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America is mired in debt—more than $30,000 for every man, woman, and child. Bitter fighting over deficits, taxes, and spending bedevils Washington, D.C., even as partisan gridlock has brought the government to the brink of default. Yet the more politicians on both sides of the aisle rant and the citizenry fumes, the more things seem to remain the same. In White House America is mired in debt—more than $30,000 for every man, woman, and child. Bitter fighting over deficits, taxes, and spending bedevils Washington, D.C., even as partisan gridlock has brought the government to the brink of default. Yet the more politicians on both sides of the aisle rant and the citizenry fumes, the more things seem to remain the same.   In White House Burning, Simon Johnson and James Kwak—authors of the national best seller 13 Bankers and cofounders of The Baseline Scenario, a widely cited blog on economics and public policy—demystify the national debt, explaining whence it came and, even more important, what it means to you and to future generations. They tell the story of the Founding Fathers’ divisive struggles over taxes and spending. They chart the rise of the almighty dollar, which makes it easy for the United States to borrow money. They account for the debasement of our political system in the 1980s and 1990s, which produced today’s dysfunctional and impotent Congress. And they show how, if we persist on our current course, the national debt will harm ordinary Americans by reducing the number of jobs, lowering living standards, increasing inequality, and forcing a sudden and drastic reduction in the government services we now take for granted.   But Johnson and Kwak also provide a clear and compelling vision for how our debt crisis can be solved while strengthening our economy and preserving the essential functions of government. They debunk the myth that such crucial programs as Social Security and Medicare must be slashed to the bone. White House Burning looks squarely at the burgeoning national debt and proposes to defuse its threat to our well-being without forcing struggling middle-class families and the elderly into poverty.   Carefully researched and informed by the same compelling storytelling and lucid analysis as 13 Bankers, White House Burning is an invaluable guide to the central political and economic issue of our time. It is certain to provoke vigorous debate.


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America is mired in debt—more than $30,000 for every man, woman, and child. Bitter fighting over deficits, taxes, and spending bedevils Washington, D.C., even as partisan gridlock has brought the government to the brink of default. Yet the more politicians on both sides of the aisle rant and the citizenry fumes, the more things seem to remain the same. In White House America is mired in debt—more than $30,000 for every man, woman, and child. Bitter fighting over deficits, taxes, and spending bedevils Washington, D.C., even as partisan gridlock has brought the government to the brink of default. Yet the more politicians on both sides of the aisle rant and the citizenry fumes, the more things seem to remain the same.   In White House Burning, Simon Johnson and James Kwak—authors of the national best seller 13 Bankers and cofounders of The Baseline Scenario, a widely cited blog on economics and public policy—demystify the national debt, explaining whence it came and, even more important, what it means to you and to future generations. They tell the story of the Founding Fathers’ divisive struggles over taxes and spending. They chart the rise of the almighty dollar, which makes it easy for the United States to borrow money. They account for the debasement of our political system in the 1980s and 1990s, which produced today’s dysfunctional and impotent Congress. And they show how, if we persist on our current course, the national debt will harm ordinary Americans by reducing the number of jobs, lowering living standards, increasing inequality, and forcing a sudden and drastic reduction in the government services we now take for granted.   But Johnson and Kwak also provide a clear and compelling vision for how our debt crisis can be solved while strengthening our economy and preserving the essential functions of government. They debunk the myth that such crucial programs as Social Security and Medicare must be slashed to the bone. White House Burning looks squarely at the burgeoning national debt and proposes to defuse its threat to our well-being without forcing struggling middle-class families and the elderly into poverty.   Carefully researched and informed by the same compelling storytelling and lucid analysis as 13 Bankers, White House Burning is an invaluable guide to the central political and economic issue of our time. It is certain to provoke vigorous debate.

30 review for White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt, and Why It Matters to You

