Tailspin : The People and Forces Behind America's Fifty-year Fall-and Those Fighting to Reverse It
by Brill, Steven







1 The Protected and the Unprotected3(14)
2 Meritocracy Becomes the New Aristocracy17(30)
3 Casino Country47(43)
4 The Greening of the First Amendment90(43)
5 Making Markets Efficient-and Marginalizing Those Left Behind133(15)
6 "Lip Service" for America's Workers148(21)
7 Dysfunctional Democracy169(28)
8 Moat Nation197(60)
9 Why Nothing Works257(33)
10 Broken290(23)
11 Protecting the Most Unprotected313(30)
12 Storming the Moats 33o
Acknowledgments343(4)
A Note on Methodology and Sources347(2)
Notes349(68)
Index417


"From the award-winning journalist and best-selling author of America's Bitter Pill: a tour de force examination of 1) how and why major American institutions no longer serve us as they should, causing a deep rift between the vulnerable majority and the protected few, and 2) how some individuals and organizations are laying the foundation for real, lasting change. In this revelatory narrative covering the years 1967 to 2017, Steven Brill gives us a stunningly cogent picture of the broken system at the heart of our society. He shows us how, over the last half-century, America's core values-meritocracy, innovation, due process, free speech, and even democracy itself-have somehow managed to power its decline into dysfunction. They have isolated our best and brightest, whose positions at the top have never been more secure or more remote. The result has been an erosion of responsibility and accountability, an epidemic of shortsightedness, an increasingly hollow economic and political center, and millions of Americans gripped by apathy and hopelessness. By examining the people and forces behind the rise of big-money lobbying, legal and financial engineering, the demise of private-sector unions, and a hamstrung bureaucracy, Brill answers the question on everyone's mind: How did we end up this way? Finally, he introduces us to those working quietly and effectively to repair the damages. At once a diagnosis of our national ills, a history of their development, and a prescription for a brighter future, Tailspin is a work of riveting journalism-and a welcome antidote to political despair"-





STEVEN BRILL has written for The New Yorker, Time, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, New York, and Fortune. He founded and ran Court TV, The American Lawyer magazine, ten regional legal newspapers, and Brill's Content magazine. Brill was the author of Time's March 4, 2013, special report "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us," for which he won the 2014 National Magazine Award for Public Service, and of the 2015 bestseller America's Bitter Pill. He has regularly appeared as an expert analyst on NBC, CBS, and CNN. He teaches journalism at Yale, where he founded the Yale Journalism Initiative to enable talented young people to become journalists. In 2018, he co-founded NewsGuard, which rates the legitimacy of online news sites. He lives in New York City.





*Starred Review* Seeking the causes of America's current malaise, high-profile legal journalist Brill (America's Bitter Pill, 2015) examines a half-century of interrelated structural changes in business, finance, and law, and diagnoses an autoimmune disorder of sorts, in which ingenuity and meritocracy have been inverted so as to impair, rather than enhance, the nation's health. He laments a broad-spectrum breakdown in things that the U.S. used to do well: infrastructure, banking, education, governance, public health, and basic civility. The problem, he suggests, is that the American machine may have worked too well, allowing a small number of bright, driven people to amass enough wealth and sophistication to master its levers and destroy any threats to their power. Thus, innovations in executive compensation lead to corporate raiding and routine downsizing. Lawyers are pushed to find creative new ways to maximize their clients' wealth. Hard-won advances in free speech and due process are co-opted to advance corporate interests. It's a bleak assessment, but a penetrating one, in large part because of Brill's skill in presenting abstruse legal and financial developments in an accessible manner. And if his proposed remedies seem thin, that only underscores how effectively Brill has presented the challenges ahead in this clarifying and invaluable overview. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.





A broken nation requires crucial changes.For the last 50 years, journalist and political analyst Brill (Journalism/Yale Univ.; America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Back-Room Deals, and the Fight to Fix the Broken Health Care System, 2015, etc.) argues, the United States has been deteriorating. Besides a blighted health care system, the author points to other major problems, including underperforming public schools; outdated mass transit systems and power grids; crumbling bridges, highways, and airports; snowballing income inequality; high infant mortality and low life expectancy when compared with other Western countries; political gridlock; voter cynicism and apathy; and lobbyists' power over elected officials. He blames "the polarization and paralysis of American democracy" partly on a "new aristocracy of rich knowledge workers," high-achieving, well-educated individuals who have gravitated to law and finance, inventing financial instruments and corporate legal defenses that fed greed but "deadened incentives for the long-term development and growth of the rest of the economy." Brill calls these individuals, who want to hold onto their wealth, the "protected," as opposed to the rest of society, "the unprotected," who need government to act for the common good. The author offers ample evidence that American democracy is in peril. Less persuasive is his optimism that problems can be solved through the efforts of earnest, sometimes influential individuals. Dennis Kelleher, for example, is president of a nonprofit organization called Better Markets, whose goal is to monitor and influence the financial industry. Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, lobbies for implementation of policy: "the unglamorous challenges of making government work," which involves training managers, senior civil servants, and deputy secretaries in all cabinet departments. Lawyer Philip Howard is a writer and speaker whose book T h e Death of Common Sense (1995) became a bestseller. Such individuals' efforts, however inspiring they are, seem hardly enough to lead to massive overhauls of infrastructure (Brill proposes a gas tax for that) or systemic changes in education and health care. A hard-hitting, mostly convincing analysis of endemic problems that will require further intensive study. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.





