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226 of 249 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lists out the challenges and provides high-level suggestions
I wasn't sure whether I should purchase this one. After all, what is it about these problems that is already not widely known, what suggestions/prescriptions can the authors come up with which has not been mentioned by someone or the other. I jumped in anyway.

I don't see a Look Inside for this book; maybe, they'll add it later, but I'll add a quick summary of...
Published on September 6, 2011 by R. Pokkyarath

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555 of 682 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Important Topic, Confused and Misleading Analysis
Thomas Friedman is one of my favorite columnists, and I looked forward to 'That Used to be Us' because it addresses America's #1 problem - our sagging economy. However, Friedman and co-author Mandelbaum's analysis of the causes and cures for our economic malaise is confused and often erroneous.

The book begins with Friedman comparing two projects - the six...
Published on September 5, 2011 by Loyd E. Eskildson


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226 of 249 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lists out the challenges and provides high-level suggestions, September 6, 2011
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I wasn't sure whether I should purchase this one. After all, what is it about these problems that is already not widely known, what suggestions/prescriptions can the authors come up with which has not been mentioned by someone or the other. I jumped in anyway.

I don't see a Look Inside for this book; maybe, they'll add it later, but I'll add a quick summary of the book. The book is divided into 5 parts:

Part 1: The Diagnosis
Imitating the DHS's campaign message "If You See Something, Say Something", the authors say that the symptoms of America's decline is all around for us to see. He contrasts the Chinese gusto in completing a convention center in 8 months--which he visited for the WEF summer summit--to the lackadaisical attitude he sees at the Washington Metrorail; talks about his visit to the White House where a door handle came off while he was opening it, only to hear the Secret Service agent remarking, "Oh, it does that sometimes". The authors goes on to say that America as a country has failed to adjust itself to the post cold-war era and failed to address some of the biggest problems, including Education, Deficits, Energy needs and Climate Change; our ability to react and respond to challenges and opportunities has drastically come down. The worst part of this decline, according to the authors, is that it's slow in coming and hence, we fail to even recognize the existence of the problem. A depleted America will not just be bad for the Americans, but to the whole world as well because, according to the author, the US plays a constructive role in world economy and politics and that will be hard to replace. Then they goes into a bit of a history about the origin of the public-private partnership, enumerating what he calls the five pillars of prosperity, and lists out the contributions towards this by the earlier US leaders, starting from from Alexander Hamilton, TR, FDR, Eisenhower down to Johnson. In short, the authors say that we misread the fall of the Berlin Wall while we exaggerated the effects of Al-Qaeda.

So that above is an overview of Part 1. Most of us would have heard about these points; the addition of conversations with business and political leaders certainly adds some meat to the diagnosis. The history part is also interesting in terms of knowing the decisions taken by the past presidents. Mostly I agree with them, though there are occasions where the points are debatable. They talks about how China's political system is inferior. I'm not sure about that though; having seen the cacophony and mess that is part of the democracy in India, I wonder if democracy is indeed the right choice for a developing nation, a vast number being illiterate. That, though, is a digression and a different discussion altogether.

Part 2: The Education Challenge
Here the authors talks about how Globalization and IT revolution has completely changed the global landscape and issues a call for better and more education. The first half of this part talks about how information technology has really brought changes in the business and political world (Arab Spring) and talks about the ramifications of being completely connected. The author divides the first half of the last decade--approximately--as Flat World 1.0 and the second part as Flat World 2.0. The 2.0 being a "hyper-connected" world with even the little villages now connected to the global network using cell phones and so on. I have to say, while describing all this, they sound like a Management Guru pacing animatedly up and down the stage. The job requirements, according to the authors, are more complex these days as employers look for critical reasoning, communication and collaboration skills--the three Cs--(I thought they always looked for those?). The authors talks about pumping more money/effort to raise the level of the poorly faring kids; the argument didn't convince me though. There is a great and interesting section on the role of teachers and suggestions/thoughts about teacher evaluation metrics--An interesting case study from Colorado is presented--and mechanisms to motivate/empower teachers.

