Sunday, June 17, 2012

Read This Book Before Voting in November

Edward Luce has written an excellent book Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent. Unless you have been living under a rock or all your information comes from Fox News, Luce presents a pretty convincing and sobering appraisal of the economic, political and cultural circumstances that Americans find themselves now.

In many ways it is a depressing book. How could the United States lose its many competitive advantages? How can we get back on track? It won't be easy if it's even possible.

I have provided some excerpts below to give you a flavor of Luce's research and analysis.

“It might be that the balance of power in society is permanently shifting [toward the very wealthy],” said Solow. “If so, it is not going to be easily reversible—or reversible at all. If it continues, then your guess is as good as mine as to how society will respond.”

 “Every visa officer today lives in fear that he will let in the next Mohamed Atta. As a result, he is probably keeping out the next Bill Gates.”

The United States, he continued, was way too dependent on its military. The country should sharply reduce its “global footprint” by winding up all wars, notably in Afghanistan, and by closing peacetime military bases in Germany, South Korea, the UK, and elsewhere. America should make extra sure not to go to war with Iran. “We have to be able to learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran,”

 “We are borrowing money from China to build weapons to face down China,” he said. “I mean, that’s a broken strategy. It may be okay now for a while, but it is a failed strategy from a national security perspective.”

Its title, Time to Start Thinking, implies that America has not yet begun to think seriously about the consequences of where it is headed. Nowhere is this deficit more apparent than in American politics.

The era of secure employment is over, he said. Welcome to the era of mass casualization. It is still in its early days. “If you are smart, entrepreneurial, and highly educated, the new world offers you more options than ever before,”

In the United States it costs $2.38 an hour to pay for an employee’s health care coverage. In the remainder of the rich world it costs just 98 cents.

H. L. Mencken, the mordant journalistic wit from Baltimore, once wrote, “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”

Clinton bequeathed to George W. Bush a larger fiscal surplus than any in U.S. history before or since. It was rapidly wasted.

According to the Austin American-Statesman the average salary for a high school sports coach in Texas is $73,000, versus $42,000 for a teacher in any other field at the same grade.

More than a quarter of American students drop out of high school.

It is little wonder that almost half of America’s students fail to complete their college degree in the allotted time. Almost a third drop out and nearly half of those taking four-year college degrees fail to complete in the allotted time.

 “The fact is that good teachers get bad results in poor zip codes and bad teachers get good results in wealthy zip codes. That should be the starting point for any debate about performance.”

Unless America can sharply boost the proportion of its workforce that is skilled—whether from college or vocational studies—a growing share will face the probability of spending their lives in low-paid work.

More than 70 percent of U.S. PhDs in physics are awarded to foreign students. Just over half of U.S. patents are now issued to foreigners.

Chinese companies introduced 391 global IPOs (mostly in Shanghai and Hong Kong). America managed barely a quarter of that.

“In the past the whole world copied American technology,” said Sodhani. “Now we are getting into the habit of copying others.”

 “If Obama keeps listening to the chief executives of Fortune 500 companies, we are doomed,” said Khosla. “They never did anything original in their lives.”

In spite of his rhetoric, Reagan left government larger than he found it. He managed to shut down only four programs—general revenue sharing, urban development action grants, the synthetic fuels program, and the Clinch River Breeder Reactor.

 “If you are dumb and rich in America you have a higher chance of graduating than if you are smart and poor.”

America spends more on potato chips every year than on research and development. More than half of U.S. patents were now awarded to non-U.S. companies.

But when it comes to the U.S. Constitution, believing is often seeing. The word “God,” for example, does not once appear in the 4,500-word document. When Benjamin Franklin suggested there should at least be a prayer at the start of the convention, Alexander Hamilton joked that America did not need more “foreign aid.” When asked later why God had been omitted from the document, Hamilton said, “We forgot.”100 It was an odd oversight by a group of drafters whose attention to language is rivaled by few others in history.

The more alienated America’s voters become from the two major political parties, he said, the more positively they will respond to whackos who emerge from nowhere to exploit their resentment against Washington.

In American politics there is a saying: “If you are explaining, you are losing.” Simplicity of message is a skill at which Republicans have often proved better than Democrats.

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