On Tuesday, the center-right pundit published a piece that featured this remarkable paragraph, which I like to imagine Brooks celebrating with an Italian chef kiss with his greasy mortadella fingers:
There are lots of dumb things about this totally real anecdote. First off, poor people eat Italian sandwiches, which are quite common. Second, there’s the fact that he and his very real friend end up eating “Mexican,” the low-class fare that plebians would certainly be comfortable with. Hmm.
But the completely not fake sandwich story is actually just a vehicle for Brooks to make a very bad point: that the division between the upper-middle class and everyone else is caused not by structural barriers but “informal social barriers.” Brooks actually dedicates the first half of his piece to detailing a whole host of very real structural barriers: that upper-middle-class parents spend two to three times more on their children than their lower-class counterparts; that they can spend buckets of money to get their kids admitted to college; that housing policy segregates poor people from the neighborhoods and schools of rich, white people like David Brooks.
But then there is an incredible bait-and-switch. As Brooks writes, “I’ve come to think the structural barriers [analyst Richard Reeves] emphasizes are less important than the informal social barriers that segregate the lower 80 percent.”
The only way Brooks could come to that conclusion after laying out (himself!) the immense structural barriers that poor people face is through willful ignorance. If culture is the main problem, then people like Brooks don’t need to think about, say, giving up any of their wealth to create a more equal society. It’s much easier to pat yourself on the back after taking your definitely real lower-income friend out to Mexican food than it is to support policies that would help that person live in the same neighborhood as you.
The thing is, if you give poor people more money, then they can afford the freaking bufala mozzarella at David Brooks’s fancy sandwich shop.