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America the Possible

America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy

James Gustave Speth
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    America the Possible
    Book Description:

    In this third volume of his award-winning American Crisis series, James Gustave Speth makes his boldest and most ambitious contribution yet. He looks unsparingly at the sea of troubles in which the United States now finds itself, charts a course through the discouragement and despair commonly felt today, and envisions what he calls America the Possible, an attractive and plausible future that we can still realize.

    The book identifies a dozen features of the American political economy-the country's basic operating system-where transformative change is essential. It spells out the specific changes that are needed to move toward a new political economy-one in which the true priority is to sustain people and planet. Supported by a compelling "theory of change" that explains how system change can come to America, the book also presents a vision of political, social, and economic life in a renewed America. Speth envisions a future that will be well worth fighting for. In short, this is a book about the American future and the strong possibility that we yet have it in ourselves to use our freedom and our democracy in powerful ways to create something fine, a reborn America, for our children and grandchildren.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18468-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Economics, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    James Gustave Speth
  4. 1 Manifesto
    (pp. 1-18)

    This is a book about the American future.

    The plainest truth is that, as a country, we have let conditions of life in America deteriorate across a broad front and are headed straight to a place we would not want for our children and grandchildren. There is another future, an enormously attractive one, that is still within our power to build, but only if we mobilize and fight for it. It’s time, indeed past time, for our country to chart a course to this better place.

    That task begins with knowing where we are today. So let’s look at the...

  5. Part One. A Nation in Trouble

    • [Part One. Introduction]
      (pp. 19-20)

      To set in motion the conditions of a better America and a better world for our children and grandchildren, we must first carry out a reconnaissance, as Lincoln said, of “where we are, and whither we are tending.” Such an assessment must be both honest and comprehensive. If we don’t view the complete picture, we are unlikely to do the right things.

      Readers of congenitally sunny dispositions may wish for relief from cataloging the many serious challenges America has to address in the years ahead. But even they, as well as those who advise us always to be positive, will...

    • 2 Society at the Breaking Point
      (pp. 21-39)

      The United States, as we all know, is a fabulously wealthy country, with the world’s biggest economy and a GDP per capita near the top. Unfortunately, these numbers, like the plantation mansions of the antebellum South, can disguise grave social injustice. If it is true that a society should be judged by how it treats its less fortunate members, then the judgment on today’s America should be harsh indeed.

      Poverty is the destroyer of lives, a condition where dreams are stillborn and hope imprisoned. In our abundant land, an abundance of citizens are poor. The number of Americans living in...

    • 3 The Weight of the World
      (pp. 40-51)

      The world is home to a bewildering array of threats and problems that require serious international attention and action. The United States finds itself potentially affected by almost all of them. In its assumed role as the “indispensable state,” the United States has undoubtedly benefited both us and other countries in many ways over the decades since World War II. But our actions have also cost us and others dearly. I will argue here that the U.S. posture in the world reflects a radical imbalance: a hugely disproportionate focus on the military and on economic issues and a tragic neglect...

    • 4 Running Out of Planet
      (pp. 52-66)

      However demanding the challenges described so far, they may be overshadowed by developments on the environment, energy, and resources fronts. The rapaciousness with which we have run down the natural assets on which future well-being depends is staggering, and the U.S. record on these issues is deplorable. Since our early leadership in addressing ozone depletion, we have not accorded global-scale environmental challenges the priority needed to elicit determined, effective responses.

      We live now in a world dramatically unlike the world of 1900, or even that of 1950. One does not have to look far ahead to see tighter supplies of...

  6. Part Two. In the Beauty of the Morning

    • 5 America the Possible
      (pp. 69-88)

      Thoreau enjoined us, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!” But what is the dream of a better America? Any reservations stemming from the possible presumptions in answering this question—who is “we,” after all? can we even correctly anticipate future generations’ concerns?—should be put to rest by the realization that we are responsible for the consequences of our actions, and those consequences extend far into the future. As the great biogeologist Preston Cloud noted inCosmos, Earth and Manin 1978, “We are prone to dodge the issue of posterity’s rights with the complacent judgment that, after...

  7. Part Three. Transformations

    • [Part Three. Introduction]
      (pp. 89-90)

      The key to building a new political economy and, with it, a better tomorrow, is successful pursuit of an ambitious set of interacting, mutually reinforcing transformations that undermine the key features of the current system and replace them with new arrangements needed for a sustaining economy and a successful democracy.

      The aim of these transformations is deep, systemic change. That means that many of the proposals are “impractical” and “politically unrealistic.” That’s true by today’s standards but says more about our politics than the proposals themselves. If some of these ideas seem radical today, wait until tomorrow. It will be...

    • 6 A Sustaining Post-Growth Economy
      (pp. 91-102)

      When I was in school in England, the dean of my college told us when we first arrived that we could walkonthe grass in the courtyard but notacrossit. That helped me love the English and their language. Here is another good use of prepositions: there are limitsofgrowth, and there are limitstogrowth.

      The limitsofgrowth are worth dwelling on for a moment. Contrary to the constant claims that we need more growth, there is only so much growth can do for us. If economists were true to their trade, they would recognize...

    • 7 System Changes
      (pp. 103-152)

      The overall transition to a new system of political economy, one that routinely promotes a flourishing of people and planet, requires the transformation of key features of American economic and political life that lie at the root of our problems. Some of the ideas presented in this chapter should be pursued even in today’s political climate; others haven’t a prayer and must await different times. But, taken together, they should dispel the myth that there is no viable alternative to the current order.

      American public life has been profoundly affected by the rise of market fundamentalism and its shadow, resentment...

  8. Part Four. Writhing Free of an Old Skin

    • [Part Four. Introduction]
      (pp. 153-156)

      Reflect for a moment on the magnitude of the national challenges reviewed in Part I. Federal and state governments should be addressing each of these major challenges in a determined, long-term way:

      Launch a new War on Poverty aimed at lifting a sixth of our citizens out of poverty;

      Initiate programs to rebuild the middle class and to ensure economic security for families with modest incomes;

      Deploy genuinely progressive taxes and other measures to raise revenues and close the gap in incomes between rich and poor;

      Create an outstanding health care system that delivers outcomes as good as those common...

    • 8 Realizing Democracy
      (pp. 157-185)

      Among the prescriptions for America’s future, the imperative of building a new politics in our country stands out as especially urgent. Today’s rancorous political debates cannot sustain the change in priorities that the country badly needs. The path to a better America leads inevitably through the thicket of political reform.

      The conventional diagnosis is that our national politics, and the governance it yields, are now dysfunctional, with Washington beset by polarization and gridlock and thus broken and unable to perform. Our two major parties are indeed polarized today in a way not seen in modern times, particularly as the Republican...

    • 9 The Movement
      (pp. 186-198)

      When considering what’s needed in the process of change, one question leads to another. Like babushka dolls, there is always another one revealed. But here is the ultimate one as far as this book and I are concerned: How do progressives begin to drive real change? The short answer is that we need to build a powerful progressive movement. In today’s America, progressive ideas are unlikely to be turned into action unless they are pushed relentlessly by citizen demand. The more serious the change sought, the louder the demand must be.

      This reality has been stressed by many of our...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 199-236)
  10. Index
    (pp. 237-249)