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Economy’s Stumbles, Obama’s Cabinet Top Week’s News

Columnists David Brooks and Ruth Marcus weigh the news of the week, including rising job losses, the auto industry bailout and President-elect Barack Obama's latest Cabinet picks.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus, New York Times columnist David Brooks, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. Mark Shields is away tonight.

    "Dismal job report" was the way it was described in the news summary. Would you agree with that?

  • DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times:

    I don't think I could disagree. I'm trying to be disagreeable. No, pretty dismal to very dismal.

    The only thing I'd add — and this is a non-economic point — but one thing that's always worth keeping in mind to depress us further is that, when the economy goes down, the economists talk about loss of jobs. But sociologists will talk about other effects which are always worth mentioning.

    Robert Putnam at Harvard emphasized that, when the New Deal hit, people didn't only lose jobs, social organizations lost members, people pulled back all sorts of social bonds and relationships, marriages begin to fail in higher rates.

    So what you get is not only poverty, which is bad, but you also get a much higher level of social isolation. And as we talk about the economy over the past couple of years — next few years, it's also worth talking about the social effects and having policies to think about those social effects rather than just the material effects.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Do you have anything dismal you'd like to add to that?

  • RUTH MARCUS, Washington Post:

    I don't know. Are there any more adjectives you can come up with for "dismal"?

    I have been actually quite rattled by the inability of anybody that I've talked to in the administration, in the incoming administration, and the outside academic world of economists to spin this in any kind of positive way.

    It is a bad situation. And I think of it as a situation where you have a patient who's shown resistance to a lot of antibiotics and systems are failing. And it's time to really start throwing every piece of medicine that you have in your arsenal or medicine chest at the economy and hope that some of it works finally.