World War II policies put 16 million Americans in uniform, rationed food, controlled wages and prices, and converted factories to war production. "The end of World War II," Bennett and Lotus write,"was the moment of maximal centralism and minimal autonomy in America."
Wartime success gave great prestige to America 2.0 and confidence that it could continue in place indefinitely. But with economic change it started sputtering. "2.0 corporations, unions and governments," the authors write, "have been rendered unworkable."
Big corporations flailed, and government got bloated. Lower birth rates meant there wouldn't be enough taxpayers to finance benefits for the elderly.
Responses included deregulation in the 1970s, lower tax rates in the 1980s, welfare reform in the 1990s. But that was not enough.
Barack Obama has made the trajectory worse, the authors say. They ridicule "the strange assumption that Americans genuinely want government-run health care." Polls back them up.
They believe public debt is unsustainable and call for discharging much of it in bankruptcy. They grant that the Treasury can keep selling bonds, but only so long as other countries' credit is worse.
They see families moving far out in the exurbs (using self-driving cars) and earning money increasingly from individual enterprises rather than W-2 jobs. Therefore we should abolish the federal income tax and devolve government except for defense, civil rights and free internal trade to states and localities.
Looking abroad, they see "a global collapse of the 2.0 model." America should continue to purchase weapons (but get rid of defense procurement rules) and maintain our alliances.
But the U.S. should give up on nation-building and democratization. Other cultures -- Iraq, Afghanistan -- simply don't share our concepts of freedom.
America's main task is to police "the world's maritime and aviation commons" -- which Britain or America have been doing off and on for three centuries.
I don't agree on every point. But I share the authors' optimism that America can once again adapt consistent with our enduring values.
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