  1. 4 out of 5

    Todd Martin

    Politicians have been crying fire regarding the national debt since president Obama took office and the demagoguing is only going to get worse as we approach the silly season leading up to the 2012 elections. For this reason it’s important that Americans have a better understanding of the national debt, the risks, and possible solutions and there’s no one better to turn to than of MIT professor Simon Johnson and Harvard Fellow James Kwak. Not only are they experts in the field of economics, they Politicians have been crying fire regarding the national debt since president Obama took office and the demagoguing is only going to get worse as we approach the silly season leading up to the 2012 elections. For this reason it’s important that Americans have a better understanding of the national debt, the risks, and possible solutions and there’s no one better to turn to than of MIT professor Simon Johnson and Harvard Fellow James Kwak. Not only are they experts in the field of economics, they also know how to write in a clear, unambiguous and cogent manner that non-experts can understand. White House Burning examines the history of the national debt, causes of our current debt, and projections of debt into the future. The authors also look at the positive and negative consequences of debt and potential solutions to a growing national deficit. Not surprisingly, the party who denies evolution and global warming, thinks a zygote is a human and that the president is a Muslim who was born in Kenya is largely in error about the debt as well. The fact is that debt in and of itself is not a bad thing, it allows a country to raise money quickly in response to immediate needs. If the money is invested in things that grow the economy beyond what it pays out in interest payments, debt is fiscally beneficial. If it grows too high, however, it can lead to problems such as those we now see in Europe, which is experiencing rising interest rates and economic stagnation. The current US debt is within manageable limits and is protected to a large extent by the fact that other countries are eager to lend the US money since the dollar is seen as a safe and stable investment. The debt could represent a problem in the future, though, as an aging and longer lived population push up the costs of the social insurance programs such as Social Security and Medicare. This is a problem that demands attention, but it’s not an immediate problem and it only becomes intractable if the political parties fail to act. And this is the crux of the problem we now find ourselves in. Republicans see tax cuts as the solution to every problem despite the fact that tax cuts raise the debt. Thus the only solution in their minds is cutting or elimination of the social insurance programs. Never mind that elimination of these programs would result in more out of pocket costs for individuals and represent a vast transfer of wealth from those with the least to those with the most. It ignores the basic, underlying problem that all insurance programs (whether private or public) seek to solve … that of risk. Within a large society some individuals will be less healthy than others, and some will not earn enough during their working years to cover their retirement costs or the market will not return sufficient gains. By pooling resources amongst a broad population we are able to create a small safety net that keeps these individuals from destitution. A government with its fiscal stability and ability to negotiate favorable prices is uniquely suited to managing these programs and most Americans are in favor of their continuance. Can we as a country afford to continue Social Security and Medicare? Of course, we’re the richest country in the world and the authors provide modest changes to our tax code that would make these programs solvent for the next 75 years. But we would better be able to afford them however if we could get health care costs under control. The US spends far more in health care and achieves worse results than other developed nations. There is good reason to believe that the problem the US faces is not one of debt, but one involving health care costs that are out of control. It will also take the effort of both parties. If one refuses to compromise and seeks to block all efforts by the other party for political gains at the expense of the country, the debt will continue to grow and we will all pay the price.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    The authors of this book, Simon Johnson, a professor of economics at MIT, and James Kwak, a law professor at the University of Connecticut, find a parallel to our current budget battles in the nations first decades. In those days the country was in debt from the Revolutionary War, and attempts to raise taxes led to the first tax revolt, the Whiskey Rebellion. The failure to finance government operations eventually created a crisis when the country lacked adequate supplies to defend Washington DC The authors of this book, Simon Johnson, a professor of economics at MIT, and James Kwak, a law professor at the University of Connecticut, find a parallel to our current budget battles in the nations first decades. In those days the country was in debt from the Revolutionary War, and attempts to raise taxes led to the first tax revolt, the Whiskey Rebellion. The failure to finance government operations eventually created a crisis when the country lacked adequate supplies to defend Washington DC in the War of 1812. The British set fire to the city including the White House. Fast forward two hundred years a new tax revolt has created a slow-evolving crisis that the authors believe will have a similarly unhappy outcome if not addressed. The things that Americans say they want---strong defense, Social Security and Medicare, a safety net for everyone, funding for roads, bridges, and basic research---simply cost more than the government raises in revenue. “Given the current balance of political power” write the authors “the most likely outcome is that government deficits will be invoked to slash spending that ordinary people depend on--while continued tax cuts ensure that the deficits never go away. In other words, if we don’t solve our debt problem now, it is certain to be solved in the wrong way.” Their solution: raise tax revenue by 3-5% of GDP. I’m on board with their plan. And for those of us who don’t want to see the country’s key programs drown in Grover Norquist’s bathtub, they provide a handy tax menu. My favorites would be increasing the Medicare tax one percent (the tax hasn’t gone up since 1986 when healthcare costs were 11% of national income instead of the current 17%). Also, reduce tax expenditures. Congress has indeed been on a spending spree for the past 20 years, but it’s not direct spending on programs, it spending through the tax code: deductions, loopholes, preferences. Another favorite: tax carbon. If climate change is real, the way to deal with it is to get the price right. A carbon tax would do it. This is a very sensible book. Highly recommended.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    White House Burning is an insightful and accessible history of the US national debt, from Alexander Hamilton to 2011. From the early chapters, one gains a keen sense of how important it is for the nation to have access to credit so it can borrow at low interest rates in times of crisis. Until a few decades ago, however, our politicians also understood that, after a crisis, the debt had to be paid down, generally by means of (temporarily) higher taxes. This happened without controversy after the White House Burning is an insightful and accessible history of the US national debt, from Alexander Hamilton to 2011. From the early chapters, one gains a keen sense of how important it is for the nation to have access to credit so it can borrow at low interest rates in times of crisis. Until a few decades ago, however, our politicians also understood that, after a crisis, the debt had to be paid down, generally by means of (temporarily) higher taxes. This happened without controversy after the Civil War and WWII. The current budget madness, in which it is a shibboleth of one side to abhor any tax increase—or even the expiration of the Bush-era cuts—in combination with the outsized, recession-caused budget deficits of the past few years, has led to a risky and even dire long-term prognosis for US fiscal health. Yet even at this point there are sensible policy steps that could bring US debt down to acceptable (e.g., 50% of GDP) levels within a couple of decades without necessitating radical change to the federal social insurance and welfare schemes. (The table on pages 222–223 helpfully summarizes these suggestions.) The troubling thing is that, while everyone recognizes, more or less, the contours of the necessary budget reforms, the poisoned politics surrounding budgets and debts means that the sensible path is not necessarily the likely one. I recommend this volume to anyone with an interest in politics or history or who would like to become more informed on the current policy debates surrounding national debt and budget deficits.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Conor Ahern

