Adrift (2022) argues that the United States is flailing, despite all its success and global dominance since World War II. It’s a country struggling to adapt to revolutionary changes in technology, facing deep economic and political divisions and threats of extremism, and quickly losing ground to rivals like China. Despite all of this, Scott Galloway still sees reason for hope, but first lays out what he sees as the biggest challenges facing the nation.
Introduction: Learn how the challenges facing democracy in the United States impact you directly.
Hatred and anger are spewing on social media. Wealthy elites are stacking the system in their favor. Community connections are fraying. Friendships are fading. We’re facing a crossroads of major crises.
Yet, despite that, there are still glimmers of hope scattered throughout our rapidly changing world. While Scott Galloway does discuss major challenges in Adrift, he also brings a refreshing sense of optimism and a willingness to focus on the positive aspects of modern life. It’s both a warning and a hopeful call for a better society. By understanding what’s going wrong, we can make choices that put us on a better course.
And while this summary is primarily a look at a superpower facing existential challenges, it also offers important insights and advice on a range of topics from the necessity of openness to new ideas to the benefits of risk and the value of strong community connections.
In this summary, we can’t hope to cover all 100 separate charts featured in Adrift. What we can do is draw out some of the key ideas and statistics and give you a sense of the meaning that each of them holds.
Join a club or organization.
Participation in community organizations is dropping. That’s bad news.
We’re social beings. Our communities give us the daily support we need to survive and thrive. Connection to others and interaction with them is also a key part of building tolerance for those who look or believe differently from us. If we drift apart, society begins to fray.
Here are a few examples from a range of community groups:
Since 1990, church membership, once a bedrock of community organization, has dropped 21 percent. But it’s not just religion. Boy Scout memberships have dropped from 22 per 1,000 people to just six. The Girl Scouts have fared a bit better, but even its membership has fallen from 13 per 1,000 people to only seven, a reduction of almost half. Rotary memberships are down too.
Outside of organized groups, we’re also just losing contact with the people around us. Have you ever felt like neighbors just don’t talk to each other anymore? There’s data to back that up. From 2008 to 2017, the number of adults who talk to their neighbors fell from 71 percent all the way down to 54 percent.
Much of life has moved online and that comes with advantages. Working online can save you lots of time, not to mention big money on commuting and office attire. It can also help companies hire the right workers, no matter where they live, and do their business more efficiently. We’re also seeing recreation move online, with tech companies investing in the metaverse, a place for ever more immersive online gaming and interaction.
While all this can be fun and useful, our lack of connection can’t be entirely replaced by social media – although that’s not stopping us from trying.
We’re seeing a decline not just in community organizations but, predictably, in friendships too. In 1990, 40 percent of men and 28 percent of women reported having ten or more friends. By 2021, deep into the age of social media, a staggeringly low 15 percent of men and 11 percent of women said they had that many friends.
Only a handful of people in 1990 reported having no close friends or only one friend. By 2021, that had soared to 21 percent of men and 18 percent of women.
So don’t rely on online worlds to give you the social interaction you need for your well-being. Seek out groups and places where you can interact in real life. You’ll benefit and so will society.
Find a way to go to college.
You may have heard recently that college is overrated. It’s certainly true that educational institutions offer degrees that may not lead to a high-paying career. Not to mention college costs have soared and so has student loan debt. The cost of a college education rose 169 percent from 1980 to 2019 and wages didn’t even come close to keeping pace.
From that, your takeaway might be that college is a foolish money sink. But a college education is even more key to landing a job now than ever before. If you want to be part of the middle class, you need to find a way to afford college or vocational training.
In 1973, a whopping 72 percent of jobs only required a high school diploma. The situation is reversed now. By 2020, only 36 percent of jobs were open to people with just a high school education. And, in that same time span, the share of jobs requiring a bachelor’s or master’s degree has more than doubled from 16 percent to 35 percent.
Getting a degree may be more difficult than ever but ignoring the benefits of college isn’t the answer. Without earning a college degree, you’re much less likely to make a comparable wage to those with a degree. Economic frustration is a good recipe for social unrest, and on a personal level, it’s not something you want to experience.
