Wall Street Read of the Week: David Brooks’ “The Broken Society”

One of the odd things about Wall Street right now, among many, is that it is exactly the same as it’s always been. Nearly everyone agrees that it needs drastic change, but few people know exactly what that change should look like, and even less can write eloquently about how and why that change might happen.

David Brooks’ “The Broken Society” in today’s Times, which Americanizes a 2009 essay from the conservative British writer Phillip Blond, begins with sourness: “Public debt is piling up at an astonishing and unrelenting pace. Middle-class wages have lagged. Unemployment will remain high. It will take years to fully recover from the financial crisis.”

What is there to do about all that? Mr. Brooks thinks the solution is a stronger local community and a weaker big government. He talks about “passing zoning legislation to give small shopkeepers a shot against the retail giants, reducing barriers to entry for new businesses, revitalizing local banks, encouraging employee share ownership, setting up local capital funds so community associations could invest in local enterprises, rewarding savings, cutting regulations that socialize risk and privatize profit, and reducing the subsidies that flow from big government and big business.”

Besides hearing sentences like those, the fun thing about reading Mr. Brooks, who is no leftist, is that he has professorial ideas about how to solve the problems that are chewed over in dorm rooms. “In the age of deregulation,” he writes, “giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.” The answer, he says, is “to restore trust is from the local community on up.”