Tailspin
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.

Tailspin Details

TitleTailspin
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMay 29th, 2018
PublisherKnopf
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Politics, History, Economics, Business

Tailspin Review

  • Gary Moreau
    January 1, 1970
    Brill’s is one of a gazillion recent books that addresses the question, what happened to America? That it’s broken, we all know, even if we don’t always admit it to ourselves.This book, however, really is different. Brill is one of the few authors who has the legal and financial expertise to really get it right. And that he does. The problem is not social, political, racial, or patriarchal (although the latter two are real problems that must be addressed). The problem is economic. In short, the Brill’s is one of a gazillion recent books that addresses the question, what happened to America? That it’s broken, we all know, even if we don’t always admit it to ourselves.This book, however, really is different. Brill is one of the few authors who has the legal and financial expertise to really get it right. And that he does. The problem is not social, political, racial, or patriarchal (although the latter two are real problems that must be addressed). The problem is economic. In short, the new American aristocracy are the wealthy who continue to elevate themselves above the rest of society financially and who have successfully dug moats around themselves and their children to protect their elite status.It is, in my own words, the commercialization of America. The wealthy in America have successfully constructed a false meritocracy where ‘merit without means’ has grown increasingly difficult. Class mobility, as a result, has declined and fewer and fewer of our youth can expect to live better than their parents.It’s the universal law of unintended consequences. We replaced the old-boy, inherited wealth aristocracy with a true meritocracy. The meritorious among us, however, used their newfound mobility to create a world where class mobility has been commercialized. The children of the already wealthy, as a result, who have access to private schools, tutors, SAT prep classes, violin lessons, and the latest technology, have a material advantage in climbing their own ladder of merit.What distinguishes Brill’s book is that he works harder than most authors on providing solutions, or at least finding and revealing people and institutions who have already made a difference (no, not Trump) and who offer a template for moving forward.Brill is informed across a wide spectrum of topics. He is, first and foremost, however, a journalist and it shows. The prose is easy to read but always backed up with plenty of data. At times, perhaps, just a tad too much. But that’s okay. He, more than most, makes it clear why we are all so disillusioned.This book will make you mad. And it should. Our politicians are dialing for dollars while Washington burns. And Brill has the connections and the writing skills to bring the heat into your living room.A very good book that no one will want to pick up a second time. But that’s okay. Sometimes we need a good whack to make sure we’re still awake.
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  • David Wineberg
    January 1, 1970
    Medieval moats updatedFor Steven Brill, “America has increasingly become a Moat Nation, producing a parade of unfair advantages for those with the resources to deploy the knowledge workers to build and fortify their moats while contributing to the overall decline of the country.” The protected classes – the rich, the corporations and the lobbyists – keep building their moats wider and deeper, at the very real expense of the rest of us. They are untouchable, while we become untouchable castes. Th Medieval moats updatedFor Steven Brill, “America has increasingly become a Moat Nation, producing a parade of unfair advantages for those with the resources to deploy the knowledge workers to build and fortify their moats while contributing to the overall decline of the country.” The protected classes – the rich, the corporations and the lobbyists – keep building their moats wider and deeper, at the very real expense of the rest of us. They are untouchable, while we become untouchable castes. That is the essence of Tailspin.Justice has failed us, as companies are too big to fail, too big to jail, and now, even too big to manage. Managers are no longer on the hook for crimes committed under them. Results-based executive bonuses do not take into account fines and settlements, so their compensation can be higher. Supposedly gigantic fines are just the cost doing business, and are well worth paying to keep breaking the law. And besides, companies don’t even have to admit guilt. There are now 20 lobbyists per lawmaker in The Swamp, and President Trump has been picking among them for prominent posts in government so they can directly favor their clients over voters. Companies can prevent anyone suing by mandating arbitration – and they pick and pay the arbitrators. The Supreme Court has chosen a president by itself, and freed the wealthy corporations to outspend and overwhelm the public with their politics.The government says it is not its job to retrain Americans as the world economy changes. So millions of jobs go unfilled while millions of people (42%) are in dead-end minimum wage jobs that force them onto food stamps and Obamacare to survive. The savings go to the rich in tax cuts. Meanwhile the US leads in almost no categories with comparable countries, and is near the bottom when it comes to the education, health and welfare of its citizens.Corporations are claiming anything they say in their labels or advertising or commercials is their “opinion” and not necessarily provable or factual. So they can’t be sued for fraud. (All those fraudulent ratings of mortgage-backed securities that Moody’s and S&P gave five star ratings to? Just opinions.) This is “freedom of speech” taken to absurd reaches. It cancels out all regulation and all protection. Corporations are not people and were not covered by the constitution – but that’s what lawyers and judges now rely on. This is yet another further moat around the protected classes.Lawmakers spend 4-5 hours every day dialing for dollars, because they have to. Another third of the day is spent with lobbyists at useless receptions, mostly fundraisers. Voters have no voice and no role in Washington’s Swamp. They just get in the way.The list is endless, and despite Brill’s counterexamples of unknown heroes laboring against the tide, it continues to worsen by the day.There are so many books like this. They all seem to have the same structure. They bemoan the wrong turns since the Depression that had set us on the right path. They pack in horrid stats to show how far we’ve fallen. They profile individual heroes – usually lawyers – who are fighting the good fight with their small counter-lobbies. The books express hope that Americans will protest the takeover of the country by the corporations and the special interests. As I read, I kept hoping Brill of all people would take it in a new direction with some new insight or conclusion. But no such luck. To that extent, it was a disappointment.David Wineberg
