpenter with just a 100 IQ. Can't do the jobs of my subs either, takes both a sterling work ethic and a sharp mind to be an electrician, plumber, tile setter, concrete mason...each of these trades will have labor level jobs, but not many.

  15. As Brooks points out, even red states are hiking the minimum wage, but the federal minimum wage of $7.25 has not been increased in a decade because the Congress insists that employers should have cheap labor.

  16. It seems like there is little difference between a worker "co-op" and a union except the co-op has much less power. It seems like this is just a rebranding of unions to co-ops and union dues to co-op membership fees. What gives the co-op the power to negotiate if the workers don't have the possibility of strikes?

  17. @Older Mom This article is the first I have heard of a worker cooperative acting like a union. The more common model is the Worker Owned Cooperative Business. In a worker owned co-op, the workers generally share ownership and share decision making. Most seem to work on a consensus model. All workers rotate through all positions in the company, so everyone knows how the whole business operates. Then every Friday, for example, everyone comes to a big meeting and makes the big decisions together using consensus methods. In France, new worker owned co-ops have been shown to outperform new standard model businesses, and businesses converted to co-ops have been shown to outperform existing businesses. In Italy 10 people on can get a lump payment of a few years of benefits if they join together to form a worker co-op. In some provinces in Italy 85% of workers are in co-ops. During the Great Recession those provinces were barely affected by the world downturn, because workers don't vote to fire themselves, or move their company to a foreign country. Workers also don't vote to pollute their own neighborhoods, lay each other off, cut their own benefits, etc. Without shareholders and executives extracting constant profits, the workers are able to live comfortable lives and when they get more efficient, they can expand, or they can shorten their work day. Also worker co-ops are incubators of democracy, because everyone gets practice in Democratic decision making.

  18. Totally agree that the conditions, respect and pay for work beneath white collar jobs is the root of so many of our nation's problems, and needlessly so. Current conditions waste a huge amount of human capital, that could turn into greater aggregate GDP overall (if that's how you want to measure success. It would also turn into great human and social wellbeing), given right opportunities, culture and supports. What this column gets wrong is laying the blame (again) at the feet of "we in the college educated sliver" and "we in the educated class." While its always a good idea to look in the mirror, blame for this one clearly lies at the feet of the capitalist class, who have sought and succeeded at extracting an ever greater portion of the economic pie for themselves, at the expense of all labor. This point keeps getting lost in all the rhetoric against the 'elites'. The elites truly responsible here are the uber rich capitalists - the ones who own media companies and finance campaigns, to fan the resentments of Trumps base against the liberal educated 'elites', and somehow manage to deflect all blame for the jobs they've exported, underpaid, made insecure, etc. Let's not let a sense of liberal guilt lead us to accept shame and guilt for the the largest heist in history.

  19. @Katweetie and ps - "Trump ran another American carnage campaign" because he knows it IS still carnage for his base, because the "all the economic growth" - the roaring stock market and the corporate tax cut -only help the capitalists, not his working class base. Carnage helps his politics and his pocketbook at the same time - pure evil genius!

  20. @Katweetie: Except, how many college educated people with jobs in tech and health are unionized? How many tech professionals would strike to support the warehouse workers at Amazon, for example? More and more, these "white collar" workers are becoming just as expendable as their "blue collar" counterparts. There needs to be some solidarity between these different "classes" of worker. Imagine the power of the working class in general if, rather than sign non-compete agreements before working for Google or Apple, educated people demanded a union, the freedom to seek a better wage anywhere, etc.

  21. And to divert attention from the urgent matter they direct their powerful tool - the media - to fan our passions with divisive tactics like identity politics.

  22. This is a great column because it seriously addresses the meaningful undercurrents of the disenfranchised workers and unemployed members of working society. However, this subject should have been part of K-12 education all along: the role of career development is a vital part of what we teach in schools. Students should have to pass a proficiency exam in career studies in order to graduate. However, it s more than a tad ironic that someone of the party of Ayn Rand - the "pull yourself up from your bootstraps" party that the Republicans have always touted - is proposing this. Still, it is to be applauded as a big first step to address the career challenges and failures with which so many are dealing.

  23. Brooksie is no longer a Repub.

  24. In my neck of the woods, Massachusetts, there is a direness for young people to enter the trades. Jobs are going begging for workers to fill them. My electrician makes $130 an hour. I try to promote the trades in my sociology classes. Even plumbers are citizens who should know how society works. This shouldn't be an either or situation. Education and job skills can go hand in hand.

  25. @John Locke That's what the do in Europe. The average European without a college education is better informed because they actually continue reading after they leave school, then some or our college educated workers. We have a system that does not encourage being curious about the world around them. We should be ashamed.

  26. Germany already knows this and supports the trades with open arms and have for decades.

  27. @John Locke It appears there is a mutually beneficial arrangement between employers and those who train workers for skilled jobs. This system forces the trainee to work for subsistence wages for years while doing the same work as an apprentice or intern. Its not just a blue collar phenomenon. The same system is in place for skilled trades, doctors and airline pilots. If you want to be an electrician, you have to work for 4 years at half pay or less, just above unskilled pay levels. Pilots accrue hours flying for regional carriers and earning a barely liveable wage. Hospitals rely on low paid and overworked residents to staff ERs and wards. Much of the gig economy offers another benefit, tax free earnings that can be hidden for purposes of qualifying for income based programs or avoiding court ordered child support. The IRS has found that cash flow from unreported income is soaring, along with debit cards, while checking accounts have declined. When GOP leaders like John Boehner call taxes "stealing", it reinforces this activity.

  28. The best labor reform is prohibiting excessive CEO compensation/management looting, forcing pay in corporations downward. Amazon's raising of the minimum wage is one good beginning, and closing Wall Street's carried interest loop-hole (as Pres. Mayhem campaigned on) would be another. Raising the cap on wages subject to Social Security and Medicare with-holding is another, so that a version of Medicare for all can be a funded reality. Not so many (more) books need to be written/studied for these first steps to be taken to correct the situation where the reddest counties in the country are both the cradles of Trumpism AND the centers of the opioid crisis; a one-to-one relationship that must be broken: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/06/22/2016-trump-support-was-greatest-in-areas-with-highest-rates-of-painkiller-use-study-finds/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.5e3288c1f74c

  29. Reading this article reminds me of 'The road to somewhere' by David Goodhart. It primarily focuses on the UK, but is definitely applicable to the US under Trump.

  30. David, I agree that attention must be paid to the plight of the working class - and that students should indeed have the choice of pursing either an academic or vocational path. While STEM may be all the rage, we will need skilled plumbers, electricians, etc. in perpetuity. The larger problem going forward is going to be jobs lost to automation - especially in manufacturing, which is the sector where many blue collar workers made their living over the past 100 years. It would be nice to think that we could collectively slow or shape the drift to automation, but for that to happen, management would have to acknowledge their responsibility to all the people with whom they share a country, and not just shareholders, as articulated in current business theory. A national economy is an ecosystem, and when one component of that ecosystem becomes toxic, other components can easily catch the infection - either through significantly reduced consumer spending or adoption of disruptive political ideologies like Trumpism. You and I agree that the task before us in the years to come will be to re-knit the American fabric; but IMHO, that will be impossible until we adopt an authentic ethos of Union, an ethos that acknowledges the inter-relatedness of all Americans - be they managers, shareholders, or workers.

  31. @Matthew Carnicelli I was born the day after Social Security came into existence in the U.S. I've spent decades wondering what it would take for our country to make serious efforts to solve lingering problems like guns, inequality, racism, undereducation, homelessness, etc. We have never been together (in "Union") on how or whether to address these issues. Silly but potent political ideologies abound, each expressed with the certainty of divine commandments, thus cancelling each other out. Sadly, I've come to the conclusion that we as a nation will never reach "European" standards of social understanding until we have suffered on our own soil the kind of pain Europe has over the past 100 years, a pain that doesn't allow elites the luxury of permanent postponement of finding community-wide solutions for community-wide problems. Our response to even the Sandy Hook murders of precious children indicates we haven't shed enough blood to help us see we are all in the same boat. I say these things in deep sorrow with my children and their children on my mind. And yours.

  32. "It would be nice to think that we could collectively slow or shape the drift to automation, ..." That's an impossible fantasy. Even if there could be a national consensus to somehow slow the shift to automation, the rest of the world wouldn't agree. A national economy may be an ecosystem, but it doesn't exist in splendid isolation. As the rest of the world increasingly automated, our relative inefficiencies would render our products non-competitive. It would be as if we, as a nation, had decided that vacuum-tube computers were quite sufficient while the rest of the world moved to integrated circuits. A better solution would be to use tax policy to transfer a small portion of the benefits of automation to those left behind ... to retrain them, to modify school curriculums and, if necessary, to support those who are too old to make a change.

  33. @Barry Short I don't disagree - except that I think that people still find purpose and meaning in work, and something like universal basic income wouldn't address the void if work went away. This is serious business, and if only the contemporary GOP were up to thinking about it.

  34. David Brooks, longtime proponent of "meritocracy," endorses "academic tracking," as though this will improve our society and match students' abilities to their likely careers. News flash: we already have "tracking," in that many American students confront economic disadvantages and attend inadequate schools that effectively track them toward ill-paid jobs. "Academic tracking" of the sort that Mr. Brooks recommends will simply ratify existing economic and educational inequality--young students will take standardized tests and many disadvantaged students will be told that that their test results provide scientific validation that they are destined for menial jobs. Call it meritocracy or academic tracking if you wish. I call it Social Darwinism.

  35. @Chris Rasmussen Why do you consider being a plumber or an electrician a menial job? Plumbers and electricians make at least double what I made as a social worker with a master’s degree. My nephew who is a middle school language teacher in Colorado, and has a master’s degree, started teaching last year at a starting salary of $35,000! I think he could do much better as a plumber, but he loves teaching. Academic tracking is great when you have good vocational training as well as academic schooling as they do in European countries. But this country does not do anything right when it comes to education or investing in its children.

  36. @yoka I do not consider being a plumber or an electrician menial. Those are great jobs, and they require a lot of intelligence, as well as the ability to work with tools. I was thinking of part-time, minimum wage jobs with no prospect of promotion, no benefits, etc. But, in fact, I don't really consider any job "menial," and I should not have used that word. My concern is that schools will "track" kids at an early age, and that their futures will be set in stone. If David Brooks were really the free marketeer he claims to be, he would rail against handing even more power to educational bureaucrats.

  37. At last someone has looked at the harsh economic truths behind a major factor in the decline not only of our middle class but also our educational system. Any teacher at any level will attest to the folly of, "college for everyone," especially when college means purely academic achievement. We're wasting human resources when we insist that tradespeople, craftspeople, technicians, and others be crammed into academic molds they find stifling and dispiriting. After decades of failure, maybe we should admit we've been on the wrong track all along.

  38. @Eric Caine And, what is “the right track.” Mass ignorance, economic stagnation and industrial, technological, and innovative irrelevance - borne out of nostalgia and some perverse, antiquated, and never really correct version of ‘merica? Please; its the 21st century. Do catch up.

  39. David - this is an interesting essay, but how do we start to think about reforming labor markets without discussing the fact that health care is largely through employers and the cost is sky-high? How do those other affluent countries you refer to provide healthcare for their citizens?

  40. @Charlotte Taxes usually combined with some sort of obligatory private insurance and pension contributions paid by employers. But even where a country has a healthcare service free for everyone, we still face the challenge of a changing job market. Solve your healthcare issues and you will still have a problem with working class men unable to find reliable, decent work. Over here with our health care provided, we still see increasingly fragile jobs in the gig economy and the death through automation etc of traditional manufacturing roles for less well educated citizens. We see a rising anger especially amongst men, unable to find reliable, decent work and a consequent retreat from globalism, and a demonising of immigration.

