His column this morning praises the late James Q. Wilson, who cited the importance of character as central to social problems. Well, sure, but character isn't an isolated phenomenon springing whole from Zeus' brow. Character doesn't exist in an economic vacuum. Massive losses of good jobs, especially in light and heavy manufacturing in the cities, aren't irrelevant.
He cites household debt as evidence of weakened character. The credit card and the home equity loan were not invented by consumers, but by banks. The end of usury limits on credit card interest was not sought by irresponsible consumers, but by credit card issuers. And these exceedingly profitable entities have been remorselessly marketed. This isn't merely a failure of consumer character.
Self control, in general, isn't as short term profitable as unrestrained self-indulgence. Every last incentive, marketing tool, advertisement, directed at us from cradle to grave, militates against the very character traits that Mr Brooks sees as vital. The complete, utter lack of restraint of those trying to get us to spend our money, and our borrowed money, in search of happiness, sexual fulfillment, beauty and so on is hardly to be ignored in a discussion which all too often centers on individuals' character flaws. Of course, character is important. But Brooks contradicts himself regularly when, for instance, he talks of the 'stresses of the information economy' as causative. You indeed have to play your hand as best you can. But you don't cut the cards, don't make the rules, and it's the only game in town.