    I don't really know too much about the debt, but lately I have been making an effort to become at least conversant in these issues that occasionally crop up at family reunions and outside of my politically monolithic groups of friends, things that I typically dismiss with a roll of my eyes: Benghazi, email-"gate," the deficit. But whereas cursory examination exposes the first two as almost pure political distraction (or, at very least: as some instances of serious false equivalency), the topic I don't really know too much about the debt, but lately I have been making an effort to become at least conversant in these issues that occasionally crop up at family reunions and outside of my politically monolithic groups of friends, things that I typically dismiss with a roll of my eyes: Benghazi, email-"gate," the deficit. But whereas cursory examination exposes the first two as almost pure political distraction (or, at very least: as some instances of serious false equivalency), the topic of the deficit is much more complex, going even to the question of whether we should be worried about it at all. And the short answer seems to be that we should be, but that cataclysm is not yet nigh. It's odd that we don't hear much about the deficit any more--it was all we could talk about back in 2009, and it's only gotten bigger and our economy has only healed, arguably giving us some leeway to deal with it, were we so inclined. I think this reveals the Congressional handwringing to be little more than opportunistic skulduggery, and the next time the topic comes up hopefully I will be more capable and fluent, ready to parry my opponents claims of excessive spending with facts and figures demonstrating otherwise, rejoinders about tax cuts, military spending, and Medicare at the ready.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Pete

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. White House Burning (2012) by Simon Johnson and James Kwak is a book of varying quality that covers US government debt through history and provides a solution for the current debt problems. The sections in the book about the history of US debt are fascinating. Few people today think about how debt was dealt with in the early days of the Republic. A large number of Americans wanted to default or print money and avoid raising taxes on the debt incurred in the war of Independence. Also after the White House Burning (2012) by Simon Johnson and James Kwak is a book of varying quality that covers US government debt through history and provides a solution for the current debt problems. The sections in the book about the history of US debt are fascinating. Few people today think about how debt was dealt with in the early days of the Republic. A large number of Americans wanted to default or print money and avoid raising taxes on the debt incurred in the war of Independence. Also after the Civil War debt repayments were again a major issue. But economic growth and slight tax rises covered most of these repayments. The current US debt problem is the major focus of the book. The authors describe how under Reagan peacetime debts expanded and when George Bush Senior attempted to reduce these deficits radical Republicans led by Newt Gringrich and Grover Norquist campaigned against balancing the budget and shifted the Republican Party. Under the Clinton administration compromises were reached that balanced the budget before George Bush II became President and heeded the lesson from his father and cut US taxes despite the fact that without creative accounting these measures would lead to budget deficits. Bush’s wars and general expansion of the US military budget and his increase in drug prescription benefits and the subsequent US financial crisis then lead to a massive expansion in US debt. The authors describe the financial crisis as avoidable despite being familiar with Reinhart and Rogoff’s ‘The Time is Different’ . The book then describes how with some fairly modest tax rises the US budget could be balanced and the debt brought slowly down. This section is weaker. There is less comparison with other countries than is desirable and the authors simply put up a centre-left wish list for how to balance the budget. The lack of much mention of how sovereign debt is a problem in most developed countries now is a serious omission. The US is different in that it is easier there to balance the budget and the US can borrow in their own currency but still the international problem with debt is significant. Overall though the book is a valuable contribution to discussions about US debt and is somewhat comforting in that it reveals how rancorous discussions of debt are nothing new and after 200 years of them the US will probably manage the latest bout as well.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    This book exceed my expectations in every respect. Considering the date it was published, it's policy recommendations are still remarkably relevant in today's political climate. There are a few very brave policy suggestions in the book. The most courageous is on healthcare: the authors recognize that a universal healthcare system (thought politicaly impossible in 2012) would work incredibly well in restraining healthcare spending..... And that there is no economic or demographic reason it cannot This book exceed my expectations in every respect. Considering the date it was published, it's policy recommendations are still remarkably relevant in today's political climate. There are a few very brave policy suggestions in the book. The most courageous is on healthcare: the authors recognize that a universal healthcare system (thought politicaly impossible in 2012) would work incredibly well in restraining healthcare spending..... And that there is no economic or demographic reason it cannot be done except for a lack of political will. Considering that near-all of our long term deficit spending is related to healthcare, for all intensive purposes this implies that if we created such a universal system..... Our country's long term finances would essentially be solvent. It is FAR easier for a book to retreat on healthcare and instead advocate for a mysterious and unknown "market based solution for healthcare" than to face the music and tell the truth about what is necessary. The book is also excellent on tax policy. Embracing a value added tax and taking a hard line against tax expenditures (which the so called "tax reform" of 2017 barely addresses) is remarkably on point. In one chapter it delivered most of the points TR Reid made in an entire book 5 years later. This too, is highly impressive. The book is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Some policy I like (like replacing the mortgage interest deduction with a one time $10,000 refundable tax credit or the need for campaign finance reform for creating any real policy reform) are not addressed..... But despite that, I feel that the soul, intelligence, and serious respect for the subject more than make up for it's faults and delivers on a near perfect book for the masses that describes how we got to where we are now (ex, how our debts where created) and how to fix it (that is, pay our debts). A 2ed edition...... Is very needed.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Tommy

    This book was absolutely amazing and I would recommend to anyone and everyone. It starts off with a thorough yet understandable history of the the American economic situation going back to Jefferson and Hamilton. After the history lesson most of the focus is placed on our current fiscal situation explaining what the problems are short term and long term in an economic sense and explaining some options and possible outcomes of various choices we could make. I particularly love that the authors This book was absolutely amazing and I would recommend to anyone and everyone. It starts off with a thorough yet understandable history of the the American economic situation going back to Jefferson and Hamilton. After the history lesson most of the focus is placed on our current fiscal situation explaining what the problems are short term and long term in an economic sense and explaining some options and possible outcomes of various choices we could make. I particularly love that the authors draw a distinction between what is economically logical or possible and what may be politically possible. I think that is a very important distinction and the authors handle it very well. The suggestions that Johnson and Kwak make are not only well explained but seem almost painfully obvious at times yet they continually maintain that this is merely one way and that other potential solutions just suggest a different role that government would play. The pragmatic nature, including extensive footnoting, makes this a very complete well argued book that should be required reading for all. I can't recommend this book enough.