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  • Michael Perkins
    January 1, 1970
    Feeding the populist bonfire....."Following the Great Recession, the recovery passed over most of America. Incomes for the top 1 percent rose 31.4 percent from 2009 to 2012, but crept up a barely noticeable .4 percent for the bottom 99 percent. The moats built by those who were largely responsible for the Great Recession, or at least prospered in the run-up to the crash, worked. They survived the damage suffered by everyone else."A key to the thesis of the book is that the divide is not between Feeding the populist bonfire....."Following the Great Recession, the recovery passed over most of America. Incomes for the top 1 percent rose 31.4 percent from 2009 to 2012, but crept up a barely noticeable .4 percent for the bottom 99 percent. The moats built by those who were largely responsible for the Great Recession, or at least prospered in the run-up to the crash, worked. They survived the damage suffered by everyone else."A key to the thesis of the book is that the divide is not between parties, but between the new Gilded Age elite, from both parties, and everyone else. I have a friend, a lifelong Democrat who voted for Hillary, who is now convinced that the corporatist wing of the Demo party, as she calls it, is mostly motivated by hanging on to their wealth and privileges, not helping the people. I think she's right. I mean, horror of horrors if your taxes go up to help the less fortunate and you might have to sell that place in the Hamptons or the dude ranch in Montana as a result. Let them eat cake! =========Were the elitists from either party helping people like these folks? Nope.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbxQp...==========The author goes into great detail about how certain phenomena came about, such as how the Right co-opted the First Amendment for wasteful reasons. Here is the short version.....https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/30/us...Tha author breaks down the infamous Lewis Powell memo. But it speaks for itself. It's a milestone in the path to corporations are people and the Citizens United decisions. http://reclaimdemocracy.org/powell_me...
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  • Susan
    January 1, 1970
    As an aging baby boomer I spend time trying desperately to figure out how we got here. From my senior year in HS with Kent State and heading off to college believing women had equal rights and willing to push for more - how did we get here with Roe v Wade possibly being overturned? How did we get here with children being taken from parents at the Mexican border? How did we get here with pharmaceuticals being advertised for off label uses without consequences ? How did we get here with Congress p As an aging baby boomer I spend time trying desperately to figure out how we got here. From my senior year in HS with Kent State and heading off to college believing women had equal rights and willing to push for more - how did we get here with Roe v Wade possibly being overturned? How did we get here with children being taken from parents at the Mexican border? How did we get here with pharmaceuticals being advertised for off label uses without consequences ? How did we get here with Congress paralyzed and unable to do anything for the common good of the US and its citizens? How did we get here with the middle class hollowed out and college graduates burdened with incredible student loan debt making home ownership a distant dream? How did we get here? Steven Brill takes all the small and not so small changes since 1970 that had unintended consequences and when taken together brought us to this point. The path forward and its implications on the country as a whole could not be seen as they were happening - it is only in hindsight each change in the law, each change in policy, each change in political party primaries, each FDA change, and FCC change , each Supreme Court decision - especially Citizens United - slowly but surely led us to this point. There is no desire for the best for all - the common good as Brill points out. It is all winners and losers now - only winners are those with enough protected wealth. The winners are those who in some way connected to corporate wealth and protection that wealth and power provides. The average American has been lost to fend for themselves with ever deteriorating safety nets. The wealthy have taken ( bought?) the reins of power and continue - almost without obstacle - to continue to maintain their position believing safety nets for the rest of the population are government handouts to the undeserving. He uses the example of street lights as there for the common good. But, a segment of society would, in theory, suggest government not pay for them either and if people wanted such - they should get together and fund it themselves. Why should wealthy fund decent public education when they can send their children to private schools? Why should corporate America support programs and tax hikes to fund infrastructure? Why should wealthy support politicians who want universal health care when they can afford all medical procedures wanted or needed? And if insurance corporations were taken out of the equation for medical care imagine how much money that wealthy class would lose. I would have to say the one change and its impact no one saw coming was due to party structure and primary processes that started in 1972. Those rule changes along with growing impact of money - dirty and clean - combined to produce a Congress no longer beholden to any political party but beholden to individual mix of donors. No one has to answer to political party elite. The party bosses no longer have power to compete with money donated by individuals and corporations with public and hidden agendas. Most Americans do not realize the government has been hijacked. Most Americans look for scapegoats and for being left out of growth and productivity. Most do not see how slowly their say in government has been eroded beyond recognition. And that is the problem. Changing the person in the White House will not change the corruption of the US system as a whole. Only removing the obscene impact of money in politics and elections and making corporations resume their position as "people" for purposes of legal contracts as opposed to free speech will make a dent in our demise. Brill does point to those people and organizations who "get it." He comments on many as they slowly work to get the truth out of how the average American is being taken for a ride by the wealthy and their stranglehold on the government. It is very hard to swallow the idea that America has lost its way - but it has - and it has been going on since 1970. There is not going to be any return of the coal mining industry no matter what is preached at rallies. Not going to happen but unfortunately, easier to believe that fantasy than to face the fact one might need to move or get training in order to get the middle class life hoped for. Read the book - see what you think. Look around at what is happening with a new perspective - a new set of "glasses." See if some things that just did not make sense - do make sense once you place those "glasses" on.