Think creatively, though. While college can be key, don’t overlook the value of vocational education. Would you like a job that starts at $70,000 or more? In the United States, that’s the average starting salary for 94 percent of apprentices who finish their program. Despite jaw-dropping numbers like this, few people in the US are pursuing apprenticeships compared with other countries. In Denmark in 2019, there were 48 apprentices for every 1,000 people in the workforce. In the US that same year, there were three for every 1,000 – even despite the obvious benefits.
Your education, whether you earn it from a university or a less traditional venue, is essential. It might take a creative approach but don’t sell yourself short by giving up on the idea – even if it comes with major challenges.
Focus on fundamentals, not hype.
There’s a reason the wealthiest members of society have cornered most of the stock market. You can bet they aren’t renting their homes either.
Stocks and homeownership are portrayed as financially sound investments. And they are if you can afford them. An increasingly large number of people can’t buy homes because their value has ballooned.
Increasingly, the US economy is centered around the stock market, and we base our feelings about the economy on how those markets perform. The US government policies cater to shareholders and so do corporate policies.
But real estate and the stock market are also both notorious for their bubbles and stock prices have been increasingly untethered from the actual value of companies. Look at the soaring prices for stock for troubled companies like GameStop or Hertz – sometimes driven by little more than social media hype.
This fixation on stocks has made it much easier for companies to hit a valuation of $1 trillion. Apple brought in $229 billion in revenue the year before its stock value reached $1 trillion. A couple years later, Microsoft got to a $1 trillion valuation with only $110 billion in revenue. And in 2021, Tesla met the $1 trillion landmark with only $32 billion in revenue.
We also turn founders like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk into cult figures. But their large followings can distract from the actual health of their companies. Also, instead of clear communication about value, some companies indulge in outlandish yogababble – vague pronouncements about how they’re selling a lifestyle or feeling. Or they overpromise, sliding into aspirational claims about what they’re eventually going to achieve.
Stock prices can follow these narratives instead of the actual math and insight into fundamental business values. But you shouldn’t buy in. Look past the claims and make sure you know what these companies can actually deliver.
Be smart about your media consumption.
The internet has changed the world. That means it’s good … right?
OK, so we’ve all seen through that by now. But it is true that the internet revolution makes most of modern life possible, and we can be glad that access is growing in developing countries where it’s traditionally been out of the question. Aside from its obvious positives though, it’s increasingly hard to ignore all the downsides that the internet brings as well.
Social media, for example, makes money when it has our attention. And it does that by appealing to outrage, which drives us apart and harms democratic institutions and norms in the process. In this way, social algorithms inevitably push us to divisive content.
Media outlets, competing for clicks, have also catered to sensationalism. That can lead to a skewed view of the world. For example, as crime has gone down, media reports have continued to focus on crime, with the result that many people feel crime is getting worse.
But herein lies the dilemma: we also rely on news media to help us navigate the false claims and fake news that spread like wildfire around the world on the speedy pathways of the internet.
The internet, though, has taken a huge bite out of the news industry while tech companies like Google and Facebook reap enormous profits.
If your local newspaper looks thinner, it’s not your imagination. In 2008, newspapers brought in almost $40 billion in ad revenue. By 2020, that had fallen to less than $9 billion. And it’s not just newspapers. Different kinds of news outlets employed 114,000 journalists across the US in 2008. By 2020, thousands of journalists had lost their jobs or quit until only about 85,000 remained.
The result? We have increasingly less access to good information – even as social media companies drive us to divisive and anxiety-inducing content.
So think critically about your news sources but value the contributions of reliable news media. Don’t simply rely on your social media news feed to tell you what’s going on. Too often, what it’s feeding you is misinformation and outrage to keep you coming back.
The upsides of risk, instability, and even crisis.
You know what’s actually good for society? Risk and instability.
Well, OK, they also come with a lot of downsides. Nobody asks for a crisis like a global pandemic throwing everything into confusion. But at the same time, risk and instability can actually foster innovation and research. When old ways of doing things fall apart, people come up with new ideas. New and better restaurants may move into a neighborhood to replace failed ones. Tanking rents may not be great news for landlords but they can clear the way for more people to move into an area for job opportunities.