  41. Interesting article, but it completely ignores chronic wealth income inequality which is at the root of the quagmire for the struggling middle class who work within the corporate system. Workers need to have a sense that they are sharing in profits and that their work will get them ahead. Our tax system should give a strong boost to companies that share their profits with their employees and create programs that train their employees for future growth. Corporations currently use their employees like mules rather than the source of their wealth. The last tax cut did none of this as only created more discontent as workers watched salary increases flow to the already rich stock holders many of them overseas. Working harder with better productivity needs to be honored with solid pay increases and profit sharing. Only then will we overcome the trap of dead end jobs and endless drudgery.

  42. More than ever, I respect David Brooks' well-intentioned, earnest efforts to bridge various divides in our country; his columns are a refreshing contrast to much of the commentary of any stripe nowadays. While I appreciate his focus here on workers, I'm struck by the condescension: "What the Working Class Is Still Trying to Tell Us." Brooks has to say "trying" because workers--the Trump-voting, white ones at least--aren't saying what he wants them to say. They are not focusing on economic issues in the way Brooks would like; instead they are focused on culture, on non-whites, immigrants, caravans, the bridge, rural life, guns, coastal elites, and so on. It's the "we" of Brooks's column--the well-educated, well-off--that has focused on more strictly economic issues and has lectured workers for failing to see those as the real and important ones. I agree about a couple of Cass's observations, but in Brooks's hands, they smack of paternalism, however well-meaning, and of a certain deafness. If we take Brooks's workers seriously, they are raising hard questions about regional differences, about the unity of "American" culture, and about the legitimacy of the elite to which Brooks and his readership belongs. I don't think separate tracks in school and co-ops after work represent much listening on our part. It sounds like more of the condescension that already bothers white workers so much.

  43. The Trump base that show up for his rallies do not appear to be inadequately clothed or fed, they don't look tired from working 3 jobs, or like they are ill and can't afford care. Thousands can take a full day off work and drive long distances to fill the arenas so they are not without resources. With unemployment at an all time low, they surely are employed. Trump voters are only sympathetically portrayed as economically displaced persons when conservatives need a respectable explanation for their support of Trump.

  44. @Henry J. Raymond And they are focusing on those things (non-whites, caravans, immigrants, crime, etc.) because they are being pointed in that direction. And they are being pointed in that direction because exploiting divisions between workers, as well as good old racism and sexism, have always worked. Fear mongering, "othering", all of that has been in the playbook of the monied elites who run this game literally forever. None of this is new in any way, shape or form. Why is it so effective right now? Because the earth is probably dying (they can deny the science, but not the storms destroying their communities), Capitalism has reached some kind of insane apotheosis (can the rich get any richer?? ), everybody's kids are OD'ing on heroin, wages are unlivable, no one at all cares about the American worker (hey, work harder, and longer, for less money please), healthcare coverage basically no longer exists (unless you're lucky enough to get medicaid, but that means you probably can't afford decent housing), you might get shot going to the movies (or work, or church, or school, or the bar, or a concert, or...) and you're going to have to work until you drop. But Trump gives you targets for your rage (who cares if they're scapegoats?), pride in your heritage ("Greatest Nation on Earth!", as long as you ignore all of the above), and ridiculously easy answers to complex problems. What's not to like? Beats reality by a mile.

  45. @Henry J. Raymond As a general rule, writers don't write the headlines...

  46. I agree with Mr. Brooks. One reason Democrats didn't win the Senate and more seats in the House in spite of the GOP monstrosity that has "led" the country for the last two years is because they kept on railing against Trump while doing little to overcome the failures for which voters punished them in 2016. More than ever, it's time for the Democrats to go back to their roots and become the party of the working and the middle class, the party of unions and labor in rural areas, the party of the common man, the party of FDR and Truman. Otherwise they will be doomed to go the same way that they did in 2016.

  47. @Ashutosh Well said! Right on!

  48. @Ashutosh The reason the Democrats didn’t win the $enate was circumstantial. Only nine Republican held seats were contested, versus 26 Democratic ones, ten in states that Trump won. And it now looks like the Democrats are picking up 37 seats in the House, a yuge swing.

  49. @Ashutosh - since the Repubs controlled all government for the last 2 years, I'm not clear what the dems could have done.

  50. How about the tax system valuing wages just as much as it values unearned income? Unions work very well when they are empowered and legal. It's a wonderful idea if students can choose their path; but, I think that it will be just another way to discriminate against 'minorities'. So much can be done, but the power brokers are going to have to be forced to take action. Maybe the organized resistance to them will make some progress.

  51. @AnnaJoy In New Hampshire, where I now live, earned income is not taxed and we do not have sales taxes which are the most regressive taxes of all.

  52. Just ordered Cass’s book; these are exciting times because when David Brooks takes on the defense of “the precariat,” there is hope in the air. Cass’s suggestions seem not to be original, on the left Robert W McChesney, John Nichols’s People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy a couple years ago makes the argument for co-ops and redoing education, as have others, but it appears that the message is finely resolving with right, left and center that the social contract needs to reach out with help for those long forgotten in the age of globalization and inequality. Factory jobs may be slow to reappear, but the service sector has unending opportunities for working people. The new folk in Congress on both sides of the isle may be the agents for change, let’s hope.

  53. I always appreciate David Brooks' columns. I agree with what he's written here. I also think culture is a big component though too. I think the working class feels culturally alienated /unappreciated and Trump speaks to that---bigly. The college-educated crowd needs to be more tolerant of our pluralistic society.

  54. @Paul Exactly right! Traditional-values voters are not only "culturally alienated and unappreciated," but denounced and vilified by the coastal elites as "racist" and "stupid." Why do they vote for Trump? more than one reader asks. Because he understands them.

  55. @Ron Cohen I totally disagree with you and Paul. I have four college degrees and many friends with multiple degrees and I find that they are much more tolerant of our pluralistic society than many unless they are from the deep South or especially parts of Texas. Many of us work hard for worker rights. As to Brooks promotion of "worker coops" that is what unions were originally. They created apprenticeship programs and had places for members to go when they needed a new job. And many provided social benefits too. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker got rid of unions for state workers and threw all his weight behind benefits for the moneyed class. Finally the citizens of that state got wise to him and voted him out.

  56. @Ron Cohen He is using them. Has he ever done one hour of manual labor in his life? He was born rich. He is the ultimate product of years of red state cuts to education.

  57. I understand the fact that a lot of people cannot find a decent job with only a high school diploma; I had a hard time even with a college degree and had to go back to graduate school before I could find steady productive work. I understand why a lot of people who lost what they had in the great recession are angry -- nobody was held responsible. But I don't understand why anyone votes for Trump. Nor for that matter do I understand why any but the wealthiest vote for Republicans. And then Brooks says "instead of tailoring a system around people’s actual needs." Oh, my, my, my. That's socialism, David. Free-market capitalism isn't about meeting anybody's needs. People are just another commodity. Capital is king.

  58. David: There are plenty of college educated people with jobs that don't pay well or offer any security or benefits. Trump and the Republicans have very skillfully turned this into a war between the educated and those who aren't, but it is really a war between the 1% of uber capitalists and the rest of us. I agree that not everyone is academically inclined and that skilled trades should get more respect than they often do, but until the idea that the only duty of management is to make as much money as possible for shareholders (and CEOs) is overthrown, worker coops and other possibly good ideas are just bandaids on a larger problem.

  59. @Andrew Gillis says "Trump and the Republicans have very skillfully turned this into a war between the educated and those who aren't" Yes, and let me underline what I said in my post: It's not Republicans who are offering an improvement in medical insurance or a higher minimum wage (which will push just-above-minimum wages higher, too) or a rein on corporations running roughshod over everyone. I have heard Repubs, but never Dems say, "If you want medical insurance, get a college education." I have heard Repubs heap scorn on the unemployed and those with low incomes, while I've seen Dems try to raise those incomes. Think about what Repubs are REALLY offering in Trump. Think about what Trump is actually delivering. It isn't medical care. It isn't higher wages or jobs staying in the US. It's merely viciousness about "us" against "them."

  60. @Andrew Gillis Andrew, I completely agree, except I observe about 5% of the US population benefits from capitalist globalization. That said, it is also true that only a tiny fraction of even 1% are the primary beneficiaries. So 1% is just a slogan. Here near Silicon Valley it might even be 10% or 12% that benefit from globalization more than they are hurt by it. But only a few thousand people out of six million here are getting 97% of that benefit. And they live in a cocoon of insular thinking. Note the grievously stupid and possibly criminal behavior of the small cadre of Google "bro's" running the company around serious sexual misconduct behavior in their ranks. That comes from living in that bubble, as does all the bad decisions being made about the privacy of the remainder of the world's population.

  61. @Andrew Gillis The only place skilled trades don't get respect is in the minds of Republican politicians.

  62. White working class people turned out for Trump. You are ignoring the huge number of POC who are also working class, who voted for the party that actually has policies designed to alleviate their concerns and build an economy that works for all, not just the uber-wealthy. Trump spoke directly to racial resentment, and it worked. No more and no less. It's not about economics. It's about America's "original sin".

  63. @M POCs always block vote for Democrats.

  64. @Schrodinger No, POC vote for the candidates who demonstrate they care about their socioeconomic needs and are willing to fight racism. Ever since the Civil Rights Act, that would be the Democrats. (It's not a "bloc" vote either--there are Black and Latino Republicans, though not all that many). But before 1964, POC--at least African-Americans and Cuban emigres-turned-citizens--voted reliably Republican (except for FDR).

  65. @Schrodinger Not true. Every now and then there is a dark face at a Trump rally. And just a week or so ago Trump entertained a group of young black Republicans at the White House.

  66. The biggest issue working Americans was health care coverage. The lack of it drives many Americans to bankruptcy. The GOP is trying to do everything that they can to rip up the ACA and coverage for pre existing conditions , even as they lied about it on the campaign trail. If you want to help desperate working people, wouldn't a good approach be to give them decent healthcare.?

  67. I agree, Mr. Brooks, they are sending a message of carnage. But either they don't realize or believe that the world economy has changed, as your colleague Mr. Friedman wrote about in "The World is Flat," about 10 years ago. Nor do they recognize that the party they are voting for in their message is the same party that has done everything they can to create the despair in which they currently live. I truly feel empathy for their predicament. In my opinion, it their nationalistic viewpoints that keep them in their muck. Pride in our country is a wonderful thing. Recognizing that other countries have exceptionalism, too, and that we need each other is essential in my opinion. Living in fear restricts opportunities.

  68. "Cass suggests that we do what nearly every other affluent nation does" That goes for virtually all American public policy, not just vocational and technical training. Single-payer healthcare would help the working class instead of the Great American Healthcare 'Free-Market' Rip-Off. Higher tax rates on large profitable corporations and the wealthy would help fund a variety of safety net, educational and job training needs that would help society. More green energy and green energy jobs; not 18th century coal and fatal pollution. Replication of Germany's successful 'Mittelstand' strategy of small and medium-sized closely-owned-family-owned businesses that train apprentices and that focus on long-term results and have "much more of an ethos and a fundamental disposition of how one acts and behaves in society", as opposed to the American short-term profits obsession and pathetic slavery to shareholders and the Wall St. sewer of sociopathic greed. Parliamentary democracy, or representative democracy, works well in Canada and Europe to respond to its citizens needs...as opposed to the American Republican ruse and fake democracy where the citizens get good old time religion, guns and bullets, war, unregulated 0.1% greed and enough cultured stupidity to send the average citizen's cerebrum into Pachyderm Spongiform Encephalopathic arrest. America and its Derriere-In-Chief simply need to take their right-wing heads out of their collective derrieres and join civilization.