  8. 5 out of 5

    dusty.rhodes

    This is a good beginning history to the financial history of the U.S. placed in context of current politics. It is also a lens onto the manipulation of the public perception of ideas. It goes in to consider the interactions between politics and economics. The power of the coin and the power of the government/people. While it doesn't go in depth into the international market/political/economic/&c implications of hte U.S.'s particular place int he world, and the unique place that the dollar This is a good beginning history to the financial history of the U.S. placed in context of current politics. It is also a lens onto the manipulation of the public perception of ideas. It goes in to consider the interactions between politics and economics. The power of the coin and the power of the government/people. While it doesn't go in depth into the international market/political/economic/&c implications of hte U.S.'s particular place int he world, and the unique place that the dollar currently holds, as a currency, it provides a strong foundation upon which to build further understanding. The end notes are mixed in purpose, which, stylistically, is a problem for me. In the notes lie rote citations interspersed with interesting observations and comments. Irritating to have to flip pages to know the difference, but worth the digging to find the good stuff. Anyway, I recommend this book even though it was tough slogging there for a bit in the late introduction (you know, just around/before the mythical 100-page barrier).

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Nealen

    Detailed explanations on government spending, debt and deficit history. A little dated - the debt has doubled; it is nearly $60000 for every person in the US. Many ideas on how to reduce the deficit and debt through gradual elimination of various tax credits, tax deductions and government subsidies. Much easier to write about than to talk about in the media but a day of reckoning will come if we do not address these problems somehow.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Book

