Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum the Decline (and Potential Comeback) of the U.S.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, three-time Pulitzer Prize winning author and New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman and director of American Foreign Policy at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies Michael Mandelbaum discuss their new book, That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back.

Nearly ten years after Jerry Falwell blamed the 9/11 terrorists attacks on “abortionists” and feminists and gays and the ACLU, Michele Bachmann suggested, with a wink, that the recent earthquake and hurricane Irene might also be retribution for the copious sinning going on here on the east coast.

These views are, to say the least, extreme, but it is true that there is a growing concern that these might be the end days of American prominence on the global stage. While these end days are attributed less to the wrath of any one person’s interpretation of religion and more to policy and economic disasters, Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum say that this does not need to be the end of the American Dream. This time of decline should, instead, serve as the American Wake-up.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in a recent policy speech in Wyoming that “the growth fundamentals of the United States do not appear to have been permanently altered by the shocks of the past four years.” Yet Friedman quotes the dean of the public policy school at the National University of Singapore today in the New York Times, saying nearly the opposite. Dean Kishore Mahbubani says that this is not a normal recession, and recovery is not around the corner. Instead, he says, sacrifice will be needed in the post-American century world.    

Friedman said he and Mandelbaum were driven to write the book because of the specter of permanent decline.

The notion that every generation will pass on to the next a higher standard of living is now in play, and that won’t just affect America, because the American dream is so essential to America’s ability to project power into the world to be a stabilizing force and to be a model of Democratic capitalism that other countries will want to follow. We wrote this book because neither of us wants to be on duty when the American dream goes dark.

Mandelbaum sees economic and foreign policy as interlocked.

Our conversations about foreign policy always ended up with domestic policy and with the challenges that the United States is not facing, let alone mastering. And we concluded that the most important foreign policy today is domestic policy.

The United States used to be ascendant largely due to a formula for success—one that it has since moved away from, said Friedman.

Those parts are investing in education so we ensure that we have a population that is capable of mastering whatever is the technology of the day…second, building infrastructure so we have the worlds best roads, airports, bandwidths…third is keeping our country open to the world’s most energetic and talented immigrants… fourth is having the right rules to incentivize investment and risk-taking but prevent recklessness.  And lastly it’s government-funded research to push out the boundaries of knowledge.

The authors argue that the way back to that formula is through what they call “hybrid politics”—a mix of spending cuts, raising taxes, and investment in those five areas. Mandelbaum said sacrifice will be a part of the effort, not just by the wealthy but by all. Also important will be unity behind a plan to recovery. Friedman said manufacturing will play a role as well. Until last year the United States was the world’s largest manufacturing nation in terms of value of products produced overtaken by China only this year.

So actually we are not out of manufacturing.  What we are out of is low-end manufacturing. But in terms of producing high-end value added products, we are right there with China.

The difference, he says, is China produces the same amount of goods with about 100 million people that the United States does with 11 million people, and he said that will likely not change. 

Mandelbaum agreed, saying that equal production with one-tenth as many workers means that the United States can afford to pay ten times the wages. He said the same numbers of manufacturing jobs can be sustained if more investment is made in research and invention. Still, he believes the shift to service jobs in inevitable, and those jobs are easily endangered by what he refers to as “cheap genius”—innovation and outsourcing abroad. In order to keep these jobs everyone must bring something extra, he says, which reaffirms the need for increased attention to education. 

Friedman said the long historical view is the real question.

It really comes down to, will our decline be relative, as we are rising but other countries are rising as well, and maybe faster and catching up.. Or will it be absolute decline, will we literally be falling back? We really think that is what is in play now.

Financial centers like Hong Kong and Singapore are getting ahead, but Friedman said that advancement is not due to any one policy.

It’s because they’re starting every day by asking one question: What world are we living in? What world are we living in and what are the biggest trends in this world? How are we starting our day? Well, way too often at the political level, we’re starting our day with one political party or another saying how do I take this crowbar and put it in the wheel of the other party?


Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum


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Comments [71]


There were two questions that were raised during the interview:

1. How did we get here?
2. What other countries do that succeed where we fail?

These are my answers to these questions:

1. The current economic situation is the result of American public listening to demagogues like Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum. Their "flat Earth" views advocating for importation of "cheap geniuses" is precisely why other countries eat our lunch. Their claims - like the statement that forty percent of new companies in this country are started by immigrants - are bogus and cannot withstand closer examination.