  69. @Socrates I agree 100%. Look at how Germany has dealt with manufacturing and real estate. That works! We have failed as a nation because we have permitted corporate greed to run governmental policies. Period.

  70. @Socrates Well said. One of our greatest problems in the US is the failure to recognize that there are other countries that have successful ways of doing things, that are not what we do. One needs to see what else is out there before shouting from the rooftops how great we are. A smart country would be able to take the best of all and apply it to our American ethos.

  71. @Socrates Universal health care will also help corporations and smaller companies that complain that health care is too expensive for them to provide to employees. The large corporations get enough corporate welfare. This idea should please them. Oops! I forgot. Hospitals and health insurance companies might hurt.

  72. I was gritting my teeth to read another column that was "good for me" rather than entertaining and educational and he pops out a really nice column. Usually he write as if he attends (or teaches) some high-level graduate seminar in advanced condescension, but this one seemed right on the nose. Maybe writing about the blue-collar worker got him to think a wee bit more like one as well. Plus, I now have a new book on the to-do list.

  73. “We build a broken system and then ask people to try to fit into the system instead of tailoring a system around people’s actual needs.” That system is American capitalism. We should consider doing “what nearly every other affluent nation does” and build a structure “on more successful models used in several European nations.” That’s European democratic socialism. I'm glad to see Brooks has finally come over to the other side.

  74. Oh my I will leave it to Paul Volker, at age 91 to explain it "Mr. Trump had cannily recognized the economic worries of blue-collar workers. Mr. Trump “seized upon some issues that the elite had ignored,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that, in kind of an erratic way, but there it is.” He wondered how many lectures and presentations he had sat through with economists “telling us open markets are wonderful, everybody benefits from open markets.” Eventually, Mr. Volcker said, someone in those lectures would always ask, “What about that poor manufacturer in my town?” But that concern was dismissed too easily, with talk of worker retraining or some other solution far easier said than done." 1. An example of the "economist in the room would be Paul Krugman 2. The economists still have not arrived at a feasible conclusion (obvious to any economist who reads Drucker) 3. Instead they label the working class, white, racist xenophobic 4. Everyone commenting on the working class should first read, in the NY TImes :" Becoming as steel worker liberated her, than her job moved to Mexico My specialty is the economics of Syracuse NY, once a wealthy city , that got reduced by poverty by globalization Unless, the elite, that profits from globalization, recognizes that it MUST reduce wages of US workers to the global average, roughly that of China, it will fail to understand what it is all about

  75. @Woof So, what you are saying is that the working class in America must be further impoverished by having their wages lowered to 3rd world level so the top earners in this country can keep paying themselves over the top wages?

  76. The Democrats have become the smug college professor party. There are a few exceptions, one of which is Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. Here is a link to the speech he gave after being reelected last week. One of his themes is " Honoring the dignity of work" His first line is: "When you love this country you fight for the people who make this country work" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePNTyh45dEU

  77. @Schrodinger Are you talking about politicians? Plenty of smarmy, smug Ivy-educated GOP members to go around. In fact, Trump constantly plays up his Penn degree, although he went to Fordham first. Then DeSantis in Florida is Princeton and Harvard-educated.

  78. It is unrealistic to assume that each generation will be financially better off than the previous one, in an endless cycle. It is a phenomenon that worked in mid 20th century, when America had no competition because the rest of the world was suffering the effects of 2 Was, with their infrastructure and factories either blitzkrieged or nuked. The 19th century was Britain's century, maybe the 20th century was the USA's. Perhaps we just need to accept that America is not exceptional, and that it was lucky to enjoy a great streak in the last century.

  79. I agree with much of what Mr. Brooks says here. If we cannot begin to solve the problems of extreme and escalating income inequality--no easy task and some say it would take an economic catastrophe--this situation is unlikely to change. The problem has been noted before: "The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy," June 2018 ( https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/06/the-birth-of-a-new-american-aristocracy/559130/ ). Stewart's conclusion: "It’s going to take something from each of us, too, and perhaps especially from those who happen to be the momentary winners of this cycle in the game. We need to peel our eyes away from the mirror of our own success and think about what we can do in our everyday lives for the people who aren’t our neighbors. We should be fighting for opportunities for other people’s children as if the future of our own children depended on it. It probably does."

  80. I understand the angst of under-employed rural voters but I don't understand why they believe Trump will bring them better and more secure jobs. The trade war is doing great harm to the farm belt. Steel tariffs are providing short-term relief to steel workers but is harming many more manufacturing workers in the rust belt. Trump's businesses take full advantage of the H-2B visa program that allows 66,000 low-wage foreign workers to be employed for up to 10 months for seasonal, non-agricultural work. This depresses local wages and displaces US workers.

  81. @Donna Kraydo "The trade war is doing great harm to the farm belt." I suspect that this is corporate propaganda that the New York business community spreads through its mouthpieces including the NYT. The price of soybeans is 867. That is a 10 year low, but it is not far below the levels reached in early 2016 before Trump was elected. The price of corn is 373. That is close to the average for the past 4 years. The price of wheat is 507. That is up from 400 two years ago. Finally remember that only about 1% of American workers work in agriculture. The loss of manufacturing jobs to China is much greater than that. https://www.nasdaq.com/markets/soybean.aspx

  82. The reason why they support Trump and his trade war should be pretty obvious. We have seen a major migration of manufacturing overseas to China. They believe that making Chinese products more expensive will eventually result in more people purchasing American made goods, which would increase manufacturing in America. We used to be protectionist throughout the 1800s. Protectionist policies are a common gut reaction to offshoring labor. As you noted they aren't very effective, but their negative impacts are often delayed compared to the implementation of the protectionist policies, so without close scrutiny they can appear to have had no effect on even a positive impact overall.

  83. @Donna Kraydo In our area cranberry farmers are losing their export business because of tariffs. In the upper midwest they can't sell their soybeans for the same reason, and they tell me that Russia is now the greatest exporter of wheat. Trump is making them worse off. It is also a mystery to me, why farmers support him!

  84. "And yet the average poverty rate for 2000 to 2015 was higher than it was for 1970 to 1985." That's no surprise, especially to Republicans like yourself, Mr. Brooks. It's a straightforward consequence of wealth concentration. Return on capital exceeds return on labor. Your cohort is increasingly successful in appropriating wealth generated by Americans who work for a living. If there's less wealth to spread among more people, the poverty rate increases. Go read Thomas Piketty. You'll be gratified to see how well Republican intentions are manifesting.

  85. For all these ideas about the situation of working people, from Cass to McChesney and Nichols, there needs to be some organization(s) to push the ideas into practice. Worker coops sound fine, but who is putting them together, and won’t they face the same opposition as labor unions? And of course, climate change and enviromental destruction are not mentioned at least by Brooks. I haven’t read the book he refers to. There is a lot of opportunity for real and imaginative organization and leadership. Will it develop, and if it does, how can we protect it?

  86. To his credit, David Brooks writes a very good column about ideas that make sense for the future. These ideas break the mold for a conservative -- such as a focus on support for worker co-ops, wage subsidies, etc. Unfortunately, America is already steeped in blind traditions that support large corporations with low wages and high profits, serious insecurities that include concerns about where my next dollar will come from and where my health insurance will come from in the future, and a college education as the salvation for all Americans. Democrats come much closer to supporting the ideas presented here, yet today most people (white men???) who are faced with living in an anxiety ridden state vote Republican, as if fewer immigrants and fewer regulations are their salvation. So if David Brooks really wants to propose and support these ideas, he also has to also figure out a way to convince people that real solutions do not lie with bashing immigrants and refugees, creating travel bans and walls, and moving the country more to the right. I hope he can figure out a way to move people in a new direction, but I'm very skeptical...

  87. In some rural areas, there is a shortage of college-educated workers. It's a shame to keep promoting the idea that rural high school students should be satisfied to work in dying industries. The fact is that living within an hour of a university correlates to higher wages; living in "education deserts" is not good for anyone basically. Moreover, many rural students are better prepared for college than their urban peers. It's cultural not to expect to attend college, not necessarily financial. One final point, most people who live paycheck to paycheck are "working class" even if they have a college degree or better. The truly wealthy live off their investments, not their paychecks.

  88. There are many high-paying jobs that don’t require a 4-year degree. There will always be a need for electricians, plumbers, etc — and they make good money.

  89. @New reader yes. Almost all of us are working class, even an educated doctor or lawyer. If one has to work to pay the bills and not live off investments one is working class.

  90. I am a highly educated woman from a blue collar, rural background. I don’t buy this argument. There is such a thing as agency. I do agree not every person must go to college and I believe businesses and industries should be creating and funding apprentice positions.

  91. @Sherry Norton Mike Rowe, of the TV series "Dirty Jobs," has been advocating education in the skilled trades for several years now. Few seem to be listening. I can tell you that after my plumber's son got his B.A. while simultaneously apprenticing with his dad, he promptly left to start his own plumbing company. The fact that my plumber can send his kids to college says it all. We have to remove the stigma associated with "trade schools" and "vocational schools." Some of the most brilliant people I know dropped out of high school and while plying their trades became autodidacts who are better-read than most of my degreed friends and family...and I.

  92. But David, the working class has been under the republican rule for two years, so if they're still sending a message - because life is still miserable for them (have there been measurable, significant improvements to their lives since Trump's election?), then what kind of message are they sending? Shouldn't they be sending the people currently in charge (the people they see as their own, who are ironically mostly Goldman Sachs elites) a message of disapproval instead? Why are they targeting the people who have been powerless to do anything meaningful for the past two years? Regarding all the labor market reforms that are touted, I see that they are all quite meaningful and have the potential to improve workers' welfare; but, do you think the GOP is minded to make them? Do you think the party of minimal regulations and maximal market freedom is favourable towards these measures? Or do you think rather the Democratic party would be more amenable to making these needed changes?

  93. Alas, with robotics replacing humans at an ever increasing pace, and outsourcing production to other countries the result of “globalization”, I fear the outlook for workers isn’t particularly rosey, no matter what path they choose. I think, Mr. Brooks, your argument will soon be moot!

  94. Very true. I see here in L.A. that there is a push to get everyone to go to college when, in fact, acquiring a trade like plumbing or welding is often a more secure path. Colleges are too expensive for most people, so having options in high school for vocational and trade school programs would be an excellent idea.

  95. "Let students, starting in high school, decide whether they want to be on an apprenticeship track or an academic track." Actually, people were forced onto certain tracks by their yearly exam scores. Those with the top scores went to the best universities, then lower rated universities, then trade school and apprenticeships. If a person's scores were not high enough, even if she or he wanted to go to university, that path was not open to them. Overcoming low scores, even if those low scores were due to not having the correct attitude or poor homelife, made it very difficult to change one's life. That system has changed in much of Europe, but there is still a holdover of the old system.

  96. Brooks wants is an educational system similar to Germany. My son spent six years there working for a drug company after university and made many friends in that system. Firstly some where in or about the 9th or 10th grade students are tested and put into tracks. One to gymnasium and then university. The other is to technical schools that are more rigorous and better funded than ours. These students then track into business or manufacturing. In both instances corporations are subsidized by the government to provide internships for these students. Both university and technical schools tuitions are mostly free and students receive subsidies to live on. German industry is protected by tariffs and workers in their unions often own part of the companies they work for. Finally health insurance is not linked to employment but is provided for the state. personal income taxes are higher than in the US and workers are highly unionized. I doubt very much that is the total picture of what Brooks wants. But I would like.

