Book Review – Neither Here Nor There

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Frans Jager presents the views of a first generation immigrant on American Exceptionalism.

 

 

 

We are constantly being reminded, “America is a nation of immigrants.” This is true, in a much as everyone who lives here today, except for the descendants of Native Americans, had ancestors from abroad. In truth, even the Native Americans originated in Asia, but that is another story.

Frans Jager is originally from the Netherlands. He came to the United States in the late 1970’s as an executive employee of a joint venture between Dutch and American companies. After a period of years he opted to apply for and obtained permanent resident status, which allowed him to remain here after his company wanted to recall him back to Europe. He has held executive positions with a number of companies and has developed a rather unique view of the issue of immigration facing the U.S. today.

Jager’s view is based largely on two foundations; his youth and education in Europe and his experiences of work and life here, where he and his wife have chosen to remain, despite financial benefits that would have accrued from his returning the Europe and the gold-plated pension system that had been instituted there. It appears that he has no regrets, but he does have reasons to disagree with some of what America has undertaken, politically, in recent years. His book discusses his background, his journey through American life, and his thoughts and diagnosis for the future. His position as a successful businessman also allows him to impart some useful advice for up and coming business people along the way.

His life here has not all been easy, and after getting in over his head, which he admits was a self inflicted wound, he ended up filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy to get things back under control. Raised under the Dutch welfare state, understanding and properly applying personal financial management was a new experience. He also admits to having had a difficult time adjusting because of constant movement between locations as an executive of one, then another, corporation. His roots appear to have developed in Cleveland, Ohio, largely because that is where he spent the most time, more than anything else. All of this points to the direction his book has taken, which becomes evident when you move past the introductory section, which deals with his background and experiences as an immigrant.

When Jager begins examining America he does so from what appears to be a classic modern-European perspective. He easily finds the faults that exist in our system; it seems without particularly understanding the fact that it is no more perfect than the one he left behind in Europe, despite mentioning that his colleagues in Europe frequently point out the problems they are having as well. At the same time, while his background may slant his perspective, it does not prevent him from finding the problem areas and noting that they may be as much due to choices rather than an inborn problem unique to the American way, at least as it was intended to be.

With all of the above in place, he proceeds to discuss one glaring problem that spotlights the difference between successful businesses and our present government, namely the difference between proactive and reactive management. He goes on to examine various aspects of government and society, providing brief yet concise insights into what he sees are the areas of concern. As above, his views reflect, to a large degree the European influence on his thinking, but it does not prevent him from seeing where the problems lie.

At the summation he suggests that America is in trouble, and it can recover, but only addressing the fact that it is underperforming. His understanding of that underperformance appears flawed because he lacks a concise knowledge of what the American system was, and what it was intended to be. Thus, his prescriptions vacillate between government direction of grand plans and laments about government’s failures. Writing this book in 2014, as a successful businessman, he fails, for example, to understand exactly why Conservatives want to repeal the “affordable care act” and why there is little or not planned replacement in evidence. He calls out the press for partisanship, but, again, lacks an understanding of why such has developed. Thus, he paints a rather discordant picture, linking the problems and the solutions as if they are part of the same being, lacking only some sort of unifying principle to get them on the right track.

This is not to say that Jager’s work is without value. His analysis of the factual information is well done. It is likely that where he falls short is in his knowledge of what America was, and how it has failed to live up to its billing. He seems to lack insight into what went wrong and therefore seems to believe that there may be an intrinsic fault in the system that needs to be remedied. A lack of historical perspective also appears evident, as well as a businessperson’s understanding of how government is the problem rather than the solution. He seems to lack focus on how this nation has gone down the same road as many others, expecting to find a better future in control, rather than the free market and liberty based populism.

Jager’s examination of the American system is highly interesting, if not from a solution based perspective, but for the purpose of understanding how people from other nations view our present circumstances and the problems we are encountering. It is an educational view that, in some respects, mirrors what this writer encountered during his teens when listening to the now-discontinued Atlantic Dateline radio broadcasts. These insights can be important if used creatively. Thus, Jager’s writing is a useful tool, but by no means anything revolutionary, in the examination of where we may go from here.

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