In Time to Start Thinking, Edward Luce offers an incisive and highly engaging account of America’s economic and geopolitical decline. The Washington bureau chief for the Financial Times for the last four years, Luce has traveled the country interviewing public officials like Lawrence Summers and Senator Don Riegle, business leaders including Jeff Immelt and Bill Gates, as well as teachers, health care workers, and scientists. His interviews are candid and revealing: former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen told Luce about the catch-22–like situation of American defense spending: “We are borrowing money from China to build weapons to face down China.” Mullen is just one of many voices who are united in their belief that America must evolve or face serious consequences. Luce’s research, analysis, and reporting covers areas from education to health care to politics to business and innovation. Luce frames the issues historically, comparing America today to Britain in the early-twentieth century, when U.S. inventors developed the light bulb and the internal combustion engine, usurping Britain’s position as the center of research and development, while Germany took the lead in the chemicals and metallurgy industries. As a result, Britain lost its place at the top of the world’s pecking order. Today, the same situation is evolving in America: Chinese and Korean scientists and innovators are becoming increasingly competitive with those in America, and companies like IBM and General Electric now employ more people outside the United States than inside it. In domestic politics, things are also dire: conversation between Republicans and Democrats has all but ceased - Barney Frank calls it “the dialogue of the deaf,” and the once noisy Senate dining room, specifically designed so that members of different parties would be forced to talk to one another, is now empty most lunch hours. No surprise, when the politicians are busy talking to lobbyists and trying to raise campaign funds. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has more than 2,300 different I.T. systems on which it spends more than $10 billion a year and the crippling bureaucracy in the education system leads more than a fifth of new teachers to leave their jobs within three years.
In what may be the smartest book yet on why and how America is broken, Luce offers a critical, nonpartisan analysis of the issues facing America today and a renowned journalist’s report on a country in economic, social, and political crisis.
©2012 Edward Luce (P)2012 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
mostly nonfiction listener
If you read The Economist then Time to Start Thinking is your kind of book. There is something almost soothing about a book that is simultaneously well-written and depressing. Somehow learning about the decline of the U.S. from a Brit -- Luce is the Washington Bureau Chief of London's Financial Times -- feels more palatable than similar arguments made by an American.
Luce is a long time observer of the U.S. political and economic scene, and has basically decided after years of living in the States that we are pretty much hopeless. Time to Start Thinking is a passionate indictment of the U.S.'s political classes, both left and right, and the inability of our elected officials to seriously address our fundamental economic problems.
Included in the tour of American shortcomings are our crumbling infrastructure, our wildly unequal primary schools, and our ever more costly postsecondary education and health care systems. Luce is particularly elegant in describing the loss of middle-income jobs, and the inability of more of and more Americans (particularly young people and non-post graduated educated older adults) to achieve economic stability. The U.S. is not headed for imminent economic collapse, but rather a slow erosion of productivity and standards of living for the middle class, and global economic realignment around Asia.
This is not a book that is big on policy recommendations. Luce is fond of quoting H.L. Mencken dictum that, "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."
The solutions that Luce does recommend, such as reducing military spending and pulling back on overseas military commitments, are unlikely to free up enough dollars to make possible the large scale investments in infrastructure and education necessary in a competitive global economy. Growing health care costs and an aging population will continue to limit the ability of government to fund investments, and health insurance costs will continue push business to limit hiring and invest instead in automation over people (as worker health care costs put U.S. firms at a competitive disadvantage with non-U.S. producers).
Time to Start Thinking is a good companion book to read with Diamandis' Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think (review 4/9/12). Where Luce sees U.S. economic problems as structural, and our politics way too polarized to offer cogent solutions, Diamandis believes that rapid technological advancements (when applied to health care, education, and other sectors) will lead to rapid advances in productivity and standards of living. Technological utopianism vs. cleared eyed rationalism. Wouldn't it be awesome to see a debate between these two authors?
Are we living in an age of descent?
Just like you, I spend my money here and am not on any author's payroll :)
There is no doubt that Luce will get you thinking as you listen to his non-partisan report on how and why American government is broken and under pressure. He tells it like it really is and doesn't pander to the left or the right. While he offers some vague 'solutions' at the end of the title, the listeners are left at the end to decide for themselves - based on his unbiased reporting - what path America should take going forward, if it is truly possible to do so.
One minor complaint about this title: the F-bomb is used approximately 5 times in the performance (and I assume that it appeared in the book); usually when someone is being quoted. However, when the word appears, it is bleeped-out (loudly) but there is little doubt what curse word is being used. I found that annoying - just keep the word in there as we are all adults and I'd rather have the audio be completely true to the text.
Business Physicist and Astronomer
The book isn't overly political and doesn't blame any particular party. So if you're looking for a Limbaugh style stab at Obama, you'll be disappointed. Nor will you find a justification for the policies of the current administration.
We are not doing what we need to do to make sure we have a future. The country is in serious trouble and we're treading water. I liked the audio version enough to buy several hard covers for give-aways. Will things change?
I doubt it.
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