  97. @Edward Blau Actually health insurance is very linked to employment in Germany, but if you are poor they do have a back up plane.

  98. @Edward Blau, you are giving us alternative facts. First, Germany does not follow the UK model of state-provided health care. It's called the "Bismarckian model" of universal insurance for a reason. Second, Germany is not protectionist. Germany does not set its own external tariffs; the EU does that, and it's been more energetic about negotiating free trade agreements than the US. The EU has a free trade agreement with Japan. That means Germany has free trade with Japan. We don't.

  99. @Edward Blau. Thank you for bringing up the German system. It works well for them. But, I fear the US is too far gone for such a rational system. Big Business, Insurance Companies, Big Pharma own America and would never permit a system like Germany's.

  100. "Let students, starting in high school, decide whether they want to be on an apprenticeship track or an academic track. Vocational and technical schools are ubiquitous across the developed world, and yet that model is mostly rejected here." Very very very bad idea! First of all these models are not all that "ubiquitous" and second, and most importantly, such models come with built-in social and economic prejudice. The poor, underprivileged, etc. etc. end up in the vocational tracks. Many with potential are buried and many have potential. They deserve a shot at a future that might include college and jobs that require university training.

  101. @Joshua Schwartz Respectfully I say that you are out of touch with the reality of what the trades make here in the States. There are many with college degrees and jobs that make much less than an electrician or plumber.

  102. One of the most damaging long-lasting effects for Democrats of 1990's Clintonism and Third Way politics is the deterioration of the bond between the white working class and the Democratic Party. The Democrats of the 1990's pretty much broke with the strong pro-union tradition that Democrats had enjoyed for some time. This bond is a primary reason that Congress was mostly under Democratic control for the postwar to 1990s era. Clinton and centrist Democrats wanted to run with the free markets crowd, and labor found itself without a party to advocate for its economic interests. With no party looking after its economic interests, the white working class instead engages politics through the prism of cultural issues. If both parties are going to ultimately favor capital over workers, you might as well side with the party that shares your cultural values. And in that respect, the GOP better represents these folks. If Democrats want to win over these folks, they have to deliver them prosperity. Medicaid expansion and a $15 minimum wage were a tough sell, even with some Democrats, four years ago. As David mentions, red state voters have embraced these policies. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Americans are pretty leftwing on economic issues. If Democrats can convince on this matter, they can make inroads with the white working class. Question is, are Democrats too beholden to their donor class to see what's in front of their faces?

  103. @Vin: "One of the most damaging long-lasting effects for Democrats of 1990's Clintonism and Third Way politics is the deterioration of the bond between the white working class and the Democratic Party." This is the height of silliness. Archie Bunker was excoriating Meathead through "the prism of cultural issues" long before Clinton was even governor of Arkansas. (Anyone remember the episode with Sammy Davis Jr.?) Yes, it was a television show -- but it reflected reality, as the defeat of George McGovern (Mike Stivic's candidate) ought to illustrate. Regrettably, Clinton had nothing to do with the alienation of the working class from the Democratic Party. Clinton in fact tried to bring the "bubbas" back to the party, and counselled his wife to do the same in 2016, in vain. Don't forget that Clinton fought for health care for the working class. It was the Vietnam War and counterculture that alienated the culturally conservative working class. Johnson and the civil rights era didn't help. None of this is to defend the Vietnam War, or to say that the cause of civil rights is not a noble one. But it is to say that you Berniecrats can't blame Clinton for the schism.

  104. I don't object to better vocational education. We should all want that. But I do take strong exception to the use of "the working class" to refer exclusively to "the white working class." Do you catch the black working class voting for Trump? Of course not, and we know perfectly well why. Also, what if there isn't enough paid work to do? We all know that there have been whole cultures of people who do not, in fact, derive their sense of self-worth from going out to work for an employer for money. That is actually what traditionalists expect from wives and mothers... the ability to find useful, meaningful things to do that do not involve getting a paid job. So we know it's possible. Our culture isn't currently built that way, especially not for men. But imagine a world where the robots produce all the material stuff that needs to be produced. What would social policy look like? And what would we do as a culture if we want to make that a utopia rather than a dystopia?

  105. @Maria " And what would we do as a culture if we want to make that a utopia rather than a dystopia?" That beautifully summarizes progressive obtuseness: there is no such thing as utopia. It is an unreachable ideal, yet so much of progressive thinking is predicated on the assumption that we can actually attain blissful multicultural utopia, where there is no strife, no envy, no want, and most importantly, no straight white males. Most people outgrow such magical thinking by their mid-twenties but progressives are doomed to eternal disappointment when their never-never-land remains forever beyond reach.

  106. @Jeremy Bounce Rumblethud You're reading far too much into what I said. There's nothing wrong with white males per se. Beto's a white male, and progressives adore him. White males are only a problem when they use the levers of power to hurt others. As for utopia, my question was more about the economics and the culture. If robots make all the basic stuff, what's left for the majority of the population? There are three scenarios: 1) The elite hogs all the wealth, and the working class (of all races) gets nothing. I'm not sure you'd ever get the pure form of this, because who would then buy all the stuff the robots make? S 2) There's redistribution of wealth, but without any cultural change. Some people would be fine, but you'd expect a lot of drug abuse in this scenario, and a further spiraling down of popular culture that serves as a form of escapism. 3) There's redistribution of wealth, but also a cultural change that gives everyone constructive things to do with all that extra leisure. There's still work in this scenario... caregiving, creative production, artisan skills, anything that's done custom or in real time rather than by mass production. But maybe everyone only needs to work 20 hours a week, and the rest of the time is available for family, community, sports, and cultural activities. Gardens as well as novels. I suspect many of our grandparents would have adapted more readily to this world than we will, but I don't think it's impossible to do so.

  107. @Jeremy Bounce Rumblethud Each of us can help reduce the hostility between red and blue by listening respectfully for the (at least) grain of truth in everyone's statements. We need to not demonize each other or dismiss ideas by exaggerating some minor component of them. Maria obviously used the abstract terms "utopia" and "dystopia" as poetic shorthand for "a society moving toward generally agreeable conditions for its citizens" and "a society consumed by hate, in which most people lack basic necessities, living in an ugly, unhealthy, degraded environment." I would hope most of us understand this quick way of presenting general ideas. She was not writing a book or an article here. Exaggeration such as Jeremy's just fans the flames of hate and misunderstanding, and furthers acceptability of poor listening and poor thinking.

  108. Many of us, including many of us who have worked in higher education in the very broad definition it's given in the US, have said for years that promoting the notion that getting a bachelor's degree 'in something' is always better than no degree is not merely wrong, it is positively injurious. It wastes the time and resources of both educators and students. And it is premised largely on a poor understanding of the relevant educational data and an entrenched notion that human worth is measured in educational attainment.

  109. @richard "an entrenched notion that human worth is measured in educational attainment" is a notion that's thoroughly rejected by anyone with a decent education.

  110. The issues that drive the working class, both in this country and everywhere else, are emotional, cultural, and philosophical, and have nothing to do with financial well-being. That this is incomprehensible to the liberal intelligencia since before the days of Karl Marx does not make it any less true. Candidates willing to run on race, religion, and class resentment will succeed; someone who can inspire leader worship need not worry about his policy positions. Sure, educational reform would be a good thing. It’s not going to elect anyone President however.

  111. @kbaa Actually, "Candidates willing to run on race, religion, and class resentment" will elect anyone, as you say. It just won't elect a real President.

  112. President Trump endorsed vocational training programs at one point. So did the Socialist Alexandria Occasio-Cortez. Time for a bipartisan deal?

  113. @Schrodinger Oops, sorry, we won't have time for this. We'll be busy impeaching Trump and investigating Kavanaugh. Nice idea, though.

  114. David Brooks’ approach to making life better for “the working class” sure sounds a lot like Hilary Clinton’s proposal for workers’ training programs and poverty reduction. We could be two years into this kind of program, but Clinton had an e-mail server so.... And, besides, Trump, was going to bring back coal mining so those blue collar folks didn’t need to worry about the future. The best way to get a good, high paying job is to be prepared to actually do the job. Whether people like it or not, the money is in jobs in fields like tech and biotech. Workers can also choose plumbing, electric work, etc, but those jobs still require a lot of training and capital investment as well as network building skills to continually find and keep working. All of this means a regular cycle of training and re-training. The government can help by making it easier for people to find and afford the training they need to keep advancing in their fields. The government should be doing that because through education everyone becomes more equal. Or people can just lie around and wait for Republicans to open the coal mines again. Of course Republicans won’t be able to do that, but Clinton had an e-mail server so....

  115. Self-worth is among other things about feeling needed, and for most men (much more than women), with being being productive and able to provide financially for loved-ones. It is basic.

  116. @Eitan, Perhaps this is true of Israel, but in America regardless of gender, nobody likes to feel redundant.

  117. Besides, if every one had a college degree, the value of that degree is watered down. Therefore, more education would be needed to distinguish oneself from the crowd. There is a shortage in contracting, welding and other blue-collar jobs. Good money is thrown away by kids who think they have to go to school and then figure out it was a waste of time. Education policy is to blame as more and more classes are removed that actually would provide students with marketable skills such as wood and auto shop for students who do not envision themselves going to college but are stuck in "college prep" classes. Anyone who owns a post 2010 car can attest, the technology embedded in cars today are beyond the basic knowledge of the weekend car warrior who might be able to change the oil and that is it. The educations skills car techs need is tremendous. Universal education in the US is waste of time and money.

  118. @Chris "The educations skills car techs need is tremendous. Universal education in the US is waste of time and money." Math, reading/writing skills and physics seem to be pretty universal education skills a car tech could use.

  119. @mshea29120 I think he meant university not universal

  120. When Mr. Brooks, like most Republicans, says "working class", he means "white". There are millions of working class Americans who don't support Trump or the Republican agenda - working class African Americans and Hispanics. Some of them live in small towns in Nebraska and Arkansas, but most live in the large urban areas that voted solidly blue for every office from Congress down to their state legislators and county officials. As long as Mr. Brooks and his fellow conservatives continue to focus their energy on the small segment of blue collar and economically struggling Americans who share their skin color, they have no business claiming they speak for "the working class".

  121. Wow! After how many columns of apparent economic obtuseness, David Brooks finally reads a book that opens his eyes to what has been blindingly obvious to some of us. (I worked for decades in manufacturing in the Midwest, seeing firsthand the decimation of the American worker. skilled and unskilled alike.) We can only hope that the ideas outlined in this piece -- and they do sound like good ideas -- find policymakers willing to implement them.

  122. Perhaps, in the case of NYC, we should not concentrate on finding high paying jobs for people who already have high paying jobs. There are 1.1 million students in NYC schools, many of whom graduate with the most rudimentary of skills. Rather than working to provide these students with a means to a decent, productive future, our leaders have given up on them, assuming they'll squeak by on various social assistance programs paid for by the 1%. Bloomberg, the ultimate bloodless technocrat, decided that the effluvia of his schools would find their salvation folding sheets for the rest of their lives in the "hospitality industry" - and be glad for it! Boutique manufacturing, coupled with apprenticeship programs is a way out of this morass. Even just supplying, in part, the city's insatiable luxury market would create thousands of good jobs. So, how has government dealt with this? Bloomberg rezoned whole swaths of manufacturing space so his cronies could construct luxury condos. Both Bloomberg and de Blasio corralled manufacturing to a couple of theme parks in Brooklyn, Industry City in Sunset Park and the Navy Yard, which are hobbled by space, affordability and, not least, the BQE. Although it has yet to be explained why Cuomo, and de Blasio, who can agree on nothing, both signed on to Amazon, you can bet there were salivating financiers and developers present at the secret meetings. Poor and middle class voters, however, had no one at the table arguing their case.

