America 3.0

[Amazon Link]

I got this book, by James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus, on Interlibrary Loan from Boston College, due to many, many plugs from the Blogfather. And he's right, it's quite good.

Their thesis: America's best days could be ahead of us, if we (a) embrace the best bits of our Anglo-Saxon cultural heritage and (b) jettison the increasingly creaky and unsustainable misfeatures of overly-centralized government and other sclerotic institutions.

The authors jam a lot of history into a small number of pages to make their argument. And I'm going to simplify even further. "America 1.0" was the original US operating system, with a small Federal government, westward expansion, rural life, and a strong farm economy. "America 2.0" was the transition, starting around the Civil War, into a more centralized, bureaucratic, collectivist, paternalistic government, urbanization, industrialization, etc.

Our transition to America 3.0 [the authors claim] is in progress, and will undo many of the 2.0 features: decentralization, a return to individualism and voluntarism, strengthening of state and local government at the expense of the Federal.

This won't be without pain: most notably, what the authors term the "Big Haircut"—essentially bankruptcy proceedings—as Federal expenditures are brought into line with revenue, bondholders and pensioners get less than their "entitlements", and many of the functions run from D.C. are spun off to the states, localities, and individuals. The megacorporation would also become a (more) endangered species, as technology and innovation would give the advantage to more nimble and flexible entrepreneurs.

The central government still runs foreign policy and national defense, but with a more realistic goal: "maintaining the freedom of the global commons of air, sea and space." (The authors have little patience with nation-building adventures like Iraq and Afghanistan.)

The book seems a little repetitive in places, and can occasionally get bogged down in less-than-fascinating detail. (Defense procurement reform. Yes, I'm for it, can we move on?) But overall very worth reading.

I don't know if they're right, however. I hope they are. It sounds plausible. But as Neils Bohr said: predictions are difficult, especially about the future.