David Brooks, in his column today, writes: “The standard thing these days is for Americans to scold each other for our profligacy, to urge fiscal Puritanism. But it’s not clear Americans have ever really been self-disciplined.”
That sort of phrasing suggests that there’s something wrong with “the standard thing.” Which is a bit odd, because over the past year or so one of the most prominent proponents of a return to America’s forsaken “fiscal Puritanism” has been… David Brooks.
Google “David Brooks debt,” and the first thing you’ll find is his column of June 11, 2008 (all dates from the print edition):
The people who created this country built a moral structure around money. The Puritan legacy inhibited luxury and self-indulgence…
The United States has been an affluent nation since its founding. But the country was, by and large, not corrupted by wealth. For centuries, it remained industrious, ambitious and frugal.
Over the past 30 years, much of that has been shredded.
Next up is his column of July 23, 2008:
America once had a culture of thrift. But over the past decades, that unspoken code has been silently eroded…
And now the reckoning has come. The turn in the market punishes many of those seduced by financial temptations. (Sometimes capitalism undermines the Puritan virtues, but sometimes it reinforces them.)
And then there’s his entry from September 29 of this year:
The Protestant establishment had many failings, but it was not decadent. The old WASPs were notoriously cheap, sent their children to Spartan boarding schools, and insisted on financial sobriety.
Over the past few years, however, there clearly has been an erosion in the country’s financial values…
A crusade for economic self-restraint would have to rearrange the current alliances and embrace policies like energy taxes and spending cuts that are now deemed politically impossible. But this sort of moral revival is what the country actually needs.
If the meme Brooks identifies today is the “standard thing,” it’s in part because he has helped make it so.Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.