The book Measure of a Nation identifies which countries are leading in areas of health, education, safety, democracy and equality and for those leading countries what are the policies and practices that can be adopted in the US. While the concept sounds straightforward, one of the key concerns is the fact that there are substantial barriers to change in America. Simply identifying that there are policies in other countries that have been successful and could be implemented here in America isn't enough to make change happen. Rather many barriers need to be overcome if there is to be any substantial changes in America rather than small nibbling around the edges of issues.
Some of the most prominent barriers include:
(1) Awareness: The first barrier is the lack of awareness of many Americans regarding the state of America. Americans need to become active, informed citizens. It is difficult to overstate the importance of engagement in the political process. Informed citizens are a necessary component to any successful democracy. Underinformed and misinformed citizens are easily swayed by demogogues who offer fantasies rather than reality.
(2) Complacency: While America's social system is far less generous than that of other wealthy countries, it is still sufficient enough that people are not generally dying in the streets. The comparatively modest benefits are enough to quell some of the discontent that may have erupted. Complacency is tied closely to the first issue, the lack of awareness. Complacency is difficult to overcome since too often people take action only when a crisis has occurred.
(3) Political process: The American political system has produced a situation where change is extremely difficult. Some of these issues are Constitutional in nature while others are more tied to rules and practices that have been developed over time. While there are countless processes in the American government that impede change, there are also means for overcoming the governmental barriers. In order for the barrier of the American governmental institutions to be overcome, the first two barriers, lack of awareness and complacency will need to be addressed.
(4) Defenders of the Status Quo: Whether it be individuals, companies, unions, political parties or any other group, those who profit from the current system will seek to maintain the status quo. This is a powerful barrier, one that has reared its head in many battles throughout American history, from the Civil War to the Suffrage Movement to the Civil Rights Movement to the Affordable Care Act to the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Americans who aspire to see America truly thrive need to understand that it is a battle to implement any substantial change in America, but this is a battle worth having - not just for our own sake, but for the sake of future generations.