Tailspin The people and forces behind America's fifty-year fall--and those fighting to reverse it

Steven Brill, 1950-

Book - 2018

"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 brok...en 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"--

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Subjects
Published
New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2018.
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Item Description
"This is a Borzoi book"--Title page verso.
Physical Description
441 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 349-416) and index.
ISBN
9781524731632
1524731633
Main Author
Steven Brill, 1950- (author)
  • The protected and the unprotected
  • Meritocracy becomes the new aristocracy
  • Casino country
  • The greening of the First Amendment
  • Making markets efficient
  • and marginalizing those left behind
  • "Lip service" for America's workers
  • Dysfunctional democracy
  • Moat nation
  • Why nothing works
  • Broken
  • Protecting the most unprotected
  • Storming the moats.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*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.

Review by Choice Reviews

All readership levels.--W. C. Johnson, emeritus, independent scholarWilliam C. Johnsonemeritus, independent scholar William C. Johnson Choice Reviews 56:03 November 2018 Copyright 2018 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

With this work, Brill (English & journalism, Yale Univ.; America's Bitter Pill) thoroughly peals back the layers of the current ineffective political logjam that snares DC and leaves many Americans frustrated or apathetic. This book does not solely take aim at one political party over the other; it rightly casts blame on both sides. Brill roots his argument in the basis that the knowledge economy churned forces against the common good. The new capital was not iron or steel but ingenuity. Fear of replacement with someone whom was smarter drove people to work harder to gain the system. Get yours now was the new maxim. With that, corporations began to seize the political currents by pouring money into campaigns and lobbyists. Campaigns became louder and swung away from the center in order to appeal to voters. Brill effectively demonstrates how this process has corrupted the government's ability to function. VERDICT An eye-opening and engrossing treatise representative of all that is wrong with today's political processes.—Jacob Sherman, John Peace Lib., Univ. of Texas at San Antonio Copyright 2018 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

A dysfunctional system serving an unaccountable ruling class is wrecking America, according to this searing sociopolitical jeremiad. Journalist and Court TV founder Brill (America's Bitter Pill) traces a downward spiral of inequality, stagnating wages, expensive and substandard health care and schools, crumbling infrastructure, a "hollow economy" that jettisoned manufacturing in favor of low-paid services and high-paid finance, polarized politics, and a gridlocked Congress that panders to plutocrats and leaves everyone else unprotected. His intelligent, intricate analysis traces these problems to well-intentioned reforms that were turned into institutional "moats" that safeguard elite privilege: universities intending to level inequality ended up entrenching it; "due process" provisions to make federal rule-making fairer were gamed by special interests, from bankers to community groups, to block needed and reasonable government action; First Amendment absolutism regarding campaign finance gave pharmaceutical companies license to defy FDA regulations restricting the marketing of drugs for off-label uses; civil service reform ended corrupt patronage, but made incompetent bureaucrats untouchable; primary elections liberated candidates from party bosses, but enslaved them to zealots and rich donors. Despite his stinging indictment of lawyers, money men, and politicians, Brill still finds worthwhile possibilities everywhere, from innovative job training programs to campaign finance crusades. He brings both detailed reporting and wide-ranging perspective to this insightful account of how America reached its current state. Photos. Agent: David Kuhn, Aevitas Creative Management. (May) Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The award-winning journalist and best-selling author of America's Bitter Pill explores the reasons why major American institutions are no longer able to function as intended and are triggering deep economic divides, in a sobering report that also traces the stories of individuals and organizations who are laying the foundations for sustainable change.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"A stirring and original account of the origins of the deeply divided status quo and the people fighting for a more equal, less myopic America"--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

"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"--

Review by Publisher Summary 4

Explores the reasons why major American institutions are no longer able to function as intended and are triggering deep economic divides, in a report that also traces the stories of individuals and organizations who are laying the foundations for sustainable change.

Review by Publisher Summary 5

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.