  123. @stan continople When I started High School in NYC in 1972, there were dozens of vocational high schools in NYC, most of which have disappeared.

  124. Why do you think we are stuck on the "college for everyone " mentality? Many people are doing very well having gone to a trade school and learned a very marketable skill. I have a nephew who dropped out of school at 14, but finally got a GED at 15 (I think the school system in SC just wanted to get rid of him). He worked at a drive in restaurant serving burgers on roller skates until he discovered he liked working on cars. He apprenticed at a repair shop and now at 21 is a trained BMW mechanic earning $80,000 and up and his training was free. He even drives a 735i which he got essentially for free plus the parts he had to buy to repair it.

  125. @Julie Carter I am a public school teacher. We are FORCED to push kids to college. We are docked points on our evaluations if we don't display college posters, pennants, etc in our classrooms. We are required to prove that we talk-up college to our students. We are forced to do this so more kids will take the ACT/SAT tests and the sellers of those tests will make more money. Of course, I'm sure that money is kicked back to the top brass in every district that goes along with the everyone-should-go-to-college mantra. It's a racket that bloomed during the Obama administration.

  126. @Honeybee I'm not real sure what's wrong, per se, with encouraging a college education. I have four children: one learned to become a welder in H.S. (now his trade), one is an aspiring artist who's eschewed higher education, and two are college bound (nursing and future pastry chef/bakery owner, respectively). The more choices available, the more chance of finding a path that fits, no?

  127. @Honeybee and right on cue you blame Obama.

  128. When my people have the opportunity to do meaningful work at a living wage, when they are once again afforded the means to actually be instrumental in helping their children attain all they are capable of, when they can live their lives secure in the knowledge that their families are receiving affordable health care...when they can aspire...they will be much less susceptible to being manipulated by fear and hate mongers because those feelings currently being tapped into and exploited will have, to a large degree, dissipated. Thank you, Mr. Brooks, for both this article and the heads up on The Once and Future Worker, I've been waiting for someone other than Bernie Sanders to use their platform to get serious about the issues that have long faced the blue-collared worker, and that it's coming from a thoughtful and principled conservative is a hopeful sign to this old and rather world-weary liberal woman.

  129. Thank you, David Brooks. You’ve articulated a slightly updated version of classic Democratic Party thinking, a New New Deal. I tend to doubt that the free market zealots of the modern GOP will go along, but I’m with you. For what it’s worth, the purpose of an economy described by Cass is exactly what drives policy in the East Asian mercantilist economies. The idea is not to squeeze every last drop of shareholder value from a company, nor to obsess about efficiency. The idea is to keep people meaningfully employed.

  130. Love David Brooks! I have always felt safe. Now, as a widow, my taxes will increase under the new law. My husband worked very hard, as did I. My fear now is I may live too long. It astounded me to discover what it costs to send my grandchildren to college. We, as a country, must, at the least provide heath care to our people as most all other industrialized countries." When I heard it would cost $200,000 to send my grandson to college for four years, well that was a lifetime of savings should one not be employed by the richest of companies. How did this happen?

  131. @Tanis Marsh My son attended Texas A&M; he graduated last May. Total cost for room, board, tuition, fees for 4 years was around $90-100K. He was offered a great job long before he graduated, so employers obviously had no problem with his state school credentials. $200,000 is clearly for a private school, but yes: the economic wizards of the past 30 years (the Bushes, Clinton, Obama) have wrecked life for the middle class. It happened because voters care more about party than the country and because voters are easily manipulated with misinformation and propaganda. Hint: if the candidate is a career politician, they're lining their own pockets at your expense. Don't vote for them.

  132. @Honeybee How does anyone afford $90-100K for college? It's mind-boggling that you would present that as a good thing. The median household income in this country is somewhere around $60,000. How does a couple with those resources repay $90-100K X 2? And save to provide the money for children to attend college, which will, given current trend lines, surely exceed $200K? I agree that career politicians are part of the problem, but the society we have allowed to develop is a bigger problem.

  133. @Tanis Marsh What new law is going to increase your taxes?

  134. "It’s time to pass labor market reforms that will make life decent for everybody." Maybe in a future column you can explain how this will be accomplished.

  135. How do you propose to deal with technocrats who keep disrupting the labor market, Mr. Brooks? With a capitalist system where maximizing profits is always the goal, the working class are shredded every time an Uber or like-minded new Silicon Valley disruptor comes along. We need policy that values people and their job security, and part of that comes from unions, which you dismiss.

  136. @Jasmine Armstrong Job security will not come from people like author Oren Cass. He was an employee of Bain & Co. Then he worked for Mitt Romney as an advisor. Those were the same people who engaged in leveraged buyouts of manufacturing industries, and off-shored the employment. They disposed of good-paying jobs, and paid themselves a handsome fee for guiding the "free market." Now Bain's Oren Cass wants to set up future employment for the little guy. “What if people’s ability to produce matters more than how much they can consume?” Cass asks. Answer: "Production, consumption: it's all part of a consumer economy that is heating up the earth to blue blazes. Maybe we could slow climate change if not so many people all over the globe were involved in industrial production. When you add in the externality of climate change, perhaps giving poor people money for minimal consumption makes more economic sense for all of us in the long run. Have another drink, little man.

  137. Very important topic, but,mostly superficial suggestions. One core problem is the failure of our primary and secondary educational systems. Some fundamental reasons for this failure start with the home environment, wherein children do not arrive in elementary school prepared for or eager to learn. Even in middle class households adequate early support is missing. Another example of poor support: here in New York State in a relatively affluent area, in recent years many parents have refused to let their children take proficiency examinations. They are apparently not interested in measuring the educational progress of their children. If children do not learn that learning is fun and that achievement is rewarding, they are ill prepared for adult employment. So we need to start was evaluating and fixing education at this level. It won't be easy.

  138. @Paul W. Case Sr. I am a lifelong learner, and State Univ. Prof. who went to public schools and a state university. However, we recently pulled one of our daughters out of the public intermediate school here in the Houston area and will likely pull the second one out soon so that we can homeschool both. The schools here are underfunded and have become a punitive, toxic mess. The emphasis here is on petty and punitive rules and the almighty standardized test that all students are expected to be ready for in the same amount of time, not on seeing that the kids actually learn and not on putting their education first. Evidence-based teaching and learning are not being used at all. We have the means and knowledge to homeschool, but I shudder to think about the kids who don't have that option.

  139. "We in the college-educated sliver have built a culture, an economy and a political system that are all about ourselves. It’s time to pass labor market reforms that will make life decent for everybody." The question is: Why did the political leadership in both parties not recognize this fact? The fact is that those in position to take advantages of the free-market philosophy of governance, the leadership in both political parties, and the news media pundits were all in agreement that the free-market was sacrosanct.

  140. Mr. Brooks, this admirer of your writings wants to thank you for trying to understand how the Working Class in small towns and villages might be feeling in the times we are living, and you will not be surprised if they do not read The New York Times, when news these days is the most frightening show seen in a long life time. In some ways the best of America is to be found here in Mother Nature, in its rich history of times going back to The 14th Colony (1740-1840), while taking some dwellers of generations of this green valley into the future, where optimism is fading, but courage is growing. Rather than explain why this American senses that we are not going to make it, but fading, it would take an author to write a small book on the community village, for the village, and as a gift, before it disappears. Somewhere there is a contemporary Mark Twain in our midst who would create a modern-day Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: A sleepy town, not a vanishing or ghostly one. College-educated persons are taking up residence here and bringing their vote with them. But when we meet on occasion to celebrate a holiday, having known each other when Norman Rockwell was at his most popular, this American is aware that we are wearing a far different pair of glasses. A favorite article, to gap this divide this weekend last, was by Jennifer Miller and her essay on can a town be curated. 'Perhaps it is what we need', replied a neighbor (but only if we are not forgotten).

  141. GDP has been the only goal? No, PROFIT has been the primary goal, and the profited goes to shareholders, not to workers. GDP has been important only as it relates to profit, and profiteers consider workers a commodity. Not all profiteers are Republican, but the majority, the ones demanding less regulation and doing everything they can to keep workers from unionizing tend to be Republican. Maybe someday more people will put 2 and 2 together. It's not rocket science, but the same people who want bigger profits and less regulation are also the same people who want to privatize - and profit from - educating the public, and they want the public to believe that 2 and 2 is five.

  142. Historically, when union membership was at its highest, the working class, and the US economy fared best in terms of equality and quality of life for everyone. Universal health care, universal child care, paid parental leave, and flexible hours, all ideas long supported by the democratic party, would produce these results if they were allowed to work. As usual this piece leads me to ask why David hasn't switched parties.

  143. Amazing. David is offering very valid criticisms of our current state of finance capitalism but can’t quite bring himself to saying so. The problem with the American working class is that the global movement of capital along with technological advances has produced an ever expanding pool of surplus labor. At first this trend was focused on African Americans. Inner city unemployment rates have been twice the national average for decades. But as capital found cheaper labor elsewhere that trend has moved beyond the inner city and now encompasses the entire working class. While many of David’s reforms make sense, he misses a crucial point. Capital doesn’t care about the social consequences of its insatiable drive for ever more profit. These reforms, augmented by massive public works jobs could stem this crisis. But it won’t happen. Capitalism always shifts its crisis onto the backs of the working class. That is until that class regains it’s sense of self and begins to fight back. At least for now, with labor union membership at an all time low that seems unlikely. But unless the working class sees an outlet history tells us they will take an extreme turn, either to the right or the left. Neither prospect bodes we’ll for the country as a whole.

  144. The focus on the working class for the success of Trump and Republicans is misguided. Page F12 in the special election issue of Thursday's Times has a plot of voting preference as a function of income. The higher the income the more likely the voter is to to vote Republican. That has always been the case and 2016 and 2018 were no exception. Indeed in 2018 those making less than $30K a year swung strongly to Democrats (65% Deg/35% Rep) while those making more than $100K went 54% Rep and 46% Dem. This means that huge numbers of comfortable to well off people are the real reason why Trump and the Republicans are in power. It is simply wrong to blame this on the white working class. Millions of comfortable Americans are going along with Trump and the Republicans, and their assault on our Constitution, democracy, unity, decency, compassion and respect. While the working class have plenty to complain about in terms of how government policy has treated them, I see no excuse for these comfortable American's embrace/tolerance of bigotry, hatred and authoritarianism,

  145. This appers to be some truth to Richards statement. I live in affluent South West Florida where the Republicans received nearly 70% of the vote. The sad truth is class war is being waged by the elites on the average working man. The elites on both sides of the isle have let us down. It was a collective decision at the top to decided unskilled labor at the remaining distribution centers and other low skill jobs in this country suffered a real 40% cut in pay. This was accomplished by giving lower than inflation raises over the last 35 or so years. These hard working Americans are also loosing their pensions and medical insurance. Vacation time are also being cut. Meanwhile the elites are raising their rents and spending in ways not practiced by their predecessors from the 1960's and 1970's.

  146. @jim. By elites you mean the wealthy capitalist class? You can’t mean just the college educated because as a group they can’t raise prices or rents or give inadequate raises to their workers.