    White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt, and Why It Matters to You by Simon Johnson and James Kwak “White House Burning” is just a fantastic, accessible book that covers the topical, timely issue of the national debt. This is a book about US federal taxes and spending and how it impacts you and me. Economist Simon Johnson and fellow author James Kwak, takes us on a journey on how our country got to this economical point and what can be done to reduce the long-term national White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt, and Why It Matters to You by Simon Johnson and James Kwak “White House Burning” is just a fantastic, accessible book that covers the topical, timely issue of the national debt. This is a book about US federal taxes and spending and how it impacts you and me. Economist Simon Johnson and fellow author James Kwak, takes us on a journey on how our country got to this economical point and what can be done to reduce the long-term national debt while preserving the most important social services. This excellent 368-page book is composed of the following seven chapters: 1. Immortal Credit, 2. End of Gold, 3. Deficits Don’t Matter, 4. What Does the Federal Government Do?, 5. Why Worry, 6. Arguing First Principles and 7. Where Do We Go From Here? Positives: 1. Excellent prose, well-researched book that delivers! 2. Timely topic of national debt covered with expertise. 3. Authors are even-handed and objective. The authors do a wonderful job of staying focused on the economics and treating the topic and individuals with utmost respect. No cheap shots here. Classy. 4. Effective use of charts and illustrations. In particular an excellent table of Long-Term Reduction Proposals. 5. Excellent job of introducing economic terms and keep it at a digestible level. Many books of this ilk tend to overwhelm readers. Furthermore, it helps the narration move along while providing more demanding readers with excellent references and an additional technical appendix. 6. An interesting look at the history of national debt. The evolution of American politics. 7. Great quotes and summaries that capture the essence of the concepts, “fiscal policy is about ensuring that the government has the resources necessary to address current public priorities and respond to future emergencies”. 8. Explains the different roles of the government with a focus of course on finances. 9. An evolution of economic policies. The economical philosophies of the Presidents built into the narration. Fascinating insights and approaches and the impact it had on society. 10. A look at the modern antitax movement. 11. Influential characters throughout history that had a major role on fiscal policy. People like Grover Norquist. The policy differences. The ideological differences. 12. Taxes, taxes, taxes…a look at the various forms of taxation. Tax expenditures. 13. One of the best quotes ever, “In one of history’s ironies, the economy was blown up not by the government debt that politicians had inveighed against for decades, but by private sector debt that banks had been manufacturing as fast as they could—and it was the federal government that had to pick up the pieces”. 14. Where does the money go? Breaking it down…key concepts like discretionary and mandatory spending defined. 15. Debunking some well-ingrained myths…the fact is the federal government has been getting smaller over the last half century. 16. A look at social insurance programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. How do we pay for all that? Answered to satisfaction. 17. What the national debt means to its citizens. The authors lay out their deficit reduction strategy eloquently. 18. Pragmatic proposals toward a sustainable level of national debt while maintaining protection from major risks to welfare today and a better more secure future. 19. A look at those factors that contribute to the national debt and what we can do about it: tax cuts, social security, health care, national defense, energy, finance… 20. Ways to reduce spending and/or increase tax revenues while promoting economic efficiency. 21. Excellent links, as well referenced a book as you will find. Negatives: 1. It’s a book about national debt, taxes and spending…there are numbers thrown around, so if you are adverse to numbers well economics shouldn’t really be your thing. I think overall, the authors do a wonderful job of moving the narration along. 2. Some hardcore conservatives may have more objections than most. I felt the book was more centrist left. 3. Economics is difficult. Some topics will still elude the layperson but overall I think this book gets it mostly right. 4. A great notes section but a separate formal bibliography was warranted. In summary, I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s just well written, educational and a book that delivers. I feel much more comfortable and better informed about the national debt. The excellent prose and the right level of economics makes this book a treat for anyone interested in learning about the national debt and the key terms and arguments associated with it. The authors provide a proposal of well thought-out list of recommendations to help control the national debt and secure our democracy. I can’t recommend this book enough, get it! Further recommendations: “Red Ink” by David Wessel, “The Price of Inequality” by Joseph E. Stiglitz, “End This Depression Now!” by Paul Krugman, “Winner-Take-All Politics” by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, “The Benefit and The Burden”, by Bruce Bartlett, “Perfectly Legal” by David Cay Johnston, “Aftershock” by Robert B. Reich, “The Age of Greed” by Jeff Madrick, “The Monster” by Michael W. Hudson, “The Great American Stickup” by Robert Sheer, “The End of Growth” by Richard Heinberg and “The Crash Course” by Chris Martenson. All these books have been reviewed by yours truly, check for my tag, “Book Shark Review”.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    Clear, well reasoned, well written, and extremely informative. I wish I had read this book long ago. The title refers to the war of 1812, when the British set fire to the White House. It was a time when congress ordered a war without setting in place any sort of means to pay for it. The result: pretty much a lost war. The authors contend that the USA is doing nearly the same thing today. Over the next few decades the nation will face depressed employment, skyrocketing health care costs, huge Clear, well reasoned, well written, and extremely informative. I wish I had read this book long ago. The title refers to the war of 1812, when the British set fire to the White House. It was a time when congress ordered a war without setting in place any sort of means to pay for it. The result: pretty much a lost war. The authors contend that the USA is doing nearly the same thing today. Over the next few decades the nation will face depressed employment, skyrocketing health care costs, huge demographic changes, a continued global military presence, and, likely, many unforeseen events. To maintain good credit, foster a healthy economy, and continue to fund the government's commitments, one must either raise taxes or cut spending. However, any act to raise taxes is politically foolish--especially if you are elected by a republican base. And on the other hand, the only programs large enough to make a difference to the national debt are social insurance programs--and cutting these programs is also politically foolish. As a result, we are essentially ordering wars (and other things) without the ability to pay for it. My favorite concept from this book: The debate over government spending, raising taxes, and the size of the government is all about how much risk should be shouldered by the government and how much by individuals. Who should carry the risk of growing old? Being suddenly unemployed? Catastrophically injured? Living in a region hit by an earthquake, drought, or hurricane? Is it wise to spend the bulk of our government funds bailing out the unwise or unlucky when instead it could be investing in things that will pay off long down the road such as roads, pipelines, infrastructure, and water management? What if the government does not shoulder any risk? The wealthy will purchase insurance as they can, but what about the poor and unlucky? In the end, it's really a debate over what kind of society we wish to have. Meanwhile, the government is currently set to spend more and more and more without any mechanism in place to raise revenue to cut spending. You will find better reviews of this book somewhere else. I really like this one here.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gerald Kinro

    This book tries to clarify the importance of the current national debt and budget problems with the possible results of inaction. It begins with Hamilton and the Federalists against Jefferson and Madison and the Democrats nee the Democratic Republicans. It moves quickly to the present. The authors almost demonize Madison etal and are partially correct when looking at history through a very narrow lens and not the larger picture. Setting the tone, they build on their bias. Omitted from the text This book tries to clarify the importance of the current national debt and budget problems with the possible results of inaction. It begins with Hamilton and the Federalists against Jefferson and Madison and the Democrats nee the Democratic Republicans. It moves quickly to the present. The authors almost demonize Madison etal and are partially correct when looking at history through a very narrow lens and not the larger picture. Setting the tone, they build on their bias. Omitted from the text are important parts of American history where the beliefs of the Democratic Republicans actually were good for the country overall and for its finances. The authors suggest that Wall Street was solely responsible for the financial crisis of 2008… It really began 40 years ago when the government authorized mortgage-backed securities. It does not mention government pressure to make bad loans or individual responsibility of one borrowing money. While the book mentions the effects of 9-1-1 on the economy, it does not put it as affecting the tax revenue after the tax cuts of 2011. This incompleteness did not do it for me. The book is entertaining, but at the onset, I had doubts about its credibility, despite the credentials of the authors. Re-arranged, the same facts could churn out a different message. I suggest reading other books on the subject to get a complete balanced view.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Colleen Clark