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  • Bryan Alexander
    January 1, 1970
    Tailspin is journalist Steven Brill's attempt to determine what's recently gone wrong in America. His thesis centers on a cultural shift he sees that began around 1965. Starting then America divided into an elite and those he calls "the unprotected many". Since then the elite successfully "overmatched, overran, and paralyzed the government" to grow and preserve their gains (7). Each chapter of Tailspin focused on one aspect of that transformation. Brill addresses the rise of a meritocracy starti Tailspin is journalist Steven Brill's attempt to determine what's recently gone wrong in America. His thesis centers on a cultural shift he sees that began around 1965. Starting then America divided into an elite and those he calls "the unprotected many". Since then the elite successfully "overmatched, overran, and paralyzed the government" to grow and preserve their gains (7). Each chapter of Tailspin focused on one aspect of that transformation. Brill addresses the rise of a meritocracy starting in education, an unintended consequence of which was the creation of a new aristocracy - of talent, yes, but one that then defended its gains by reducing everyone else's opportunities. Tailspin hits on lawyers, too, and partisan gridlock, as well as decaying infrastructure, but financial changes are the giants. Growing financialization (shifting parts of the economy from manufacturing or non-finance-related service to financial services) and the business shift to emphasize quarterly earnings for shareholders are a dangerous two-step for our author. This leads to business being able to mess with democracy in new and powerful ways, and connects with declining status and protection for workers.There are many fascinating bits in Tailspin. I appreciated the deep dive into policy and law. The history of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) was fascinating (151ff), as was the look into arbitration (213ff). The prehistory of Citizens United (going back to Ralph Nader!) is very useful. Overall, I agree with many of his assessments.Unfortunately, the book suffers from some blind spots.First, although at times it sounds like a left wing manifesto - citing Thomas Piketty, repeatedly calling out a financial elite - Brill insists that his argument isn't about left or right (339). One skeptical reviewer dubbed the book "the cry of the centrist", and that's a good description of both the book and its failure. The projects and ideals Brill celebrates are good but not very coherent, except as a kind of Bernie Sanders effort. Alternatively, we could imagine Tailspin as describing the emergence of a post-left-right politics, but it never heads in that direction. The result is, well, a mess.Speaking of which, although the text consistently slams Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in ways that sound very left of center, the book only mentions Sanders once (29) and ditto for Occupy (251). Brill really doesn't want us to think in left wing terms.Second, Brill somehow manages to almost completely ignore foreign policy. This is a domestic book, and really should have been signaled as such. I mention this not to pose as a geopolitical nerd (which I can be), but because American foreign policy plays such a key role for his thesis. For example, the decision to expand trade wasn't simply a Clinton administration decision, but part of a multinational movement; situating NAFTA and China's WTO entrance in that context gives a richer - well, simply more accurate - picture. It also leads us to a deeper understanding of the elite Brill dislikes, since they are often transnational in outlook if not lifestyle.An international context also saps Brill's points about partisan gridlock. The two parties who abhor each other in so many ways somehow managed a pretty firm, bipartisan consensus about waging the war on terror, from spending bills to surveillance to strategy. Support for international trade deals has frequently crossed party lines - think, for example, of GOP support for Obama's TPP deal. Such context challenges Brill's thesis in a way I wish he'd address.This is also a very Baby Boomer book. He starts his account in the early 1960s, when Boomers entered college and public life. His final chapter wonders where things went wrong, and leads off with JFK's assassination, the primal scene for the Boomer psyche. His last line calls for a "new New Frontier", again echoing the Kennedy administration. This isn't a criticism, necessarily, but a pointer to the book's standpoint and, perhaps, blinders.I teetered between giving this 3 or 4 stars. What tipped me over the edge is Brill's persistent focus on people he sees doing good work. Every chapter shows us disasters and dangers... then ends with stories of real world projects seeking to undo them. I admire that spirit. Maybe we need it.