Chapter 1: The Protected and the Unprotected

Is the world's greatest democracy and economy broken? Not compared to the Civil War years, or to the early 1930s. And not if one considers the miracles happening every day in America's laboratories, on the campuses of its world-class colleges and universities, in offices and lofts full of developers creating software for robots or for medical diagnostics, in concert halls and on Broadway stages, or at joyous ceremonies swearing in proud new citizens. And certainly not if the opportunities available today to woman, non-whites, and other minorities are compared to what they faced as recently as a few decades ago.

Yet measures of public engagement, satisfaction, and confidence-voter turnout, knowledge of public policy issues, faith that the next generation will have it better than the current one, and respect for basic institutions, especially the government-are far below the levels of a half century ago, and in many cases have reached historic lows. So deep is the estrangement that 46.1 percent of American voters were so disgusted with the status quo that in 2016 they chose to put Donald Trump in the White House.

It is difficult to argue that the cynicism is misplaced. From the relatively small things-that Americans are now navigating through an average of 657 water main breaks a day, for example-to the core strengths that once propelled America, it is clear that the country has gone into a tailspin since the post-war era, when John F. Kennedy's New Frontier was about seizing the future, not trying to survive the present.

The celebrated American economic mobility engine is sputtering. A child's chance of earning more than his or her parents has dropped from 90 percent to 50 percent in the last fifty years. The American middle class, once the inspiration of the world, is no longer the world's richest.

Income inequality has snowballed. Adjusted for inflation, middle-class wages have been nearly frozen for the last four decades, and discretionary income has declined if escalating out-of-pocket health care costs and insurance premiums are counted. Yet earnings by the top one percent have tripled. The recovery from the crash of 2008-which saw banks and bankers bailed out while millions lost their homes, savings, and jobs-was reserved almost exclusively for the top one percent. Their incomes in the three years following the crash went up by nearly a third, while the bottom 99 percent saw an uptick of less than half of one percent. Only a democracy and an economy that has discarded its basic mission of holding the community together, or failed at it, would produce those results.

Most Americans with average incomes have been left largely to fend for themselves, often at jobs where automation, outsourcing, the near-vanishing of union protection, and the boss's obsession with squeezing out every penny of short-term profit have eroded any sense of security. Self-inflicted deaths-from opioid and other drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide-are at record highs, so much so that the country's average life expectancy has been falling despite medical advances. Household debt by 2017 had grown higher than the peak reached in 2007 before the crash, with student and automobile loans having edged toward mortgages as the top claims on family paychecks.

The world's richest country continues to have the highest poverty rate among the thirty-five nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), except for Mexico. (It is tied in second to last place with Israel, Chile, and Turkey.) Nearly one in five of America's children live in households that their government classifies as "food-insecure," meaning they are without "access to enough food for an active, healthy life."

Beyond that, few of the basic services seem to work as they should. America's airports are an embarrassment, and a modern air traffic control system is twenty-five years behind schedule. The power grid, roads, and rails are crumbling, pushing the United States far down international rankings for infrastructure quality. Despite spending more on health care and K-12 education per capita than any other developed country, health care outcomes and student achievement also rank in the middle or worse internationally. The U.S. has the highest infant mortality rate and lowest life expectancy of its peer countries, and among the thirty-five OECD countries American children rank thirtieth in math proficiency and nineteenth in science.

American politicians talk about "American exceptionalism" so habitually that it should have its own key on their speechwriters' laptops. Is this the exceptionalism they have in mind?

The operative word to describe the performance of our lawmakers in Washington D.C., responsible for guiding what is supposed to be the world's greatest democracy, is pathetic. Congress has not passed a comprehensive budget since 1994. Like slacker schoolchildren unable to produce a book report on time, the country's elected leaders have fallen back instead on an endless string of last-minute deadline extensions and piecemeal appropriations. Legislation to deal with big, long-term challenges, like climate change, the mounting national debt, or job displacement, is a pipe dream. It is as if the great breakthroughs of the past, marked by bipartisan signing ceremonies in the White House-the establishment of the Federal Trade Commission, Social Security, interstate highways, the Food and Drug Administration, Medicare, civil rights legislation, the EPA-are part of some other country's history.

There are more than twenty registered lobbyists for every member of Congress. Most are deployed to block anything that would tax, regulate, or otherwise threaten a deep-pocketed client. Money has come to dominate everything so completely that those we send to Washington to represent us have been reduced to begging on the phone for campaign cash four or five hours a day and spending their evenings taking checks at fund-raisers organized by those swarming lobbyists. A gerrymandering process has rigged easy wins for most of them, as long as they fend off primary challengers in their own party-which assures that they will gravitate toward the polarizing, special interest positions of their donors and their party's base, while racking up mounting deficits to pay for goods and services that cost more than budgeted, rarely work as promised, and are never delivered on time.






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