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.
This didn't blow my mind like the works of Juliet Schor, but there's some great stuff in here! I particularly appreciated the sections on military spending and the structure of American democracy. Predictably, the section on consumption was my favorite and got me most excited.
a maddening and yet invigorating look at the problems facing america, and potential solutions to them. conservatives will likely hate this book, and although liberals might be familiar with many of the ills that speth describes, the latter are rarely laid out so coherently or organized. i expected the second half of the book -- the possible solutions -- to be a head-in-the-clouds dream, but it was surprisingly grounded. speth quotes liberally from experts throughout, which i think lends a good deal of weight to his argument.
I liked to read this book where a different future seems possible but I've not enough information about the "real possibilities" for this change to come. Anyway it was a really intriguing reading even if I'm happy that U.S.A. are not my country.
THANKS TO NETGALLEY AND YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS FOR THE PREVIEW
James Gustave Speth, one of America's treasures of wisdom who has given service to both the US and the United Nations, is former head of Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Founder and president of the World Resources Institute, current Professor of Law at the Vermont Law School, and author of AMERICA THE POSSIBLE. This compact non-fiction volume was published in fall 2012, and is the third book of his non-fiction American Crisis trilogy.
This is my first read in his series. I am not an expert in any of the topics at hand nor do I read heavily in the field, but that does not matter. Speth is an able writer who writes very clearly for folks like me.
Speth's focus is to present an achievable vision for a sustainable future which requires possible transformations in three linked domains --the environment,the economy, and our democracy.
The book's flyleaf mentioned it would be a hopeful vision, or I may not have undertaken to read it by flashlight during Hurricane Sandy and the storm's aftermath when I huddled under layers of blankets trying to stay warm for days.
My one caveat is that the capsule of the statistics and state of affairs that Speth unloads almost at the outset of the book was rather depressing. I think Speth himself might have to fight discouragement. One is almost reminded of the punishment meted out to Cassandra, who was given the power of prophecy but not the power to make anyone believe.
Fortunately, I don't think believability is an issue in Speth's case. His analysis is sharp and he's respected; ideas with examples of some small efforts or trends that he wants to highlight; problems aren't just identified without possible solutions; however, he takes a policy sort of approach. That provides a great deal of content for various types of groups to discuss.
The question for me is how individual readers can concretely act to help move us towards a better future. There are possible answers to that, including the consciousness-raising theory of social change that is mentioned or perhaps being an informed voter and citizen participant demanding more government and business leadership, but I personally need additional clarity and repeated reasons to keep hopeful.
Recommended to read and discuss with others...
Speth has some of his key points in a two part Orion magazine online article (google it) for readers who want a review or an introduction.
This is a nice synthesis of the issues and a clear exposition of the goals. Speth even tried to be optimistic ...
"The language we use and the messages we seek to convey are integral to political success. I can see clearly now that we environmentalists have been too wonkish and too focused on technical fixes. We have not developed the capacity to speak in a language that aims straight at the American heart, resonates with both core moral values and common aspirations, and projects a positive and compelling vision. … “Cynicism is often seen as a rebellious attitude in Western popular culture, but in reality, our cynicism advances the desires of the powerful. … When no one believes there might be a better solution those who benefit from the status quo are safe. When no one believes in the possibility of action, apathy becomes an insurmountable obstacle to reform. But when people have some intelligent reasons to believe that a better future can be built, that better solutions are available, and that action is possible, their power to act out of their highest principles is unleashed. … History attests that if we can show people a better future, we can build movements that will change the world.”"
Speth is a prolific environmentalist advocate who served under President Jimmy Carter and advised the UN on sustainable development. In this book he is interested in something much broader than simply environmental problems, which his last two books have been about. In this book, he is setting forth a manifesto for "America the Possible." I picked it up because I have been reading a lot about the problems facing America and the world in the present moment and was looking for something a bit more optimistic. What I wanted, I got. Speth sets forth his vision for the American dream and American society, and when you read it you will realize it is a vision for America (and the world) that we want to have. He grounds himself from flitting off into utopian yearnings by heavily documenting the book, so much so that a third of its pages are taken up with notes. It is filled with proposals from economic changes to green energy, electoral reform and campaign finance, and cultural shifts in values. I highly recommend this book for anyone that wants a vision for what America could be, and especially for progressives or those unafraid of progressive values who want to bring the disparate elements of the left together into a unified whole.
Speth says everything you'd expect a true 70's era progressive to say in light of today's ascendant problems in America. Thus, his critiques fall into essentially three categories:
1. True/desirable, but politically difficult (e.g. campaign finance reform) 2. Unproven assumptions (e.g. building a huge progressive movement is the only way to counter the Tea Party et. al. and create real change. I.e., Speth believes inside and/or incremental change isn't possible on any meaningful scale). 3. Overwrought Chicken Little narratives ostensibly based on objective scientific/economic data (E.g. Climate change as the single greatest overarching problem for our generation. It's a concern, but probably not concern #1. Another example of this that Speth refers to repeatedly is the data on stagnating American happiness in spite of rising incomes—turns out there are a lot of legitimate challenges to this oft-repeated progressive mantra.)
That said, the book does have a very inspirational tone, and gets you to think about a deep, important question: how can movement building and public opinion enhance the long-term economic and political stability/hegemony/prosperity of the United States?
This sequel to "Bridge at the Edge of the World" (publ. in 2008) by the same author disappointed. I expected new insight in view of the current financial crisis, but found the same hodgepodge of evidence that the world is going to pot. Speth continues to make a compelling argument that drastic overhaul of the US and international economies, geo-politics, and over-consumerism are overdue, but the long-range goals he presents are more discouraging than helpful in their overwhelmingly apparent impracticality. Although most of the book was vague and unfocused, there were a few excellent summaries of positive proposals for change, but these were all quoted from other sources (albeit properly cited). The author's sources were numerous and accurately cited, but the citations were buried in obscure end-notes without a separate bibliography for easy reference.
Much easier to get through than the Klein book! Speth inspired me with the concept of the "dam of denial" about climate change - which he predicts will break within 3-5 years (might take longer here in the US of Affluence). His historical perspectve also suggests that once the dam breaks, human creativity can possibly mobilize to reverse some of the environmental degradation and social injustice that the global north has wreaked upon the planet. From this misanthrope, maybe, just maybe, it's ok if homo sapiens survives.
Speth has impressive credentials. He has worked in the belly of the beast -- serving in several administrations in Washington. His analysis of the sickness and dysfunction of the USA is on target. I do not share his optimism that the sickness brought on by the cancer of capitalism in this country is curable. It is too far advanced. But hope is always worthwhile, even for a dying patient. I recommend this book.