Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Second-Rate Nation

Second-Rate NationA new book by Sam Sieber, a leading social researcher, author, and evaluator of federal programs (formerly of Columbia University), presents conclusions that overturn our most cherished ideas about America’s exceptional standing.

Drawing on copious international and domestic evidence, the author shows that the nation lags a significant distance behind other advanced countries in such domains as democratic representation, health care, education, crime and punishment, civil liberties, foreign affairs, press freedom, and key features of the economy, including persistent poverty. He also raises serious questions about the quality of our mainstream media and our record in protecting the environment and promoting racial and ethnic equality.

The author endeavors to answer the questions of how and why the peculiar gulf between America’s extraordinary self-esteem and the true state of affairs has evolved. He is also concerned with understanding how the nation’s idealized self-image is sustained in spite of overwhelming evidence of impairment in almost every important domain.

The author’s answer to these questions is that a full-fledged American Myth has largely replaced the traditional American Dream, and that this shift has occurred because of a series of historical shocks. These shocks, beginning with the Vietnam War and followed by other foreign misadventures and several economic downturns, have fostered an imperiled sense of impotence and lost credibility with a compensatory need for nostalgic self-celebration and global defiance. This collective need, according to Sieber, is reinforced and exploited by the nation’s power elite. If Americans remain unaware of the true conditions in their country, he warns, appropriate measures to overcome its many deficiencies and bring its dreams to fruition will never be undertaken. Thus, he regards the American Myth and its corporate, governmental, and media defenders as the country’s greatest obstacles to progress.

Apart from the author’s powerful thesis, the book is a rich compendium of up-to-date statistical data on a variety of issues, presented without either technical obfuscation or oversimplification. It should therefore be useful to policymakers, journalists, commentators, teachers, students, activists, public speakers, and ordinary citizens who desire to learn about the true state of affairs in our country today.

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