2. All other countries engage in protectionist policies one way or another. It is the free trade advocates who refuse to see it and keep pushing the free trade policy which is bankrupting this country.

In summary, the third party the pair is proposing is no different from the other two parties we have and Bloomberg is THEIR messenger.

Sep. 16 2011 11:08 AM

@Toniqua - The President is NOT the problem. 14 years of illegal immigration (lowering the entry level wage domestically) and unbalanced trade deals - NAFTA, MFN for China - allowing corporations to offshore their labor forces without a plan to cope with uneven wages, working conditions and environmental demands - were BOTH GOP faults.
Learn more, comment better.

Sep. 11 2011 12:34 PM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

Cheap overseas manufacturing is flooding our nation with substandard products. This may be okay for personal electronics where the mantra is 'buy before repair' but I, for one, am getting kind of tired of ill-designed, untested crap being foisted on us by Pacific Rim labor. They can't afford to buy what they make so there is little wonder that so much of it simply doesn't work well or work for long. They lack any feedback to really improve their products. What feedback they get is from the bean-counters and to an accountant cheaper is better.

Cheap telecommunications - the real Internet boom - is responsible for outsourcing help desks to India and the Philippines...If their wages were comparable to American wages, these desks would move back to the U.S.A in a heartbeat because they are so inefficient at closing tickets with Americans.

Take a job below you, get experience and move up. That's the only way we get out of this slump.

The government needs to see that foreign governments are doing something to level the playing field - worker conditions, environmental protection, etc. - or start closing our market. Yes, it's a bad time to talk tariffs but without them, it is a race to the bottom.

Sep. 11 2011 12:27 PM
Tariffs and Managed Trade ? A better way back ? from Not Lake Wobegon on Jobs

How might we rebuild our jobs base ?

Perhaps by regaining control of our markets.

The authors join the chorus of self-help gurus who want the unemployed to blame themselves morally for their misery.
(Meanwhile, the authors - sitting comfortably in their positions of security
and success see no such moral flaws in themselves).

So should the unemployed and underemployed and soon-to-be unemployed former middle class Americans accept that really - they are to blame ? I think not.

Should they invest what little money they have left or go into debt to retrain so more ? Should they be "flexible" (read SPINELESS) and merely acquiesce to
a life of poverty for themselves and their children (if they can afford to have any).
I think not.

Let's face it, if your competitors are being paid a fraction of what it costs to live in the U.S. to do the same job, Americans will
be screwed. Companies won't HIRE HERE unless the have to do so in order to SELL HERE.

Perhaps America and the other shrinking
formerly well-off nations should form their own managed trade block.

Perhaps, this block should charge tariffs on
goods imported from low cost countries to level the playing field - so that it costs the same to hire an employee here as there.

Perhaps an outcomes-based managed trade plan - where countries by law keep
balanced trade - or face automatic one-sided tariffs would be of greater benefit to
most Americans, since most of us have very little money and only have our work to support ourselves.

Perhaps companies who SELL here should be taxed on their SALES - their use of our markets - to support our society -
and to support their customers.
Those who don't can go sell elsewhere.

This would clearly increase the cost of some goods a bit, but it would create secure and lasting jobs, and not ask
Americans to continue to fight a hopeless losing battle. Are you many times better than your competition ? You better be, since they're many times cheaper.
This is unlikely to stand - without intervention the US and other formerly well-off countries will continue to bleed jobs and most of their people will become dirt poor. Many will lose their homes, and their
health. Many will lose their families and friends - particularly if we follow the
author's suggestions of blaming the victim.

The authors instead propose that America become a "Lake Wobegon" economy - where everybody is above average (actually JUST above average won't be enough- one would need to be extraordinary to secure the living wage difference). This won't work. But, no doubt, it'll sell a lot of books so the authors,
their friends and family won't have to worry
for themselves....

Hopefully there is some other less interventionist approach - that WORKS.
Hopefully the extraordinary geniuses with
tenured jobs will find one.

Sep. 07 2011 09:51 PM
Ed from Brooklyn

When at least 50% of the American population believes in Creationism, our place as a world leader is over. Justifiably so.

Sep. 07 2011 06:37 PM
John Raby from Warren, NJ

Right now, our country reminds me too much of 17th century Spain. Back in 1965, Seymour Melman, professor of industrial engineering at Columbia, predicted that if we continued spend lavishly on armed might at the expense of civilian research and development, our nation would decline. Now we are reaping the bitter harvest. Though pieces of their thinking make some sense, the generation-bashing that Friedman and Mandelbaum seem to relish, along with their generally shallow analysis, is stale hash. Paul Kennedy, Robert Reich, Paul Krugman, Amartya Sen, Joseph Stiglitz, David McReynolds, Bill McKibben, or Wendell Berry would have offered us far better commentary.

