- - Wednesday, September 11, 2013

By James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus
Encounter, $18, 264 pages

As we return to reality from the lazy, hazy days of summer, we find our nation war-weary, broke and politically fractured. We are a subprime-mortgaged house divided. We the people are longing for a better future, but very few thinkers have systematically reasoned through our apparently insurmountable challenges.

“America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century: Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet To Come” by James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus is a book that rises to our ominous circumstances.

At best, future-studies titles are built on a solid understanding of powerful political, economic, technological and cultural phenomena. The most effective works are not abstract, literary political musings, but practical expressions of political science rooted in the possible. The best examples are the Federalist Papers and Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America.”

“America 3.0” does not belong in this pantheon, but it is an intellectually ambitious and accessible work of political science that posits a year 2040 in which the United States has 21 more stars on the flag and has put our challenges behind us. Mr. Bennett and Mr. Lotus are not “pie in the sky” physiocrats, but serious probabilistic pragmatists. They write, “America in 2040 is not perfect, but nothing human ever is. Nonetheless, overall, this is an era of freedom and excitement, and American well-being with reasonable security for American citizens.”

While “America 3.0” should be eagerly consumed by the political class and concerned citizens alike, it needs a champion. Twenty years ago, Newt Gingrich saw the future in Alvin Toffler’s “The Third Wave” and brought it to the political mainstream. It was a book tailored to fit its bullish, technocratic times. “America 3.0” is a more serious book written for more serious times, and it deserves a serious booster. Sen. Rand Paul — and his supporters — should make “America 3.0” their book of ideas.

A strong decentralizing current runs through “America 3.0.” The America of 2040 is a place where the values of Galt’s Gulch have been broadly democratized. Granted, the coasts are more communitarian than the heartland, but 2040’s blue America is bound by red-minded financial rules.

To get there, the authors propose a “Big Haircut” — an ordered bankruptcy tied to shared sacrifice, and devolution of power, responsibility and accountability to states, localities and individuals. Mr. Bennett and Mr. Lotus are eyes-wide-open realists: “So, these governments are going to default on their obligations. That is inevitable. We propose that it be done transparently and openly, and preferably at once,” they write. “The Big Haircut is about getting the country functional again, spreading the pain widely, and ending up with a new system that is less prone to the problems of the old.”

The authors are well aware of the political temptation of a Government Motors move where the creditors take the hit — as well as more confiscatory Argentinian methods. This would be 2.0 America in a death spiral.

Along with the haircuts comes a third constitutional refounding of sorts via the amendment process. The authors argue that is not possible to get out from the crushing weight of our 2.0 welfare state by simply returning to the Founders’ 1.0 constitutionalism. We must bring old gods to a new city. “Now is a time to discard or transform the broken institutions of America 2.0 and turn for inspiration to the decentralized and individualistic America of the Founders, but in a new and updated implementation — an America 3.0.” We need a 3.0 constitutionalism that is prescriptive of our unique set of circumstances.

With the Big Haircut comes a “Big Sort.” Technology, variable state tax rates, diversity of safety-net options and divided cultural values allows greater exurban mobility, cultural sorting and work flexibility. 2040 America is fueled by a 1099 consultant-artisan-networked economy, where the dead hand of government has been removed. If the authors are right on the technological trends driving growth in the near future, start investing in three-dimensional additive printing. The role of additive printing and manufacturing is bound to be on the same economic and cultural plane as the automobile, the pill and the Web.

After restructuring our debt and constitutional order, the agenda moves to the stuff of think tank papers brought to reality — affordable single-family housing, education K through 12 and beyond, health care and retirement within reach for all. The nuclear family — the schoolhouse of American exceptionalism — holds a central role. What makes us different from even our fellow travelers in the West is our understanding of family, which the authors trace to Anglo-Saxon conquerors who grafted their mores to our English older brothers who exported them to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. “America developed as it did in terms of culture, law, economics and technology because it was built on a culture that had as its bedrock this distinctive type of nuclear family.”

Back to Mr. Paul and his merry band of Paulites. The greatest gift of “America 3.0” is a deep foreign policy suited for our age of sequestration, neither expeditionary, nor isolationist. The greatest obstacle to Mr. Paul being taken seriously as a presidential candidate is that he doesn’t seem to like the commander in chief part of the presidential job description.

It would have been strikingly presidential if Mr. Paul delivered a message to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, President Obama and the American people based on a “America 3.0” notion of “Keeper of the Global Commons”: “The United States must now reorient its national strategy to primary emphasis on maintaining the freedom of the global commons of air, sea and space. Secondarily, we must defend the nation and our close allies. Third, we must be capable of intervening when needed, primarily to inhibit the formation of dangerous and aggressive totalitarian powers globally.”

This is a winning plan that ought to be the cornerstone of a libertarian movement ready to evolve from back-bencher to prime-time player. We could all benefit from reading “America 3.0” — but some more than others.

David DesRosiers is president of Revere Advisors.

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