  147. This is all very true, and I appreciate Mr. Brooks for arguing in favor of these changes. But the problem, of course is precisely that: they are CHANGES. I think Mr. Brooks is absolutely right that neither the political class or the educated class is interested enough in this dramatic of a change to our educational/vocational system. But I also wonder if Trump voters themselves would be willing to buy into it. Perhaps it wouldn't be that complicated, or expensive. I don't know. But I can't help wondering if a lot of working class Trump voters would call the necessary changes "socialism" or "big government" or "coastal elites disrupting our way of life" and be unwilling to go along with them. How would Democrats OR Republicans "sell" this overhaul to the people who would most benefit from it? Because it basically sounds like what they do in Europe, not something that Americans would line up for.

  148. Unfortunately, Republican politicians have taken the position that there is NOTHING we can learn from the world. Education? Infrastructure? Health care? Environment? Adopt an element of public policy from Canada, or Europe, or Japan, and it’s swiftly condemned as “Socialism”. If you want any of those policies to be adapted for ourselves, there is only one party that might respond.

  149. Good for you, David. I have nine grandchildren and a great granddaughter and I want that future for them.

  150. So if these high-school educated, working-class Republicans voted for Trump in 2016, and two years later nearly 20% are not working full time and 63% think their children will be worse off than they are, why, exactly, did they turn out massively to support him this time? Doesn't sound like it has anything to do with their financial condition...

  151. @Everyman Well it is partly their economic condition and partly their social status relative to others to whom they believe they are superior. They apparently don’t do much envy the rich as they resent their minority fellow working class folks who they can no longer look down on or be promoted above. If the white working class, and the working class in general, would like to make it about standard of living they would have more allies among urban and suburban liberals. If they’d like the new Jim Crow, then go scratch!

  152. Exactly. My guess is that they are the same as any “mark” of a con - preyed upon by their character wee amnesia. In this case, a sense of inferiority and eagerness to blame the “other”.

  153. Fear.

  154. Can we come up with a better term than "working class"? I'm educated and I work. Maybe that will change our mindset in a way that will solve this problem.

  155. @Horace Working class means any person who is dependent upon a job to live. The president of a university is working class and so is a barista. The class above working class is technically "the bourgeoisie." That means those such as people living on inherited wealth or those living off stock dividends or investments. Those people do not work. They have and they consume stuff that working people make. There is no "middle class." Studies have shown that those who work for lower wages and those who work for high wages all think they are "middle class." Just where exactly is the "middle" in that?

  156. I was middle class and now I'm working class. The taxes here are so high I depend on my dividends, which don't even pay the taxes.

  157. "Vocational and technical schools are ubiquitous across the developed world, and yet that model is mostly rejected here." Vocational schools turn out productive, middle and working class Republicans. Colleges and universities produce socialists. You're darn right we need to start emphasizing (and paying for!) vocational training, and de-funding academia. But the Democrats will never go for it; it eats into their base.

  158. @c smith Paying for vocational training is not that simple. I know you'd like it to be a clear case of political self-interest, but the purse strings are held by both parties, and one of them doesn't like taxes.

  159. @mshea29120 Why defund academia? We have an undereducated population as it is. If Americans had been more informed about their history, they would have understood that our invasion and occupation of Iraq resembled in many ways what we did in South Vietnam. But because most Americans didn't have a clue about their own history (taught in academia) they were easily misled. I watched in frustration as the neocons ginned up American exceptionalism in the runup to the war. Then I watched in despair how an incompetent Bush II administration mismanaged the Iraqi occupation and then further mismanaged the Sunni insurrection. This fiasco cost the U.S. thousands of lives, adversely affected thousands of families and cost trillions of dollars. What it did to the Iraqis is unspeakable. That country still hasn't recovered. I agree with you that we have to properly educate all Americans, especially those in jobs that don't require a college degree. I come from an immigrant family. We were poor when we arrived and we lived in working class neighborhoods. But both of my parents stressed higher education. We did well as a family while many of the "blue collar" people around us, who had been here much longer, did not. The difference was the desire for a good education. It opened many doors to a better life. By the way, if you had paid attention in your history and civics classes you would know that "socialism" is not what higher education produces.

  160. @Jules Korzeniowski ""socialism" is not what higher education produces." A collectivist, group-oriented mindset is the CORE of academic thinking today. Individualism, entrepreneurship and willingness to think differently from the politically-correct worldview of the faculty lounge is discouraged at every turn, particularly in disciplines outside the true sciences.

  161. I'm so confused. If this is what the working class wants, why didn't they vote for Hillary? Go check out her policy page. She called for "a tax credit for businesses that hire apprentices." She wanted to bolster community colleges and provide "more robust, coherent, and accessible training programs." She wanted to make "bold investments in infrastructure, research and development..." to create good-paying jobs for labor. All of these policies and many others are designed to help workers produce, not to hand them money. I understand that there were many reasons not to vote for her, but I never heard, "I like Hillary's labor policies, but..."

  162. @Sam I remember hearing a similar argument during the '16 election in reference to Hillary's plan for opioid addiction: "It's online for everyone to see." As I pointed out then, many of my relatives in rural Pennsylvania aren't online.

  163. @Sam Nah, the 4/5 thx realize that policy wonking is just another power dance the 1/5th do for one another. Meanwhile, the continued rise of the internationalist economy and free trade agreements would continue to benefit a world class elite meritocracy, and devalue labor. For some odd reason, they found a reactionary old guard Germanic white nationalist to fight for them. And it is working. Meanwhile, the elite is still hanging out in the palace garden and wondering what the rascist ripraff will descend to next.

  164. David Brooks fails to answer that apt question and trots out Cass, who does not sound like he even talks to working people.

  165. No, GDP growth matters much more for people’s well-being than vague concerns about the dignity of labor. One only need to look at Europe—the countries that have had the most severe populist movements are the ones with low GDP growth, not the ones with high unemployment. Spain has both high GDP growth and high unemployment, while the UK has low GDP growth and low unemployment. The center is holding much better in Spain.

  166. This statement is wrong: "Similarly, for the last several decades American, welfare policy has focused on consumption — giving money to the poor so they can consume more." Since the misguided bipartisan "welfare reform" of the mid 1990s, state-administered federal welfare funds have provided less and less cash assistance, especially in some states that get away with using the dwindling funds for barely-related purposes. We barely provide cash assistance anymore. What, do you want to take away their food stamps next? (Most food stamp recipients are working poor because their jobs don't pay enough.) Yes, we absolutely need to reform our labor markets and systems of work and education. But don't blame any of the current problem on giving money to the poor. Those "other affluent countries" that have better labor markets and education systems also have more generous social safety nets.

  167. @Paul Let me add, too, that worker productivity has gone up over the years and that wages have not kept pace. So why do we have to improve productivity EVEN MORE before people deserve more pay?

  168. It strikes me as the height of privilege when people who write opinions for a living gush about the dignity of work. Sure, writing opinion books and articles sounds like a fulfilling job. But only a tiny number of people get jobs like that. In reality, most people—especially non-college people—have jobs that are unpleasant and unfulfilling. They do those jobs only because those jobs provide the money to pay for the things that make life meaningful such as hobbies, charity, friends, and family. Most people would leave their jobs if they won the lottery, and would be thrilled if a robot took their job but they still got the same salary. The point of economic progress is to let people consume more while working less.

  169. @Alex Very well put, sir! It's even more rich to consider how Brooks is suddenly a convert to lefty principles like unionisation. He's the last guy to get the memo on working class struggle - yet the first to take the moral high ground. They've been telling "us" for centuries; only Brooks wasn't listening. It reminds me of what Trump exclaimed after he was briefed on the complexity of dismantling Obamacare, "Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated." Pfft.

  170. Sounds like European style social democracy to me. Which is the exact opposite of what the Republican party stands for. Working peoples' hopes in the Republican version of Donald Trump to be their savior is severely misguided. Until they realize this, working peoples' situation is unlikely to improve much, if at all.

  171. @Paul You seem to have missed the statistic that unemployment among all peoples of all races and colors is at all time lows. Have you heard any stories lately of college graduates living in their parents basements? No, post Obama in the Trump era that is no longer the situation. They got jobs because the private sector was hiring. Thank God Obama is gone and Hillary wasn't elected. Can you deny that the economy isn't the best it's ever been in your lifetime?

  172. I live in a liberal, urban center. The gym I go to has lots of Trump supporters. Most of them are really quite well off. But the one thing they share seems to be a small-minded meanness toward other people. Where does this come from? It most certainly is not deprivation. They can have whatever they want.

  173. @Dissatisfied The answer is to encourage hopefulness and confidence. Small-minded means is born of fear. People are always scared of change. People are scared of losing, maybe especially when they have things to lose. & no matter how badly (or well) off a person is, they feel safer and better off if they can kick someone lower down the food chain.

  174. I call Trump and his cohort "sore winners" - no matter what happens, they are unhappy.

  175. @Dissatisfied It comes from some inner deprivation that compels them to feel entitled and superior to others. Which in turn often comes from being given too much from birth and placing too much importance on wealth and acquisitiveness and not enough on intangibles like kindness to others, good works, and smelling the roses. See: Trump, Donald J., POTUS.

  176. Our entire nation's modus operandi is built upon the nonsensical idea that each of us is only capable of saying "yes," or "no." You can try and conceal the nature of axiomatic choice inside of the most monolithic matryoshka doll imaginable, and it will never be able to prevent reality from bubbling to the surface. This is basic mathematics, not rocket science. Life is not zero-sum. When you treat people as though there is no alternative to the terrible conditions imposed upon them, it shouldn't be a huge mystery as to why those people become as angered as they do.

  177. Germany has renown vocational training for those on that track. They also have strong unions with representatives on their employers' boards. Partnerships/accommodations between management and labor. Offer that here and cries of "Socialism" will fill the air rather than some reasoned debate. Unskilled labor has no leverage in this economy. Education and training, on campus or the shop floor, establish skills that increase one's odds, at least for a living wage.

  178. One of the best columns in the Times in a while. We need a Democratic candidate for Presidency in 2020 who understands this and can communicate it. My significant other is a HS teacher and most of her students are not college material. we need to stop thinking that sending everyone to college is the answer. We also need a significant raise to the minimum wage, so workers with a HS or vocational degree can make a living.

  179. @Will Rothfuss Yes to all of the above. For me, that candidate can belong to either party but I get your drift. I taught HS for 20 years and couldn't agree more. The sad truth is that education hasn't gotten so bad that almost none of the students are college material, as you indicate, and certainly had better redirect themselves toward learning a trade. We would do well to teach the old work ethic while we are at it Oddly enough, I think Obama and Trump would agree to your point.

  180. Last weekend, I bought a new bed frame at the local mattress shop not too far from my house. I chatted with the two men working there, a young guy and an older gentleman. They asked if I was getting excited for Thanksgiving. We got to talking about our lives, and I learned their shop was a family-run business. I doubt those men had college degrees, nor would they have needed them to run their shop. But they seemed happy and proud, albeit a bit lonely since no other customers came in the entire time I was there. They were very grateful for my business, and we shook hands when I left. That day, I also went to Target, which was bustling with customers. I didn't chat with any of the employees, but none of them seemed particularly happy or proud to be there.

