America in decline? New Yorker writer George Packer, author of Florida-as-Ponzi-scheme, elaborates
Wake up and good morning. It was standing room only Tuesday evening for an audience listening to New Yorker magazine writer George Packer address the issue Is America In Decline? at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg. Packer, best known for his coverage of the Iraq war in his 2005 book, The Assassin's Gate: America In Iraq, as well as his prescient New Yorker article about Florida's precarious economic foundation called The Ponzi State, said Tuesday that everyone feels the national decline. But it need not be "terminal." (He credited University of South Florida St. Petersburg history professor Gary Mormino for the "Ponzi state" idea.) (George Packer photo courtesy of the New Yorker.)
Packer cited several trends that, he said, contribute to America's fall in stature. Top on his list is the dramatic rise in wealth inequality (more on this issue here) that has severely skewed America's wealth and income into the hands of relatively few people at the very top, weakened a fading middle class and left scraps for a large percentage of the lower-income population. Packer also cited the rise of rich and powerful lobbying and its influence on how the government is run as another sign of decay.
To me, the strongest moment of the evening happened with a listener stood and asked Packer when the book would be written that states the U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq was a policy mistake from the start, an astonishing waste of tax dollars and American (and many other) lives, and shows the post-war Iraq is no better off and far more unstable than when the U.S. entered the country. Packer essentially agreed such a book (and such an outcome) seems inevitable. Despite spending time in Iraq for the New Yorker, Packer said he still can't identify concrete reasons why this country went there. And he's worried Iraq may be falling back into the far more violent era of a few years ago.
Oh yeah. Afghanistan's future may be much the same as Iraq, it was suggested. Thoughtful, if sobering, evening. And for those in the audience appreciating the craft of writing, it was rewarding to hear Packer talk about his old school style of reporting. More on that topic here.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist