Book Review: Tyranny of Dead Ideas
Trying to start off the new year in a forwardly thinking direction (isn’t that what we are supposed to do as citizens of ObamaLand?), I picked up a copy of Fortune columnist Matt Miller’s The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash a New Prosperity and began fulfilling my new year’s resolution of reading things that are ‘good for me.’
I love Matt Miller’s radio program Left , Right, and Center which I listen to faithfully on Santa Monica College’s KCRW (more accurately, on my iTunes). He holds up the center of discussions on economics, politics and culture at large. Yesterday as is usually what happens when I begin to read a book that came out recently, I heard Matt Miller interviewed on KCRW for the new book. He’s also the author of The Two Percent Solution: Fixing America's Problems In Ways Liberals And Conservatives Can Love.
The radio interview focused on six dead ideas that Americans need to give up in order to move forward (and these were all in the book as well as additional dead ideas). Chief among the ones discussed were uniquely American ways of doing things that don’t quite work anymore: healthcare tied to employment, local control over education getting in the way of unified standards, wanting tax cuts as baby boomers retire, the idea that a child will prosper more than the parent, that education, knowledge and skills will automatically produce a certain level of income, and many others. Miller argues eloquently both in print and in radio interview about all these dead ideas and more.
I've sat with some of these ideas a good deal--especially over localized control of education and realizing that at age 40, I do make less than my parents with a much higher mortgage. And perhaps I should be telling my kids hey, don't become a doctor you'll be sued for malpractice--become a banker who gets slapped on the wrist with a big fat severance check instead. The book is a great snack food for thought.
What makes the book a good read is his ability to put each of these ideas in their historical context of how we arrived at them and why we’ve steadfast held on to them. He seems uniquely rational and doesn’t come across as being in love with his own voice or discoveries in the way say Thomas L. Friedman seems to in The World is Flat (never listen to the audio of that book unless you really like the Disney approach to the adult world--his voice literally hurt my ears).
A few online reviews of the book have bashed the book as socialism but it didn’t come across that way to me at all (full disclosure: I have more than enough left wing subscriptions for decades to know the difference). I am finding his chapters and discussions of these dead ideas to be a bit of what the doctor ordered---giving voice to things I’ve already thought about but hadn’t researched myself. As the new Administration of “Change” gets underway, it might make informative reading.
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