This part, except the section on teachers and evaluation, is ... well, ok. The first part completely looks like business 2.0 speak and occasionally mixed in are some hype about the latest technologies. As an example, he talks about cloud computing, "The cloud is like this huge factory where anyone can come and produce anything." This, according to him, is a key difference between 2.0 and 1.0. Yeah, sure, Cloud is great and is the in-thing, but let's not be in the cloud while talking about Clouds. His classification of 1.0 was also interesting (PC revolution, Internet Revolution and AJAX/HTTP/XML/SOAP!). PV kannan then steps in to say how the job reqs have gotten more stricter and how his call center hires "army of PhDs" for data analytics. My feeling at that point was this: sure, all this makes sense, but let's not make all this sound more complicated that it really is. The author makes one very valid point: The notion that manufacturing can be exported while design can happen in the US is inherently flawed because along with the manufacturing goes bottom-up innovation. They also talks about how we should transform ourselves into creative artisans--instead of routine work--and that is certainly an interesting point. I recently read an interesting book and I would recommend it: Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford

Part 3: The War on Math and Physics
Here we go into the Deficit/Debt problems and Climate Change. The authors implicates both Republicans and Democrats for the situation that we're in today. Some financial history is covered, starting from Eisenhower onwards. Topics covered include: Bretton Woods agreement and how Milton Friedman got it wrong; effect of baby-boomers on Medicare and SS and so on. He blames the younger generation of repubs for lack of fiscal prudence and blames dems for big spending. Taking a middle ground, their suggestion is to raise taxes, cut entitlements and invest in growth areas. Without the last piece, we're not going to get anywhere. There's a humorous point he made: US is duty bound--by some treaty--to protect Taiwan in the event of Chinese aggression, but to go for that war, the US may need to borrow from the Chinese! Ignoring the deficit problem is the War on Math. Ignoring Climate Change, according to him, is the War on Physics. He quotes experts from the EPI and other institutions and confronts those who says it's a hoax. Even if it turned out not to be as bad as predicted, it still should help improve the environment, help us develop cutting edge green technologies that will reduce our oil dependence and make US the leader in those new emerging technologies (China and Germany currently leads)

This part is interesting, but, remember, these are huge topics and if you want to genuinely understand these issues, you may want to read separate books/materials on them. The author does bring in his notes from those experts with whom he interacted, but, apart from knowing what we've already heard, I'm not sure if I found something totally new. Nobody is going to change his opinion on Climate Change by reading these points. What the authors are trying to do though is to refresh these issues in the national consciousness and, from that perspective, it's valuable.

Part 4: Political Failure
Here the authors talk about how political paralysis has lead to poor standards of education, shoddy infrastructure, Brain Drain, lack of investments in growth areas and research institutions, a lack of regulations (ex. credit-default swap) and how we ended up chasing the losers of globalization. To drive home this point, the author gives a few examples that included the fact that in 2009 US consumers spent more on Potato Chips that the Govt spent on energy research! What I found interesting about this part is the analysis he made about why the country is politically polarized. Their conclusion seems to be based on a limited data set; so I'm not sure if one can conclusively make this argument, but it certainly is interesting. He talks about gerrymandering--with the pics of a couple of congressional districts--and how over time the balancing elements in each parties migrated to the other, thereby eliminating the in-party discussions that used to be there. This I found to be pretty interesting. We've heard the rest of the points enough in recent times: how politicians are not doing their part, the role played by lobbyists, 24/7 news cycles, loss of values etc. etc.

Part 5: Rediscovering America
My opinion about this part is mixed. He does talk about things that are required for start-ups and business to find America attractive, but at the same time he talks about some nebulous things--nebulous in relation to the discussions we're having here--like American spirit and so on (girls in the Navy and a couple of Americans in Delhi). Earlier in the book they talk about how Americans should act like the soldiers who landed at Normandy and I was looking forward to hearing some of the hard things/sacrifices Americans make, but didn't really see much of that.