  181. @NB The Target employees are making around $10 - $12 an hour, they probably don't get health insurance through their employer, they don't get stock options and their work schedule varies from week to week to keep them from taking a second job. Why would they be happy to work at Target or any of these other multinational retailers? My son has high functioning autism and works for one of these stores and if it weren't for me providing his health insurance (he's under 26) he would be on Medicaid. If he lived in a state which didn't expand Medicaid he would have no health insurance. He also suffers from migraines, his medications cost around $1,000 a month. His take home pay when he works a lot of overtime is about $400 a week after taxes. The reason he now works a lot of overtime is because the unemployment rate is under 4% and they can't find enough workers. They still tell him he is a 'part time' employee even though he works over 40 hours a week. Is this even legal? And he is one of the "lucky" ones, most autistic people are unemployed. At least he has a "real job" but I would prefer if he could learn a trade of some kind. The state hasn't been helpful, they sent him to an employment agency who got him his first job, he left that job and has been at his current job for five years. I want my son to learn some kind of trade, he has a college fund that we set up which is sitting in the bank unused. I am willing to pay for him to get some kind of training.

  182. @Sam C. Thanks for sharing, Sam. I wish your son all the best. Many comments here seem focused on government actions that could help the working class. My point is that all of us can, right now, make a difference in their lives through our choice of which businesses to support.

  183. This is a very well-thought essay more than an op-ed piece. Problem is rural and blue collar America are forgotten because the people whom they have fallen in love with (the GOP) are doing the very same thing to them, that the Democrats have done with minorities. Tribalism is now at a fever pitch. When you have a vent-diagram where there is no union of two circles, then every vote, every election cycle means the base needs to be jolted into action. The recent election reveals that 50% of eligible voter actually are engaged, and we are where we were in 2000:50-50. Second, your ideas are wonderful but it would take a major investment by the Feds, and corporations. Whys didn't the GOP think of these agenda items, when it passed another massive tax Cut? Talk is cheap, action of what you describe would take political courage, money, and bipartisan resolve. At present I am not optimistic David. However, I hope I am wrong. N.B. One wonders if 75% of eligible voters participated would things be different?

  184. @Frustrated Elite and Stupid A "vent diagram." The one graphic missing from this year's election coverage!

  185. So where might this come from? My understanding of the principles of allowing businesses to incorporate is rooted in the idea that they might contribute as good citizens might as part of our society and economy. Their history is fraught with violence and irony. In more than a few cases, those powerful men attempted to ameliorate their greed with significant generosity to the public good. In late years our courts have reinforced the notion that such generosity is contrary to the notion of incorporation. They have determined that a corporation's first and foremost responsibility is its fiduciary duty to its shareholders. Consider that, in the wake of last year's cut in corporate tax rates, our largest corporations fell all over themselves to be near the head of the line in awarding year-end bonuses to their employees. But consider that those same corporations, who may have spent tens or even hundreds of millions or more on those bonuses went on to spend billions on stock buybacks, to enhance share prices and increase dividends to their share holders, and increase earnings per share on their reports. I work for a bank. I once had a manger scold me for deigning to present a good customer's request for an interest rate concession on a loan, citing the shareholders' interest. "Without shareholders, we wouldn't have a company." I could only allow as how, "A company without customers doesn't make for much of a company, either."

  186. Brook sounds remarkably socialist here--not that I don't agree. "What is the use of growth if it discards a thick slice of America ?" That is the result of ever more intrusive and more accurate system of analyzing business and maximizing profit in a free market system. Socialism Or call it simple economic morality is needed now to put a floor under our workers and guarantee that some of the riches that they produce are share with them in the form of better wages and stronger economic security.

  187. If you think it's bad in Trump country now, wait a few years for more automation and artificial intelligence. That will take away 40-60% of the current jobs -- even jobs of educated people on the coasts. The only way I can see out of this future dystopia is not a UBI (universal basic income), but a WPA for infrastructure and caring (young children and seniors) jobs that need doing. How to fund it? By taxing (maybe worldwide if we can get a president who believes in working with countries and not threatening them) those companies that will grow exponentially more and more profitable from all the automation, globalization, AI, etc.

  188. Makes some sense if we are educating workers to become robots. There is more to life than being a cog in the assembly line or service industry. A liberal education in literature, philosophy, arts, etc is as important if not more for a person to live a full life and not merely be a great widget producer. If people are to live a more fulfilling life, we must broaden our life goals to include other than merely collecting the most widgets. Even though 1/5th of college grads work in other fields, this should not be looked at as bad, but good not bad. Creativity is nurtured by a broader education not a narrow focused regime.

  189. Aren’t these rural red states governed by republican state houses? When do the republican state houses get blamed for their woes? Apparently these small government rural working Americans (as if those of us in coastal states don’t work) want the federal government to solve their problems. I’m so tired of reading David Brooks, Bret Stephens and other “helpful” conservatives continue to perpetuate the myth that we “elites” have to change but rural Americans can just keep doing what they do and then complain about the results. Why not begin to examine why republican controlled governments don’t make their lives any better?

  190. A brilliant article, rare in its realism and self (elites) criticism. Reminds me of Joan C Williams book, White working class. Only through serious reforms addressing the reality of the working class malaise will populism be warded off.

  191. I strongly suggest that David Brooks visit Reykjavic, Iceland and schedule meetings with economists, sociologists and political scientists at the University of Iceland. Ask them how they have achieved a labor force participation rate of 86 pct while in the US it is 63 pct. Ask also how they have managed to "privatize" welfare. Ask how it is that they can have silky smooth roads in such a severe climate, and heated driveways and public roads to melt winter ice. Then go out and talk to small business owners, medical doctors and corporate executives. Finally, share thoughts with taxi drivers and restaurant workers. Then David can put his pen to work telling us how we can become the exceptional country we reflexively claim to be.

  192. "...welfare policy has focused on consumption — giving money to the poor so they can consume more." "But he’s really trying to put work, and the dignity of work, at the center of our culture and concern." A couple of things here. 1) "Work" here seems to be defined entirely as blue-collar work, exclusive of white-collar work. 2) Contrasting "work" with "consumption" strikes me as unfair and reminiscent of the racist "welfare queen" arguments. 3) No one built a broken system. The manufacturing economy collapsed and a bunch of people lost their jobs. I agree we haven't done enough to help those people, but Democrats are trying to find solutions to that problem and not race-bait their way to office.

  193. @garth I read those farmers affected by low bean prices are taking welfare to offset their losses. White male welfare farmers, man. That's what they are.

  194. people who work have the right not to live in poverty whether they are cashiers, janitors, home health aides or any of the other positions at the bottom of the wage scale

  195. It all makes perfect sense. What draws the poor and working class to vote Republican is the promise of a huge tax cut for the wealthy and corporations that only use the money to buy back their own stocks, and not raise wages. What drives working people to vote Republican is a president who's catch phrase is "you're fired" and who hasn't worked a single day of physical labor in his life. A guy who was born rich and became even more rich by stiffing his workers and vendors. Makes sense. I'm sure it has nothing to do with a hatred toward anyone with brown skin. Oh no, not at all.

  196. This is spot on. I had a similar comment in another article a few days ago. Trump has the pulse of the high school educated rural man. Why they trust a rich guy with a penchant for gold toilets and lying is beyond me but they do. If democrats don't figure out how to talk to this slice of the population, and do it in the next 18 months, Trump has at least a 50:50 chance of getting reelected. In the mean time the disproportionate representation of this slice of the population means that the Republican death grip on the Senate is safe for a good amount of time, particularly if Trump gets reelected. The reshaping of the judiciary will continue, and Trump may get to name 2 more Supreme Court justices. With RBG in the hospital he may get his third one in the not too distant future. I wish RBG a speedy recovery, but at her age broken bones often end up in a very bad way. That is how my great grandmother passed away many years ago. Perfect health, then a broken leg, and next thing you know...

  197. “Working-class voters tried to send a message in 2016, and they are still trying to send it. The crucial question is whether America’s leaders will listen and respond.” The last time I checked the vast majority of the black, hispanic,and native american populations in this country were working class, yet they did not support Donald Trump...hmmm ..maybe the message they were sending was, “give me a break, if you think this guy has the best interests of the working class in mind, regardless of race, just check the tax cut”. I'm afraid Brooks is willfully ignoring the role race plays in working class white support for Trump.

  198. David so they run out and vote for Donald Trump? Im sure if you looked at the Democrats agenda, it would be whole lot more in line with what you are talking about then the Republicans and Trump. So please explain that. We're tired of policy discussions that then get forced back down our throats as elitist.

  199. How predictable--his solution starts with reading a book from a think tank. The whole "we can make a difference in their lives" world view is where the trouble begins. "They" are not "they" to everyone.

  200. Brooks is forever looking to blame the liberal "elite" for the problems effecting working class Americans whom he seems to believe are largely whites, rather than acknowledge white voter refusal to support those who have consistently tried to pass legislation e.g. ACA that would actually help the working class.

  201. True, but the blue states are so outrageously expensive that eventually all the working class people will be forced to move to red states unless they are willing to sink into poverty or homelessness. Neither party serves working people, who need a living wage and affordable housing.

  202. How about hiking the minimum wage? How about making job retraining inexpensive and readily available? How about subsidizing daycare? If David Brooks just added a few more things into his agenda for the working class, it would almost be as complete as the one Democrats have been advocating since FDR.

  203. Best Op-Ed piece of the year! Bravo for highlighting these brilliant ideas. Yes, we who care so much about our diverse society ARE actually a big part of the problem. I've long blamed Reagan for beginning the DIS-education of America, followed by states like Texas offering corrupted history classes. We have so far to go in the opposite direction!

  204. I don't believe Trump voters put their economic well-being at the top of their agendas. They have been voting Republican for decades, despite the obvious fact that the Republican Party favors employers, not workers, and the wealthy, not middle income people. Why? Because they want to maintain the power of the white male, heterosexual, nominally Christian ruling class. It's about culture war, not about jobs.

  205. I find it hard to believe that someone as educated as yourself has taken as long as this to grasp what should be obvious to anyone who can either (a) read a graph about wage stagnation, or (b) travel around the country and see how people are living that "It's time to pass labor market reforms that will make life decent for everybody." You do realize that this puts you at odds with everything the Republican party has stood for since about 1900, don't you?

  206. Geez, Mr. Brooks, what working class are you talking about? Everybody in my small city waiting for buses at 7 in the morning are brown and black working class people. They didn't vote for Trump candidates. You are talking about the white working class, which seems seems to be motivated primarily by race. Most make more than the black and brown people waiting for buses. Most have better houses and better trucks. You are right. They aren't motivated by traditional tax cut, small government Republican ideas. They are motivated by Trump's demonization of black and Hispanics and, of course, the caravan. That's what they are really telling us.

  207. @History Guy Yes. Those voters are telling us: I am afraid of non-white people. I am afraid of immigrants. I am afraid of women. I am afraid of LGBTQ people. I am afraid I might lose my previous privileges that put me ahead of a lot of those people, and I might now have to compete with them on a more even basis, and I'm afraid I won't do very well in that competition. Now, certainly, many are also afraid of sociocultural change (which often includes some aspects of technological change). But, mostly, they're afraid of "those other people". (Though they often don't define them as people.)

  208. Workers aren't uninterested in unions, they are afraid to organize for fear of retaliation.

  209. Mr. Brooks is a smart guy so it's baffling that he still doesn't get why Trump won. Trump won because of racial resentment and a growing hostility to immigration. This has now been well documented. Even if you fixed all the things talked about in this article and blue collar whites were better off it still doesn't change the the fact that he won because of racial resentment and a growing hostility to immigration.

  210. Mr. Books. Your essay seems farcical. The "educated class" doesn't determine salaries for the working class. The owners of capital do. Granted owners of capital may be educated, but many in the educated professional classes (journalists, medical professionals, teachers, professors) don't set salaries. If post 1974 wages of non-supervisory workers had grown at the same rates that they grew at during the 1946-1974 period, there would certainly be much less white working class rebellion. You blame our educational system for not providing vocational tracks. What happened to your conservative beliefs that people are responsible for their own choices. Why aren't parents in pushing their schools to provide options that benefit their children? Why don't high school children take more incentive to become trained in carpentry, plumbing, auto-repair and truck driving? Maybe what we are seeing is a 21st century version of a "marxist" revolution???

