George Packer talks about the 'unwinding' of America
George Packer discusses his new book, 'The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America' – a country no longer assumed to be a global leader, even as its internal economic gulf widens.
George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of the award-winning 2005 book "The Assassins Gate: America in Iraq." Packer’s other non-fiction books include, "The Village of Waiting" and "Blood of the Liberals," the latter winning the 2001 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He is also the author of two novels, "The Half Man" and "Central Square."Skip to next paragraph
Random House's Grinch campaign encourages children to do selfless deeds over the holidays
'Burial Rites' author Hannah Kent finds mystery in Iceland
Harry Potter Alliance brings together fans to affect social change
Thanksgiving: A look back at Norman Rockwell's iconic illustration 'Freedom From Want'
Improv Everywhere's Harry Potter takes Penn Station commuters by surprise (+ video)
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Packer’s latest book, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, is a work of non-fiction that attempts to document the massive political and economic changes that have taken place in the last three decades in the United States.
The narrative follows the successes and failures of various Americans, including: Dean Price, the son of a tobacco farmer and an evangelist for a green economy in the rural South; Tammy Thomas, a Rust Belt factory worker trying to survive the financial collapse of Youngstown, Ohio; and Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire, who questions the true worth of the technology economy.
Packer gives us these tales without opinion or commentary. Instead, he simply lets readers make their own judgments from the stories he provides. If this literary style of journalism is subtly trying to push a polemic at the reader, in brief, it might be summarized this way: the Roosevelt Republic which reigned for over half a century – building institutions; creating a prosperous middle class; devising a strong sense of camaraderie among the population, and an honest work ethic, where physical things were made and sold – has been replaced by a fictitious economy that exists on bogus credit ratings and mind-numbing consumption, a system that isolates individuals from what one might define as a decent society.
In this process, the gap between rich and poor has become ever wider, and millions of US citizens who were once members of the middle class have now slid into a permanent state of poverty.
I spoke to Packer about this "unwinding" process – an age in which the vision of America as an unquestionable superpower and leader in global market forces has gradually come to a standstill.
You speak in the book about the move away from manufacturing, and into the fictional world of finance. How important was that drastic change for the American economy in the last 30 years?
It’s been a huge historical event that goes almost ignored because it’s so pervasive, and has been with us for a whole generation now. If you go to the Rust Belt, to the former steel-making cities, or to small towns in places like North Carolina, where there used to be textiles and furniture, the departure of manufacturing has devastated these places, leaving behind these ghostly downtowns, dismal empty main streets, and closed shops. This has opened the way for Wal-Mart up on the highway to be the center of all activity. And it pushes everything downward. We have become a consumer society where most of the wealth is spun out of thin air by Wall Street, with the exception of Silicon Valley.