David Brooks Predicts the Future

Today I read with great interest — and great disbelief — David Brooks’ latest cliché column in which he tells us that everything is going to be alright, and in fact better than ever.

Better for whom, David?

As many regular readers know I live in San Jose, the tenth largest city in the country, the third largest in California. San Jose, as the Chamber of Commerce tells us, is the capital of Silicon Valley. For years, maybe decades, Silicon Valley has been the economic engine of California. When you think of high tech, you probably think of Silicon Valley, home to HP, Apple, Adobe Systems, and so forth. At one point it was home to the aerospace industry, too. And before all that, it was farmland. Most of the fruit sold in the rest of the country came from Santa Clara Valley. But that was long ago.

A quick look around the Valley today does not show signs of the next technological revolution; everywhere there are abandoned business parks. The quickly slapped together tilt-ups that optimistically defined the first wave of the technology revolution here now sit empty, or in some instances converted to evangelical churches.

The chip manufacturers that used to be here long ago left for Asia – as the desire to sell more chips for less money meant that chips were no longer a profitable-enough business. Only recently, IBM said it could no longer make enough money selling PCs and so sold the business off to China’s Lenovo. Empty parking lots sit where 20 years ago apricot orchards used to stand. Sometimes you see a few Apricot trees planted in the medians, fruit rotting beneath, like some sort of sore tooth reminder of what once was here. Ironically, one of the biggest streets in San Jose is Moorepark Avenue, named after the famous apricot tree that was developed here and fueled a lot of the early agricultural economy.

Canning was once a huge concern here. Del Monte, Marianni, Contadina and a handful of other big names had major operations here, but they left long ago for other locales. Mostly as a result of NAFTA, canning is now handled in Mexico, though the fruit might be grown in the states. The big long-empty canneries in San Jose have been converted into long-empty lofts. The old Del Monte plant in midtown San Jose kept a few of the original brick walls — as art. They are propped up with steel beams in the common spaces of the complex with a bench in front, maybe as some sort of reminder that things were once made here. It has a very disjointed look, but the real estate developers got some significant tax breaks for doing it, as historic preservation. I’m not kidding. If nothing else, the City of San Jose has a sense of humor.

The main drag of downtown San Jose is North First Street. At the very far north end are new business parks with gigantic For Lease signs in front. During the go-go ’90s before the dot com bust, these business parks were built on speculation. Cisco Systems owns a lot of them when they anticipated never-ending demand from Pets.com and their ilk. Sun Microsystems (remember them? They put the Dot in .com…) — recently bought by Oracle — owns a lot of land here, too. They bought the property of the local insane asylum when it was shut down because there was no desire to have tax dollars help the helpless (now the homeless), and now Sun/Oracle is trying to sell it.

Continuing south on North First Street you eventually hit the long-abandoned traditional downtown. Literally blocks and blocks of empty storefronts with paper in the windows. The Downtown association lets aspiring artists display their work in the windows with contact information should you want to buy any aspiring art.

One block houses City Year, which is an AmeriCorps project and the San Jose Ballet’s offices and school. Those are the only tenants for an entire city block, on both sides of the street. There is some question about the viability of the local Ballet corp which some years ago partnered with Cleveland Ballet to share costs. It doesn’t look well for the home team, and I think Cleveland cut out a while back. Another block has the original Bank of Italy which became the Bank of America. AP Giannini was a local boy. The bank has a big sign offering “office condos” for lease, whatever an office condo is. The once-grand lobby is now a nightclub.

At some point, North First Street becomes South First Street, which in turn becomes Monterey Road. The farther south you go, the more sprawl you see in the 180 square miles or so that is San Jose. Way down in the south part of town is where you will find the McMansions inside the gated communities, and the white-flight neighborhoods of the ’60s. Many McMansions are empty or foreclosed; one of my friends from IBM bought a foreclosed property there for pennies on the dollar. You can see the grandiosity and hubris of the past decade or so as farmland was bought up and turned into these monstrosities in the middle of nowhere, where you must drive everywhere to do anything. Peak Oil will be very interesting for these residents, with their shiney SUVs and Hummers parked out front, motorhome in the driveway. Our light rail system is nearby, but you hardly ever see anyone get on or off at those stations.

Finally, you get to the farms of Coyote Valley, which is perhaps the last of the old-time agriculture in San Jose. Right now it is lush and green, and the hills are dotted with cattle. There are some neat acres of furrows sprouting crops, and off the shoulder of the road, in the height of summer, you can find farm stands selling just-picked produce.

So, back to David Brooks, and his luscious orgy of optimism.

“In sum, the U.S. is on the verge of a demographic, economic and social revival, built on its historic strengths. The U.S. has always been good at disruptive change. It’s always excelled at decentralized community-building. It’s always had that moral materialism that creates meaning-rich products. Surely a country with this much going for it is not going to wait around passively and let a rotten political culture drag it down. “

If California, the eighth largest economy in the world is in shut-down and abandonment mode (and it certainly is here in Silicon Valley, the original TomorrowLand), then where is this revival going to happen, David? Is disruptive change some sort of code word for ruthless social darwinism? Is decentralized community-building GOP-speak for pull yourself up by your own damn bootstraps? I think the key word in the phrase moral materialism is materialism, and if nothing else in Silicon Valley is clear to me at this point it is that the selfish pursuit of wealth and material goods at the expense of the common good is a short-sighted policy.

And David, “Surely a country with this much going for it is not going to wait around passively and let a rotten political culture drag it down,” is exactly what we are doing, because people like you are actively tearing down the country.

