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July 24th, 2009
01:32 PM ET

Kill the Rhinos!

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/HEALTH/06/18/ep.health.reform.basics/art.obama.ama.gi.jpg]
David Brooks
The New York Times

Forget the wonkery. Let’s get primeval. Rising health care costs are a stampede of big ugly rhinos. They are trampling your crops, stomping on your children’s play areas and spoiling your hunting grounds.

President Obama wasn’t exaggerating when he said this cost onslaught is unsustainable. The rhinos have been roaming unchecked for a generation. We’ve thrown research projects, legislative and corporate reforms at them, all in an effort to tamp down health care inflation. But the rhinos keep coming. They are ubiquitous, powerful, protean and inexorable.

They feed on fuel sources deep in our system: expensive technological progress, the self-interest of the millions of people who make their living off the system, the public’s desire to get the best care for nothing, the fee-for-service payment system and so on.

The rhinos are closing off your future. As the White House folks say, health care premiums have doubled over the last decade. The government is saddled with $36 trillion in unfunded liabilities.

So your only question should be: Where do you find a tool or weapon big enough to stop the rhino stampedes? You know the problem is big, and you figure the response had better be gigantic.

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March 27th, 2009
12:24 PM ET

The winnable war

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/03/19/afghanistan.fighting/art.soldiers.afp.gi.jpg caption="Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers listen to a speach in Nadi Ali district, Helmand province."]
David Brooks
The New York Times

I came to Afghanistan skeptical of American efforts to transform this country. Afghanistan is one of the poorest, least-educated and most-corrupt nations on earth. It is an infinitely complex and fractured society. It has powerful enemies in Pakistan, Iran and the drug networks working hard to foment chaos. The ground is littered with the ruins of great powers that tried to change this place.

Moreover, we simply do not know how to modernize nations. Western aid workers seem to spend most of their time drawing up flow charts for each other. They’re so worried about their inspectors general that they can’t really immerse themselves in the messy world of local reality. They insist on making most of the spending decisions themselves so the “recipients” of their largess end up passive, dependent and resentful.

Every element of my skepticism was reinforced during a six-day tour of the country. Yet the people who work here make an overwhelming case that Afghanistan can become a functional, terror-fighting society and that it is worth sending our sons and daughters into danger to achieve this.

In the first place, the Afghan people want what we want. They are, as Lord Byron put it, one of the few people in the region without an inferiority complex. They think they did us a big favor by destroying the Soviet Union and we repaid them with abandonment. They think we owe them all this.

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Filed under: Afghanistan • David Brooks
November 28th, 2008
10:42 AM ET

Stimulus for skeptics

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/POLITICS/11/26/transition.wrap/art.paulson.geithner.jpg
caption="Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, right, sits down with his likely successor, Timothy Geithner, on Tuesday."]
David Brooks
The New York Times

Over the past year, the federal government has poured money into the economy hundreds of billions of dollars at a time. It has also guaranteed investments, loans and deposits worth about $8 trillion. Barry Ritholtz, the author of “Bailout Nation,” points out that this project constitutes the largest infusion in American history.

If you add up just the funds that have already been committed, you get a figure, according to Jim Bianco of Bianco Research, that is larger in today’s dollars than the costs of the Marshall Plan, the Louisiana Purchase, the New Deal, the Korean War, Vietnam and the S.&L. crisis combined.

Is all this money doing any good?

The financial system seems to have stabilized, but bank lending is minimal, home prices keep falling, consumer spending is plummeting, and the economy continues to dive.

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Filed under: David Brooks • Economy