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The Real Story of What Happens to America

By Albert Brooks

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  • Published in USA  Apr 2012,
    384 pages.

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Barbb0122 (05/15/12)

This is a really interesting book. I was caught up in it enough that I was willing to overlook some things when I was reading it, but once I finished and started to think about it was harder to ignore important points.

The book is set in America in the year 2030. The annual deficit outstrips the GDP and the debt, mostly held by China, is already an astronomical figure that no one really thinks the US will ever be able to pay off. Most of the money goes for caring for the "olds" (those 60+). Thanks to advances in medical technology, people are living longer than ever before. There is some sort of universal healthcare but it's not explained that well. Everyone is required to pay premiums but the sense is that nearly all the money goes for the "olds". I have no idea what the co-pays are or what it covers.

The situation is dire. Infrastructure has disintegrated but there is no money for repairs. When "the big one" strikes L.A. there's literally no money to rebuild. There is also a deep generational divide and the young have a nearly universal resentment of the olds, who they see taking all the money, jobs, and opportunity. They're also driving up the cost of housing. The animosity is such that the olds are afraid to go out alone and so they stick to themselves in gated communities and only travel in groups.

But here's one of those pesky problems. There's only one "old"; who starts out poor and he dies in the quake. There's another that loses his worldly goods in the quake but he started off being financially comfortable. Meanwhile, the young are portrayed as almost always poor unless they manage to inherit money.

While Brooks certainly taps into anxiety about what may lie ahead as increasing number of baby boomers retire and go on Medicare and Social Security the real problem is going to be income inequality between classes. It's not just retiring baby boomers who have money, better access to jobs and opportunity. And there's no way Medicare will cover everything. They're already talking about cutting benefits to providers in the near future (which of course, effectively cuts benefits even though they're saying they aren't). That means that fewer providers will agree to see Medicare clients. The future of Medicare is looking a lot like Medicaid. Reimbursement rates are so low that many doctors refuse to take Medicaid patients (plus, there's a stigma attached to it in the medical community).

Without massive reform I think the saying will remain true: if you're wealthy, America is the best place in the world to be sick. If you're not wealthy or at least rich you could get better, faster care in many other countries.
JoeyPaul (03/25/12)

Brooks futuristic fantasy
Albert Brooks has put together a fun little read--if you like black humor. One of the book's strengths is what I consider an accurate portrayal of financial failure of government in the future. Where I live, there is a big, big to do about pensions and retirement benefits bankrupting the system. Brooks documents this problem by having people live too long--and they do!! This book may turn some off because it's too accurate for comfort but I liked it. (03/25/12)

Albert Brooks is a clever and insightful writer. Yes, that Albert Brooks, the actor and director, and now published novelist.

For those over 60 years of age, this is a story that will enlighten and frighten; for others, it forecasts a dystopian or opportunity driven future. Brooks envisions earth in the near future, where science cures cancer but has the consequence of skyrocketing medical costs, increasing the gap between rich and poor, and widening the cultural chasm between young and old.

Brooks describes a 2030 American government that is virtually bankrupt. America's bankruptcy is exposed to the world by a major earthquake in California that decimates Los Angeles. The American government is unable to handle the crises because it does not have enough financial strength to rebuild the City. Southern California residents are thrown into the street with little to no prospect of financial recovery. Insurance companies cannot cover individual losses. The government is overwhelmed by the size of the catastrophe; this major crisis magnifies America’s societal ills.

Longer lives are accompanied by falling birth rates so fewer people are born to support a growing and aging population. AARP becomes the strongest political organization in the United States. Medical costs escalate because of technological advances. When a parent becomes hospitalized, costs are passed on to children of parents that die at increasing older ages. Surreptitious euthanasia is practiced when the "olds" fail to sign "do not resuscitate" agreements. A subculture of young terrorists develops to revolt against the burden of an aging population. The die seems cast for a stultified society that pits young against old.

Brooks is not seeing far into the future. The future of today’s children is burdened by America’s growing debt. Medical costs continue to rise with medical discoveries extending lives through extraordinary medical intervention; cost escalation is inherent in a world-wide movement toward universal medical coverage.

There may be a way out of this dystopian vision. A possible escape is a growing affinity between disparate cultures symbolized by Brooks’ story of Chinese and American cooperation. Brooks suggests that earth is one nation, one culture that is interdependent, borderless, and capable of resolving world problems.

Brooks is cleverly extrapolating from science and societal evidence of 2012 to send a message to the world about the potential consequence of ignorance. Science will continue to advance and its consequence needs to be understood in light of the immutability of human nature. Human greed, avarice, and covetousness are not expected to magically disappear but nature’s drive for self-preservation will sustain humanity. That is Brook’s story.

2030 is an entertaining read; i.e. structured in short paragraphs and chapters that appeal to today’s Iphone’, Ipad’, and Ipod’ distracted society.
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