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  • Peter Mcloughlin
    January 1, 1970
    Although Brill starts talking about the virtues of the meritocracy he spends a great deal of time giving a fine-grained analysis of how they screwed over the country in the past four or five decades to the point where for most people we are not a viable republic while the elites of meritocratic order (and I emphasize that the merit part should be viewed with suspicion and irony) enriched themselves and gated themselves off from the rest of us to the greater populations detriment. Brill describes Although Brill starts talking about the virtues of the meritocracy he spends a great deal of time giving a fine-grained analysis of how they screwed over the country in the past four or five decades to the point where for most people we are not a viable republic while the elites of meritocratic order (and I emphasize that the merit part should be viewed with suspicion and irony) enriched themselves and gated themselves off from the rest of us to the greater populations detriment. Brill describes in excruciating detail how f--ked things have become for ordinary people and how people from good schools and fine homes did it to us and built a moat around themselves to shield themselves from the consequences of their actions. Very eye-opening,
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  • Elizabeth Stolar
    January 1, 1970
    A very high 4 stars -- an excellent book that I do recommend everyone read. I didn't quite give it 5 stars because there were a few things that were included that I didn't necessarily think were as responsible for our downward spiral as some others (like cost overruns and the procurement process) and there were a few repetitive areas and false equivalencies that made me cringe. But, all in all a solid work by a highly intelligent, well informed author. I didn't love the wrap up, which feels over A very high 4 stars -- an excellent book that I do recommend everyone read. I didn't quite give it 5 stars because there were a few things that were included that I didn't necessarily think were as responsible for our downward spiral as some others (like cost overruns and the procurement process) and there were a few repetitive areas and false equivalencies that made me cringe. But, all in all a solid work by a highly intelligent, well informed author. I didn't love the wrap up, which feels overly optimistic, in a sense, to me -- he essentially says that things will indeed get so bad that a sufficient number of people will rise up and demand change. I guess I'm too cynical, because I think there are too many people who simply DGAF. But we shall see. I do hope that change is demanded.One paragraph that I thought was a great synopsis of where we are now is this one:The coming of the Trump administration featured the ultimate in moat fortification. As we have seen, Americans have been divided into two groups: the vast majority who count on government to provide of rate common good, and the minority who don't need the government for anything and even view the government as something they often need to be protected from. One of the most breathtaking outrages of the Trump residency is that those in the latter group were bought to Washington to run the government. As CEOs, financial engineers, lawyers and lobbyists, they had spent their lives building moats to shield themselves and their way of doing business from the country's instruments of accountability -- the courts; the tax code; laws promoting competitive, honest markets, clean air and water, and safe, fair workplaces; and the cabinet departments and regulatory agencies that are supposed to implement those laws. yet they are the people whom President Trump chose to set the policies, propose the was, staff those agencies, and sit on the courts. "Because of Trump's tweets, the crazy things he does, and the crises he ignites, we're not paying attention to what he's doing to the day-to-day functions of the country," Kelleher warned. "He has spread all these termites throughout the departments and agencies who are eating away at all aspects of our government , day and night. They don't believe in the laws they have sworn an oath to enforce."One major thing this book cleared up for me was the distain for the so-called "elites." I've long been puzzled by the sudden (in my perception) turn against education - particularly our most revered and respected institutions of higher learning. I couldn't fathom how going to Harvard or Yale could be thought of as a bad thing -- as disdainful or some kind of evidence that one must be untrustworthy. Brill's discussion of the meritocracy (which always seemed to me was a good thing) and how certain people within it decided to keep the spoils for themselves made me understand this position, even if I still find it ridiculous. I also really enjoyed the discussions of people and institutions that really are making a difference and doing good work. Those examples do give me some hope for our society, despite how bleak it appears now.
