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The Big Answer


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The Next Century

a book by David Halberstam

(our site's book review)

The author looks at the fact that the American era of easy affluence is over, and the basic assumptions of our country’s foreign and domestic policies are Second Wave and invalid. He looks at the fact that the U.S. remains politically polarized, divided and paralyzed, unable to effectively deal with any of its problems in education, crumbling infrastructure, and other nations overtaking us in various areas like health, education, per capita income, industrial growth/health, standards, and infrastructure maintenance.

Political polarization
Political polarization


The U.S. is unable to effectively deal with any of its problems in education, crumbling infrastructure, health, etc.
The U.S. is unable to effectively deal with any of its problems in education, crumbling infrastructure, health, etc.

He cites the S & L crisis to show the degeneration of politics and policy, and the short-term perspectives (especially as compared to long-term Asian perspectives) of our corporations and political decisions to show that we’re undermining our tomorrows while other countries are providing for theirs, and we’re robbing our children while other countries are providing for theirs.

Third Wave international economic realities are realistically acknowledged by many of our corporations, because self-deception can mean self-destruction in the global economy, but our government is still run in Second Wave ways by Second Wave thinkers who win votes among the nostalgic by pretending that things haven’t really changed all that much in the last 60 years.

The only reason the deregulation Kool-Aid was drunk by Reagan and the public was that hugely effective and expensive P.R. agencies taught the Reagan administration how to serve the Kool-Aid with devastating effectiveness
The only reason the deregulation Kool-Aid was drunk by Reagan and the public was that hugely effective and expensive P.R. agencies taught the Reagan administration how to serve the Kool-Aid with devastating effectiveness

He cited the 80s as the decade in which, as productivity decreased, everyone lived in the past, maxed out their credit cards, and borrowed one trillion dollars from the Japanese, who were busy saving and planning ahead. We acted as though we were going to die in a few years. We mortgaged the future in order to pay for an orgy of consumption in the present. Reagan had the opportunity to give the country a much needed lesson in conservatism from the bully pulpit. But he did not. When leadership was needed, he gave us feel-good cliches. When saving was needed, Reagan said “party on, dude.” But he was concomitantly pulling the rug out from under the possibility that millions of Americans would be able to afford any parties.

Reagan, when saving was needed, told us to—instead—'party on, dude'
Reagan, when saving was needed, told us to—instead—'party on, dude'


Credit card debt
Credit card debt


In the 80s, Reagan encouraged an orgy of consumpion, pulling the rug out from under the possibility that millions of Americans would be able to afford any parties in their futures
In the 80s, Reagan encouraged an orgy of consumpion, pulling the rug out from under the possibility that millions of Americans would be able to afford any parties in their futures

He helped transmogrify America into an oligarchy rather than a democracy. His policies helped create what Robert Reich called “a secession of the symbolic analysts,” wherein the top 20% of our people become powerful Third Wave Information Age professionals who separate themselves off from the rest of society as much as possible, as if to “wash their hands of the rest of their compatriots.” Oligarchies believe that they can do well even if the majority of the people in their country do not. (See The US is an oligarchy, study concludes.)

Halberstam believes that the U.S. is moving towards such a system, and he points out that those countries that go that route are unsuccessful, while Japan has people at the top with win-win attitudes that believe that the country as a whole must do well in order for those at the top to do well. He says that the leaders of the U.S., after World War II, knew that our own health would depend on the health of the rest of the world, so we created the Marshall Plan. But now those at the top feel that the health of those under them is irrelevant, so they keep on acting as though America had a population of 50 million (all their do-well peers), offering "tax breaks for the rich." (Thanks a lot, Obama and Bush.)

In the U.S. the rich are shaking down the poor
In the U.S. the rich are shaking down the poor

Aside from obvious liberal pleadings for more progressive income redistribution to undo the excesses of the 80s, and conservative pleadings for better education, more savings, paying off the debt, more fiscal and personal responsibility, and better long-term planning, the book abhors the way the country is polarizing into a Haves versus Have-nots society that will lead not only to oligarchy, but to rebellions and bloodshed as well. He wants us to look around the world, look at other countries that have gone that route, and understand what happened and what it meant to lifestyle quality, values, freedoms and happiness. Then he wants us to learn that lesson the easy way and change our ways. The alternative is to go the oligarchy route and once the misery precipitates mass bloodshed and suffering, learn the lesson the hard way.

Bloodshed—Have-nots warring against Haves
Bloodshed—Have-nots warring against Haves


When saving was needed in the 80s, Reagan said 'party on, dude,' and the Congress whose job it was to restrain him did nothing—this drunken party of greed gone mad is NOT the plan our founders envisioned!
When saving was needed in the 80s, Reagan said 'party on, dude,' and the Congress whose job it was to restrain him did nothing—this drunken party of greed gone mad is NOT the plan our founders envisioned!