The book ends by explaining the virtues of having a 3rd party candidate in the next elections. Sure, he/she won't be able to become president, but can be a positive influence in getting the parties come to a more centrist view. To support this point he takes the example of TR (Bull Moose party), George Wallace and Ross Perot, and points out the positive influence they had.

Who would be this 3rd party candidate? Bloomberg, perhaps? Let's wait and see how it turns out. All in all it's an interesting book, though, I'm not sure if there's anything fundamentally new. It does bring the main issues to the forefront. The solutions suggested are the ones we have mostly heard about, but the authors certainly mostly makes cohesive arguments about the topics addressed. My interest waxed and waned as I went through the book; depending on where I'm in the book I would give a 3 or 4 star. Overall a 3.5

I'm not an American, but I'd lived there for close to 12 years (Loved it greatly, until a visa quagmire made me leave). So whenever I hear about America and all the talk about America's opportunities, problems and challenges, I get interested enough to get involved in it. Hence my presence here.
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280 of 312 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important book that every American should read, September 5, 2011
"That Used to Be Us" delves deeply into the major problems confronting America. The book is well-written and uses a journalistic style similar to other books by Friedman: it includes a lot of anecdotes and quotations. The book starts by comparing a six-month project to fix two small escalators at a New Jersey train station with an eight-month project in China that resulted in the construction of a massive and ornate convention center. That comparison underlies the book's title -- the idea that the U.S. no longer leads the world in its ability to innovate and to efficiently create new things and ideas.

The book is divided into parts that focus on the major challenges we face: (1) Educating our workforce in an age where globalization and information technology have merged into a force that is disrupting job markets. (2) Overcoming the "War on Math," which has led us to recklessly cut taxes and ignore the impact of deficits and the growing dept burden, and the "War on Physics" which has led to rampant denial of the realities of climate change science and energy policy. (3) Political failure, driven by gridlock and the overwhelming influence of money in politics, and our failure invest in basic scientific research, critical infrastructure and to implement and maintain rational regulation of markets.

The part of the book that will perhaps be of particular interest to many readers is the discussion of how technology and globalization are impacting jobs and careers. The job market has been "polarized" so that routine, middle skill jobs have been eliminated, leaving only high skill jobs requiring lots of education and lots lower wage jobs that so far cannot be automated or offshored. There is a good discussion of the issues, again with lots of examples, but, as someone who works in developing these technologies, I think the authors actually underestimate the future impact here. They do not focus on the fact that information technology is accelerating and that the capability of computers and robots is going to improve dramatically over the next decade -- almost certainly threatening many jobs that we now think are safe.

For a much more in depth look on the future impact of technology on the job market and economy, I would recommend reading this book: The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future.

"That Used to be Us" is a very important book that will hopefully initiate a much wider and much more honest discussion about the challenges we face. To be sure, not everyone will agree with some of the solutions advocated (for example, increased immigration for skilled workers and a viable third party presidential candidate to deliver a shock to the political system) but the discussion of the major issues and tradeoffs we face is very well done and illuminating.
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555 of 682 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Important Topic, Confused and Misleading Analysis, September 5, 2011
Thomas Friedman is one of my favorite columnists, and I looked forward to 'That Used to be Us' because it addresses America's #1 problem - our sagging economy. However, Friedman and co-author Mandelbaum's analysis of the causes and cures for our economic malaise is confused and often erroneous.

The book begins with Friedman comparing two projects - the six months required to repair two D.C. Metro escalators with 21 steps each near his Bethesda home, and China's building its new Meijiang Convention Center (2.5 million square feet, with gigantic escalators) in eight months. The comparison symbolizes how China's economic dynamism makes 21st-century America seem sickly and inept. Unfortunately, the authors attribute our current state of affairs to a loss of intensity and purpose after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Reality, however, is that our relative decline vs. China began with Premier Deng Xiaoping's 'socialism with Chinese characteristics' in 1979, and intensified after 9/11 as the U.S. became preoccupied with terrorism and paralyzed by increasingly partisan politics, while the Chinese began moving, largely unnoticed, up the economic value chain.

