The People and Forces Behind America’s Fifty-Year Fall
— and Those Fighting to Reverse It
WHEN: Published by Knopf May 29, 2018
WHERE: The author lives in New York.
WHY: “A searing socio-political jeremiad.
Brill brings both detailed reporting and wide-ranging perspective to this insightful account of how America reached its current state.” –PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“Clarifying and invaluable.
“Seeking the causes of America’s current malaise, high-profile legal journalist Steven Brill examines a half-century of interrelated structural changes in business, finance, and law, and diagnoses an autoimmune disorder of sorts, in which ingenuity and meritocracy have been inverted so as to impair, rather than enhance, the nation’s health.
“He laments a broad-spectrum breakdown in things that the U.S. used to do well: infrastructure, banking, education, governance, public health, and basic civility. The problem, he suggests, is that the American machine may have worked too well, allowing a small number of bright, driven people to amass enough wealth and sophistication to master its levers and destroy any threats to their power. Thus, innovations in executive compensation lead to corporate raiding and routine downsizing. Lawyers are pushed to find creative new ways to maximize their clients’ wealth. Hard-won advances in free speech and due process are co-opted to advance corporate interests.
“It’s a bleak assessment, but a penetrating one, in large part because of Brill’s skill in presenting abstruse legal and financial developments in an accessible manner.”
–Brendan Driscoll, in a starred review for BOOKLIST
“Hard-hitting.” –KIRKUS REVIEWS
. . . . .
FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK:
Is the world’s greatest democracy and economy broken? Not compared to the Civil War years, or to the early 1930s. And not if one considers the miracles happening every day in America’s laboratories, on the campuses of its world-class colleges and universities, in offices and lofts full of developers creating software for robots or for medical diagnostics, in concert halls and on Broadway stages, or at joyous ceremonies swearing in proud new citizens. And certainly not if the opportunities available today to women, non-whites, and other minorities are compared to what they faced as recently as a few decades ago.
Yet measures of public engagement, satisfaction, and confidence — voter turnout, knowledge of public policy issues, faith that the next generation will have it better than the current one, and respect for basic institutions, especially the government — are far below the levels of a half century ago, and in many cases have reached historic lows. So deep is the estrangement that 46.1 percent of American voters were so disgusted with the status quo that in 2016 they chose to put Donald Trump in the White House.
It is difficult to argue that the cynicism is misplaced. From the relatively small things — that Americans are now navigating through an average of 657 water main breaks a day, for example — to the core strengths that once propelled America, it is clear that the country has gone into a tailspin since the post-war era, when John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier was about seizing the future, not trying to survive the present.