The Spectacular Stupidity of David Brooks

In Stupid white man criticizes smart Chinese woman, I looked at David Brooks v. Tiger Mom. In a recent NYT piece, “Why Fathers Leave Their Children,” I think that he has outdone himself. He looks at a phenomenon that is roughly 3 percent of GDP and never considers that cash incentives might influence behavior.

My comment on the piece:

Touching sentiments, but hard to see how they can be squared with statistics. Compared to other developed countries with no-fault divorce, the United States has roughly twice the percentage of children living without both parents. In winner-take-all jurisdictions within the U.S., such as New York, Massachusetts, California, roughly 75 percent of divorce/custody lawsuits are filed by women (and, in more than 90 percent of the cases, the court declares that the mother will be the primary or “winner” parent). “fathers abandon their own children”? That’s a touching story, but if you look at what actually happens a better summary is “fathers discarded by courts as secondary parents”.

A shorter summary would be “If you set up a family law system in which the only thing that you want from fathers is cash, probably cash is the main thing that you’re going to get from fathers.”

(See for an analysis of a month of cases in a typical U.S. jurisdiction.)

(I should point out that it is also much more lucrative in the U.S. to get rid of a “secondary parent” than it is in other countries. In Sweden, for example, if it were possible to get rid of a biological co-parent the resulting cashflow would be $2,000/year. The same child might yield $40,000 or $100,000/year (tax-free) in the U.S., depending on the co-parent’s income and the state. Americans’ behavior in mating and family court is exactly what you’d expect from the economic incentives presented by states. A resident of the U.S. will enjoy a higher spending power by having a brief encounter with a high-income co-parent than by being in a long-term marriage with a middle-income co-parent. Why be surprised that people avail themselves of the higher-spending-power option?)

Of course at the lower end of the income scale the behaviors are also economically rational. If neither biological parent has any income, the adult who can get custody of the child becomes entitled to a range of valuable welfare programs, including free housing.

How is it that there is a market for people to read this Brooks guy?

5 thoughts on “The Spectacular Stupidity of David Brooks

  1. The purpose of Brooks was to be the token conservative on the NYT op-ed pages (he has since been joined by Ross Douthat). Being incisive and convincing was not a requirement, quite the opposite, in fact.

  2. I’m having a harder and harder time understanding in what sense Brooks is “conservative” – it seems he is more of what used to be called a “Rockefeller Republican” or is sometimes called a RINO – a Republican in name only. Basically the same thing as a liberal Democrat only slightly less so.

    I guess the narrative that Brooks is peddling, however wrong and dumb it is, must be appealing to some (large) segment of the NY Times readership – women obviously, people who make a nice living from the existing custody system, men who see women as an “oppressed” class, etc. Most of your typical “blue state” voters whom the NYTimes caters to. The fact that cishet white males end up getting royally screwed by the current system is, to them, not a bug but a feature. White males have been screwing women, minorities and other oppressed classes in the US for the last 400 years , so now it’s their turn to ride in the back of the bus.

  3. Brooks is not a conservative. He wrote dozens of columns praising Barack Obama in the highest terms (before becoming somewhat disillusioned with him), and many attacking Donald Trump in the lowest terms. So obviously he is a Democrat in his political outlook, not a Republican.

  4. What a repulsive article. He talked to a couple of people and read a study or two and has these sanctimonious opinions. The horror of the family courts with their greedy lawyers, incompetent judges and mental health “experts” predicting what is in the child’s “best interests,” the high likelihood that a male will end up with a large financial obligation for the rest of his working life and be barred from having a normal relationship with his children is no doubt a major cause of males fleeing. Someday in the future the American laws regarding child custody, child support and spousal support will be seen as the product of the madness of a civilization

Comments are closed.