Continuing, the authors contend that America faces three other major challenges - the IT revolution, our chronic and growing deficits, and our world-leading energy consumption. The 'solution' - reviving the values, priorities, and practices that we have used to succeed in the past. The remainder of the book consists of underlying details and their blueprint for doing so.

Globalization (and the hollowing out and weakening of the American economy) was largely initiated by American firms transferring American technologies and management skills while seeking lower-cost production. (So much for 'What's good for American business is good for America.') However, it has since produced a new variety of 'capitalism' largely led, funded, and protected by China's government that has become more successful than our version. A byproduct is that the strength of much of our middle-class, government regulation and finances, and world stature have deteriorated.

Unfortunately, the authors see America's two parties as so sharply polarized by competing ideologies that they are incapable of arriving at the compromises required. Their solution is a new third-party, and a return to sensible policies on education, immigration, infrastructure, risk/capital management, and scientific research. Meanwhile, we stagger forward (?) with budget-ballooning tax cuts, trillions of dollars (and thousands of lives) wasted in the War on Terror, and raising denial of the physical sciences (Global Warming, evolution, stem-cell research) and math (spending increases should be matched by cuts, but tax cuts don't need to be matched by spending cuts - Senator Jon Kyl) to a qualification for high office.

Reality, however, does not entirely support their case that improved education (read 'more money') is key to our future. Americans have nearly tripled per-pupil, inflation-adjusted spending since the early 1970s, with little or no change in pupil achievement or graduation rates to show for it; even 'Let No Child Be Left Behind' has done little to close racial achievement gaps. Unfortunately, Friedman and Mandelbaum give little emphasis to the large and consistent superior performance by most pupils from Asian and Jewish families, dismal Hispanic high-school graduation rates, the common denigration of academic achievement within African-American youth, and the fact that Michelle Rhee's education reform efforts within D.C. were undone by the largely African-American electorate in that city. (Similarly, a recent poll in New York City shows minority parents particularly unhappy with Mayor Bloomberg's reform efforts.)

The authors also undermine their credibility by first claiming Chinese education smothers creativity (no evidence provided), and later reporting that Chinese computer programmers took 1st and 3rd place in the 2011 IBM-sponsored world championship of programming. (The U.S. took 2nd, its only placement within the top 12, while Russia took five of the top twelve positions; the U.S. spends far more on education than both China and Russia.) Friedman and Mandelbaum, when alleging that Chinese education stifles creativity, also seem unaware that the Chinese recently built the world's largest dam and hydroelectric facility, largest network of high-speed rail (admittedly having early problems), longest sea bridge, HVDC transmission line, and irrigation project, and have passed the U.S. in supercomputer speed. Militarily, they've largely neutralized American naval and air power in the Pacific with relatively low-cost missiles, torpedoes, attack boats, and quiet submarines.

Meanwhile call centers in India are now adding PhDs, programmers, and statisticians, showing how losing even low-technology jobs can lead to the loss of high-technology jobs as well. (Outsourcing our manufacture of low-tech CRTs also led to losing out on the R&D and manufacture of high-tech LED and plasma screens, and a handicap in the nanotechnology and solar film races.) The authors also confuse the enormous impact of single individuals (eg. the revolutionary Toyota Production System was essentially the work of one man - Taiichi Ohno), and the much more limited impact of widespread employee involvement, contending the latter augers for more higher education. Need more convincing? Consider the relative impact of Steve Jobs in Apple, vs. its hundreds of thousands of manufacturing workers in Japan and China, Bill Gates within Microsoft, Sergey Brin and Larry Page within Google, Michael Bloomberg within Bloomberg, etc.