Sep. 07 2011 04:52 PM
nnmppir from Brazil

Americans are so proud and prepotent they are blind to the Roman empire bankruptcy. Militarism, expansionism, the sherif ot the world, that is the root of the american empire.
Americans do not know to live out of wars. Americans think wars are necessary, good and justified.
Can a country survive with this mentality?

Sep. 07 2011 04:32 PM
Tom from NJ

What I heard is the U.S is falling woefully behind in skills. It was 1983 alarms were sounded with the publication of "A Nation At Risk". Our science/ technology/ engineering/math programs exist in part because they are, and for decades have been, populated by foreign nationals. 50% of new silicon valley startups 1995-2005 were started by immigrants. 1. The U.S. desparately needs high tech talent to stay competitive
2. U.S. students for more than a generation have shown little interest in science, engineering, math.
3. U.S. universities are filled with foreign born talent.
4. We educate the best and brightest in the world, here in the U.S., then we send them home to compete against us
5. How foolish is that?
What can be done to encourage the high tech talent that is here -- the stay here? Until we figure out how to train our students and ourselves, let's find a way to import talent to keep us competitive -- or -- slip further behind.

Sep. 07 2011 04:04 PM
Laurie from New Jersey

Dammit, I'm tired of "baby boomers" being blamed for everything. My generation remembers the Kennedy assassination, lived through the civil rights era, came of age in Viet Nam, lost our faith in government during Watergate, and was buffeted by technological change more rapid than at any previous time. Now whatever we worked for is being lost as the kleptocrats steal our retirement savings. Mr. Friedman, I refuse to assume the blame for the "failure" of American Imperialism that you suggest my generation caused. That blame can go to the Neo-Cons, the new Robber Barons and the 'vast Right-wing Conspiracy,' not the confused members of a cohort that tried its best to survive, and to be decent, honest, and self-aware in a time of drugs, war and hate. Just maybe, the young people of the world will be better without the American "dream." At least they have their own chance to try and save what's left.

Sep. 07 2011 03:17 PM
SaraHall from NJ

The chattering classes demonstrate, once again, that they are as clueless as our politicians. They fundamentally fail to recognize the real challenges faced by tens of millions of Americans, and instead peddle stale ideas based on mis-truths, half-truths, and nonsense.

In America, we don't have public intellectuals we have book-hawkers

Sep. 07 2011 01:39 PM
Peter from Riverdale

What your guests ignore, as some of the comments touch on, is the reality of wealth and power. Typical Friedman. His schemes are usually good ideas, but utopian, as they ignore the real forces in society. As many of us on the left have been saying, most recently Robert Reich in this past Sunday's NYTimes, productivity and living standards rose in tandem from the end of WWII till the late '70s, then we continued to generate wealth, nearly all of it going to the top. You don't have to be a Marxist to realize that corporations and the one or two percent of million/billionaires have more power to direct policy than the hundreds of millions of us in the bottom 70 or 80 percent. Both parties are funded by those people, are inundated by their lobbyists, have their representatives and regulators moving in and out of the corporate structure, etc. Why would they institute policies that diminish their profits, like keeping jobs here when they can hire people cheaper in Bangladesh? Yes the Democrats are somewhat more concerned about the ill effects of the system on ordinary people, and the Republicans are more and more responsive to their crazies, but both have the same people running the economy- the Bernankes, Geithners, Summers, etc. They are more concerned with the toobigtofail guys than the millions of toolittletosave (those losing homes, jobs, unable to feed their kids, etc.) Until we deal with the power of money to direct U.S. policy, all this talk about investing in America is just talk.

Sep. 07 2011 11:39 AM
Tanoa Rodgers from NYC

As humanity anywhere we always have a choice to behave either negatively or positively and by that I mean how we treat others that are connected to us whether we like or appreciate that link. So as an individual, community, district, or nation we make choices everyday. Those choices reverberate long after the initial act was initiated. So if we want to change those negative patterns of action we have to decide to act differently. Costa Rica decided sometime in its history that they did not need to support a military because they saw it as a drain on the country's financial resources. it is not a rich country but they also decided to make sure that education was highly valued in their government programs and that eco-tourism was another positive contribution to the country's welfare. Scandinavian countries have similar values but they have more natural resources and wealth to work with. At the end of the day as people we all make mistakes and some policies go awry but what is most important are the values that underlie our indivdual and collective decisions.

