I was a bit skeptical when I started to read this book, but after a few chapters, it is hard to find fault with many of his arguments, and overall the author is convincing in spite of the odd lapse in judgement about not for profit institutions. In any case, the book is not about the future or trends, it is about the present state of affairs, the current reality today, and the heart of his arguments is based on hard numbers such as crime statistics, education numbers, employment, industrial productivity, economic activity, all numbers that are essentially impossible to refute and stand on their own. The book has a measured and thoughful pace, and is not an anti-American diatribe, nor the rantings of a vegetarian, or racism, or similar such nonsense.
Jeremy Rifkin has a number of books out on current affairs including some relating to the use of hydrogen as a fuel, see for example the well known book: The Hydrogen Economy. I was not aware of the present book until I ran across the new paperback at our local bookstore. At first I did not know what to make of it but the social numbers presented are solid. It is a well written and a well researched book about 386 pages of text in medium font plus a number of pages of notes, etc. I highly recommend the book, and suggest reading it cover to cover.
In short, the 20th century was a time of change. Europe was fragmented and run by colonial empires at the opening of the century. Over the first half of the century, Europe had two highly destructive wars with tens of millions killed. By 1945 it was a social basket case, virtually destroyed in central Europe, and divided between the USSR dominated states and the western European democratic states. In contrast, the US was united from sea to sea with a single language, free of internal strife, good communications, a developing rail and road system, lots of land and many resources including oil, minerals such as copper and steel, pulp and paper, and some of the best farming lands on the planet. The US had great success, but as the century closed the dark side of the US free enterpise system and the "American dream" became evident. The US has the world's highest number of poor, the highest crime rates, and the most in jail, about 1 in 100, and in general some of the worst social numbers among the industrialized nations. Europe on the other hand, seems to have found its footing after 1945, pulled itself together, the USSR has left, and slowly Europe has emerged as a socialist super state. Interestingly, it has simultaneously achieved high industrial productivity rates with low crime rates, much lower, and in general much better measures of social development than the almost pure free enterprise USA.
How did we get there? Why are we different? What are they doing right, and what is that we are not? What has changed between 1945 and 2004? Why is crime high in America and low in Europe, while industrial productivity and techniology has caught up and passed the US in parts of Europe, perhaps personified by Airbus's latest A380 monster jet, but backed up by broad productivity statistics, not just personal stories or one aircraft?
That is what this book is all about. The author has divided the book into two parts: part I is called "New Lessons from the Old World", just 3 chapters 88 pages long, and the rest of the book is 13 chapters to page 386 called "The Making of the Modern Age".
He goes through step by step comparing the strengths and weaknesses of each system in terms of producing innovation, educating and caring for the citizens fostering sustainable growth, and protecting the environment.
The basic premise - and many will not like what he thinks - is that the "America spirit", the willingness to work hard, make sacrifices, and take chances such as building a family business or a farm, and to develop communities with shared responsibilities for the common good, have been replaced with self interest, short term profit, sloth, entitlement, and gambling. A high percentage of American's now gamble and play the lotteries, and perceive success as making a quick buck on the stock market, or some get rich quick business scheme, or winning the Power Ball lottery, not investing 20 years of hard work to build a business, saving, having the children receiving an education through sacrifices, working nights, and developing a family business or farm. Taking gambling as an example, Casinoes are no longer confined to Nevada but now surround almost every major city - six around blue collar Buffalo, New York, alone (my example). America has become a land of contrasts between rich and poor, and of people with strong religious beliefs but often living in social isolation, alone in cars or in front of TV sets or computers, and too many behind walls in gated communities and condominiums, disconnected from their communities.
The author thinks that the telling point in the development of Europe has been their quick adoption of the cell phone, something that far exceeded US utilization, while the US remains preoccupied with large personal vehicles and social isolation. He thinks that is because of a stronger social connections in Europe, more emphasis on the local community and the well being of all the citizens, the result of developing social values and culture.
He has a number of topics in the book:
- diversity over assimilation
- better quality of life
- sustainable development
- human rights ahead of property rights
- more emphasis on global cooperation.
Think what you want about Europe and the author, and Europe does have its own problems such as Muslim immigration and its military largely supported by the US military, and sometimes one wonders if the EU foreign policy is more about being anti-American, or it is run by faceless Belgian bureaucrats, but at the moment, many of the important social numbers such as crime crime statistics, education, and even worker industrial productivity tip towards Europe beating the US. Those are current real numbers, not the future or speculation by Rifkin, or stories of a few people.
Good book, lots of ideas for thought - and action, highly recommend buying and reading: 5 stars.