Third World America

As a young girl growing up in Greece, I remember walking to school in the city of Athens past a statue of President Truman. The statue was a daily reminder of the magnificent nation responsible for, among other things, the Marshall Plan. Everyone in Greece either had a family member, or, like my family, a friend who’d left to find a better life in America. That was the phrase everyone associated with America: “a better life.” America was a place you could go to work really hard, make a good living. When I came to America in 1980, I knew that there was no other place I’d rather live. Thirty years later, I still feel that way.

But there is no denying that decisions we have made as a country have put us on a very dangerous road, one that threatens to turn America into a Third World nation. It’s a jarring concept, I know, but the evidence is all around us. Our industrial base is vanishing, taking with it the kind of jobs that have formed the backbone of our economy for more than a century; our education system is in shambles, making it harder for tomorrow’s workforce to acquire the information and training it needs to land good twenty-first century jobs; our infrastructure—our roads, bridges, sewage and water, transportation and electrical systems—is crumbling; our economic system has been reduced to recurring episodes of Corporations Gone Wild; our political system is broken, in thrall to a small financial elite using the power of the checkbook to control both parties. And America’s middle class, the driver of so much of our economic success and political stability, is rapidly disappearing, forcing us to confront the realization that we are slipping as a nation.

I wrote Third World America as a warning—a clanging alarm telling us that if we don’t correct our course, contrary to our history and to what has always seemed to be our destiny, we could indeed become a Third World nation. I also wrote it with America’s young people in mind. Because, in the end, they are the ones who will most suffer if we don’t turn things around. They are the ones being saddled with massive debt, the ones feeling the sting of rising tuition and decreasing opportunities. As I speak at colleges all across the country, students are giving voice to their doubts of the idea that with hard work and discipline, they will have the chance to do better than their parents, just as we had the chance to do better than the generation before us. They are the ones facing this dark flipside of the American Dream—an American Nightmare of our own making.

For teachers looking for discussion starters, the issues raised in Third World America involve a wide range of disciplines: politics, economics, history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, ethics, journalism, engineering, business, and more. The questions the book prompts cut to the core of what kind of country we are, what kind of country we want to be, and what kind of future today’s students face. The solutions I propose in the book’s final section present real-world opportunities for students of all ages to get involved and make a difference, to follow the very American urge to take matters into our own hands and get things done. Winston Churchill said, “America can always be counted on to do the right thing, after it has exhausted all other possibilities.” Well, we have exhausted a lot of possibilities. It’s time now to do the right thing.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON is the cofounder and editor in chief of the Huffington Post, a nationally syndicated columnist, and the author of thirteen books. She is also the cohost of Left, Right & Center, public radio’s popular political roundtable program. She was named to the Time 100, Time magazine’s list of the world’s one hundred most influential people, and to the Financial Times’s list of fifty people who shaped the decade. Originally from Greece, she moved to England when she was sixteen and graduated from Cambridge University with an MA in economics.

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