Book Summary – That Used to Be Us – By Thomas L Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum

Thomas Friedman is a NY Times bestselling author. He wrote The World is Flat and Hot, Flat and Crowded which are excellent books. This book is a must read for anybody who cares about our country. It outlines the problems and discusses the methods for getting us back on track as a world leading innovative nation.

Why is this important to me? I ask this question as if I am sitting in your shoes. This book in my humble opinion is a must read. The lackadaisical nature of the masses along with the political gridlock is paralyzing the nation and that affects all of us. It makes no sense for China to have better rail systems than us, and Singapore having better airports than us. And we just learned that China now has the fastest supercomputer on Earth – that used to be us. President Obama – 11/3/2010 Thomas and Michael outline the significant problems and some of the positive energy that still existing in the U.S. For the sake of time, I will summarize each of the 5 parts. The big four challenges we face in the U.S. are: how to adapt to Globalization, how to adjust to the IT revolution, how to cope with huge budget deficits because of growing government and how to manage in a world of rising energy demands and climate change.

1. The Diagnosis – If you see something, say something. Humans have a unique way of adapting to the environment. Unfortunately, we adapt to bad things and start to accept them as normal. The authors profile a story where it has taken over 6 months to fix two escalators with 21 steps on each in the New York Subway station. The politics, red tape and bureaucracy have basically killed the project. Yet in China, they can build a world class convention center in 32 weeks. The scary part of all of this is that – “People have gotten used to it.” Pretty soon we get numb to really stupid things and start accepting the red tape provided by people who get paid regardless. This is a very scary habit to fall into because the gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world is widening and we are falling farther behind. The infrastructure of the country is falling apart. A personal example – our building is located in Southfield Michigan and we pay $50K a year in property taxes. The street in front of our building will destroy the front end of your car if you go faster than 20 miles per hour because the road is so screwed up.

2. The Education Challenge – This is no secret. We are funding education with investment dollars and it is not effective. We can fist fight all day on who is responsible but the point is that the family has to take a proactive approach to education or kids will die on the vine. The key learning requirements are critical thinking, collaboration and effective oral and written communication. There is another major problem in that kids need to be accountable and work ethic has to be established at a young age. The Chinese and Indians out work us in aggregate. They are pushed by their parents to succeed. Success in the U.S. has basically made the country lazy. This is similar to a championship boxer who is no longer hungry and does not work hard to stay champion. The authors point out a quote from a business man saying he is in the business of killing jobs. He is absolutely correct. Basically we have to innovate and automate routine tasks. This means that software and intellectual property will take the place of mundane work. This is continuing to happen and why critical thinking, problem solving and sharp skills are required from our education system. According to Wikipedia, the U.S. rank 17th in the world for education yet the budget is over $900 Billion annually. The execution and oversight to this spending is broken.

3. The War on Math and Science – Arithmetic is not an opinion – Italian Proverb. The war on Math is simple – nobody in Government can add. We are borrowing money from China to go to war with Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Our deficient spending is just that and the investment is non-existent. In the 1960’s president Kennedy created a goal to be on the Moon in 10 years. What is the goal today? To provide for people and make sure they don’t have to work but still get their checks? Also, how could we let our banks leverage our future with derivatives and nobody in management have an idea of what happened? Worse than that, these executive got paid hundreds of millions of dollars collectively while accepting bailouts. This is War on Math and common sense. Like we stated earlier, Americans have gotten Used to it. The war on physics has to do with climate change and energy. The growth of energy demand and our lack of real investment in alternatives need to change. Lobbyists and special interest groups prevent this.

4. Political Failure – I am not going to blame Democrats or Republicans. I will blame both for the grid lock and selfish nature of polls, money and re-election. Our government in the last three years has gone into special session to make sure that the “Economy” does not self-destruct. Think about this for a minute. President Obama had to raise the debt ceiling otherwise the effects on the economy would have been Catastrophic. Those are his words. Is anybody listening? I guess we are just “used to it.”

5. Rediscovering America – The good news is that for every problem yields great opportunity to solve it. Embracing the problems and hitting them head on is the cornerstone of our history. The small business man who transforms the world from his garage – that all happens here. This needs to be nurtured and the problems need to be fixed from the bottom up. Waiting for big brother to fix our issues is the kiss of death. Don’t let Dumb and Dumber dictate your future. This is how our political system is working and we are going to get run over by other nations if we don’t take responsibility for ourselves. I will stop preaching. This is a good book and will open your eyes to the problems. Remember that news today is not news but opinion. Bill Maher and Rush Limbaugh are paid for ratings. I hope you have found this short summary useful. The key to any new idea is to work it into your daily routine until it becomes habit. Habits form in as little as 21 days. One thing you can take away from this book is the U.S needs leaders. This is still the greatest country in the world because we are free. This means we need to become leaders and lead from the bottom up. We need to take responsibility for continuous learning and innovation.