George Packer on The Unwinding of America

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

George Packer discusses the Seismic shifts in the United States that have created what he calls a country of winners and losers, allowing unprecedented freedom while rending the social contract, driving the political system to the verge of breakdown, and setting citizens adrift. In The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America Packer journeys through the lives of several Americans, interweaving intimate stories with biographical sketches of the era’s leading public figures, from Newt Gingrich to Jay-Z.


George Packer

Comments [20]

Kelvin from Melbourne, Australia

The future of work for humans is a losing "race against the machine" But very few are talking about how people will live in a world with little work. by By Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee provides trenchant analysis about what's right around the corner.

May. 23 2013 07:40 PM
Ed from Larchmont

Mr. Packer skillfully describes the unraveling off American society, but does he identify a cause? One could say that up to the 1960s (in spite of their good side) that this was a Judeo-Chrisian society, we've lost a common worldview, and are now the locus of a conflict of two worldviews (Judeo-Christian and athiest). And the common denominator is no view at all.

May. 23 2013 05:31 AM
gene from NYC

Packer may gain more sympathy for his position if he didn't tie it in with the decline of the tobacco industry.

450,000 a year dead because of tobacco use is NOT a good thing. It's actually a severe DISadvantage for the impoverished families thrown out of the middle class from having to struggle with tobacco-induced disability and death.

Tobacco helps the few thousand who profit, sure--at the expense of the millions who suffer from its use.

This conversation seems divorced from all reality. Shame, Leonard.

May. 22 2013 04:52 PM

Oh yeah -

Those seeking to understand bubbles might be interested in this:

May. 22 2013 01:18 PM

Digital technology - microprocessors, computers, programming, internet - did not grow out of general governmental functions, e.g., the police department, the health department, the post office, the agriculture departments, the social welfare departments, etc. It grew as a direct result of the military's nuclear weapons development programs and its direct offspring, the "space race" of the 1940s-50s-and 60s. Suggested reading: "Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe", George Dyson.

Is the "progress in" or funding of weapons research at the same levels as in that protean period?

Does that justify nuclear weapons in the same way you seek to justify government?

May. 22 2013 01:16 PM

jgarbuz - your words are true.

May. 22 2013 01:04 PM

"Big government"

"High taxes"

Inveighing against these is little more than a demagogic gimmick.

It's like if an individual were to declare, /arbitrarily/, WITHOUT REGARD TO COST OR INCOME, "No more spending big money on food. From now on, total food expenses will be limited to no more than 10% of (my/our) budget."

Size is completely /relative/, and therefore meaningless outside of specific context.

We must first, as a society, decide what services, specifically, government has a legitimate role or obligation in providing and then order them in terms of priority. The next step is determining the costs of providing those services and assessing existing and potential revenue sources. THEN, and only then, can decisions regarding taxation and spending be made in any kind of rational, intelligent, logical manner.

May. 22 2013 12:55 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Prophets have been railing against "injustice" and "unfairness" and "income inequality" since Biblical times. Well, times may change but people don't. Government can't change people unless they produce them in bottles. All government can do is help a little here and there, but in most cases, it stifles more than it helps. Gov't should step in, and step quickly out of the economy ASAP and let people be free and not perpetual dependents.

May. 22 2013 12:55 PM
Malu from Sea Cliff, NY

Ocupy is still alive because it's more of a symptom than a movement. This saturday is the Monsanto protest, how much you want to bet that the demographic of this march will be almost identical to Ocupy?

May. 22 2013 12:54 PM

Mr. Packer misses 2 points in this conversation - I'm assuming they're covered in the book:

1) the Google + DOD/NSA connection & the Big Data/no privacy/no security explosion; &

2) the fact that since Reagan & 1981 we have had one super large Debt Bubble - housing, tech, housing, student debt, etc. Toss in the Corporate Soviet Socialism of the continuing Big Bank Bailout + FED discount window access & you have the various worldwide problems - Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Crete, etc.

Then you add in Citizens United & the voter gets the short end of the stick.

May. 22 2013 12:49 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Correction: The Republicans have PROMOTED the notion that government is not us...

On another note, 'the ills of the inner city have crept into the suburbs'...?

May. 22 2013 12:48 PM

"oscar in ny": I responded to you in the Olympia Snow thread:

May. 22 2013 12:48 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

While I agree with your guests historical narrative, I disagree about his dismissal of virtual reality. Virtual reality is becoming the "new" reality as we live and breath. And it liberates the individual or at least it did to me.

As for "bubbles," that has been American history from the outset. WE had gold rushes, land rushes, oil booms and busts, the railroad bubble, the steel bubble, now the internet bubble, the housing bubble, et al. WE live from bubble to bubble. They are pistons of technology that drive the motor of the economy before they go bust. All of America was one big bubble from the outset that poor people from Europe and elsewhere ran to, to be part of these bubbles, to take the chance to grab that brass ring.
They came from stagnant parts of the world to take their chances.

America is made up of bubbles. We have to accept it, while continue a basic safety net for those who are too weak, sick and feeble.

May. 22 2013 12:46 PM
fuva from harlemworld

What Republicans have also undermined – and Democrats (and, apparently the guest) have enabled – is the notion that government is not us; that it’s some other bloated, hierarchical thing. Ergo, we don’t adequately participate and let the hucksters rule.

May. 22 2013 12:41 PM

I'm no fan of "big government" - but I am glad the guest pointed out the hypocrisy of Silicon Valley (and California as an extension). They pretend as if they did everything in a vacuum... but without spending by the federal government - they would have NEVER become what they did.

Similar hubris is coming out of Texas as well.

May. 22 2013 12:40 PM
oscar from ny

Have you ever waited in line and than some bully comes and skips you or pays to get ahead?..well that's the ultimate problem facing not only u.s but the world.
somehow some powerful groups have secuestered the world by hacking and injecting a profound monetary and intimidation system that to the mass is invisible, to the world,impenetrable, to politicians, profitable...its an ancient tape worm wrapped around the earth..what can anyone do?

May. 22 2013 12:35 PM

I don't know if Rubin can be called a failure when he succeeded in serving the interests of himself and his class.

The wealthy have managed to have their interests catered to separately in almost every area i.e.: NAFTA regulations, the bank bailouts, the austerity exemptions for airlines.

Republicans reps approve of this, and Democrat reps who go along out of weakness or financial dependence for their campaigns, then lose the only leverage they and the rest of the country has.

May. 22 2013 12:30 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Puh-lease. The positions of these self-defeating Tea Party types are not "principled" so much as they're plain ignant.
We're "unwinding" because a lack of balanced information prevails on all sides.
We simply need better info vessels, but this fix is less sexy than writing a book and being interviewed by the dreamy Lopate.

May. 22 2013 12:28 PM
Ed from Larchmont

We've said for awhile that our society no longer supports families, but it used to. As he says, our society's structures no longer support average life very much.

Careful with the Christian ministers - their theology is incorrect, but they are generally sincere and trying to help people.

John Paul II told us 'A society that kills its children has no future'. What does the author think our country would look like if we had not embraced abortion?

May. 22 2013 12:26 PM
tom from astoria

Mr Packer's theme really resonates with me. It seems that the key thing is the tens of millions of jobs that our business leaders have chosen to move overseas. My grandfather - born 1903 - started at 35 cents an hour but wound up owning his own home by 1947. This is the opportunity that we have given to the Chinese by giving them our jobs en masse.

May. 22 2013 12:21 PM

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