Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

New Book Highlights America's Decline

Friedman and Mandelbaum want us to wake up and change.

If you're a political buff like I am, odds are that you'll find Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaums' new book That Used To Be Us to be an interesting read. Yet the truth is that everyone - even those who don't follow geopolitics closely - can learn from this book about the decline of American greatness. While many such nonfiction books are written in a fairly light and digestible package, this book leans toward the slightly academic end of the spectrum.

Some might say that we, the readers, already know how bad things are, but the book delves more deeply than cable news or the average newspaper into the causes of America's current problems and does its best to offer optimism for the future, even if it's cautiously optimistic. In fact, the authors refer to themselves as "frustrated optimists."

Part of the frustration in the state of things that the authors describe derives from the two-party political system, as the authors explain that the policies we need involve far more substantial changes than the Democrats or Republicans are currently proposing. Of course, that's a tall order that may take years to execute.

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That Used To Be Us outlines many solutions, some of which we've heard before. We're slowly accepting that we need to save more, consume less, and study harder in order to regain our national strength and solidarity. But one particularly interesting focus of the book highlights how our immigration policies have gotten off-track, and the authors cite some pretty meaningful statistics. For example, did you know that immigrants represent just 12% of the U.S. populations, though they have started 52% of Silicon Valley's tech companies and contributed to more than 25% of U.S. global patents?

If you read Friedman's The World Is Flat or are familiar with Mandelbaum's work, you know that these guys are seasoned pros. They've produced a well-researched book that really makes readers think about how we  got here and, more importantly, what to do next. I highly recommend it, even if it takes quite a few sittings to fully digest.

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

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