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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Next American Revolution’
Question of the Day
Anger at the federal government has manifested itself in many ways. On the right, we have seen Tea Party protests in the streets. The left more recently has answered with the Occupy Wall Street movement. There also have been a growing number of books written by ordinary Americans trying to figure out what is wrong with people in Washington.
Journalist Michael LeGault is the latest author to take up that vexing question. His “The Next American Revolution” is a small-government manifesto. The subtitle captures the national mood: “How the American Government Stole the American Dream and How We Can Get It Back.”
“Everything that is happening in America has already befallen dozens of other kingdoms, empires and nation states,” Mr. LeGault warns. What most concerns him is the unparalleled growth of government, under presidents and congressional majorities of both parties, alongside declining living standards for American workers.
The statistics Mr. LeGault cites are damning. Real wages for non-farm workers have stagnated or declined from their 1972 peak. Since 1973, the median time Americans spend at work has risen from 41 hours a week to 46. In many cases, that hard work is supporting a taxpayer-funded idle class. More Americans depend on government than ever before, and the economy is increasingly tightly regulated.
The yearly shortfall between federal revenues and spending is now as large as the entire budget was as recently as when Bill Clinton was president. The national debt threatens to grow to about 140 percent of gross domestic product, an unsustainable share of our economy. Washington’s total unfunded liabilities, including the Social Security and Medicare benefits politicians have promised future retirees but can’t pay for, are fast approaching $90 trillion.
Mr. LeGault angrily says our politicians resemble Nero fiddling while Rome burns. “More than halfway through his term, President Obama has thrown more parties on the taxpayers’ dime than any president in American history,” he writes. We can‘t balance the budget or even identify meaningful spending cuts. But, Mr. LeGault reassures us, “Man, can our president boogie!”
The voters are part of the problem, too. They have been convinced, Mr. LeGault says, that there is such a thing as a free lunch. Consequently, they simultaneously favor generous social welfare programs and low taxes. A political independent is someone who likes Democratic spending and Republican tax rates but neither party’s deficits. Yet the sagging economy has helped produce a crisis we can’t feasibly tax our way out of.
“For the first time,” Mr. LeGault reports, “more than 40 million Americans are receiving food stamps.” By the end of this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture expects another 3 million to join them.
Mr. LeGault convincingly rails against the value-added tax, knee-jerk anti-business attitudes and environmentalists who want to create imaginary green jobs while supporting regulations that destroy real ones. He is a bit less persuasive in arguing for protectionist trade policies while denying he is for protectionism. It’s not that there aren’t real-world problems with free-trade theory. But it is a bit hard to believe that the same government Mr. LeGault spent the previous chapters criticizing, while praising the free market, will prove competent at managing international trade.
There also are occasionally jarring errors in the book, such as when the Brookings Institution is referred to as a “nominally conservative” think tank (it doesn’t even nominally claim such a thing) and Andrew Jackson is described as the founder of the Republican Party (though he would be pretty out of step with today’s Democrats).
Nevertheless, Mr. LeGault’s heart is in the right place, and for most of this bracing read, his head is screwed on pretty straight, too.
W. James Antle III is associate editor of the American Spectator.
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