Souring of the American Dream
Less government is not fair. In the absence of effective administration and good governance, those who take advantage of others have come to dominate the United States of America
Reviewed by Rajiv M Lochan

Time to Start Thinking: America and the Spectre of Decline
By Edward Luce. Little Brown. Pages 292. Rs 699

Time to Start Thinking: America and the Spectre of DeclineTHE American ability to innovate, craft and lead is in a crisis. The Americans pretend to elect a government, the government pretends to govern and everyone in America pretends to be happy that America is at the centre of the universe even though all around them people are going jobless, middle class incomes have stagnated and infrastructure is collapsing. Educational systems have been rendered into baby-sitting programmes for spoilt children, a large chunk of the school-goers suspect science and technology of being no better than witch-craft. The society at large has wound up in a security shell using the excuse of terror attacks even while the American government continues to terrorise the world in the name of extending democracy. This briefly is what Edward Luce observes in his peregrinations across America. He builds up his case through talking to a broad spectrum of people across America and insists that going by the present America has no future.

The government has withdrawn itself from most areas of governance. Its regulatory role is either shared extensively with the private sector at the cost of the public. Or, as in the case of organisations like the FDA, is so overwhelmed with work that regulatory decisions are taken at a snail’s pace, thus delaying new innovations simply because there are not enough people to take decisions.

Luce warns that his observations are not the same as those of the cassandras of yore that spurred on America to innovate in the face of the cold war. Today the situation is far different. In those days when under the Kennedy administration America pushed for an aggressive space programme to put man on the moon or later defense laboratories produced programmes that sowed the seed of the internet, it was the government that had taken the initiative to promote innovation. Today, in contrast, the government encourages private cupidity to determine official policy.

It really does not matter whether the administration is Republican or Democrat. The focus of government continues to be to facilitate privateers’ profit out of the public. The public on its side is busy debating issues of greater concern like abortion and creation/evolution of the world without making any effort to even comprehend what was involved in those issues. Sheep in search of a shepherd while the wolves eat up the flock, would describe the present American public and its government best.

Not that there are not enough efforts being made by the government to provide shepherds to the American public. The size of the unofficial government, Luce observes, has grown phenomenally. After having placed a self-imposed cap of 2 million federal employees, each administration has gone on to make arbitrary appointments that are paid by the public exchequer, to help it run the administration. These people, the czars, micro-manage the administration for the president without much reference to the established bureaucracy or regulations. As a result, according to Luce, today America has one of the most inefficient governments in the developed world.

States like Texas that impose no personal or corporate income-tax revel in balancing their budget by cutting down on education funding, research funding and health care, even while the government at large continues to amass one of the largest public debt in history. Strong recommendations are made to cut down on face-to-face teaching in favour of on-line virtual teaching as if teaching and research merely involved the exchange of data between student and teacher.

In the face of a government that does not care for the people, does not deliver on its promises and does not make any effort to make life of the average American comfortable, the public at large has ceased to take an interest in governance. Under the circumstances, the government is left with little option but to depend heavily on tv polls and the twitterati to gauge that amorphous thing called the ‘public opinion’.

Less government is not fair. In the absence of government and good governance those who cannibalise on others have come to dominate America. The American spirit has become rusted, the people tired and unable to find energy for anything other than saying that they are ‘happy’. Saying so don’t make it so.