If you value boys over girls as they do in India, China and most African and Arab countries, women are denied the opportunity to make an important contribution. Who suffers? We all suffer in the end because the the talent that is denied is the talen that is lost for the individual, community, district or nation and ultimately the world. Greedy people only think of themselves and their cohorts and they are unconcerned about the short or long term effects of their actiobs. The only know what they want. Finally in a sytemic sense I believe in world affairs there are three elements that determine the fate of nations and will ultimately destroy the world we live.

Our economic, environmental and energy choices and plans are inextricable bound and if we continue to fuel our economies with fossil fuels and nuclear power, no matter the short term advanteges, we will surely destroy our environment. Sadly "our leaders" are looking for an escape to another planet as our salvation. Even Stephen Hawking has said if we don't pursue another development path, colonizing outer space is the only way to save the human race. But if the values remain the same in that pursuit how will we do anything different than what we have done to mother earth.

Sep. 07 2011 11:01 AM
Mzkpeople from Brooklyn

A third party run for President?

That's exactly the kind of fake outside the box thinking I expect from a pair of aging baby boomers who believe that all we need is a long shot and the whole thing can turn around. What a bunch of nonsense.

These guys want to do the work to turn the country around with a third party? Why don't they get off their butts and start organizing one. Get some people elected in local elections or local federal elections and then start talking about the Presidency once they have a credible movement. Seems to have worked for the tea party maniacs. Some kind of top down rich guy as third party Presidential candidate/American saviour is exactly the kind of lazy, wishful thinking that got us into this mess in the first place.

And how dare Friedman, of all people, who lives in a house that would be fit for French royalty, sit there and tell us what we need when he's not even willing to truly get his hands dirty or take a real stand on this issue other than hawking a fake solution disguised as a book. His ego is too large to apologize for the disastrous stands he has taken (Iraq) which has turned into a financial boondoggle beyond belief. If you want an example of a real journalist, you can look on the other side of the opinion page and read Nicholas Kristoff. Kristoff is a real journalist making real differences. Friedman is self-important Boomer hack who is the quintessential definition of the problem he is writing about. He does rock a nice turtleneck though (snark)....

Sep. 07 2011 10:56 AM
Otto Cosmopolis from Cold Spring

Every year or so Thomas Friedman comes on this show to talk about a book that sums up the world with some vague overarching view. He then has a slew of trivial anecdotes that illustrate this "uber-concept". It's frustrating and does absolutely nothing to deal with real problems other than to fix the personal economy of Thomas Friedman.

Sep. 07 2011 10:51 AM
John in New Jersey from New Jersey

The authors are missing some important points:

1. The U.S. is subsidizing the oursourcing of work that used to be done in the U.S. We provide a corporate tax deduction for overseas business expenses, ie. foreign labor, foreign buildings, foreign supplies, etc. Why? The tax deduction should only be permitted for U.S. labor, U.S. building, U.S. supplies, etc.

2, What happens if we go to war with a country that produces much of our manufactured goods. If we have not maintained our manufacturing capacity we will have a lot of problems quickly building it if we lose one or many foreign sources of manufactured goods. All outsourced jobs are not low pay; many have good pay. We are encouraging companies companies to move jobs overseas.

Sep. 07 2011 10:51 AM
Anna DiMeo from New Jersey

We need all levels of work in the USA. Having exclusively high paying jobs is akin to keeping a home with gourmet meals with neither prep nor clean-up. How can we tax people who are losing jobs & cannot afford healthcare? We still want short cuts. We should get back to being loyal to American talent, support it and buy at home. For Example: Why did we choose an Asian Sculptor who produced a white marble Martin Luther King? Have we no African American Black Artists to produce Pride-filled symbols of their struggle for freedom? This is but one example of our missing the forest for the trees.
Another question: How can we continue to build banks in every town across the nation, give corporate bonuses, inflate Real Estate & mortgages and put our heads on the pillow at night. People need jobs, housing & health care before they can pay taxes and buy Chinese imports.

