That used to be us: Decline in America

New military recruits arrive much less physically fit than previous generations because of a lack of exercise, and they come in with what Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calls “a mixed bag of values.” Dempsey goes on: “I am not suggesting they have bad values, but among all the values that define our profession, first and most important is trust. If we could do only one thing with new soldiers, it would be to instill in them trust for one another, for the chain of command and for the nation.” O.K., so that’s alarming.

And so is this point from Arne Duncan, the secretary of education: “Currently about one-fourth of ninth graders fail to graduate high school within four years. Among the O.E.C.D. countries, only Mexico, Spain, Turkey and New Zealand have higher dropout rates than the United States.”

How about this statistic from Friedman and Mandelbaum: “Thirty years ago, 10 percent of California’s general revenue fund went to higher education and 3 percent to prisons. Today nearly 11 percent goes to prisons and 8 percent to higher education.”

Or this, which comes from the Nobelist Joseph Stiglitz: “The top 1 percent of Americans now take in roughly one-fourth of America’s total income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, . . . the top 1 percent now controls 40 percent of the total. This is new. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent.”

Or this, from the Pentagon via Arne Duncan: “Seventy-five percent of young Americans, between the ages of 17 to 24, are unable to enlist in the military today because they have failed to graduate from high school, have a criminal record or are physically unfit.”


The alarming quotes above are used in David Frum's review of That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, by Thomas L Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum.

They speak for themselves. We should be very concerned.