Comparing incomes between various levels of education in America creates confusing results. Some researchers report higher incomes for those with a college education (Friedman and Mandelbaum quote from them), while others assert that the coming decade will see much high levels of offshoring high-level jobs (eg. extensive R&D in China is already occurring, and software, legal, and financial/accounting offshoring is predicted to quickly increase, then there's the fact that even prior to the Great Recession about one-third of college graduates ended up in jobs not requiring a degree, while a fourth group has found that after taking into account the costs and foregone earnings associated with college, it is not a good investment. I have an MBA and work as a cross-country truck-driver; one of my college friends (PhD in chemistry) for H&R Block preparing taxes. You figure it out. Regardless, the authors also ignore the glaring need to roll back the cost of college education to 1960's levels before it began rocketing upward at 4X the CPI.

On the other hand, they're 'spot-on' in reporting that effective teachers can make a big difference; strangely, however, they fail to mention that reducing class size and paying teachers according to experience and number of graduate courses completed are both enormously expensive and have very little, if any value (except for the first two years of teaching experience). Worse yet, it would seem that decades of education research findings since the mid-1960s on how to improve pupil achievement, and innumerable reforms, fads, and 'improvements' have accomplished nothing except prove that our colleges of education are vacuous.

The need to reduce health care expenditures rightly receives considerable attention in 'That Used to be Us.' The authors, however, strongly infer that AARP/Medicare is the problem and that the elderly should receive lower subsidies. Simply cutting Medicare, however, would cast many seniors deeper into poverty - by themselves they are unable to counteract providers' demands for high reimbursement and unneeded care. Regardless, America's health care cost problems disadvantage everyone, especially businesses competing with foreign producers. We spend so much more (17%+ of GDP, vs. 9% or less for Japan, South Korea, Taiwan) because our much less regulated fee-for-service reimbursement encourages over-utilization and overpayment, compared to other nations. Unfortunately, efforts to control the problem have been met with 'death panel' and 'government interference' demagoguery.

'We need to keep America's doors to immigration open so we are adding both the low-skilled/high-aspiring and best minds in the world' is another recommendation from 'That Used to be Us.' Common sense, however, says it is not possible to add some 12 million low-skilled, high-birthrate illegal aliens who, on average, value education little (very high dropout rates) without harming Americans already here. (I had a job taken away last year by an illegal.) As for adding the 'best minds' - I would agree; however, our weakening economy is becoming less attractive to those Asians.

Research is essential to America's revitalization, claim the authors. Seems logical; actually, by itself more research support is of little benefit because most subsequent manufacturing (the big dollars) now takes place in Asia (think Apple). The authors also fail to mention that the vast majority of research dollars in the U.S. are wasted, eg. on some 300 new books and 3,000 articles on Shakespeare each year, picayune managerial theorizing that ignores strategic and global issues, economics professors telling us 'we benefit from getting rid of manufacturing and low-skill jobs,' market regulation is not needed/bubbles are self-correcting, etc. Further, '99% of (important and useful discoveries) are made by 1% of researchers,' per Julius Axelrod, Nobel-winner in medicine. The authors also fail to note that Chinese researchers are even more productive because they are encouraged to focus on implementation (not pure research), do less writing of papers, and utilize outstanding college students in lead roles (eg. Zhao Bowen, age 17, leading a genetic analysis of IQ at Beijing Genetics Institute) instead of their having to wait until completion of a PhD and attainment of years of experience as a research understudy. (Note how they are also addressing an important topic head-on, while U.S. research in this area has largely been blocked by political correctness.)

Friedman and Mandelbaum tell us that "Thirty years ago, 10 percent of California's general revenue fund went to higher education and 3 percent to prisons. Today nearly 11 percent goes to prisons and 8 percent to higher education." The implication is that opening more colleges would shut prisons. Reality, however, is that that nationally during that same time period the proportion of 18-24 year-olds enrolled in higher education has risen from 32% to 49%, while imprisonment rates also rose - from about 130/100,000 to 500. A better approach to lowering prison costs would be to rethink the War on Drugs ($1 trillion, over 40 years, and about 40,000 lives - mostly in Mexico).

