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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading - and not only for Americans
Thomas Friedman is a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist for the New York Times, and Michael Mandelbaum is a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. That Used to Be Us is their high-level analysis of what ails the United States at this point in history, and more importantly, what could be done about it.

They identify...
Published on Sept. 17 2011 by sean s.

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars The Excited States of America
Yeah well I read it all through. That is my best comment. A long diatribe on the ills that beset the US. They brought it on themselves.
Published 22 months ago by bookweasel


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading - and not only for Americans, Sept. 17 2011
By 
sean s. (montreal) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: That Used To Be Us (Hardcover)
Thomas Friedman is a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist for the New York Times, and Michael Mandelbaum is a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. That Used to Be Us is their high-level analysis of what ails the United States at this point in history, and more importantly, what could be done about it.

They identify what they see as the four major challenges facing the country: globalization; the revolution in information technology; the crushing debt and deficit; and the inability to advance a forward-looking energy policy.

"To be sure, the four great challenges have scarcely gone unnoticed. But in the last few years the country was distracted, indeed preoccupied, by the worst economic crisis in eight decades. It is no wonder that Americans became fixated on their immediate economic circumstances. Those circumstances were grim: American households lost an estimated $10 trillion in the crisis. For more than a year the American economy contracted."

"As a country, we lost the plot. We forgot who we were, how we had become the richest and most powerful country in the history of the world, where we wanted to go, and what we needed to do to get there. We failed to update our five-part formula for greatness - education, infrastructure, immigration, research and development, and appropriate regulation - just at a time when changes in the world, especially the expansion of globalization and the IT revolution, made adapting that formula to new circumstances as important as it had ever been."

They contrast this with an ascendant China:

"Now, to get to Tianjin, you head to the Beijing South Railway Station - an ultra-modern flying saucer of a building with glass walls and an oval roof covered with 3,246 solar panels - buy a ticket from an electronic kiosk offering choices in Chinese and English, and board a world-class high-speed train that goes right to another roomy, modern train station in downtown Tianjin. Said to be the fastest in the world when it began operating in 2008, the Chinese bullet train covers 115 kilometers, or 72 miles, in a mere twenty-nine minutes."

They argue that the solution for America is not the simplistic free-market extremism promoted by the Koch brothers' Tea Party:

"Markets are not just wild gardens that can be left untended. They need to be shaped by regulations that promote risk-taking but prevent recklessness on a scale that can harm everyone. The need for regulations arises from an unavoidable feature of any free market economy, one that economists call `externalities'. These are the costs of free-market activities that are not covered by prices, for which, therefore, nobody pays, and that can injure society as a whole. A common and familiar externality is the pollution that industrial activity generates and that finds its way into the air that people breathe and the water that they drink."

"When the US government sets high energy-efficiency standards for air conditioners, for example, and every American manufacturer has to innovate in order to meet them, those companies can then compete effectively in every other market in the world. By contrast, when we lower our standards, we invite competition from every low-cost manufacturer in the world."

Friedman and Mandelbaum quote approvingly an open letter from 255 members of America's National Academy of Sciences, the nation's top scientific society:

"The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. Most of the increase is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic. The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more."

Friedman and Mandelbaum suggest that "if we prepare for climate change by gradually building an economy based on clean-power systems but climate change turns out to be not as damaging as we expect, what would be the result?

During a transition period, we would have higher energy prices, while new technologies providing both clean power and greater efficiency achieved scale from mass production. Very quickly, though, we would have higher energy prices but lower energy bills, as well as lower greenhouse gas emissions, as the new technologies dramatically improved efficiency to give us more power from less energy for less money."

They predict that "the technologies that can supply abundant, cheap, clean and reliable energy will be the next new global industry. Energy technology - ET - will be the new IT. A country with a thriving ET industry will enjoy energy security, will enhance its own national security, and will contribute to global environmental security. It will also be home to innovative companies, because companies cannot make products greener without inventing smarter materials, smarter software, and smarter designs. It is hard to imagine how America will be able to sustain a rising standard of living if it does not have a leading role in the next great global industry."

But the race is already on. "Chinese solar panel manufacturers accounted for slightly over half of the world's production last year. Their share of the American market has grown nearly sixfold in the last two years and is still rising. In addition to solar energy, China just passed the United States as the world's largest builder and installer of wind turbines."

According to Photon International, the top 10 solar energy companies are Suntech, JA Solar, First Solar, Yingli Solar, Trina Solar, Motech Solar, Q-Cells, Gintech, Sharp, and Canadian Solar.

According to BTM Consult, the top 10 wind energy companies are Vestas, Sinovel, GE Wind Energy, Goldwind, Enercon, Suzlon Group, Dongfang Electric, Gamesa, Siemens Wind Power, and United Power.

