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Archive for March, 2010

Comeback America

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Just finished Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility by David M. Walker. Good read. Walker held government posts from the Reagan to the Bush 43 administrations and was comptroller general of the United States and CEO of the Government Accountability Office from 1998-2008, so it’s reasonable to think he may know what he’s talking about.

Walker claims to be an independent and the book is impressively non-partisan. He slams Bush43’s excessive spending, but is worried about what he’s seen from Obama as of the writing. He credits Clinton’s fiscal discipline, but also credits Ross Perot’s highlighting our nation’s financial peril for giving Clinton little choice. Some of his solutions seem a little left of center to me, but he does seem grounded in the constitution and fiscal responsibility.

– Fiscal Crisis 101: describes our current financial situation, which is rather harrowing. He approximates our debt at $1.42 trillion (9.9% of our economy) and then lays out our “fiscal exposure” (sum of benefits, programs, debt, etc. that we will eventually owe): $56.4 trillion.
– America 2030: Why We Must Act — Now: he describes how our national standing is at risk if we continue to borrow at current rates.
– Principles From Our History and Common Sense: Looks back at history and kind of segways into a pep talk. Interesting stuff.
– Obama’s Challenge: praises him for what he’s done right, forgives him in light of the crisis, but overall thinks he needs to get a lot more serious about spending
– Save Social Security First: he thinks changes would include raising the benefit age and tie it to life expectancy, increasing revenues, mandatory savings accounts, and incentivizing later retirement.
– Curing Health Care: he does think that universal heath care for “basic and essential” health care to be financially feasible, which surprised me. Lays out 4 pillars: Fiscal Discipline (cap on spending), Better standards of practice (using clinical evidence to make informed decisions), Personal responsibility, and the “basic and essential” universal care I mentioned.
– Collect More Revenue — More Fairly: Reviews the inequities and inefficiencies of the tax system. He proposes a consumer tax of the VAT variety on top of reform of the income tax system. I like the idea of taxing consumption, rather than production; and would lean toward the fair or flat tax strategies, which he acknowledges, but doesn’t really address. I tend to think a VAT would kill the private sector.
– Addressing America’s International Deficits: We’re pretty screwed. That said, he proposes citizens saving money and updating global trading rules to address the global economy in addition to general fiscal discipline.
– Getting Control of the Pentagon: I’m glad he addressed this. Just because we have the most awesome military ever doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be fiscally leaner without sacrificing its awesomeness. Especially when politics get involved. He gives credit to an existing commission and officer without teeth and basically calls for a stronger commission and something resembling a CEO for military spending.
– Transforming Government: Mostly a case study of his time in charge of the GAO. He cut staff and bureaucracy, introduced performance metrics and objective-setting, and changed the name of the department from “General Accounting Office” to “Government Accountability Office” (which I think is pretty cool).
– Fixing Our Dysfunctional Democracy: Pretty much calls for a constitutional convention (or some kind of amendments) to address term limits, debt limits, and a number of other things.

Overall, while I don’t agree with all his solutions, he weaves a lot of history and words of the founders into the economic base of his analysis. More importantly, I think he raises some of the issues that we will need to grapple with, regardless of ideology.

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