For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, with all kinds of job loss, we also saw a rise in business applications as people innovated and adapted.
Immigrants know about risk. They make the choice to upend their lives and move to an entirely new culture. And by doing so, they bring a needed jolt to the economy, not just by supplying labor, but also from their willingness to launch new businesses. Many important startups were founded by immigrants. Over the past few decades, they’ve been as much as two times more likely than adults born in the US to launch a new business.
The banking sector is another example of the benefits of upheaval, not to mention a positive side of the internet. As online banking has upended our old systems, we’ve seen a huge global opportunity. Many people around the world – about 1.7 billion, or about a third of adults – still lack access to basic banking services. But creative services like Ualá in Argentina or M-Pesa in Kenya are helping change that. They’re new and different – they’re a positive change bringing economic opportunity to many who lacked it. The resulting prosperity could be good for democracy too.
So while none of us likes upheaval or a crisis, we should learn to value the attitude of immigrants who learn to be flexible and take risks in changing times. The economy is better for it, and we can be too.
The world can be full of bad news, but there’s still cause for hope. Because our actions and government policies got us into this fix, that means we as a society can also alter our situation for the better.
Understanding the social situations around us can make us smarter voters and better citizens, able to better deter manipulation by politicians and shady online sources. More understanding can also help us make wise choices in a constantly changing world.
For you, those wise choices may include focusing on community connections, ensuring you and your children have the education they need, embracing risk and new opportunity, and learning to be smart about the tech companies trying to influence you.
It’s hard to tell where we’re headed but a big part of that direction will depend on what we do ourselves.
About the author
Scott Galloway is Professor of Marketing at NYU Stern School of Business and a serial entrepreneur. He is the bestselling author of Post Corona, The Four, and The Algebra of Happiness and has served on the boards of directors of the New York Times Company, Urban Outfitters, and Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. His Prof G and Pivot podcasts, No Mercy No Malice blog, and Prof G YouTube channel reach millions. In 2019, Scott founded Section4, an online education platform for working professionals where he teaches business strategy: section4.com.
History, Politics, Society and Culture, Business, Economics, Sociology, Cultural, Mental Health, Social Issues
Table of Contents
Preface: Ballast 1
1 Rise of the Shareholder Class 11
1 Trickle-Down Tax Plan 14
2 Changing Sentiments 16
3 Declining Infrastructure 18
4 Healthcare Cutbacks 20
5 Labor Loses Its Voice 22
6 The LBO Boom 24
7 Productivity Soars, Compensation Stagnates 26
8 Income Inequality 28
9 An Overwhelmed IRS 30
10 The Offshoring Explosion 32
11 Stock Market Participation 34
2 The World We Made 37
12 Productivity Revolution 40
13 Billions of People Work Their Way Out of Poverty 42
14 Health Is Wealth 44
15 A New World Order 46
16 Freedom of Movement 48
17 The Red Blood Cells of the Consumer Economy 50
18 The Digital Age 52
19 Accelerating Technological Advancement 54
20 U.S. Institutions = Genius Factories 56
21 Assisting Humanity 58
3 Idolatry of Innovators 61
22 Turning Away From Community Organizations 64
23 Water Safety in the Richest Country in the World 66
24 Privatized R&D = Privatized Progress 68
25 College Has Become the Entry Requirement to the Middle Class 70
26 The Gross Idolatry of Innovators … by Innovators 72
27 Power Games 74
28 The Entrenchment of Wealth 76
29 It’s Never Been Easier to Be a Trillion-Dollar Company 78
30 The MDMA Dealer of Capitalism Is the Corporate Communications Exec 80
31 D.C. = HQ2 82
32 Perspective 84
4 Hunger Games 87
33 The Great Divergence 90
34 It’s Wealthy at the Top 92
