Books

Puff goes the great American Dream

Sravanthi Challapalli | Updated on June 15, 2012

Author: Edward Luce Publisher: Little, Brown (Printed exclusively for Hachette India) Pages: 304 Price: Rs 699

The US is attempting to reclaim the fascination it had held for the rest of the world.The book presents an alarming picture of a country that seems to be hurtling inexorably into an abyss filled with the disappointment of Americans who feel their Government has failed them in several spheres, be it governance, education, industry or jobs.



Recently, the US launched its first ever unified campaign to attract more tourists. After 9/11, the country had been cast aside as ‘unwelcoming' and this exercise is meant to amend that, apart from getting people to visit. In short, the US is attempting to reclaim the fascination it had held for the rest of the world.

And this is what Edward Luce centres his book, Time To Start Thinking, on — the fall in the pre-eminent position that the US once held in the world's mind, the unravelling of the American Dream.

Disappointments galore

The book presents an alarming picture of a country that seems to be hurtling inexorably into an abyss filled with the disappointment of Americans who feel their Government has failed them in several spheres, be it governance, education, industry or jobs.

Luce chronicles the people's indignation over the departure of jobs to other countries; the fact that the US is no longer a manufacturing nation; that only the big, multinational businesses have a direct line to the seat of power; and, of course, China.

There's the concern over the US' blunted edge in innovation, and the reminder that China is not just a cheap manufacturer of others' inventions, having birthed, and birthing, quite a few of its own.

There is much weariness over how Government spending on research and development is done and monitored so that only a few are encouraged to go through with it. And a similar exhausting intrusiveness that prevents stalwarts from heading Government agencies and making a difference.

The US is no longer a coveted land for foreign students — the 2001 terror attacks ensured that, combined with the rise of opportunities in their homelands. Then there's unhappiness over jobs going to the robots — those dumped are finding it hard to get back into the workforce with a low morale and consequent reluctance to develop new skills.

The book is a reiteration of the fact that the 2008 economic crisis came with several loud warnings but that those who held the strings, such as Federal Reserve chiefs Alan D. Greenspan and Ben Bernanke, “took us over the cliff with their eyes wide open”.

There is much evidence in the book of a country, rather, its movers and shakers, living in denial. Platitudes — that things will always turn out alright, for instance — make up for the lack of will to act or do what needs to be done.

There's much discussion on how money has come to dominate all spheres of Government and how it infiltrates governance.

There is concern over the bureaucracy's clumsy efforts at regulating affairs. Sample this: Efforts to improve the skills of poor and middle-income America include 56 programmes to promote financial literacy, 82 projects to better teacher quality and 51 schemes for worker assistance and job placement training.

The GAO (Government Accountability Office) is making an increasingly faint plea for co-ordination, a Herculean, if not impossible and hopeless, task.

Educational system



It's in the recounting of conversations and anecdotes that the book really holds one's attention — and there are plenty when innovation and education are being discussed.

There is an engaging portion on the dumbing down of America, and its school system that seems to worship brawn more than brain — Luce cites a newspaper report saying the average salary of a high school sports coach in Texas is $73,000 against $42,000 for a teacher in any other field at the same grade.

Not only that, parents and the educational system are colluding to make the US a nation of, well, wimpy youngsters that cannot bear to hear the truth about their less than esteemed selves. There is parental pressure against awarding the students a C grade, and trophies are awarded for what should be a given — punctuality, for instance, or making an effort.

This “good job” approach to raising children has been achieving nothing but vacuous egos and robbing them, even, of a normal life that ill-prepares them for the reality that they encounter in college.

There's also the concern about America's ignorance about the outside world — according to a 2003 report by the Strategic Task Force on Education, it is so great as to constitute a threat to national security.

Published on June 15, 2012

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