Book Review: The Comeback by Gary Shapiro

How innovation will restore the American dream.

by / May 12, 2011
Gary Shapiro, CEO and president, Consumer Electronics Association/ Photo courtesy of the Consumer Electronics Association. Consumer Electronics Association

America is losing its global No. 1 economic ranking because of its crippling inability to innovate. To figure out how this predicament came to be, one must examine the global recession’s effect on the nation. According to Gary Shapiro, author of The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream, the economy’s decline was accelerated by massive government spending. No need to grab a cup of coffee — this book is espresso. Some readers, particularly those in the public sector, may find Shapiro’s economic statistics and solutions borderline hostile.

Shapiro, head of the U.S. trade association representing 2,000 consumer electronics companies, says government is undermining the nation’s innovative spirit. Government spends too much, he writes, and rules and restrictions at the federal level cost Americans $1.75 trillion annually. Meanwhile, huge federal debt is destroying future private-sector investment. Unionized government workers have seen their ranks swell to 7.9 million, surpassing the private sector by a half million for the first time in history — all of which, Shapiro argues, leaves taxpayers on the hook for cushy retirements. “A 52-year-old worker making $100,000 in his final year before retiring could get $90,000 per year of life, not counting lifetime benefits,” writes Shapiro.

To reverse our economic misfortunes, Shapiro advocates that government should focus on funding the neediest and most deserving programs and people. Shapiro calls on government to excise wasteful spending, citing examples like the multimillion-dollar 30-second census ad during Super Bowl 2010.

He also suggests a lesson in frugality and leadership integrity, citing the efforts of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty as examples of those trying to reduce government spending. He applauds top executives from Best Buy and British Prime Minister David Cameron, who all, Shapiro says, practice thriftiness while encouraging innovative thinking.

Shapiro rails against the U.S.’ “geriatric infrastructure,” comparing it to the decaying infrastructure in India. He argues that politicians can’t put aside their ambitions to do what’s best for the country and future generations, which he reasons is why stimulus funds were fed to shovel-ready projects. Innovation can’t wait until we’re in an even worse situation, the author implores; we must allocate resources wisely and objectively through procedures and policies. Reducing unfunded pension liabilities for public unions and halting the insourcing of government work are two recommendations Shapiro offers to “restore sanity to the nation’s fiscal condition.” ¨


Karen Stewartson Managing Editor