One final area - Friedman and Mandelbaum contend our political system is much superior to that in China, but again offer no economic evidence of such. China's government has taken a consistent, long-term, fact-based forward-looking perspective; U.S. government, if it acts at all, has been much more reactive, and ideology and short-term focused. Further, if the authors talked to the Chinese they would learn that most of the middle/upper-class fear allowing the lower class voting rights, and that overall the Chinese are much more satisfied with their economy and government than Americans are (Pew International Poll - 2010). Citizens simply don't have the time, knowledge, or interest to become as knowledgeable as required to make intelligent decisions in most areas. Regardless, China has broadened membership in its Communist Party to recently include leading intellectuals/academics and businesspeople.

Bottom-Line: The recommendations in 'That Used to be Us' will not return America to its former glory. Instead, we need to stop off-shoring millions of jobs ('Free Trade' benefited the U.S. greatly - when we had no strong competitors; China continues to benefit from protectionism, as did the U.S. previously) and R&D (over 1,200 multinational firms in conducting R&D in China, mostly U.S.) activities, and tolerating the millions of illegals within the U.S. We don't need more money for education (returning to 1970 levels would save nearly %500 billion/year) or R&D - just greatly improved effectiveness. We don't need more immigration of unskilled labor - just those with strong science abilities. Our reaction to 9/11 has cost nearly $4 trillion - so far. Improving our posture towards the Arab world (less bias towards Israel, leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, stop threatening Iran and Syria), reducing our military (equal the rest of the world, combined), Homeland Security and intelligence (vast duplication - 'Top Secret America') expenditures, returning to 1970 education expenditures/pupil, and eliminating incentives for excess health care utilization and overly generous provider payments ($700 billion/year for just the federal government) would save nearly $2 trillion/year - we could afford to substantially reduce our deficits, and rebuild/update our infrastructure.

Common sense is all that's required to solve America's economic problems, aided by analogy, thinking, and a little data. Treatment for serious bleeding always involves immediate use of a tourniquet or bandage to cut off the flow of blood - nobody instead tries to increase the victim's ability to manufacture blood. Why should we treat serious job losses to outsourcing and illegals any different? Simply stop the losses! Alternatively, ask yourself how could nearly three decades of large trade DEFICITS possibly improve employment in America, as claimed by many CEOs and consultants? And as for contending that Smoot-Hawley tariffs (Free Trade impediments) extended and deepened and extended the Great Depression - how could that be, given that net trade activity was then less than 1% of our economy? We can quickly cure our economic malaise by replacing 'Free Trade' with 'Balanced/Fair Trade' (Europe has done this for years), and no longer allowing millions of illegals to work in the U.S.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The problems? Well stated. The solutions? Eh., October 9, 2011
By 
David G. Kay (West Palm Beach, FL USA) - See all my reviews
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The title promised so much: Yes! That's US! So accurate and so succinct. And Friedman is so smart and often inspirational! But when it came to solutions, the air went out of the balloon. I was eager for new answers. Alas, there were none.
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43 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provoking Valuable Discussion, September 6, 2011
An important book because it's provoking discussion.

Friedman readers (like myself) know Friedman has his finger on the pulse. Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum note some of the many issues facing the USA in "That Used to be Us." What makes this book worth buying and reading is the vast array of topics discussed relating to the United States and the world in our age of globalization. "That Used to be Us" will lead a reader to think and also more importantly - question the authors on some subjects they discuss. It's thought provoking. The authors use an appropriate term you'll learn about in the book: Sustainable vs. Situational.

I agree with many of the observations of the challenges that exist for the US now and in the future, however the solutions to some of these issues is where I think that these remedies are either not feasible and/or not the proper solution:

For example, spending more on education. The US already does spend more than any nation in the world. Look at the results of this spending. The racial breakdown was not noted, also. Maybe parents are far more influential than more money going to Educrats. Look at the costs of just BA and the jobs that these grads are getting, regardless of their field of study. Add an MA to the cost & debt burden. This was not even noted. In addition, research into education for over 4 decades has not improved education combined with low teacher pay. But the authors did mention the ticking time bomb of Medicare and the need for cuts. Some of the many other American problems noted are the well-known dilemmas that have festered for decades, such as the National Debt. Do the authors seriously think these issues will at least be dealt or even resolved, after US politicians have kicked the can down the road for so long?