  211. Wow, David, you should leave the Republican party. Republicans/conservatives HATE hearing that we might learn something from those socialist countries in Europe. They have waged a decades-long war on public education. They oppose anything the might level the playing field for workers (the gig economy didn't just "happen"). They still dominate the ranks of the "elite" whom you blame for building a system that doesn't work for everyone. I grew up in a working class town, and the hostility to learning among the males (both white and brown) in my high school was a perfect harbinger of where we are today. Yes, the structures we have built do not serve everyone. The deeper problem is culture. Males in our society are taught from birth that all that matters is physical domination, and learning is for sissies. There are a lot of documented examples of heartland towns where women have stepped up and are now employed at much higher rates than their menfolk. Republicans preached "personal responsibility" when the face of poverty was brown or black. Now that the face of poverty is also white, you get all misty-eyed about how we have failed these people. Along with all the liberal/progressive policies you have suggested here, maybe what is needed is a good hard talk about personal responsibility. It aught to come naturally to a conservative.

  212. This Brooks piece conflates "working class" with "white working class" to a degree that ought to be criminal in late 2018. Did non-white working class voters back Republicans in the last election? Not at all, so perhaps there is another variable at work. I wonder what it could be.

  213. The poverty rate was better between 1970 and 1985 because labor unions were more dominant and healthy than they are now. Adult males with only a high school education had a living wage, fought for and won by unions. The assault on organized labor--by both GOP supply-siders and reforming Dems--is a big part of this mess.

  214. Unions shot themselves in the feet by being divided, political, racist and sexist. I was a shop steward for years until my own union and its personal politics made assaults on us, which included breaking the windshields of some of our members. My friend got a job with the Teamsters, who gave her a hard time about being pregnant. We gave up on unions which didn't support us.

  215. I agree with Mr. Brook's proposals but do have a few questions. How is it that whenever there is a mention of 'working-class' Americans, it is implicitly taken to mean 'white Republican working-class' American? Aren't there 'working-class' African-, Hispanic-, Filipino-, Asian-Americans in the cities who share the same economic struggles as the rural white American? Shouldn't the message of these other working-class groups be heeded too? Why is it that these groups that are similarly situated economically are voting so differently? Are white rural Americans aware that the way they currently vote ends up hurting their own economic interests? Or, perhaps, they are aware of this but place more importance on cultural issues? I am asking all this sincerely, not merely rhetorically.

  216. @Santa this puzzles me too, I work in an environment that is largely union. Just yesterday one of my coworkers, a union engineer stated, “I voted straight republican”. Doesn’t he realize the Republicans are trying to subjugate unions? They are the source of his very good wages!

  217. This article misses the point because it assumes that business would start paying a graduate of a technical track education an actual living wage to work in a skilled blue collar job. News Flash - inflation adjusted wages are not rising for most workers with high quality technical training either. Unemployment is only low because folks who are stuck in $9 an hour jobs with no benefits need to work two or three of these kind of jobs to make ends meet. Employers can’t fill technical positions only because they offer such low pay relative to required qualifications that there is no incentive to take the job. Scarcity of candidates is not raising the salary offering either. Record profits and lowered corporate taxes has not put money in anyone’s pockets but owners, board members, and (if retirement savers are lucky) as dividends for holders of equity in public companies. The 1% always get big raises (that they feel they deserve), but workers will only get the absolute minimum in the name of “efficiency”. If you really want to make White working class voters feel secure then how about convincing them to vote for a party that prioritizes higher wages for workers, access to health care, education for everyone, and improving the financial safety net? Instead their bruised egos readily swallow the lie that wages on basic jobs will go up if their evangelical religious ideology is mandated and (recent) immigrant labor is removed.

  218. One of the deficiencies of our democracy is the emphasis often given to ideology vs. pragmatism. We do what we feel ought to work, instead of what actually does. We penalize policy experiments that fail, instead of trying alternatives until we find policies that do. In the US, we’ve long held the view that Industrial Policy was about picking ‘winners vs. losers’ and that it was at odds with free markets. We reach full employment (as we have recently), not through a planned, deliberate set of strategic investments, but really more by happenstance, for example, assuming that by lowering taxes, business will be driven to invest capital into factories and people, yet it rarely does. Countries like China and Singapore have Industrial Policies that incentivize (or perhaps force) investment in infrastructure, skills development, and innovation. To really address the problems of the working class, we'll need to adopt the approach that is serving these emerging economies.

  219. Even before "A Nation at Risk" high schools were pushed to prepare students for college. Now the goal is to have every student attend college. The goal was to have students be able to attend college if they so chose. It seems now that students are expected to attend college. Vocational programs were once very popular and very important with students. Those programs were slashed in the era of "efficiency" and budget cuts. I do not mean to diminish the intelligence or achievements of the many brilliant high school students. But for another many students who graduate high school, it would be wrong to say they have a high school education. Please don't ask me to cite sources, but when I was studying history as part of a teacher education program I was told that six percent of the population ever takes a history class after high school. There is a huge difference in what is taught in high school history and what is learned in college. Continuing education after high school is important for society, as is vocational education

  220. Charles Murray, The Bell Curve: IQ tests show that the American underclass is on average less intelligent than other people, and that this difference is reproduced from generation to generation. This is nothing new, we have known for a long time that IQ scores vary on average between social classes. When Britain still had the 11-plus examination, children of professional and managerial parents recorded average IQ scores of 113, compared with an average of around 96 for the children of unskilled manual workers. Similar differences have been recorded in the US and elsewhere. This is the real problem, Cognitive Stratification!

  221. In this capitalistic society, we tend to confuse 'educated', 'intelligent', and 'wealthy'. Ever hear of "regression to the mean"? The implication of your statement is that if intelligent people only mated with other intelligent people, we would soon end up with a race of Leonardo's, yet for every da Vinci there are still millions of mediocrities. When wealthy people have stupid children, there are a multitude of ways to either address or hide the fact. Costly SAT tutoring that practically begins in-utero will produce that semblance of intelligence, a single number, that so many colleges seem to crave, and many of these students will go on to further success because of who they know. I wouldn't call many of them intelligent though, just lucky.

  222. It's called education, stupid, or are you some sort of social Darwinist? Loki the working class rapper is more intelligent than most of the rich scum in this country and in the UK, who, by the way, inherited a lot of their wealth.

  223. Let's do a thought experiment: let's assume that the white working class, like we assume for every other group, votes for the type of government they want. Then, what do the votes of the white working class tell us? That they want less attention paid to civil and women's rights; less immigration; protectionism; more factory jobs and higher consumer prices; fewer regulatory protections for consumers and workers; less protection of the environment; no prevention of climate change; lower taxes on the wealthy; lower taxes for themselves; worse schools, roads and airports; low minimum wages; weaker labor unions; more restricted access to health care; more guns. What in their voting patterns tells us this is not what they want?

  224. Count the votes, most of us voted for Hillary. And maybe would have voted for Bernie, if the DNC hadn't destroyed his chances. Either vote, for Trump or Clinton, was a vote for elitism. Give us a candidate who represents us.

  225. @FB1848 Ah! A soothsayer, a mind-reader. Thank goodness someone knows the minds of the working class.

  226. We can give low-income workers a 15% raise by abolishing the payroll tax. Replace it with a sales tax (VAT) and refund the sales tax paid on the average cost of living.

  227. Until 1971 and the cancelling of Bretton Woods, productivity and wage growth followed each other closely. Then the rich decided they needed ALL the money and things started to diverge. Bring these factors in line (reward workers for productivity) in line again and things will get better.

  228. This was a thoughtful opinion piece, reflecting ideas with which Mr. Brooks doesn't seem to be quite familiar. The ideas have been around for years and well practiced in many places. The article doesn't explain why these discarded men vote Republican, however, but it does suggest why we continue to have a problem and the ideas here are so foreign to many. As well, how exactly these kind of ideas would take root in America is, well, just plain unlikely to ever happen and left unexplained. All societies produce. All societies consume. However, the America is more about profit than creating a sustainable, healthy society at all cost. It's all about a "Brave New World." What Mr. Brooks avoids saying under a shroud of intelligent suggestions is that white working class men have no where else to go, since the Democrats stand for equality for all, and that's just not their view. I am being kind here, since all you have to do is listen to Mr. King and you will understand who Republicans have become. No doubt our system is broken. We have gone in several wrong directions as a country simultaneously, but when the educational system is rightfully criticized as one size "doesn't fit all," we have Ms. DeVos, who could not be further out of touch with the middle class or undereducated white men than if she was in outer space, where she may well be. I hope Mr. Brooks will write more on this subject. Thank you!

  229. Right on target. The white male working class is uneducated and do not know or understand why they opposed Obamacare. They do not know because of their lack of education how they are being manipulated by the American corporation and the small business person. Unfortunately, these same working class people are no different than the working class people of the Know Nothing Party of the late 1800's and the same people of the Joe McCarthy era and the Father Coughlin era. We are in the same era as the Europeans, Populism. Populism is based on inequality. Eradicate inequality and you eradicate populism. Until the working class raise their consciousness, through educating themselves, they will continue to be a working class. Then again, if you are in the working class or underclass, you should be afforded all the dignities and respect. The fact that they voted in large numbers the other day is a good sign. They are starting to realize their vote is important. They say a university graduate is seven years ahead of the rest of the population. Just maybe seven years or less, the working class will raise their consciousness to demand for only two things: universal health care and universal free education?

  230. @Reuben Ryder The left is not for equality for all. It has its preferred victim groups who are more equal than others. Besides, it wants equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity.

  231. I don't understand why working people vote for Trump, but voting for Democrats hasn't helped me, either. I had a $3700 pay cut and I pay the highest property taxes in the country. One Democrat governor looted our pension fund and the new one is creating more new taxes on everything. I got fed up voted third party in the last gubernatorial election. It seems to me that both parties are intent on destroying us. It's just that the Democrats offer us a few crumbs of assistance after they've taxed us into poverty. So I keep voting for my Democratic enemies, since my Republican enemies are even worse. The Democrats don't offer "equality for all" any more than the Republicans do. Both parties only offer equality for the rich.

  232. I'd like to know more about worker co-ops. But in the meantime I would suggest a different book titles "Which Side are You On? Trying to be for Labor when Labor is Flat on its Back," American Workers are trying to tell us something. We, the American Workers, are flat on our backs. We are begging for help, for medical care, for a safety net, for dignity.

  233. Education, education, education. The willingness to be re-educated and move to find work and have a better life. Isn’t that why most people try to immigrate to the US? Coal workers who want mines reopened so they can work in deplorable conditions and die horrific deaths voting for people who want to take away their health care. Upholstery coming back to NC from China and the industry opens up a school to retrain workers and people don’t make the cut because they test positive for drugs. These are individual choices. It all goes back to education and value the family puts on it.

  234. @KLKemp Why not just call the people you're criticizing a basket of deplorables and be done with it? Your condescension could not be more apparent. Let me guess: You belong to the "college-educated sliver" Brooks is talking about and see no reason why everyone shouldn't think the way you so.

  235. "But co-ops, drawing on more successful models used in several European nations, could represent workers in negotiations, train and retrain workers as they moved from firm to firm and build a safety net for periods of unemployment." Sounds good - sounds like a union to me. It has a *New* jargony name but it would function just the same. Maybe "co-op"is a little less frightening to some people.