When the dream became nightmare

The Unwinding posits a bleak outlook for American society

The year 1978 has special significance for George Packer. The New Yorker staff writer marks this as the year that the American dream started to slip away, eroding along with the traditional institutions that historically enabled it. The Unwinding, the title of Packer’s new book, is the period that began in 1978, was revealed in 2008, and continues even today.

As government, schools, churches, and the media lost their cohesion and sway over our society, the big corporations — and Big Money — started to take over. The line between business and government started to blur, banks thrived, and technology emerged as the next big thing. Meanwhile, the industry of the American heartland rapidly declined, and the people this affected eventually turned into the new political far right. Eventually, the financial collapse of 2008 revealed just how far our society had unwound, to be taken over by big corporations.

You may not be surprised by the conclusions that Packer reaches, but the idea that our current problems actually began almost 40 years ago, and the role that simple greed has played is sobering. Here are three vital, and perhaps new, pieces of information to take away.

1. Organized money filled the vacancy that the old institutions left behind.
After the unraveling of the old institutions in government, courts, the education system, and religion began, the emptiness was filled by corporate money. The line between business and government practically ceased to exist. Wall Street and Washington cozied up, and the corporate lobby was born. Now, instead of labor-unions and public interest groups existing on a level playing ground next to Big Money, the lobby is controlled by big corporations, and Washington is controlled by the lobby.

2. The unwinding has made deindustrialization especially hard for the middle and working classes in the heartland.
The plight of the heartland has been one of the most crucial talking points since 2016. While the banks and technology started to boom, the traditionally trustworthy jobs in steel, textiles, and tobacco collapsed. The communities who relied on these jobs were gradually thrown into disarray and joblessness became common. Middle America — mostly white, mostly working class — became steadily disillusioned with all things to do with the government as they saw their previous lives crumble around them.

3. The unwinding has created opportunities for entrepreneurs, and a select few have been able to capitalize and rise to the top.
While the heart of the country saw their lives fall apart around them, some smart, determined, anti-establishment people rose to fame and fortune. They capitalized on the shifting cultural values that the unwinding created — concerning race, food, entertainment, technology — and prospered. Unfortunately their success is unlikely to be matched from here on, because research shows that fast-growing startups are no longer having the success that they had in the past. The future looks rather bleak.

The Unwinding is not a book to read if you still hold on to faith in the recuperative essence of the American system. Packer’s pessimism is palpable. But the story he tells is yet another that our country has to focus on in order to pick itself up from where we’ve fallen.

On that note, have a good weekend Instareaders!

Team Instaread
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