Also advocated in this book is a viable Third Party. I agree with this, but it's not feasible. A Third Party is basically not possible because of the way the electoral process is construed, an many legalities and financial rules are in place to specifically exclude the viability of any 3rd party from entering into the system of collusion held by the 2-party monopoly.

In addition Friedman and Mandelbaum advocate increasing immigration to fill certain jobs requiring certain skill-sets. Once again, we have another person publicly advocating increasing the annual H1-B cap. The myth that there are not enough workers to fill these positions. Why aren't US companies working in coordination with University research centers and tech schools more?

The authors also assert is that the US political system regarding economics is superior to China's, while Friedman notes the sluggish escalator repair for the DC Metro compared to the rapid Chinese construction of the Meijiang building in China. Although I'm no a fan of China nor the way their government implements many policies, can the US government be considered superior to any government in the industrialized world (even though China is not in that group, yet) after myopic 2-year election cycles propel, endless gridlock, entitlement largess, and graft? This said, I certainly agree with the authors contention that US global governance (warts and all) is far more desirable to Chinese government of the world diplomatically, and economically.

Some of these problems are already known to the reader but the part Mandelbaum and Friedman note that everyone should be more aware of is: the elimination of certain skill-set jobs due to offshoring and outsourcing. And as the book notes, this elimination will continue, causing the need for constant change for American workers - even the highly skilled professionals - to remain employed. Not just competitive, but employed in their own country. R & D, innovation, and engineering jobs are following the manufacturing to China and East Asia.

Thomas Friedman states the end of this book contains a "happy ending, but we don't know if its fiction or non-fiction." Indeed. A good point by Friedman in his statement that "friends don't let friend go into Finance" (on Wall St.). Math, engineering and science are where the bright minds of the US need to go as these skills are what a society needs and these occupations must be held in the high regard they deserved, instead of the brightest and most ambitious aspiring to be another Gordon Gekko.

Lots of positive ideas and solutions from Friedman and Mandelbaum. The positivity makes this book forceful, because even if you disagree with some of their analysis and solutions, this is a book that will spur discussion that is gravely need, which will lead and focus on "doing" more than the, "Ifs"........
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53 of 71 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Superficial, September 20, 2011
This is a very superficial book. If you've been following the news over the past few years (and certainly if you've been reading Tom Friedman's columns), you won't learn much from reading this. The basic premise is that America is falling behind in the world and needs to get its act together if it wants to remain a superpower - mainly, it needs to cut its deficits and invest in things like clean energy, education, and infrastructure.

Most of what's in this book you probably already know. For example, the main focus of the section on education is a) American kids on average don't do very well on tests and b) quality teaching is a prerequisite for improving education. (Really? Is there anyone in the world who disputes that good teachers are important?)

The book is also very repetitive. I think the authors tell us that "we need to cut spending, increase taxes, and invest in our future" at least 30 times in the book (i.e. they repeat that exact sentence). It's like they had a 150 page book and needed to expand it to 350 pages so they just kept repeating the same things over and over. After devoting a huge section to all of America's education problems, they open the section on American politics with another large subsection about America's education problems, basically just repeating the points that were already made earlier, all of which the reader probably already knew anyway.

The authors stress that they are "frustrated optimists" with regards to America's future - by which they really mean that they are optimistic about things they like about America and frustrated by things they don't like. I think they just as easily could have said that they are "hopeful pessimists."

