I have been politely requested to write my posts on the same day of the week, so I will be posting on Mondays. For a while I will be writing only one post per week, since I am also responding to local pressure and adding Facebook and Twitter to my life, so I will be more acceptable to contemporary students. I must admit to a bit of ambivalence, since I am not looking for more ways to spend time, but by next week I will be drowning in links—and in two or three weeks I plan to be adding posts to my blog twice a week.
A week ago, I heard Tom Friedman, the New York Times foreign affairs columnist, talk about That Used to be Us, the book he recently wrote with Michael Mandelbaum. If you have never heard Friedman talk, you have missed a treat, because he talks as well as he writes (three Pulitzer prizes, six best selling books). But Mandelbaum is certainly no slouch, having been author or coauthor of twelve books, and Professor and Director of American Foreign Policy at the Johns Hopkins University School of advanced International studies. The two of them are friends and neighbors, and although both study and write on international topics, this book is definitely about the U.S. I read the book this weekend and loved it.
Friedman describes himself as a frustrated optimist about the U.S. The subtitle of the book is “How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back” It is a combination of criticism and cheer-leading. He thinks we have what it takes to come back, but doesn’t see it happening at present. Come back from where?
He thinks we have been falling behind in four major areas. The first is understanding of the nature of the present world. As you may know, he is the author of the book “The World is Flat”, which was focused on globalization. He is frustrated because he doesn’t think we understand what globalization has done to us. His second worry is that even though we were the innovators of what we will call the digital revolution, we don’t seem to understand what that is doing to us either. In fact, he thinks the juxtaposition of globalizaton and the digital revolution is one of the largest displacements Homo Sapiens has faced. His other two worries are U.S. debt, at the national, state, and individual level, and our inability to deal properly with the environment.
He feels that we need to get moving fast to bring ourselves up to speed on these four areas. In order to do this, we need to focus on the five areas that he thinks has traditionally made the U.S. great. These are education, infrastructure, immigration, research and development, and regulation. The book gives education particular attention, because as he says, if we want to be what we were, average is not good enough. In order to do this, he believes that we will have to have a functioning and less polarized government and population, and that sacrifices will have to be made at all levels.
One reason I like Friedman, is that I tend to agree with him, and he lays out the arguments so clearly and does not shirk bad news. He fills his book with reliable statistics and does not suggest that there is an easy way for us to recover from our present malaise, but he does think we can, and unlike our political representatives, discusses the problems involved in depth.
Although he is critical of some of the directions that business and finance have taken, he is definitely aware of the major role they play in the quality of life in the U.S. He is all in favor of entrepreneurship, increasing exports, streamlining regulations that hamper business, and creating a tax scheme and government support programs that aid business. But, for some reason, he doesn’t mention product quality. He talks about the need to make jobs and the need to keep productivity high, but does not comment on the obvious benefits of making the best products in the world. His talk was wonderful except for that glaring omission. Hopefully, he will read this blog post and write another book.
The book is in the list to the right. I have been neglecting this list for a while, but I will soon review several excellent books that have to do with product quality.