After thirty years of intense corporate lobbying, we have seen the country go in a direction that has seen more jobs outsourced off-shore, a greater tax burden placed on the poor and the middle class and a dramatic shift in power away from the American worker/consumer and toward what Sachs calls a "Corporatocracy".
External forces like the rise of former third world nations (China, India) have also played their part, but America itself has seen a greater gap between rich and poor in health care access, the quality of public education and the capturing of our elected officials by special interest groups, particularly financial and military-industrial groups, that has left the public sphere looking more and more like Central and South America and less like our peer nations in northern Europe (especially Germany and the Scandinavian nations) and Japan.
There are a lot of distressing graphs in this book showing just how far we have slipped in terms of income inequality and life expectancy and plain happiness-in-life ratings as compared to a a lot of the developed world.
Sachs' case boils down to this: given that no level of government is perfect (nor any corporate entity, either, as the Crash of 2008 on Wall Street and the Housing Bubble bear mute testimony) are we as a nation willing to invest in America again and restore the public-private "mixed economy" that made us one of the most prosperous nations in the world?
We need to invest again in public spheres, Sachs argues, especially in higher education but also in reformed health care system, put limits on money in political campaigns, and an end to ex-Congressmen coming right back to work for the very industries they once oversaw.
Or are we content to be the world's biggest three-tier banana republic? (With a small but powerful elite, a shrinking middle-class, and more people falling through the cracks into a tattered net of diminished social programs.
The fact is our very political system--with its two-year election cycles for most federal government offices--puts all of our lower House of Congress in perpetual state of running for re-election and seeking short-term fixes to long term problems like budgeting and investment. We have far more elections on a national level than any other developed democracy and, paradoxically, it is making us less a nation of public power and more a nation where office holders are in hock to those who can bundle money for television ads to perpetuate their incumbency. And, with another election always just around the corner, no-one is doing anything long-term on our econoic and budget messes that might make them unpopular by reaching across the aisle to the other party leaders.
Sachs make clear both Republicans and Democrats party hacks and elected officials are complicit in this, but only we as citizens can get us out of it.
Some of Sachs findings are all too familiar:
"The United States" now has the most income disparities of any advanced developed nation."
"Three million U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost between 1998 and 2004."
"Google uses a tax dodge called the “Double Irish” to avoid taxes on billions of dollars of revenue." (By declaring themselves an Irish company and putting their profits in Bahamian banks, saving themselves billions in taxes on profits earned in the USA.)
"Since 1980, the average compensation of the top 100 U.S. CEOs increased from 50 times the average worker’s salary to more than 700 times."
How long can this go on?