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Thursday, 2 June 2016

The Unwinding and Where Profit Takes You


I just finished reading The Unwinding By George Packer. Overall it was an excellent book, perhaps a little long winded. It focused on a eclectic set of stories from big names like New Gingrich, Jay-Z and Oprah, to the lesser known Dean Price, Jeff Connaughton, the Hartzell family, and community organizer Tammy Thomas. The narratives really are captivating, but by halfway through the book, which covers the decades between 1970-2010 I found myself wishing for a premature conclusion or some type of synopsis. This book was 430 pages and I felt every one of them by the time I closed it. There were just too many characters to follow and enjoy. Too many vignettes, they began to blend after awhile. Still Packer does an excellent job in keeping the reader more or less invested in the individuals. Being a journalist, its obvious Packer collected much of his research from 1 on 1 interviews and this shows with the abundance of dialogue. However, the lack of footnotes and citations is an obvious downside. Even an index would be appreciated. I found myself making my own, but I stopped halfway through. I found I felt unsure of whether to read the book as a narrative and just enjoy it, or try to extract some kind of analysis.  


Once all these tales are collected, and you reach approximately a third of the way through a number of conclusions seem to jump out. Among them, that it is, and was, nearly impossible to attribute any direct culpability to the massive financial crisis that rocked the United States in 2008. It really was just people responding to incentives whether you were a poor homeowner or drafting legislation in congress. Everyone saw immediate benefit at the expense of sustainability. The toxic growth mindset infects the crescendo of the 1980's and early 1990's where booming Tampa is contrasted with dying Youngstown. The old with its character, its history, its stability, and its uniqueness, is left in ruins while the maze of roadways extends like twisting tentacles into the Florida countryside. That is the picture of a dying America, one where the old and the meaningful built on generations is passed over for the heavily mortgaged Mcmansion constructed upon the shifting swamp, but it made people happy then, and it makes them happy now. The book succeeds in how it draws the insular experience of diverse individuals across the United States and collects them into a meta-narrative that succeeds in warning against the fast dollar and the unhinged economy; the book warns of the dangers of both the immense and disconnected state and the mammoth and frigid force of the relentlessly hungry corporate growth machine. 


Absolutely. Packer brings stories from across socio-economic class, race, gender, and political affiliation and unites them, consciously, or otherwise, into a careful warning. One I perceive to be that of never taking the value of the preexisting for granted. Packer paints a picture of an America that took 200 years to build and a half century to destroy.