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  • David Valentino
    January 1, 1970
    Why We’re in the Fix We AreIf you’ve been paying attention for the past few years, what Steven Brill tells you in his often times infuriating new book Tailspin will not surprise you. There’s a tremendous and still expanding disparity between the haves and the have-nots. The haves control the levers of government and they work actively to reduce government, because, frankly, government can do little for them; from their viewpoint, it mostly hinders them. The have-nots control nothing. They really Why We’re in the Fix We AreIf you’ve been paying attention for the past few years, what Steven Brill tells you in his often times infuriating new book Tailspin will not surprise you. There’s a tremendous and still expanding disparity between the haves and the have-nots. The haves control the levers of government and they work actively to reduce government, because, frankly, government can do little for them; from their viewpoint, it mostly hinders them. The have-nots control nothing. They really don’t understand how government and business work. They especially don’t grasp how good government benefits them, and, amazing to many, they support the goals of the haves in their effort to shutdown government. As a result, the country feels like it’s going to hell in a hand basket, what with crumbling infrastructure, skyrocketing medical costs, lack of meaningful work for many, shortage of affordable housing, spreading poverty, and the like. What Brill shows you is how after the 1960s we began spiraling downward, how almost unnoticed changes contributed, what good intentions morphed into, and how some, a handful, work now to pull us out of our spin. If the book has a weakness, it’s this last part, ways that we can level off, and climb, once again regaining our lofty status as a country that prospers by helping the least of us succeed. Unfortunately, as Brill presents it, the space he gives it, it really seems meager, particularly viewed against the entrenched powers.Brill begins back in the early 1970s when a few forward thinking universities, among them Yale, actively endeavored to break the American old family network by developing outreach programs designed to accept students based upon merit. Other institutions followed, a culture of meritocracy blossomed, and, lo and behold, these new bright people began pulling up the ladder after them. They went where the money was, becoming lawyers, corporate leaders, bankers, and Wall Street financiers. On the way up, they revolutionized banking and finance with complicated and dangerous financial instruments. They enlisted lawyers to transform due process into a weapon for besieging and crippling government regulators. They turned free speech on its head to give corporations much more leeway in advertising, dodging marketing regulations, working around product labeling rules, and accumulating and trading in personal data. With the advent of multiple channels of information, the public no longer operated off of a shared set of facts. Using C-Span, a noble idea, political leaders with the loudest and most conservative voices gained control and moved the country rightward. The myriad of issues well known to us today, from healthcare, to immigration, to a diminished middle class, and to financial speculation, became unsolvable problems, mere pawns for demagoguery.The first step to reversing descent into accent is understanding how we got here, really getting under the hood for a close inspection of the origins and operating parts of our dysfunction, examining it in its particulars and also from a gestalt view. Here, Brill, as he did with his America’s Bitter Pill on healthcare, does the public a great service. Tailspin is the book that should be on every American’s reading list who truly have an interest in helping America achieve greatness defined in human prosperity and dignity. Too bad many who should read it won’t.
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  • Mammal
    January 1, 1970
    I agree about the political unsustainability of current system of meritocracy. But I was hoping for more frank discussion. Because many if not most people, perhaps myself included, may just lack what it takes to succeed in the modern economy.If it takes an IQ of 115 or above to at least moderately succeed in the modern meritocracy, than 85% of population would not, no matter how much SAT-prep you throw in. When being "average" is not good enough, trying to make everyone "above average" is not go I agree about the political unsustainability of current system of meritocracy. But I was hoping for more frank discussion. Because many if not most people, perhaps myself included, may just lack what it takes to succeed in the modern economy.If it takes an IQ of 115 or above to at least moderately succeed in the modern meritocracy, than 85% of population would not, no matter how much SAT-prep you throw in. When being "average" is not good enough, trying to make everyone "above average" is not going to work. Rather, "mediocre people", as well as bellow average, should be somehow allowed to make a living despite their mediocrity. Perhaps with some form of basic income or much expanded EICAnd while I agree elite connections and SES status matters, perhaps it should not be a surprise that intellectually endowed wealthy, tend to produce intellectually endowed progeny, at a much greater rates than the previous, more pedestrian elite. Even though being born smart and driven, in itself, is not a really a "merit", but luck. Thr author takes largely the assumption of a "blank slate", and listening 4 hours and 49 minutes left me largely dissapointed with the author's expedient play into the populist sentiments, and his unwillingness to dwell on or even divulge the unpleasant truths.