By no means is America out of the game, and it has the potential to recover given the right policies and the requisite political will. The top 10 countries in the world in terms of GDP are the United States (23% of world GDP), China (9%), Japan (9%), Germany (5%), France (4%), the UK (4%), Brazil (3%), Italy (3%), Canada (2%), and India (2%).

But Friedman and Mandelbaum insist that "to maintain American greatness, the right option for us is not to become more like China. The Chinese still suffer from large and potentially debilitating problems: a lack of freedom, rampant corruption, horrible pollution, and an education system that historically has stifled creativity."

They believe that leadership in the creative economy will lead to overall economic leadership:

"We need as many people as possible to be creative creators and creative servers. Some can do that by inventing a new product, others by reinventing an existing job, and others by delivering a routine service with some extra passion, a personal touch, or a new insight."

"We want people with a completely open mind, and the ability to learn constantly and challenge the status quo - no matter what the level of the company where they are employed. Challenging the status quo is the most critical thing, because if your employees don't challenge the status quo, someone else's employees will and they will disrupt the status quo before you do."

"Not only does everyone today need more education to build the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are now necessary for any good job; students also need better education. We define `better education' as an education that nurtures young people to be creative creators and creative servers."

For example, the law firm Nixon Peabody was a pioneer in putting together low-income housing credits with solar-energy credits, in order to finance affordable housing for low-income people that would also come with solar-powered energy.

"We require both teaching and inspiring creativity. There is no one way to do this, and the different attempts to teach creativity are among the most exciting experiments in education today."

In this focus on the creative economy, Friedman and Mandelbaum are aligned with the most recent theories that have shifted the emphasis from the individual to the sociological conditions that foster creativity - Dr. Richard Florida talks about the "3 T's" of creative cities or countries - Talent, Technology and Tolerance; Frans Johansson talks about growing Creativity happening at the "Intersection" of ideas, concepts and cultures as the result of the movement of people; the convergence of scientific disciplines; and the leap in computational power (both computers and the Internet). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about the relationships among domains, fields and persons that result in Creativity; Dr. Richard Ogle talks about creativity as a structural network effect of the "Smart World" in which we all live.

Friedman and Mandelbaum's enlightened book is essential reading - and not only for Americans. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Somber Prospects, Oct. 29 2011
By 
John Ison (Toronto ON Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: That Used To Be Us (Hardcover)
Friedman and Mandelbaum paint a gloomy picture for the future of America. Their analysis of the American malaise is detailed, insightful and well crafted. The section on political polarization and the resulting gridlock is excellent; America is dominated by the extremists, conservative and liberal. The section on education is disturbing but much too detailed. Their solution is naive and simplistic in the extreme. I believe Washington will address these fundamental issues only when the pain experienced by the moderate majority reaches levels that provokes a major change in politics. We are not there yet.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No, I'm not an American..., Oct. 4 2011
By 
Schmadrian - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: That Used To Be Us (Hardcover)
As I was reading this book, I kept thinking 'Just the fact that they've been able to stand apart from the national tendencies (which include a) myopia, b) wrapping everything in the flag and c) the contradiction of self-absorption and a dearth of self-examination) is enough to make me applaud.'

When I had a chance to look at the reviews on Amazon, I had to shake my head at the fact that almost all of the 'negative' responses fell within the descriptions of 'what's holding America back'.

Being a Canadian, I've always been very aware of the US. You can't help but have opinions about this 'elephant next door', especially as it's long been the case that Canadians begin the process of defining their national identity by declaring 'We're not Americans'. So having grown up next to it, having lived there and having lived in the UK, I'm chock-full of opinions and observations about the country.

And I have to say that I could find little 'wrong' in the authors' take on things, how they deconstruct the obvious and what they suggest as the pathways to solutions. (Although I was struck by two things: one, that the book seems like a 'Part One' of at least a two-part series, and secondly, that they put such emphasis at the end on a third-party Presidential candidate.)

I came away feeling I understood more about the situation (especially the political, focusing on the history of the two main parties), but I also came away feeling pretty sad. Witnessing failed potential has this effect on me. Especially when it's clear the person, the company or the country has everything it needs to succeed...but it's mired in its own sh&t.

I'm glad I read this book.

I think it should be the subject of a cross-nation town hall tour, where re-learning the art of discourse might lead to things that need to be discussed actually be discussed, and the underlying truths of how the country got to where it is and what's required to move through it all towards a more befitting destiny could be wrestled with properly.

Personal rating: 9/10
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3.0 out of 5 stars The Excited States of America, Oct. 14 2012
By 
bookweasel (Calgary AB) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: That Used To Be Us (Hardcover)
Yeah well I read it all through. That is my best comment. A long diatribe on the ills that beset the US. They brought it on themselves.
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That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World We Invented and How We Can Come Back
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