    Excellent. Johnson and Kwak are so smart and so thorough. The first part is about the history of debt in the US and how Alexander Hamilton won the argument after the White House burned in 1812 because we had dismantled our military. Those are the first two chapters. The rest is about our current fiscal problems what they are and how they might be dealt with. Very relevant at the beginning of the end of the 2012 election season, what with Paul Ryan running around as a self-identified deficit hawk. Excellent. Johnson and Kwak are so smart and so thorough. The first part is about the history of debt in the US and how Alexander Hamilton won the argument after the White House burned in 1812 because we had dismantled our military. Those are the first two chapters. The rest is about our current fiscal problems what they are and how they might be dealt with. Very relevant at the beginning of the end of the 2012 election season, what with Paul Ryan running around as a self-identified deficit hawk. Chap. 3 - Deficits Don't Matter Chap 4 - What Does the Federal Government Do? It's not just a waste of money - pace Grover Norquist - and can't be drowned in the proverbial bath tub. Chap 5 - Why Worry - what to worry about and what not about the debt and the deficits. Chap 6 - Arguing First Principles. Political pros and cons of ways to deal the the debt and deficits. Chap 7 - Where Do We Go From Here. Conclusion - Epigraph at head of chapter, from James Madison "A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." At the moment we should all repeat that everyday. Very clearly and dispassionately written - points out different paths and what the long range implications are - trade offs etc.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Carl

    Everyone knows that the U.S. debt is a bad accident waiting to happen. If trillion dollar deficits continue every year there is bound to be a melt-down sometime or another. The interest payments will swallow up the revenues, bond investors will lose confidence, government printing presses will cause hyper-inflation, the government will default on Social Security and Medicare, riots and chaos – who knows? In spite of its title, this book is about the national debt – its history, the current Everyone knows that the U.S. debt is a bad accident waiting to happen. If trillion dollar deficits continue every year there is bound to be a melt-down sometime or another. The interest payments will swallow up the revenues, bond investors will lose confidence, government printing presses will cause hyper-inflation, the government will default on Social Security and Medicare, riots and chaos – who knows? In spite of its title, this book is about the national debt – its history, the current status, and some guesses about the future. (National Debt 101) There are some medium heavy charts and figures, and discussions of the main drivers: Social Security, Medicare, the aging population, rising medical costs, the Defense Department, wars, financial shocks such as 2008, the role of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, etc, etc. The authors view the Bush-Obama tax cuts as one of the main contributors to the problem, and warn that if they are not repealed the melt-down will come sooner rather than later. I am not sure I understood the authors properly, but I came away from the book with the impression that because of historical reasons, no matter how stupid we are, we probably cannot cause a melt-down in the next five years, no matter how hard we try. We may even get away with ten years. But after five years or so, the chances go up smartly. And when the melt-down occurs, it may be overnight.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Meepspeeps

    The authors did a decent job of putting the USA national debt into perspective relative to USA history and % of GDP. They attempted to demonstrate that debt is good or bad depending what you spend it on: if you spend the money on a societal benefit (net of the interest) or to absorb a societal risk that private markets won't insure, then you may be engaging in good government practice. This is similar to businesses leveraging capital and making interest or dividend payments in order to make The authors did a decent job of putting the USA national debt into perspective relative to USA history and % of GDP. They attempted to demonstrate that debt is good or bad depending what you spend it on: if you spend the money on a societal benefit (net of the interest) or to absorb a societal risk that private markets won't insure, then you may be engaging in good government practice. This is similar to businesses leveraging capital and making interest or dividend payments in order to make additional profit in the future. So I concluded it comes down to what "business" government should be in and wonder if there is anything politicians could generally agree on - national defense? clean air? the rule of law especially as it relates to private property rights? Risks that private markets refuse to insure such as natural disasters and really sick people? I recommend that you read it if you are interested in the history of the national debt and its purpose. I think the proposed solutions at the end detracted from the rest of the book because they are so partisan. It would be great if more peeps just understood the debt and debated whether or not it needs an absolute ceiling such as 50% of GDP in good times and 90% of GDP in crises.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ray

    "What House Burning" provides a nice summary of our Nation's current financial deficit, its importance, and how we got here. Many similar books get bogged down in economic theory and financial details, but Simon Johnson manages to tell the story in a clear and understandable way. The author provides an understanding of the political logjam in Congress, based on the hard stance of many politicians, and what that may mean to our economic future. Unfortunately, you just know that the practical "What House Burning" provides a nice summary of our Nation's current financial deficit, its importance, and how we got here. Many similar books get bogged down in economic theory and financial details, but Simon Johnson manages to tell the story in a clear and understandable way. The author provides an understanding of the political logjam in Congress, based on the hard stance of many politicians, and what that may mean to our economic future. Unfortunately, you just know that the practical recommendations offered to control the budget deficit through a mix of minor tax increases and spending reductions will just result in more arguments between our Congressional leaders and nothing will be resolved. The authors present just one of many practical ways to correct our budget problems, and there are any number of alternate ideas offered by different individuals or think tanks. Unfortunately, Congress is so fixated on nothing more than staying in office. They're beholden to the lobbies and extreme wings of their respective parties that it's easier for them to do nothing and point fingers than take a stand for the good of the Country.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Carlos

    This book was simply brilliant and should be a mandatory read for all voters. Johnson and Kwak combine a highly sophisticated understanding of economics and US law with an equally passionate desire to make the reader understand the way the government works and calmly explain the very heated topic of the deficit and the national debt. In their pursuit to give the reader a context in which to frame the current debate, the authors start with a refresher on US history starting with Alexander This book was simply brilliant and should be a mandatory read for all voters. Johnson and Kwak combine a highly sophisticated understanding of economics and US law with an equally passionate desire to make the reader understand the way the government works and calmly explain the very heated topic of the deficit and the national debt. In their pursuit to give the reader a context in which to frame the current debate, the authors start with a refresher on US history starting with Alexander Hamilton and the beginnings of the national debt and go all the way through the end of the gold standard in the 1970s and the 2007 financial crisis. Once an understanding has been established about how we got to our current situation, the authors then go on to specify the particular recommendations that they endorse, fully acknowledging that theirs is not the only course of action possible but rather discussing the way in which our fiscal policy reflect what kind of government we wish for. Overall this book was nothing short of illuminating and oddly hopeful in the midst of all this doom and gloom talk.