Sep. 07 2011 10:49 AM
Melissa from Hoboken

The greatest generation was great because they came of age during the great Depression. Our country was founded and built by people who had suffered in other countries (bankrolled by people of means who embraced risk instead of conservative, established investments.). We're in trouble now because, as the authors discuss, we're not those people. I'm a borderline boomer/genXer, and we're just spoiled. We haven't had to prepare for the worst. Gov. Rendell is a nut, but he's right. Only problem is exhorting change won't fix it. Nor will the authors recommendations for policy and economic fixes. Hate to say it, but only hard times breed resourcefulness & resilience, extended good times breed complacency and conservatism. Japan & Germany's economies were the strongest after WWII because they were hit hardest. The problem is, we are not the people we used to be, but only a great depression and waves of immigrants escaping worse conditions can recreate Tge American experiment.

Sep. 07 2011 10:47 AM

Ok, after listening to all that they never actually gave any real policy recommendations just vacuous stuff like "work hard like our grandparents" or "recognize the globalized world". You want to know why America is declining? Because the best "public intellectuals" we can muster are platitudinous mediocrities like Friedman. Weak.

Sep. 07 2011 10:45 AM
John A.

To the commentors who pointed to moral decline being a root cause. You have my thanks. This is so hard to communicate in the current world. But please keep trying.

Sep. 07 2011 10:44 AM

A third "reasonable" party will simply take the space that Obama tried to take: to look at problems rationally and try to solve them. Start a third party and give the country to the tea party.

Sep. 07 2011 10:43 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

Okay--Mr.Mandelbaum, be prepared to back up the new agenda with whole bunch of money. And we all know what happens when that much money is needed to run...

Sep. 07 2011 10:42 AM
David from West Hempstead

Thomas Friedman says we may have "necessarily" chased the losers of globalization so he doesn't seem ridiculous for championing the Iraq War.

Sep. 07 2011 10:40 AM
chris lincoln from manhattan

The malaise and decline come from within, not as much from the external forces we are discussing. we are morally lost at sea. we replaced our strong values with those of consumerism, and living out of balance with nature; profoundly imbalanced. this is why we are hurting and lack awareness.

Sep. 07 2011 10:39 AM
Ed from Westchester

I am listening to these talking heads and my blood is boiling. Why doesn't anyone talk about the fact that the Chinese are successful because they STEAL everything..

We invest millions and billions in R & D and the Chinese copy. We do nothing about it. In my own company my products have been duplicated (copied) by the Chinese. My Chinese competitor even stole my web page! They literally took my web page with product photos and sell the products as their own!

We have been giving away our technology and the U.S. government is aware of it and we do nothing about it.

Sep. 07 2011 10:39 AM
Natalie from Brooklyn, NY

Eisenhower warned against the military-industrial complex. Today we must understand that we are primarily a military complex. Seeing the Frontline program last night proved that by showing the immense resources devoted to military intelligence - with unknown dollars devoted to this single industry. We are the 2001 descendant of the Roman Empire. We must remove ourselves from this self-destructive enterprise and focus on research and development that will create productive domestic industries, initially at least in the clean energy field. We must provide a top notch education to all our citizens. We will not make a quick turn-around but, long term, we can again become the great nation we once were.

Sep. 07 2011 10:39 AM
gary huth

As a former labor market analyst a key point is clear but regularly discussed. Higher productivity does not mean lower overall employment but reinvestment will lead to a realignment and growth of other jobs. If productivity gains are not extracted and concentrated in the financial sector as it has in the last several decades....

Sep. 07 2011 10:38 AM
sean from Brooklyn

Stop talking about American Misconceptionalism.

Sep. 07 2011 10:38 AM
Susan from Morningside Heights

If your guests are concerned about American education, they should read "Why is Corporate America Bashing our Public Schools" by Susan Ohanian and Kathy Emery. The "dumbing down" of American schools is being done intentionally. Case in point: factories now need higher math skills than in the past -- but "fuzzy math" has been adopted in elementary schools, making it impossible for students exposed to it to perform adequately on high school and college math.

Sep. 07 2011 10:38 AM
CL from NY

This is tiresome. Friedman never had an original idea in his life. If BL really wanted to host a discussion of this topic, then he should invite someone other than these hopelessly middlebrow second-raters. Really boring, rehashed generalizations might sell books, but they don't constitute deep thought.

Sep. 07 2011 10:37 AM
Tom Palasits from NYC

I actively seek out, and am willing to pay more for goods, made by my fellow citizens. Alas, with each passing day I am finding fewer opportunities to put my money where my mouth is.