35 From Lopsided to Dystopian 94
36 Invasive Species 96
37 The Minimum Wage Is Decades Behind 98
38 What Are Our Priorities? 100
39 Financialization and Asset Inflation 102
40 Asset Inflation Comes Home 104
41 An Assault on America’s Prosperity 106
42 Another Covid Crime 108
43 The U.S. Healthcare System Is Embarrassingly Inefficient 110
44 Waking Up From the American Dream 112
5 The Attention Economy 115
45 We’re All Addicted to Our Phones 118
46 Digital Billboards 120
47 Decline of the News 122
48 Triggered 124
49 Liar, Liar 126
50 “Political” Censorship 128
51 Fake News 130
52 Media Fuels Misunderstanding About Crime 132
53 Relationship Status 134
6 House of Cards 137
54 Marriage Rates Are at Record Lows 140
55 Women Value Earning Potential in Male Partners 142
56 Men’s Share of College Enrollment at Record Lows 144
57 Online Dating Apps Are More Inequitable Than Almost Anywhere on Earth 146
58 Political Divides Become Social Divides 148
59 Failure to Leave 150
60 Population Growth Is Slowing to Great Depression Levels 152
61 Created Equal 154
62 Mass Murder Is a Uniquely Male Crime 156
63 The Long-Term Erosion of Trust in the Federal Government 158
64 Old Money, Old Problems 160
65 Those Funding the Future Reflect the Past 162
7 Threats 165
66 The United States Retains the Title 168
67 The Dominance of the U.S. Dollar 170
68 China Has Replaced the U.S. as the Most Popular Trading Partner 172
69 The U.S. Gets Less for Its Military Dollar 174
70 Military Spending Doesn’t Always Equate to Effectiveness 176
71 Chinese Leadership in Military Drones 178
72 Does Our Budget Allocation Align With Our Threats? 180
73 Erosion of the World’s Most Important Brand 182
74 The U.S. Is No Longer the World’s Laboratory 184
75 Clean Energy’s Silk Road Runs Through China 186
76 The Spawning Ground for Capitalism’s Apex Predators 188
8 The Bright Side of Instability 191
77 Crises Trigger Growth 194
78 Resetting Expectations 196
79 Surging Startups 198
80 Immigrants Are the Original Entrepreneurs 200
81 Seeking Refuge 202
82 Getting Banked 204
9 Possible Futures 207
83 Printing Our Way to Prosperity 210
84 Drowning in Cash 212
85 Investment in the Social Safety Net 214
86 Smothered by the Safety Net 216
87 Metadystopia 218
88 Fast Future 220
89 Space Is Lonely Without Friends 222
10 What We Must Do 225
90 Simplify the Tax Code 228
91 Rebuild the Regulatory System 230
92 Restore the Algebra of Deterrence 232
93 Reform Section 230 234
94 Rethink the Land of the Free Incarcerated 236
95 Enact a One-Time Wealth Tax 238
96 Rebrand Nuclear 240
97 Support Children and Family Formation 242
98 Reform Higher Ed 244
99 Enable Other Pathways for Upward Mobility 246
100 Invest in National Service 248
From bestselling author and NYU business school professor Scott Galloway comes an urgent examination of the future of our nation – and how we got here.
We are only just beginning to reckon with our post-pandemic future. As political extremism intensifies, the great resignation affects businesses everywhere, and supply chain issues crush bottom lines, we’re faced with daunting questions – is our democracy under threat? How will Big Tech change our lives? What does job security look like for me? America is on the brink of massive change – change that will disrupt the workings of our economy and drastically impact the financial backbone of our nation: the middle class.
In Adrift, Galloway looks to the past – from 1945 to present day – to explain just how America arrived at this precipice. Telling the story of our nation through 100 charts, Galloway demonstrates how crises such as Jim Crow, World War II, and the Stock Market Crash of 2008, as well as the escalating power of technology, an entrenched white patriarchy, and the socio-economic effects of the pandemic, created today’s perfect storm. Adrift attempts to make sense of it all, and offers Galloway’s unique take on where we’re headed and who we’ll become, touching on topics as wide-ranging as online dating to minimum wage to the American dream.
Just as in 1945 and 1980, America is once again a nation at a crossroads. This time, what will it take for our nation to keep up with the fast and violent changes to our new world?