  18. 5 out of 5

    John

    This book is a thoughtful, highly readable account of the economics and politics of the federal deficit and debt. Simon Johnson, an economist at MIT, and James Kwak, a law professor at the University of Connecticut, explain why federal deficits and debt matter in the long run, while pointing out how ill-informed and impoverished the policy debates and politics surrounding deficits and debt have become. This mis-information (or dis-information) has led to a very narrow set of policy options that This book is a thoughtful, highly readable account of the economics and politics of the federal deficit and debt. Simon Johnson, an economist at MIT, and James Kwak, a law professor at the University of Connecticut, explain why federal deficits and debt matter in the long run, while pointing out how ill-informed and impoverished the policy debates and politics surrounding deficits and debt have become. This mis-information (or dis-information) has led to a very narrow set of policy options that have more to do with a shared, bi-partisan, elite determination to slash social insurance systems than sound economics or public policy. Anyone interested in understanding the importance of the federal deficit and debt will benefit from this lucid attempt to explain "the federal budget the causes of deficits, and the connection between the federal government and their own lives."

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rk Wild

    This book attempts to shed light on what is at stake in the Federal government deficit spending and debt accumulation debates of late. In short, there is no reason whatsoever to change Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; and the issue of mounting debt is, form a macro-economic perspective, fairly easy and straightforward to deal with. It's the political lethargy that needs to be overcome, and will likely only be overcome when the citizenry demand it. Packed with data, charts, and figures, This book attempts to shed light on what is at stake in the Federal government deficit spending and debt accumulation debates of late. In short, there is no reason whatsoever to change Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; and the issue of mounting debt is, form a macro-economic perspective, fairly easy and straightforward to deal with. It's the political lethargy that needs to be overcome, and will likely only be overcome when the citizenry demand it. Packed with data, charts, and figures, and heavily annotated with footnotes containing their own figures and data, the narrative in this book does not flow easily. But the concepts are important, and the authors do an admirable job of making it comprehensible to we the people. [More info to be had from their blog: http://www.baselinescenario.com/]

  20. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    I have liked Simon Johnson since I first heard him on NPR's Planet Monet back in 2008. His ideas and thoughts have time and again stood out to me as I have heard him interviewed again and again over the years. This book is a thoughtful, highly readable account of the economics and politics of the federal deficit and debt. I especially enjoyed the beginning chapters and their brief but concise history of US economic policy from the earliest days of our government to the present. I think many hard I have liked Simon Johnson since I first heard him on NPR's Planet Monet back in 2008. His ideas and thoughts have time and again stood out to me as I have heard him interviewed again and again over the years. This book is a thoughtful, highly readable account of the economics and politics of the federal deficit and debt. I especially enjoyed the beginning chapters and their brief but concise history of US economic policy from the earliest days of our government to the present. I think many hard core conservatives (of which I am not) would want to quickly dismiss his ideas towards the middle end of the book mainly because he and Kwak argue for programs so many of them want to see cut. They also repeatedly argue the importance of letting the Bush tax cuts expire.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Johnnayea Edmond

    Great read....this book appealed to the history buff in me as it gave historical background on how this country's view about national debt evolved, starting with our founding fathers. The book also gives recommendations on decreasing the national debt, and I found some of the recommendations to be unique and out of the box ideas that our leaders may want to explore. Also, there is a good discussion on our current situation from a realistic point of view, and how politics sort of complicates it Great read....this book appealed to the history buff in me as it gave historical background on how this country's view about national debt evolved, starting with our founding fathers. The book also gives recommendations on decreasing the national debt, and I found some of the recommendations to be unique and out of the box ideas that our leaders may want to explore. Also, there is a good discussion on our current situation from a realistic point of view, and how politics sort of complicates it all. Most importantly, I think the general educational value this book presents is priceless as it gives enough overview to help one form a real position on these issues based on one's own logic, not just one's political beliefs.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    I loved this clear explanation of the history of the national debt and the right questions that we should be asking about it in the present. The book effectively punctures several misconceptions (often promoted by politicians) about the debt, and is engaging and easy-to-follow throughout. I agree with most of the authors' prescriptions, but even if you don't I think you'll like the books. You'll understand how big the debt really is, what really contributes to it, and what the real (and I loved this clear explanation of the history of the national debt and the right questions that we should be asking about it in the present. The book effectively punctures several misconceptions (often promoted by politicians) about the debt, and is engaging and easy-to-follow throughout. I agree with most of the authors' prescriptions, but even if you don't I think you'll like the books. You'll understand how big the debt really is, what really contributes to it, and what the real (and overblown) dangers of the national debt are. People should read this book to be more aware of the facts behind the rhetoric in much of our contemporary debates over taxes and spending. I'm glad I did. (full disclosure: James is a good friend and I helped a little with the endnotes)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Adam Mahlum