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  • Ben
    January 1, 1970
    The subtitle of Tailspin promises a very comprehensive book, one that covers the causes of problems and their solutions. Brill comes up short of the promised comprehensive, critical analysis but produces a thoroughly researched book that has lots of detail about the ways in which America is failing (according to Brill's standards) and how it got to that point. Brill roots his hypothesis in an interesting place: the movement toward meritocracy and away from cronyism and aristocracy. Leaning heavi The subtitle of Tailspin promises a very comprehensive book, one that covers the causes of problems and their solutions. Brill comes up short of the promised comprehensive, critical analysis but produces a thoroughly researched book that has lots of detail about the ways in which America is failing (according to Brill's standards) and how it got to that point. Brill roots his hypothesis in an interesting place: the movement toward meritocracy and away from cronyism and aristocracy. Leaning heavily on a graduation speech by Yale Law School Professor Daniel Markovits, Brill argues that tilting society toward the smartest and hardest working has even more entrenched the upper classes because their resources give them the ability to raise the most competitive children. "Those with blue-chip college degrees...had always gone in large numbers to work at prestige banks, businesses, consultancies and law firms. Now the ones who flocked there were more likely to be talented and tougher -- because they were more likely to have gotten there through brains and hard work, not connections. They would be better at winning, and better at building moats to protect their winnings."This is a pretty interesting idea and one Brill does a convincing job of defending. He argues that basing society around meritocracy had the unintended effect of turning many previously "collegial" arenas into competitions -- such as law where a new generation of super-lawyers would find ways to bend society's rules. Once elites had the ability to defend their position not just through privilege but also through skill, Brill argues many other functions of a equitable society fell apart. "Those who have thrived in the post-1970s world of the new meritocracy, the casino economy, the marginalized middle class, and the dominance of political money are not interested in the Bipartisan Policy Center's solutions. They are more concerned with what the government can do to them than for them. A minimum wage law means that they have to pay more, not that they earn more... Tougher government regulation to protect consumers or to rein in Wall Street would constrain, not protect them."I really do not have many quarrels with Brill's general take, but he does a much poorer job identifying real solutions. The title promises to also cover "those fighting to reverse it," but in practice this mostly means each chapter ends with a few pages profiling some random person and/or nonprofit organization tackling the problem in question. Some of these are interesting community-based approaches that may or may not be scalable. Some are broad approaches with no evidence they will ever get traction. After the (otherwise good) chapter on Congressional hyperpartisanship, Brill spends about one page on a group called the Bipartisan Policy Center, pointlessly concluding that its work has been wholly ignored. This is emblematic of Tailspin's main limitation, which is that it is reporting, not analysis. Brill writes as though readers need information about what the problems are and how they came to be, not information or insight into how to solve them or how complex solutions might be. For instance, Brill talks about America's inability to recruit enough teachers and compensate them well enough. Later, he points out America's falling academic achievement and haphazardly offers that one solution could be doing away with summer vacations, which of course are one of the best benefits of becoming a teacher. At no point in the entire book is attention spent on the possibility that a solution to one problem may be a contributor to another.Perhaps most egregiously, the book never actually challenges its most central hypothesis. What would be the ramifications of a modern society that does not operate through a meritocracy? Is this desirable? Admittedly this is a huge moral question, but one that Brill's own book would suggest we should already be tackling.
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  • skip thurnauer
    January 1, 1970
    Why don't things work in America the way they should or the way they used to? I picked up Tailspin because I saw it referenced for stating the world's richest country has "the highest poverty rate among the 35 nations in the OECD except Mexico". WHAT! Fewer Americans are satisfied with the country and the income gap between haves and have-nots has widened. Steven Brill suggests how people and forces have caused a 50-year American Tailspin. Meritocracy is typically considered to be a positive for Why don't things work in America the way they should or the way they used to? I picked up Tailspin because I saw it referenced for stating the world's richest country has "the highest poverty rate among the 35 nations in the OECD except Mexico". WHAT! Fewer Americans are satisfied with the country and the income gap between haves and have-nots has widened. Steven Brill suggests how people and forces have caused a 50-year American Tailspin. Meritocracy is typically considered to be a positive force to narrow the wealth gap. Today many of these highly talented people are moving in law, banking, and careers focused on building and protecting wealth. Daniel Markovits, a professor at Yale law School put it this way in a Yale commencement address, "American meritocracy thus has become precisely what it was invented to combat, a mechanism for the dynastic transmission of wealth and privilege across generations...Meritocracy now constitutes a modern-day aristocracy." Moats have been erected to fortify and protect the new privileged class. Our democracy is dysfunctional as politicians spend their time and energy on money raising; it is not uncommon for members of Congress to spend 4-5 hours a day dialing for dollars. PACs, Super PACs, and lobbyists buy influence and influence elections. Sometimes I got lost in the tall grass of laws, legislation, and legal maneuverings, but our abundance of super tall grass is at the root of the problem. Brill suggests that some Americans are rising to the cause. Brill bets that Americans will rise to the call for a New Frontier. "They are going to decide enough is enough. That it is time to storm the moats."
