Weekend Book Review: Sonic Boom by Gregg Easterbrook

You may know Gregg Easterbrook from his previous book The Progress Paradox (one of his six books) or his articles in The Atlantic. I know him mostly from his hobby: writing the Tuesday Morning Quarterback column on ESPN.com.

Sonic Boom tries to look beyond the current recession. Easterbrook looks ahead to what to expect after we make our way out. He sees the continued growth of globalization, interconnectedness and technology improvements. That should lead to greater prosperity, knowledge growth, instability and financial distress.

Easterbrook starts off Sonic Boom by using the Chinese city of Shenzhen, with its population of 9 million. But thirty years ago, the city did not exist. In 2007, it sent out 21 million containers, making it the fourth largest port in the world.

His next example grabbed me because it revolves around Waltham, Massachusetts, which is just down the street from me. He even calls my alma mater, Brandeis University “an outstanding institution”. Waltham is an example because it was the home of the first modern factory in the US. (I wrote about this is an article for Wired: GeekDad Visits the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation.) Waltham went through some tough times as it went from being a center of manufacturing to center for high tech and venture capital.

The book continues by focusing on a city and the how globalization has affected each. There is disruption, innovation, loss, growth, distress, and gain. Easterbrook then uses the example to launch into further discussion.

All of the turmoil in the job markets makes employer-sponsored health-care a bad fit. “It’s ridiculous that our cell phones work wherever we go but our health-care coverage does not.”

Yes, globalization is displacing manufacturing jobs from the United States. But you also need to look at the advances in efficiency and technology that reduce manufacturing jobs. The US made 106 million tons of steel in 2007 with 159,000 workers. That is more than the 91 million tons of steel made in 1977 with 531,000 workers.

Globalization is also bringing peace. A few decades ago the world’s two most important countries had horns locked trying to destroy each other. The US and USSR had nuclear missiles aimed and fingers on the button. We would not even send athletes to the other’s hosting of the Olympic Games. Now the two most important countries are the US and China. We are locked “cooperative competition” of trade and finance.

Sure, China has a long way to go towards democracy and human rights. But the country is much better than it was 30 years ago.

If you have read Tuesday Morning Quarterback, you will encounter some familiar stories. You will also find the writing familiar as he has weaved some of these tales of economics into his football column.

Is Easterbrook right? Do I agree with everything he writes? Well, even Kurt Warner throws a few incomplete passes.

If you like football, then you should also read his Tuesday Morning Quaterback column on ESPN.com. I enjoyed reading Sonic Boom and recommend that you read it. With only one meaningful football game left this season, you’ll need something to read in the off-season.

Disclosure: Most of the links above are Amazon affiliate links.

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