Never before have Americans been so anxious about the future of their society. But rarely has anyone offered a clear statement about why, in a nation so prosperous, free, and stable, we tend to assume that the country is in dire straits and that the government can do little to help. This book is just such a statement, an eloquent assessment of where America stands, how our society has changed in the past half-century, and who or what is responsible for our current frustrations.
Derek Bok examines the nation's progress in five areas that Americans generally consider to be of paramount importance: economic prosperity, quality of life, opportunity, personal security, and societal values. He shows that although we are better off today in most areas than we were in 1960, we have performed poorly overall compared with other leading industrial nations. And when it comes to providing adequate health care at a reasonable cost, educating our young people for high-skilled jobs, alleviating poverty and urban blight, and reducing crime, our record has been dismal. Comparing the United States with other leading industrial nations on more than sixty key indicators, Bok shows that we rank below average in more than two-thirds of the cases and at the bottom in more than half.
What has caused this decline, and what can be done about it? In virtually all important areas of American life, Bok concludes, government policies have played a significant, often decisive role in accounting for our successes as well as our failures. But whereas others call for downsizing the federal government, Bok argues that government is essential to achieving America's goals. In short, Ronald Reagan was only half right. Government is the problem. But it is also the most important part of the solution. By assessing the state of the nation and identifying the reasons for its current condition, this book helps set the agenda for improving America's performance in the future.
In State of the Nation, Bok has taken on a formidable task. He has surveyed the major social changes in the United States since World War II and examined not only the causes of each trend, but also the pattern of the combined changes. His survey ranges from the economy to quality of life to opportunities to values. He examines in detail crime, race, education, children, the environment, the arts, health, poverty, and old age...What slowly emerges from the tapestry of data and research that Bok weaves is a wealthy nation that is underachieving.
Focusing on five areas--economic prosperity, quality of life, opportunity for all, personal security, and fundamental societal values--Professor Bok sets out to determine whether things really are getting worse for Americans by taking an historical and comparative approach. The result is a book packed with a great deal of statistical data of interest to anyone concerned with contemporary American society and government...Many Americans blame government for failing to tackle...issues, but Bok's conclusion is that if government is the problem, it is also still the solution.
This book is a civic gift...[Bok's] concern about the state of the nation is manifest on every page of this sweeping work of scholarship and unusually cogent thought.
Those who need more articulate approaches to a world characterized by impasse...will not be disappointed by Bok's offering.
Undertaking an assessment of national well-being is daunting. At each turn, one is subject to criticism for the (non)selection of any particular variable and for the interpretation of the relevant data. Bok has done an admirable job on both accounts. State of the Nation is unique in its breadth of analysis and use of six other democracies for comparison. The 80-plus tables of data are informative, providing reference information for the inquisitive. His 'summary' chapter is most beneficial, tying together his argument that America has, since 1960, made progress in many areas, regressed in others, and has not matched some of the accomplishments of other leading democracies.
Every so often, a book comes along that not only makes an important contribution to academic literature, but is also an absolute joy to read. The State of the Nation is such a book. In a well-written, incisive and wide-ranging discussion, Derek Bok offers an interesting and important contribution to the ongoing debate on American 'declinism'...Bok offers a detailed analysis of the question of American decline in relation to a series of domestic factors: economic prosperity, quality of life, opportunity, personal security, and values...This book provide[s] a balanced, wide-ranging discussion of contemporary American political issues. Overall, this is an enjoyable and highly accessible book which should be highly recommended for students in courses on American government and politics...[It] is a very worthwhile contribution to the academic literature on American politics.
[Bok] looks at five long-time concerns of Americans--prosperity, quality of life, opportunity, personal security, and values--to determine whether the pessimism rampant in the United States in the 1990s is justified...Bok does a truly superior job of marshaling ideas and factual information from many fields of knowledge. His methodical presentation of this information is revealing, and the approach is a refreshing change from the unsubstantiated opinion that frequently characterizes debate on these topics. Essential reading for public policy scholars, this book will find a wide audience among educated readers generally. Highly recommended.
The approach here is both historical and comparative, as Bok seeks to measure America against herself as well as against other industrialised nations. And he does so not simply at the level of opinion but on the sturdier ground of hard facts...One of the most interesting points he makes is that things may or may not be bad and getting worse, depending upon one's perspective, but this much is without doubt: the way Americans see themselves and their problems has changed dramatically.
Former Harvard president Bok provides a sweeping, fair-minded assessment of the state of America's economic prosperity, quality of life, and values in the mid-1990s.
- 6-1/4 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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