Sep. 07 2011 10:37 AM
Patrick Kelly from Valley Stream NY

Your conversation with Friedman ignores a fundamental problem- the fact that our political system has been systematically corrupted by money, E,g, Citizens United. This began much earlier (Buckley 1976 and has resulted in gross distortion of income distribution

Sep. 07 2011 10:37 AM
MFan from Staten Island, NY

In my view, the focus on privatization as a cure-all for the way things should be run is almost totally to blame for our current situation. Simply put, there are some things that require a long view, and the mentality of "this quarter's returns" are detrimental to our health in the long-run. The most pertinent example is education. The focus across the country, thanks to folks like Christie, is to squeeze the teachers of our children (one of the few remaining members of our vanishing middle class) further and further, breaking unions and running things like a business. How is one supposed to do a good job when that axe is hovering over their head? Friends of mine at LIU are going through this right now, with their militantly profit-and-nepotisim-driven board, and their financials are actually great! It's just reflective of the larger attitude in this country, this lunatic John Galt-ian greed, that will ultimately be our demise. It's sad.

Sep. 07 2011 10:37 AM
Gee from Bronx

Isn't there a more global problem that improved productivity no longer requires every adult to be working to produce everything that is needed or wanted globally?

Sep. 07 2011 10:37 AM

Wasn't the predicament of our nation so predictable? As an 81 yr. old I have lived through major wars, economic downturns, etc. Globalization is here-the expectations of other nations are playing now, those other nations will shrink us.

Sep. 07 2011 10:36 AM

America needs to get rid of all the excesses/abuses of its free system - pork barrel, wall st, farmers, social security and truly revert to the ideals of the founding fathers. This does requires "sacrifice."

Sep. 07 2011 10:36 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

@leo in Staten Island

I'm with you on that!

Sep. 07 2011 10:35 AM
Richard O'Leary from Ossining

Mandelbaum says we have to be honest - well, he has to be honest - we DO NOT have a model political system when that system allows for corporations and money to dominate the governance process. Stop perpetratiing the lie that our government system is so great, Mr, Mandelbaum.

Sep. 07 2011 10:34 AM

What do the guests think about the impact of our evolving police state on the ability to recapture our risk-taking roots?

Sep. 07 2011 10:34 AM
John A.

A book I need to see soon: demonstration that a 30 year faith in "trickle down" has won many many votes over that time and that that theory itself has won Nothing for the average citizens who voted with that faith. How do you make Tea (parties)? With trickle down, Ha.

Sep. 07 2011 10:34 AM
Joyce from Manhatan

re: the earthquakes, hurricanes, etc. as "divine punishment" quotes - What's going on in Texas? Is Fire and Brimstone what Gov Perry's prayer meetings wrought?

Sep. 07 2011 10:33 AM
Bobby G from East Village

Good question, Jennifer from Bed Stuy, how much $$$ have we thrown away on wars and corruption in the past ten years?

Sep. 07 2011 10:32 AM
miguel from manhattan

The authors keep pushing the false premise that Social Security and Medicare represent promises we cannot keep.

Social Security contributes *nothing* to the deficit. It will not have problems making payments until 2038, and even then the shortfall will be about 20%, an amount that is easily fixed with minor tweaks.

The problem that Medicare faces is only due to the out-of-control medical costs in the USA, which are 2 to 3 times those of other industrial countries. If our costs matched theirs, the deficit would go away. On the other hand, if we cut Medicare all we are doing is shifting the costs to the elderly. And those costs would be made much bigger since private insurance is much less efficient than Medicare.

Sep. 07 2011 10:32 AM
RJ from prospect heights

The short answer to the decline, yes or no, is Yes. The populace is for the most part isolated and unable to envision a better future for themselves, and can only survive on buying cheap products abroad that replace the work they used to do. And this while the wealthy are easily coordinating to eliminate any hedges on their ability to make more (removing Glass-Steagall, illegally--Travellers and Citi--and legally creating monopolies that are their equivalents of unions while they've convinced working people that failure is their own fault.

Many people *did* like working unionized blue-collar jobs--they had safety regulations, good incomes, health care, and benefits for hard work--and in their communities the work was respected--it was handed down through generations and supported many families.

We should *not* be trying to get back to where we were. American exceptionalism is built on exploiting the resources of poor communities throughout the world--minerals from Africa and the southern Americas, using electronic products from Asia as models for our own.

To become a truly great country, we need to learn from our misplaced feelings of exceptionalism and entitlement--not social security, medicare, and medicaid--that the wealthy (under the illusion of individual bootstraps entrepreneurships) and become community-oriented and truly caring for each other.

