One of the great mysteries of this great country is why we are so
unwilling to learn from the successes of other nations – even if supported by absolutely masses of data. My example, in this case comes from Norway (and the above is its flag).
We are the global champions of ‘NIH – Not Invented Here’ - the notion that if something is developed elsewhere, it is inherently suspect. It is a pervasive corporate flaw – and is an important reason why hitherto great corporations decline – but we have elevated it to a national principle. The American Way has to be the best. We are also, whatever our politicians like to argue, in a state of measurable decline.
Is it reversible? Theoretically, yes; however we are so politically divided and wedded to our prejudices, that our recovery is far from certain.
Our greatest national impediment is ignorance. Despite a tradition of education in the first half of the twentieth century, we have lost much of that ground in the second half – and subsequently – to the point where we are no longer internationally competitive under many headings.
One factor which contributes to our educational decline is the simple fact that Americans don’t read enough (and don’t learn enough when they do read).
This is all part of our rather extraordinary reluctance to support the arts – despite global evidence that such subsidies contribute enormously to the economic and cultural wellbeing of a nation.
But let me focus more narrowly, and show what can be done in relation to encouraging both authors and reading by quoting what Norway does.
Norway buys 1000 copies of every book a Norwegian author publishes. It provides a $19,000 annual subsidy to every author who is a member of the Authors’ Union. The Association of Bookstores is allowed to have a monopoly on the sale of books—but is prohibited by law from engaging in price competition. It requires, by law, that bookstores keep books in stock for two years regardless of sales. And it exempts books from its very steep sales tax. Not surprisingly, Griswold finds, “Norwegians everywhere read, and they read a lot; Norway has one of the world’s highest reading rates.”
This example was drawn from Regionalism and the Reading Class, a sociology book by Wendy Griswold.
The answers are out there; yet we chose to ignore them.