Friedman also has a style of reporting where he writes things like: "America is falling behind in education. This problem seems intractable for reasons x, y, and z, but it's a problem we can solve. We just need people with bold ideas and bold solutions. Take a look at what person X is doing. Person X came up with this amazing bold idea and is having fantastic success. [Insert 6 paragraphs of quotes from person X explaining how awesome his idea/business/product is.] See? It's easy - we just all need to take lessons from Person X." These sections sometimes seem more like Friedman doing PR for person X than actual reporting. For example, he does this with Colorado's education policies, telling us how incredible they are as a blueprint for education reform - but if this were so easy and so successful why haven't other states mimicked it? There's no analysis at all of how this might work elsewhere, the pros and cons of this approach compared to others (he only discusses pros, no cons), whether this would be politically feasible elsewhere, what other similar approaches other states may have tried, etc. He just gives us a bunch of quotes about how great it is and moves on. (Friedman does this in his other books, too, so I am blaming him and not Mandlebaum.)

The authors also say things like this:
* "It is not a good sign when bluntly speaking the truth turns into a negative political advertisement that harms a candidacy." (Right, because of course no one in American political history ever did that before...)
* "While it is sensible to prune the thicket of regulations within which American business operates, it would be utterly foolish to do away with government regulation altogether." (Oh, so you don't think we should eliminate ALL government regulation? Shocking...)
* "Twenty-first century Republicans who deny any economic role for the federal government are at odds with their own tradition [following in the footsteps of Hamilton, Lincoln, TR, and Eisenhower]." (Political parties evolve along with their constituencies. Comparing the Republican party now to the Federalists in 1790 or the Republicans in 1865 is completely ridiculous.)
And on and on...

This could be a valuable book for certain audiences - for example, to give college students a broad, superficial overview of what's happening in the world with a simplistic, unspecific left-of-center approach for America for the future. But for anyone looking for a more substantive book, this will be disappointing.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a great read BUT ..., September 29, 2011
By 
I seem to have a love-hate relationship with Thomas L Friedman's books. Friedman always writes about the most important subjects, he always writes compellingly enough that you may call his books page-turners, and he always lays out the nature of the problem brilliantly. But he always seems to disappoint when he lays out his solution to the problem. In this case, the problem is: we ain't what we used to be and we ought to accept that, we may have once had the right to our "exceptionalism" but we have slipped badly lately and we no longer have that right. Unhappily, his solution is a) we have dug ourselves out of holes before and we can do it again, b) all we need is for every American to become skilled, educated, innovative, entrepreneurial and unique, and c) he is an optimist. Enough to make a grown man scream with frustration.

and, yes, the book deserves a huge readership if only for the authors' detailed discussion of our problems.

My apologies to his co-author Michael Mandelbaum; this short review would have been double the size had I been rigorous about the book's proper co-authorship.
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22 of 29 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Hated It, June 13, 2012
I usually highlight interesting parts of books and normal books for me have highlighted marks and notes on almost every page. I read 176 pages of this flatulent drivel and only highlighted one page. It can be summed up like this... To fix unemployment: Green Jobs. To fix education: get more creative. To balance the budget: raise taxes. Lots of "The Chinese are kicking our butts," sprinkled in. There's usually just one fact per page and then the rest is conjecture and wishful thinking. I literally threw this book in the garbage can. It's too important of a topic to be left to snake oil salesmen like Friedman.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Some authors should limit their publications, April 22, 2013
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Some authors should limit their publications - Friedman is one of them. I enjoyed his first works, even used to quote him, but I have found with each subsequent publication there is more preaching and less fact.

Denver Mullican
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23 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It just makes sense, October 3, 2011
This review is from: That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back (Kindle Edition)
I would like to preface this review by saying that I am a registered republican.

After downloading the free 14 pages on my kindle I was ready to give this book a whirl. 15 pages in it made me reconsider my purchase. But since I bought it I decided to stick it out and boy am I glad I did. This book is in the middle. It is probably the closest to center one book or view will ever come. After reading this book I have decided I will join the new "moderate" party in RI and drop the repubs - dems should do the same. The extremes dominate our legislature and it is the center that is left unrepresented in our country. This book tells it like it is and is a welcome splash in the face for all that just want thier country to work.

Buy the book - it is worth it.
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