Sep. 07 2011 10:30 AM
Ken from Brooklyn

If by "decline" we mean we will not be able to live as wasteful a lifestyle, with bigger houses, bigger cars and boats, etc., then that's a good development. We can turn this "decline" into a better country - helping each other out instead of grabbing all we can for ourselves.


Sep. 07 2011 10:30 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

China? Really? China produces product with slave labor. Why use that as an example?

Sep. 07 2011 10:30 AM
leo in Staten Island

Ugh. This is such nonsense. If we all just have a magic "extra" unicorn horn, everything will be fine. (In our minimum wage, service-sector jobs.) Coming up: education. "In Singapore, their kids go to school 27 hours a day. In China, kids master calculus by age 3."

This entire paradigm for thinking about our economic woes is silly, unrealistic, and frankly, in this political climate, a non-starter.

Sep. 07 2011 10:30 AM
Michelle from NYC

Why is it always put upon the American people to buckle down? Why are corporations, who choose immigrant labor over American, or take biz overseas or even not pay any taxes (General Electric) always given what they want? Why are banks allowed to sit on piles of bail out money, instead of giving out to help small biz.

And don't blame China.. it has to do with ourselves.

Sep. 07 2011 10:30 AM
John from NYC

I think former Senator Byron Dorgan who wrote a book "Take This Job and Ship It" on outsourcing of US jobs would be a preferred guest on this topic.

Sep. 07 2011 10:29 AM
christian lincoln from inwood park, nyc

We might be overlooking an important component; education. i get the sense we are rotting from the inside out - not from external economic and structural decisions. A country's health should also be judged by who is speaking at the bookstore, by creative nuance, by how people feel; our morale, our capacity for joy, by tolerance, by grant money, by artistic endeavors, by the health of shows like this one - and in these places, we are beginning to suffer greatly. This is more important than being number 1, as it were.

Sep. 07 2011 10:29 AM
William from Washington Heights, NY

Nothing will change if we don’t change our politics. Some ideas:

1. Get money out of politics by going to a system of publicly financed elections.

2. Allow room for a third party by allowing instant runoff elections.

3. Curb the excesses of gerrymandering by using non-partisan commissions to draw boundaries.

4. Broadly implement term limits.

5. Broadly re-implement a form of the Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting and other media forms.

Sep. 07 2011 10:28 AM
Chris from Brooklyn

If all the technology means more work done better by fewer people, why are we not trying to have everybody work a little less and share the gains? We could each be working 20 hour weeks and bettering ourselves with the free time, rather than all the labor gains going to a few at the top. There's less labor to do than there used to be, so let's change the conversation, and labor less, rather than running ourselves ragged and cutting most out of the game entirely.

Sep. 07 2011 10:28 AM
JT from LI

Their proposal will never happen. A significant portion of the population is convinced that lower taxes and less spending is the solution. They also happen to be against investing in infrastructure and don't seem to have spending in schools as a priority since they want cuts there also. Worst of all. many politicians are happy to pander to these folks to win their elections.

Maybe the solution is to include economics in primary education curriculum so that the next generation can actually understand the issues and possible solutions.

Sep. 07 2011 10:27 AM
Justin from NYC

Until Americans let go of the need for "me too" type consumption of material goods there will always be cheap goods flooding our market. Americans that complain about the scale of their pay yet continue to purchase the cheapest available goods without consideration for where they are made will continue to see their jobs disappear and wonder why.

Sep. 07 2011 10:27 AM

Brian...please ask guests: would would possibly motivate those in power to make the changes they suggest? Many are benefitting from the current situation--seriously, I am curious how they suggest changing the status quo. Thanks!!

Sep. 07 2011 10:27 AM
Ana from NJ

I am from Costa Rica, a country that has seen a lot of tech companies open call centers where some of my relatives work. I hear the complaints here about companies shipping jobs overseas. Do we really want the $10/hour jobs to stay here? I think we need to create different jobs that pay more and require higher skills, and let those low paying jobs go somewhere else.

Sep. 07 2011 10:24 AM
Justin from NYC

Until Americans let go of the need for "me too" type material goods there will always be cheap goods flooding our market. Americans that complain about the scale of their pay yet continue to purchase the cheapest available goods without consideration for where they are made will continue to see their jobs disappear and wonder why.

