America’s Moment: A book review by Bob Morris

America's MomentAmerica’s Moment: Creating Opportunity in the Connected Age
Rework America Initiative (56 contributors) sponsored by the Markle Foundation
W. W. Norton & Company (2015)

How to reinvigorate a unique American tradition: “the restless desire to master our fate, joined in our community of freedom”

Zoe Baird is president and CEO of the Markle Foundation, sponsor of the Rework America initiative. As she explains in the Preface of this book, the material provided could serve as a “practical agenda” for creating more and better opportunities for personal growth and professional development in a connected age. Baird and Howard Schultz were co-leaders of the Rework America taskforce and, in collaboration with 54 others, produced – during 18 months of deliberation, discussion, and collaboration — what I view as a manifesto, a call to specific action. The material is a collective response to two questions: “What is your American Dream? And what are you going to do to make the American Dream possible for everyone?”

They offer six strategies for action to “pair up reality and theory.” First, for business development and more opportunities for good work:

1. Connect to a world of buyers.
2. Invest in Main Street America
3. Share the knowledge, innovate the jobs.
4. Better made, in America

The other two strategies are for achieving personal development and more valued career paths:

5. Match Americans to opportunities.
6. Prepare for the life you want.

“These six strategies for action are meant to enable Americans who are eager to look forward and find new solutions.” A separate chapter is devoted to each of the six strategies. It is important to keep in mind, while working your way through the material, that the contributors’ observations and recommendations are guided and informed by the same question: “What can [and should] we do today to make opportunity available for everyone tomorrow?” An ancient aphorism from China suggests that the best time to plant a tree is 100 years ago. The next best time is now.

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of the book’s coverage:

o Opportunities in the networked economy (Pages 18-61)
o Online platforms for data (23-24, 32-36, and 222-223)
o Digital Revolution (24-31)
o Innovation in a networked economy (37-39)
o The United States as a source of high-value production (39-45, 122-123, and 143-189)
o Measurement of U.S. economy (57-61)
o Investment in SME business (84-112)
o Consumer and household credit (91-94 and 103-107)
o Networked knowledge and health care (118-119 and 124-125)
o Innovation and jobs (126-142)
o Private-public alliances (164-169)
o Corporate investment and innovation (171-181)
o Need for improved infrastructure of telecommunications (184-189)
o Mismatches of jobs and job seekers in labor market (190-223)
o Financial aid systems (239-241)
o Employer-employee relations in the workplace and job market (255-262)
o Government in networked economy (262-272)

Obviously, the 56 contributors share a bold and compelling vision. And indeed, when attempting to achieve it, obstacles and difficulties are daunting. Hence the importance of the hundreds of stories inserted throughout the collaborative narrative, stories about real people in real situations who are making a significant difference. They illustrate the truth of an observation long ago by Margaret Mead: “”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I agree with the contributors’ concluding thoughts: “The old ways are set. People are used to them. Interest groups protect them. For a successful country, it can be easy to feel a bit complacent, easy to feel anxious about the uncertainties of change.

“That would be the path of drift: uncertain, divided, and unmoved. We prefer another American tradition: the restless desire to master our fate, joined in our community of freedom.”

Ultimately, the American Dream has no ethnic, cultural, geographic, economic, or territorial limits. As has always been true and will continue to be true in months and years to come, the only limits will be self-imposed. There’s the challenge. And there’s our global community’s great opportunity!

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