    A fairly comprehensive history of the national debt with a few chapters thrown in proposing some workable solutions. Perhaps the most telling statistic in the entire book was when Johnson pointed out that non-defense discretionary spending now accounts for only 7% of U.S. G.D.P. Contrast that with 1950s, when non-defense discretionary spending made up 12% of the U.S. G.D.P. During that time the size of the government has exploded, yet that is almost entirely because of the big three entitlements A fairly comprehensive history of the national debt with a few chapters thrown in proposing some workable solutions. Perhaps the most telling statistic in the entire book was when Johnson pointed out that non-defense discretionary spending now accounts for only 7% of U.S. G.D.P. Contrast that with 1950s, when non-defense discretionary spending made up 12% of the U.S. G.D.P. During that time the size of the government has exploded, yet that is almost entirely because of the big three entitlements (Social Security, Medicare and Medicade). Johnson lays out a convincing case that we need to either raise taxes or start abandoning our social safety net that we have taken for granted. Highly enlightening and a great read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mindi Beal

    The first two-thirds of this book was a great road map of the country's philosophical history regarding debt and deficits and how it leads into and influences today's politics. I genuinely loved it all. Then I slammed into the last third and got a bit cross-eyed. The writers start detailing their proposal for balancing the budget. I love stats and budgets and charts - this element was not the problem, but the end result was. I wanted a more general look at how each scenario plays out in our The first two-thirds of this book was a great road map of the country's philosophical history regarding debt and deficits and how it leads into and influences today's politics. I genuinely loved it all. Then I slammed into the last third and got a bit cross-eyed. The writers start detailing their proposal for balancing the budget. I love stats and budgets and charts - this element was not the problem, but the end result was. I wanted a more general look at how each scenario plays out in our current financial choose-your-own-adventure Congress keeps playing and how it will impact the average citizen. I think they were striving for that, but it fell short for me.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alexa Price

    This book is a little bit leftist, but the authors really do try to be more centrist in their approach. Of course it wasn't a fast, easy read, but it was an important one. "...many people do not understand where their taxes go, what the government does, how it distributes resources and pools risks, and what the resulting deficits mean to them. When it comes to budgetary issues, both ordinary people and politicians in Washington are susceptible to magical thinking." We all need to understand the This book is a little bit leftist, but the authors really do try to be more centrist in their approach. Of course it wasn't a fast, easy read, but it was an important one. "...many people do not understand where their taxes go, what the government does, how it distributes resources and pools risks, and what the resulting deficits mean to them. When it comes to budgetary issues, both ordinary people and politicians in Washington are susceptible to magical thinking." We all need to understand the true nature of our fiscal problems by doing our own research. This book is a good, unbiased place to start.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    An absolutely amazing text that offers real, albeit painful, solutions to the problem of the United States national debt. Johnson and Kwak also point out that the debt is often used as a tool to manipulate voters. For example Grover Norquist (he of the infamous tax pledge) often points to the debt when speaking and giving interviews, yet what he advocates would do nothing to lower the debt, and would probably lead to an increase. This is a book worth reading for anyone who wants real answers to An absolutely amazing text that offers real, albeit painful, solutions to the problem of the United States national debt. Johnson and Kwak also point out that the debt is often used as a tool to manipulate voters. For example Grover Norquist (he of the infamous tax pledge) often points to the debt when speaking and giving interviews, yet what he advocates would do nothing to lower the debt, and would probably lead to an increase. This is a book worth reading for anyone who wants real answers to the debt issue. The only problem is that so few of us would be willing to make the sacrifices that are highlighted.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Erik Potter

    You will never get an explanation of the national debt this thorough and understandable in a decade of watching Meet the Press or presidential debates. The only frustrating part (besides repeated asides that those with wealth, health insurance and retirement savings have them because of good fortune, as if that were the entire explanation of the matter) is that it was written just before the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. So all through the book they talk about if/then You will never get an explanation of the national debt this thorough and understandable in a decade of watching Meet the Press or presidential debates. The only frustrating part (besides repeated asides that those with wealth, health insurance and retirement savings have them because of good fortune, as if that were the entire explanation of the matter) is that it was written just before the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. So all through the book they talk about if/then scenarios based on what happens to those tax cuts. So it's frustratingly dated in a minor way.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ward

    Simply the best book I have read on the large financial issues facing the country. But in doing so we also face issues about what kind of society we want to live in and what we want government to do. It is more broad than anything I have read on the financial issues before. It is not an easy read, but the issues are put forth in great clarity accompanied by relevant facts and alternatives. The fact that there are very real achieveable choices for a better future, once one goes beyond the current Simply the best book I have read on the large financial issues facing the country. But in doing so we also face issues about what kind of society we want to live in and what we want government to do. It is more broad than anything I have read on the financial issues before. It is not an easy read, but the issues are put forth in great clarity accompanied by relevant facts and alternatives. The fact that there are very real achieveable choices for a better future, once one goes beyond the current unimaginative political rhetoric, makes one optimistic.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lenora Arthur

    I found the book was a very good discussion of the national debt and learned quite a bit about the history of US debt. Felt that pork spending was not mentioned which includes a lot of waste. The government can decrease spending by cutting a lot of the pork out of the budget in my opinion. It would include studies that seem to have little to do with science as much as proving preconceived ideas.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    An objective, historical account of our nation's debt. Included in the account is a history of money in the United States and the factors that influence interest rates on sovereign debt, as well as some introductory passages on monetary policy. The book ends with a plan that includes reasonable spending cuts and tax increases, including ending or phasing out inefficient tax credits. Anyone interested in how our government is financed should read this book.

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