Time to Start Thinking: America and the Spectre of Decline by Edward Luce - review by Dominic Sandbrook

Dominic Sandbrook

Twilight in the West

Time to Start Thinking: America and the Spectre of Decline

By

Little, Brown 291pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

Fifty years ago, California was the place to be. A laboratory for new ways of living, bathed in glorious sunshine, the state of Berkeley and the Beach Boys offered a glimpse of the future, all suntanned faces, gleaming cars and spanking new universities. But how times have changed. Half a century on, suffocated by smog and mired in debt, the Golden State has become a metaphor for everything that seems wrong with the United States of America. Almost incredibly, notes the Financial Times’s Washington bureau chief Edward Luce, California now spends less than $8,000 annually on each child in the state school system, yet spends $47,000 on every prisoner in its notoriously overcrowded penitentiaries. State politics has become a carnival of perennial plebiscites, while, as Luce sees it, ‘Sacramento’s role is to preside over a slow disintegration of the assets the state built up in the 1950s and 60s, the world-class infrastructure and public education that helped make California the place of the future.’

Sober, clever, measured and deeply depressing, Time to Start Thinking takes a long, hard look at a nation haunted by decline. Of course European visitors often love to announce the impending collapse of American civilisation, but Luce, by and large, lets his American interviewees do the talking. In one particularly

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