My friends in the start-up world have told me that as part of the agreement to get funding from the Venture Capitalists up on Sand Hill Road they have to have a plan in place to not hire their engineering talent in the United States. And why should they since the Clinton Administration foreward there have been tax incentives and other incentives to move operations offshore? That’s policy, David, policy that you promoted. And so in one swoop we are not only ensuring the rise of unemployment here in the Silicon Valley, we are also enabling low-wage countries to continue to exploit their workers. We’ve made the mistake of thinking of these low-wage countries as our partners, when in fact they are our competitors.

You decry that our kids are falling behind in math and science, and I agree, but I also see why. Here in the Valley, they’ve grown up watching both of their parents work 80 hour weeks, forgo the family vacation because there is a new product release coming up, a tight schedule. They’ve watched their parents split up and get laid off, chewed up and spat out. One of my friends from long ago, a brilliant man with a Computer Science degree from an A-list engineering college now works for Best Buy selling flat panel teevee machines, instead of designing them. So these kids who should be the most likely to go into engineering and science can see that it is a dead-end road. Kids are not stupid, David. Why would they make the same mistakes as their parents?

So David, the policies that you and your friends championed are the exact policies that sent our canneries off shore, tore out our agriculture to build commodities that would eventually move off shore, and that ripped out farmland to build ex-urbs that cannot be sustained and day-by-day, year-by-year are abandoned and fall into decay. These are the policies you espoused, David, and they are the policies that killed Silicon Valley.

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13 Responses to David Brooks Predicts the Future

  1. Abu Scooter says:

    In con-speak, evidently, putting “moral” in front of a word makes it “better.” Back when they were pushing the Iraq occupation, it was all about “moral clarity.” Now David Brooks wants us to buy into “moral materialism” as some sort of good. Seriously, what the f**k is wrong with these people?


    • Tengrain says:

      Abu Schooter –

      Welcome to MPS, it is good to have you with us.

      I think that the David Brooks of the world have amnesia or worse, that they have to pretend that they did not cheerlead the wholesale destruction of the economy and the country; it’s like one of those voice-overs for a bad movie trailer – “What if one day you woke up and realized that everything you believed in, everything you fought for, everything that defined you, what if all of it turned out to be a lie?” And in the case of pundits, what if you have been wrong, demonstrably wrong, every column for 30 years?

      I think that this is where they are, knowingly or not. So the past is behind and the future is ahead. Tell us something we don’t know, David.




  2. BuelahMan says:


    This is one of the best articles I ever read here. Nicely done!
    Thank you

    PS- I shared a little diddy from here earlier at my place. Hope its ok.


    • Tengrain says:

      B’man – Thanks for the props; coming from you it means something to me.

      it is always OK for any of the Scissorheads to nick anything from here. With attribution, of course, which I know you do.




  3. This is an awesome depiction. let me know when the book comes out!

    Like this the best:

    And David, “Surely a country with this much going for it is not going to wait around passively and let a rotten political culture drag it down,” is exactly what we are doing, because people like you are actively tearing it down.

    I keep thinking that green technology should be our saving grace but with such a corrupt political environment, I won’t bother to keep my fingers crossed.


    • Tengrain says:

      Patrick –

      I thought the same thing for a while, but here’s the catch: my friends that told me about being required to hire outside the country? They are all working on alternative energy technologies. The game is completely rigged.




  4. Mike Rakita says:

    Amen to that, my friend! I didn’t realize just how bleak SJ has become. I remember the thriving SJ when I visited the Bay Area (back in the good ol’ days of the late ’90s), and it was certainly impressive (the expansion and growth). Now it all seems for naught.

    I’m really sorry to see that part of California go down hill so quickly. My friends who were there have since moved away (although one still lives pretty close by, working for Yahoo!). Again, it’s a damn shame.

    Thanks for giving us a glimpse of your “neck of the woods” and I hope things will change. Unfortunately, when you have the David Brookses of the world spouting nonsense and talking shit, a lot of things will have to happen before things get better. It really is stunning to hear/read such drivel from someone who is soooo out of touch with the conditions beyond his penthouse in Manhattan.

    Again, great post…keep up the great work.



  5. Laura says:

    I was born and reared in Monterey County, and well remember how appalling it was, seeing the wonderful orchards around San José torn up for housing–especially knowing that one day things would change, but no one will take the asphalt away when folks leave…

    Your passionate post is spot-on, TG. Thanks so much. I only wish the solutions were as clear to see as the problems. People just aren’t woke up enough, yet.


  6. And who is going to buy the engineer-outsourced alternative energy products? Or maybe the very wealthy have already written us off and are aiming for Asia? Sickening. The tax code encourages outsourcing–parking money overseas in the form of factories, etc., in low tax countries (China used to let companies negotiate tax rates, at least initial tax rates). Why aren’t those tax provisions repealed? Charlie Rangel makes noise about this from time to time, but it’s still in the code.


  7. Andy says:

    Great article Tengrain, I agree with every point. There was one sentence which I might take issue with, however:

    “Peak Oil will be very interesting for these residents…”

    There are some indications that peak oil has already been reached in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer – and where I happen to live at the moment (yes, I’m an economic migrant).


  8. rehctaw says:

    `Obob’ takedowns are always enjoyable. You’ve gone above and beyond.

    I fully know why you don’t write these longer exercises more often, but I sure do enjoy them when
    they happen.

    DFB deserves every bit the treatment that Madoff got on the streets of NYC. Maybe they can reopen that
    mental health facility to house all of the RWR revisionists beating off on the Op-ED pages. I don’t mind that Obob plays with himself and/or his own feces. I do mind that he’s squatting on prime real estate needed to restore our national sanity.

    Great work 10G!


  9. Hey, if you San Josetistas can’t manage to make some scratch off of having become a city-size museum of the charming past, then suck. on. this. Wait, that’s the other guy. Sorry.


  10. Pingback: Get Off The Cross | Mock Paper Scissors

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