Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Thomas L. Friedman has been talking about foreign policy with his friend Michael Mandelbaum for two decades. Over the past couple of years, though, they started to notice something different about their conversations.
"Every time we started off talking about the world, we'd end up talking about America," Friedman recalled when he spoke with MTV News recently. "And we realized basically that America — its fate, future, vigor, vitality — was really the biggest foreign-policy issue in the world."
The two friends recognized the enormity of the role the U.S. plays in the world — for good or bad. "We're kind of the tent pole that holds up a lot of the global economy," Friedman said. "That tent pole buckles or frays, your kids won't just grow up in a different America; they'll grow up in a very different world. So there's a lot at stake."
Friedman and Mandelbaum were inspired to write their new book, "That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back." In it, they identify four major challenges this country is currently failing to meet: our chronic deficit, our pattern of energy consumption, globalization and the revolution in information technology.
Friedman acknowledged that by failing to tackle these issues, his generation has made things very difficult for its descendants. "Young people need to be paying attention right now, because we're messing with your future."
He cited the nation's deepening deficit as an example and listed ways in which it will affect young people years from now if it's not reversed. "One, the currency you hold will buy less. It will just be worth less," he said. "Second, it won't be so easy to get a job. The number of companies that will want to start up here, the number of employers that will say, 'Hmm, I could hire a machine or I could hire a person, or I could hire cheap labor over in another country — I think I'll go for the machine or the cheap labor.' And third, you may be counting on your Social Security and your Medicare for when you get old like your parents are now — it may not be there."
Fortunately, these problems also hold countless opportunities, like for those who can find innovative ways to address our nation's excessive energy consumption. "Whoever invents these systems and technologies is going to have a huge global market in order to thrive in," Friedman said.
Meeting all these challenges, Friedman explained, will spur economic growth. "And if we're growing, then there's money for a lot of things, and there's a pie for everyone to get a slice. If we're not growing, then we're fighting over the slices, and we're collecting all the crumbs."