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  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    Steven Brill does for American institutions in general what he did for medicine in his latest book, Tailspin. Brill argues that the one unintended consequences of the American push for a meritocracy-based economic and political system has been success -- such the the successful one per cent has pulled up the ladders and dug legal and economic moats about their perches, preventing the other 99% of the country from sharing in their wealth and power. Specifically, he talks about polarization, finan Steven Brill does for American institutions in general what he did for medicine in his latest book, Tailspin. Brill argues that the one unintended consequences of the American push for a meritocracy-based economic and political system has been success -- such the the successful one per cent has pulled up the ladders and dug legal and economic moats about their perches, preventing the other 99% of the country from sharing in their wealth and power. Specifically, he talks about polarization, financial engineering (those credit default swaps), democratic reforms of the political process including the extension of 1st amendment protections to corporations, the marginalization of the working class, and campaign finance issues. The result, he argues, is a government that does nothing -- and that's what the 1% prefers. So we have failing schools, disintegrating infrastructure, an inability to enter (or climb out of ) the middle class, and plenty of blame to go around. Surprisingly, he's not particularly partisan in his analysis, though it is clear he is not a fan of the current administration. Beyond his Trump comments, the axe falls equally on both ends of the political spectrum. He does suggest solutions and offer examples of success shining through the muck from time to time. Though not a fast read, the book is timely and thought-provoking.
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  • Bob
    January 1, 1970
    A great objective view of the mess we have created with the best of intentionsI like Steven Brill books. A little heavy on detail at times but a fairly balanced account of a complex situation. I liked America’s Bitter Pill and this is the same insightful review of a huge situation. There were things he explained that I knew in my bones and now have some “science” behind. I felt neither party could be trusted to fix anything, now I know why. I felt the most overlooked issue of the Trump election A great objective view of the mess we have created with the best of intentionsI like Steven Brill books. A little heavy on detail at times but a fairly balanced account of a complex situation. I liked America’s Bitter Pill and this is the same insightful review of a huge situation. There were things he explained that I knew in my bones and now have some “science” behind. I felt neither party could be trusted to fix anything, now I know why. I felt the most overlooked issue of the Trump election is the underlying unrest that caused it. The underlying cause (the complete abandonment of the middle and lower classes of US society) gets little attention. The fix will take great courage among leaders (have seen scant evidence of that) and tremendous pressure from society. The pressure is building. I just hope it can be directed towards actual fixes. The forces opposing are vast, smart and well organized.
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  • Francine
    January 1, 1970
    This book is an easy read for the average American to understand the various topics of how the 1% have come to build moats around their wealth keeping the the rest of America from gaining any kind of advantage in a tilted playing field. It's a must read for persons asking how we can get a large middle class back in America. The Republicans have the control to make court decisions on a conservative level favoring the 1% and the corporations and the Democrats are too weak to help the growing worki This book is an easy read for the average American to understand the various topics of how the 1% have come to build moats around their wealth keeping the the rest of America from gaining any kind of advantage in a tilted playing field. It's a must read for persons asking how we can get a large middle class back in America. The Republicans have the control to make court decisions on a conservative level favoring the 1% and the corporations and the Democrats are too weak to help the growing working class to afford a decent living wage. In the last chapter it gives ideas of how America can change the current political climate.
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  • Aleksandar Totic
    January 1, 1970
    Chronicle of ways America is brokenI was hoping for for more from Mr. Brill. Author describes 10? ways in which American society is broken. He knows the how did it break, and who did it, and describes this in detail. But I found myself longing for answers to bigger questions: why were things better for middle class before? And were 50s really the American pinnacle?There is lots of looking back, descriptions of brokenness, very little on how to fix it. After couple of hours,I found myself speed r Chronicle of ways America is brokenI was hoping for for more from Mr. Brill. Author describes 10? ways in which American society is broken. He knows the how did it break, and who did it, and describes this in detail. But I found myself longing for answers to bigger questions: why were things better for middle class before? And were 50s really the American pinnacle?There is lots of looking back, descriptions of brokenness, very little on how to fix it. After couple of hours,I found myself speed reading, looking for some hopeful tidbits. Not much here, got to follow David Hogg on Twitter for a boost.
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  • G. T.
    January 1, 1970
    Well thought out and documented (one third of the book is citations and references). This book does a very good job of mapping what has gone wrong with our U.S. cultural and political situation since WW II, then goes the extra step of suggesting how things might be fixed. The book should be mandatory reading in all American High Schools. At times the writing style is a bit like a legal brief (no surprise, given the author's background) -- I'd love to see a hard-hitting 100 page version of this b Well thought out and documented (one third of the book is citations and references). This book does a very good job of mapping what has gone wrong with our U.S. cultural and political situation since WW II, then goes the extra step of suggesting how things might be fixed. The book should be mandatory reading in all American High Schools. At times the writing style is a bit like a legal brief (no surprise, given the author's background) -- I'd love to see a hard-hitting 100 page version of this book that might better appeal to the less literate segment of our society. Book would make an excellent TV mini-series.
