Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America’s Fifty-Year Fall—and Those Fighting to Reverse It
By Steven Brill
If you’ve been paying attention for the past few years, what Steven Brill tells you in his often times infuriating new book Tailspin will not surprise you. There’s a tremendous and still expanding disparity between the haves and the have-nots. The haves control the levers of government and they work actively to reduce government, because, frankly, government can do little for them; from their viewpoint, it mostly hinders them. The have-nots control nothing. They really don’t understand how government and business work. They especially don’t grasp how good government benefits them, and, amazing to many, they support the goals of the haves in their effort to shutdown government.
As a result, the country feels like it’s going to hell in a hand basket, what with crumbling infrastructure, skyrocketing medical costs, lack of meaningful work for many, shortage of affordable housing, spreading poverty, and the like. What Brill shows you is how after the 1960s we began spiraling downward, how almost unnoticed changes contributed, what good intentions morphed into, and how some, a handful, work now to pull us out of our spin. If the book has a weakness, it’s this last part, ways that we can level off, and climb, once again regaining our lofty status as a country that prospers by helping the least of us succeed. Unfortunately, as Brill presents it, the space he gives it, it really seems meager, particularly viewed against the entrenched powers.
Brill begins back in the early 1970s when a few forward thinking universities, among them Yale, actively endeavored to break the American old family network by developing outreach programs designed to accept students based upon merit. Other institutions followed, a culture of meritocracy blossomed, and, lo and behold, these new bright people began pulling up the ladder after them. They went where the money was, becoming lawyers, corporate leaders, bankers, and Wall Street financiers.
On the way up, they revolutionized banking and finance with complicated and dangerous financial instruments. They enlisted lawyers to transform due process into a weapon for besieging and crippling government regulators. They turned free speech on its head to give corporations much more leeway in advertising, dodging marketing regulations, working around product labeling rules, and accumulating and trading in personal data.
With the advent of multiple channels of information, the public no longer operated off of a shared set of facts. Using C-Span, a noble idea, political leaders with the loudest and most conservative voices gained control and moved the country rightward. The myriad of issues well known to us today, from healthcare, to immigration, to a diminished middle class, and to financial speculation, became unsolvable problems, mere pawns for demagoguery.
The first step to reversing descent into accent is understanding how we got here, really getting under the hood for a close inspection of the origins and operating parts of our dysfunction, examining it in its particulars and also from a gestalt view. Here, Brill, as he did with his America’s Bitter Pill on healthcare, does the public a great service. Tailspin is the book that should be on every American’s reading list who truly have an interest in helping America achieve greatness defined in human prosperity and dignity. Too bad many who should read it won’t. w/c