Sep. 07 2011 10:24 AM
Jennifer from Bed Stuy

I am so tired of hearing pundits say if we only cut that entitlement spending, that we all have to make sacrifices, etc. Last night on Frontline, the documentary outlined how a top secret national security bureaucracy exists in this country with a *budget* that has been classified. How much $$$ has America thrown away on these wars over the last 10 years? Why don't we start there before we punish hard working Americans who have done everything right and invested in the American dream (through the social security taxes). Anyone talking free trade and cuts in entitlement spending should be ignored at this point as far as I'm concerned.

Sep. 07 2011 10:23 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

The bottom line is that the US standard of living will drop back to where it was after WWII, and many Americans will learn to live in apartments again, but America will go on. Possibly not as the superduperpower it once was, just as Britain goes on, but no longer as the Imperial Empire that it still was before WWII.

Sep. 07 2011 10:22 AM
Mike from Brooklyn

Read "The Rise And Fall Of Great Empires" by Paul Kennedy. The US is following the progress of previous empires pretty much right on schedual.
We are now on the down side of the curve. We will be replaced as world leader by someone else, as they will also be, someday

Sep. 07 2011 10:22 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

The Germans have been able to keep a manufacturing base but they have a govt with a sense of national purpose

Sep. 07 2011 10:22 AM

"come back", from what,cultural and economic imperialism? oh joy.........

Sep. 07 2011 10:21 AM
Ron Fish from Norwalk

I guess playing the role of wise counsel requires invoking things like "hybrid ideas" and standing "in the non partisan middle." But the truth is that of the areas that the speakers lay out, it is the Tea Party and Republican right that is clearly opposed, and the Democrats and President Obama are clearly supportive. Speaking the truth, even in the press, is necessary for getting back to American greatness. Not false balance.

Sep. 07 2011 10:21 AM
Rick from Battered Connecticut Coast

For 30 years we democratically choose elected offcials that practiced what George Bush Sr called "voodoo economics" giving Americans free money and called it Supply side tax cuts (borrowed mostly from abroad.) What we don't realize is that there is no such thing as a tax cut, when you are running deficits, you are just borrowing against the next generations prosperity. To Quote Benjamin Franklin "When the people find that they can vote themselves money,
that will herald the end of the republic.”

Sep. 07 2011 10:21 AM
James Sheridan from Pittsburgh

America is getting killed by cheap labor overseas. All we need to do is mandate that any product sold in the USA is produced by workers that are paid the LOCAL EQUIVALENT at current exchange rates as the federal minimum wage. This will protect workers rights in other countries, help stop the decline in america's living standard, and ensure that people overseas have enough money to afford american imports.

Sep. 07 2011 10:20 AM
Bobby G from East Village

I can't imagine our corrupt congress doing the things that Mr. Mandlebaum and Mr Friedman prescribe. What a shame.

Sep. 07 2011 10:19 AM
Mason from New York

I would like to remind folks that the Dark Ages was a period when Church Dogma ruled. The populace did not need to question anything in life as the Church had the answers. If things were questioned it could mean death. If the current romance with Christian Dominionist persists, we will be decline and a second "Dark Age" will come.

Sep. 07 2011 10:19 AM

can you get two more stale predictable thinkers, than these two guys ?

Sep. 07 2011 10:18 AM
Sainted_Mother from Red Hook

Part of what the USA is the great equalization of the whole world. As the Star Trek Andorians called us ... we are all "Pink Skins" (they were "blue") ... we are a whole world ... and will live / die together. Democracy works in so far as enuf people _in_the_middle_ ... not the left / right extremists ... WHO MAY just may ... occasionally have a good idea ... enuf middle-ists PARTICIPATE. Then we all, USA + world, move forward ... slowly.

Sep. 07 2011 10:18 AM
Laura from Brooklyn

How about a student loan forgiveness? A federal requirement of vacation days / maternity leave / paternity leave? And definitely taxing the wealthy...

Sep. 07 2011 10:17 AM
mz from manhattan

it seems that the shareholder economy, putting shareholder profits ahead of all else, is one of the things at the heart of our decline. when it's okay to fire workers for short-term quarterly gains (which are all-too-all-important), our economy goes from amoral to immoral. and nothing good comes from it. even for the corporations, ultimately.

Sep. 07 2011 10:16 AM
Toniqua from Brooklyn

What we really need is new leadership - a new president who has a real vision (not just his speechwriter) and who can truly find a path for this nation that can energize people and give them a sense of confidence rather than a sense of collapse.

Sep. 07 2011 10:15 AM

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