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  • Richard Nelson
    January 1, 1970
    If you feel like America has been on a steady downward trajectory your whole life (and if you don’t, you’re probably extremely wealthy and able to ignore a lot), this book explains why that is and what has to happen to change it. A depressing read; you can know in your gut that things are badly broken and yet be shocked again and again by just how broken they really are. Without quite saying so, Brill seems to be arguing that all the pieces necessary for renewal are in place—America simply needs If you feel like America has been on a steady downward trajectory your whole life (and if you don’t, you’re probably extremely wealthy and able to ignore a lot), this book explains why that is and what has to happen to change it. A depressing read; you can know in your gut that things are badly broken and yet be shocked again and again by just how broken they really are. Without quite saying so, Brill seems to be arguing that all the pieces necessary for renewal are in place—America simply needs to hit bottom so Americans realize, en masse, that it’s time for a change. Is Trump the bottom? Brill seems to think he is. Time will tell.
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  • Jack
    January 1, 1970
    Mistakes were madeBrill provides a compelling accounting of how e followed our instinct in rewarding merit to result in a winner take all situation. The key culprits seem fo be the obsessive focus on making money through finance rather than productivity and the increasing relationship between politics and money. Now we’re gridlocked no one is willing or able to make the compromises needed to recover. He describes the problem, but since his heroes are all lawyers, he’s a long way from a solution
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  • Anthony
    January 1, 1970
    Hard hitting investigative journalism, that reveals the meritocracy, financial engineering, political money, due process, polarization, democratic reforms of the political process, and how they contributed in their own way to the erosion of responsibility and accountability politics corrupted by money and suffused with meanness. However, on the horizon are a group who will lay the ground work for a revival. A must read for all citizens.
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  • Victoria
    January 1, 1970
    points taken 1. to paraphrase Shakespeare: First we kill all the lawyers 2. beware of unintended consequencesBrill suggests that the mess America is in now is because of Meritocracy, financial engineering, political money, due process, democratic reforms of the political process, and polarization. Some ideas originally were good but all things become bad by lawyers who can game the system for their clients. And game for both sides of an issue.
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  • Betsy Starks
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent and comprehensive study of the economy, trade, infrastructure, politics, government and culture in the U.S. causing the downfall of our society. Brill’s solutions are a little lame, it seems to me, but, as he states, if there were a real uprising of the people to demand change in the areas he targets, we may be able to get back on track. Is it too late?
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  • Sam
    January 1, 1970
    I agree with many of the points Brill makes. His critiques of just how paralyzed and dysfunctional our civic institutions have become, make me shake my head in disbelief--yet, I realize the truth of what he's saying.As far as making a raw impact, though, his recent cover essay in Time Magazine, based on highlights from this book, covered many of the same points, and was more effective.
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  • Boone Bolinder
    January 1, 1970
    Mr Brill does a fantastic job explaining the problems inherent in our current system without demonizing those that are at the top. They are not evil, only trying to do what is best for themselves. Maybe a bit too anti republican at times, but generally seems unbiased and interested in discovering the truth.
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  • Don Heiman
    January 1, 1970
    The book “Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America’s Fifty-Year Fall —and Those Fighting to Reverse It” was written by Steven Brill and published in 2018. Brill is an attorney, Yale instructor, and recognized journalist who is well versed on American social history from the Nixon to present era (2017). I found his work well referenced, colorful, and mentally gripping.
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  • Daniel Weiner
    January 1, 1970
    I was a little slower in completing this - partly because I lost the library book and had to buy a new copy, and then found the library copy. :/ and partly because it's dense reading. (it was not as easy reading for me as Bitter Pill). Much to think about!
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  • Heidi
    January 1, 1970
    Well written and thought out, but very depressing to know to what degree our country is out of our hands and in the hands of special interests. At the end he tries to suggest that things will get better once we (the people) figure this out, but will it ever happen?
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  • Cheryl Campbell
    January 1, 1970
    An overall outstanding book of the decline in the U.S. in opportunity, but the book - due to its attention to detail and organization of an incredible number of facts and citations - is a bit academic to read. It is an outstanding contribution to the literature, but is somewhat exhausting to read.
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  • Writemoves
    January 1, 1970
    I have been reading so many books and articles lately about the decline and fall of the United States that my mind shut down at reading any more depressing analysis. Looks like a decent book (I read about 50 pages) but just bad timing...
  • Snotnose
    January 1, 1970
    This is a book more people should read. We all know things aren't working for the majority of us, this book explains why, and how we got here. Want to know why it takes 80 pages for the army to specify a chocolate chip cookie? This book tells you why.
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  • Bari Dzomba
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent journalism and research. Brill doesn’t disappoint. I see this as a 4.5. Annoyed that the reading stats are off.... I was at 70% when the book finished. The rest were sources.
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