The benighted state of America The World We " re In Will Hutton Little, Brown 17. 99, pp 320 Where is America's Star Wars missile defence shield when we need it Will Hutton is on a rant, and his target is the United States. Hutton's America is not the America of conventional wisdom. Hutton's America is a failed society, 'the most unequal society in the industrialised West'. As an economic model, Hutton's America is a failure as well; the obsession with short-term profits to satisfy shareholders has drained US industry of innovation and long-term planning.
Worse, left defenceless by the collapse of American liberalism, the US has been taken over by conservatives who are emptying America of whatever good it had. On the world stage, America is a rogue state 'hostile to all forms of international co-operation and multilateralist endeavour'. Jeepers. One is tempted to glance bashfully down at one's shoelaces, chuckle Ronald Reagan-like, and say to Hutton, 'There you go again.' But a Hutton rant cannot be dismissed so casually; to it he brings formidable erudition, meticulous analysis and prodigious research. This is particularly true on economic matters. To make his case about the sad state of the American corporation, for example, Hutton marshals a remarkable argument centred on America's Boeing (diminished in its drive to 'enrich executives and Wall Street') and Europe's Airbus (eschewing short-term profits in order to become 'the most successful aircraft manufacturer in the world').
He may be wrong, but if he is, he is imposingly wrong. His scholarship suffers, however, from being twisted into an attack matrix. Perhaps America is not the model for the rest of the world that Britain and other countries make it out to be. Especially since 11 September, the go-it-alone tendencies of the Bush administration are an affront to the world order.
These are important arguments and eminently worth of discussion. But Hutton goes wobbly on Britain and Europe. He wants us to believe that Britain's only choice is to ditch America and become a full partner in Europe. He seems to feel he must portray today's Britain as being slavishly American. But the Blair government is dominated by people who are both Atlantic ists and Europeans. He wants to persuade us that Britain cannot have its 'special relationship' with America and be part of Europe.
I don't think he succeeds. Hutton sees Europe as the antidote to the American disease. There is something to be said in favour of the notion of Europe as a countervailing force to American hegemony. But Europe is in no position to rescue anybody from anything these days.
His optimism about the state that Europe is in seems wildly misplaced. Hutton ignores issues that are at the heart of Europe's weakness. One is immigration. Until European politicians come to grips with immigration and the two issues associated with it - globalisation, seen as a cause, and crime, seen as an effect - the 'United Europe of States', as Hutton calls it, won't be united. He also ignores the question of European defence and security. Linked as it is militarily to the United States today, Europe simply cannot muster the independence to stand up to America as a near equal.
Hutton's great strength is that he is a provocateur, and a learned one. The argumentative heft of the book is impressive. Hutton has shown in the past that he's keenly in tune with the Zeitgeist. He's very deftly tossed this little grenade of a book into the marketplace of ideas at just the right moment - after 11 September and before Britain's referendum on the single currency. The World We " re In isn't exactly beach reading. But this book will get people talking..