America 3.0, by James C. Bennett and Michael Lotus, is a description of the current problems facing America, the origin of those problems, and solutions for them. But it’s more than that. With only two references to President Obama in the work, America 3.0 focuses on the structural causes for the emergence of our current system of government, along with the cultural context in which those structural causes work.
The Structural Causes
The “3.0” in the title refers to an emerging system of government, but the implication of the work is that the system of government is a funciton of the economy. Unstated, the system of government appears to be a function of the material basis for the organization of the commanding heights of the economy.
The three stages that Bennett and Lotus describe, as I understand them, are:
- “America 1.0.” Politically, organized around the original intent of the Constitution, with power highly distributed. This was structurally encouraged by the distributed nature of production, which was centered around many farms and small towns with a few small cities acting as trade ports. The major power source was water — rivers, rain, and the sea. While parts of the America 1.0 culture survive, America’s transition figure was Abraham Lincoln: born in a rural and isolated community, his professional life centered around doing professional work for railroads.
- “America 2.0.” Politically, organized around militaristic police forces, professional bureaucracy, with power highly concentrated. This was structurally encouraged by the nature of steam power and the massive economies of scale that it enables. The America 2.0 political-economic, which is visibly failing in many ways, itself was the solution to the breakdown of the America 1.0 system in the face of the initial problems created by concentration and economies of scale.
- “America 3.0.” An emerging political-economy system that is itself a response to economics shift, primarily (though unstated) the decrease relative importance of steam power as the ratio of GDP (as measured in pounds) to GDP (as measured in dollars) decreases through miniaturization and electronics Tom Friedman’s work The World is Flat is uncited, but this trend (“how heavy is your economy”) was, I believe, prominently noted there several years ago. The source of power is information.
The Cultural Context
What keeps America 3.0 from being simply an economic-determinist, however, is Jim Bennett’s focus on the Anglosphere, and particularly Lotus’ and Bennett’s theory of what makes English-speaking countries nearly unique in the world: the “Absolute Nuclear Family” and the Common Law. According to America 3.0, this style of family is shared between English speaking countries, and some areas of Denmark and the Netherlands where the Anglo-Saxon-Jute peoples were active fifteen centuries ago. The Common Law, a result of the eradication of Roman Law and subsequent British hostility to the re-imposition of the Roman-based Laws latter (partially as a result for how Roman Law conflicts with the Absolute Nuclear Family type), also creates a difference.
The Absolute Nuclear Family and the Common Law acts as a superstructure, but not a superfluous one, in the Lotus-Bennett model. A transactional view of government, a focus on individual liberty, individual independence, and family mobility are all seen as effects of the Absolute Nuclear Family and the Common Law, apart from the structural causes of farm-, steam-, or information- power.
There’s three big questions that come to mind after reading America 3.0:
- First, does the economic foundation of the economy actually matter?
- Second, do the Absolute Nuclear Family and the Common Law actually matter?
- If so, to what extents?
The standard economic-determinist answer to the important of economic foundation is “a whole lot.” This makes sense to me. We’re still a way from a scientific study of history — a cliodynamical analysis of the role of steam, say, in American history — but all-in-all I found this part of the book to be insightful and non-controversial. Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy all differed on many things, but all agreed on the importance of economies of scale, which were themselves clearly enabled by steam.
The portions about the Common Law and the Absolute Nuclear Family, though, are less clear. What is the relative impact of the Common Law against, say, the influence of Christianity, of of being an England being an island, or of north-west European weather systems, or of other things? It makes sense that the Common Law and the Absolute Nuclear Family are not entirely superfluous, but it also makes sense that other things may matter as well. How might these be discovered? Or tested?
America 3.0 is an eye opening book, for explaining the rise of the bureaucratic-military state in the United States, and also for its description of the Common Law and the Absolute Nuclear Family. The former strikes me as more explanatory than the latter, but all was interesting.
I read America 3.0 in the Nook Edition.