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


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (April 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307906965
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307906960
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #161,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“A must-read for anyone who wishes to understand the true nature of our fiscal problems. A fascinating and lively history of how we got into this budgetary mess and a brilliant analysis, dispassionate and balanced, of what we need to do to get out of it.”
—Liaquat Ahamed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lords of Finance
 

“In this powerful book, Johnson and Kwak cut through both the partisanship and the complexities of the debate over America’s national debt to give us a clear understanding of why it matters and what to do about it. America’s future depends vitally upon bringing our deficits under control while also investing in our growth, and this book tells us how to do both.”
—Charles Ferguson, director of the Academy Award-winning documentary Inside Job
 

“By skillfully placing the debt debate in an insightful historical context and providing detailed recommendations, Johnson and Kwak make a major and timely contribution to a national debate that will only get more heated in the years ahead. It’s a must-read for those wondering about the relationship between the national debt and America’s challenges; the choices that we must make to restore fiscal viability, promote growth, create jobs, and reduce inequality; and the way that polarized politics torpedoes coherent discussion of these complex issues.”
—Mohamed A. El-Erian, CEO of PIMCO and prize-winning author of When Markets Collide
 

“Johnson and Kwak have written a book every American should read. It gives us a rich context for understanding the problem of today’s national debt. Full of wisdom and specific recommendations, it reminds us that only when citizens understand the seriousness of our predicament will politicians take the necessary steps to strengthen our country. Let’s hope this book is a best seller.”
—Bill Bradley, former United States senator and cosponsor of the Tax Reform Act of 1986
 
“Could there be a more important subject today than the national debt? And could there be two smarter, clearer, more incisive writers to tell us about it than Simon Johnson and James Kwak? With precision and common sense, WHITE HOUSE BURNING tells the story of where our debt came from, what it means, and what we can do about it. This is the kind of important, informed, and accessible book a democracy can’t do without.”
—Noah Feldman, Bemis Professor of International Law, Harvard Law School, and author of Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices
 

“As they did in 13 Bankers, Johnson and Kwak imbed a crucial current policy debate in the history of the United States economy. Their blueprint for resolving the budget problem without trampling on the basic needs of average Americans is must-reading.” 
—C. Fred Bergsten, director, Peterson Institute for International Economics
 
“If you are puzzled about how our country’s finances got so messed up, look no further. Johnson and Kwak explain, with great lucidity and flair, how the battle lines on debt and taxes have been drawn going back to the founding fathers, and how things got off the rails in the last two decades. And they have good news for you: even if our politicians are incorrigible, our problems are not insoluble.”
—Daron Acemoglu, Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics, MIT, and coauthor of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty
 

“The politicians don’t care about the economics. The economists don’t understand the politics. Johnson and Kwak get both, that’s why you should read this book.”
—James Robinson, David Florence Professor of Government, Harvard University, and coauthor of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

“In their important, enlightening new book, White House Burning, economist Simon Johnson and lawyer James Kwak point out the absurdities of a budget debate dominated by partisan exaggerations and warnings of pending doom.”
—SF Gate 
 
“Johnson and Kwak bring dispassionate insights to bear on the bedeviling question of how to fix our fiscal mess before it gets fixed for us.”
—Bloomberg 
 

About the Author

Simon Johnson is Ronald A. Kurtz Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He is a member of the Congressional Budget Office’s Panel of Economic Advisers and of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s Systemic Resolution Advisory Committee. He was previously the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund.
 
James Kwak is an associate professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law. He is currently a fellow at the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance. He has also worked as a management consultant and cofounded a software company.

Johnson and Kwak cofounded The Baseline Scenario, a widely cited blog on economics and public policy. They also wrote 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown (Pantheon, 2010), a bestselling analysis of the financial system and the recent financial crisis.
 
Visit them at: http://baselinescenario.com/
Follow: http://twitter.com/baselinescene
Friend: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Baseline-Scenario/60785773804


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Customer Reviews

I knew I had to read this book.
R.M.
This book is an excellent study of economic history that should be read by persons of any political ideology.
Alan F. Sewell
It goes on to describe US fiscal policy in a way that is interesting and will capture your attention.
Raymond Thomas

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

107 of 116 people found the following review helpful By Alan F. Sewell on April 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The promotional blurb for this book reads:

=================
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.
=================

Anyone who CAN provide a "clear and compelling vision" for solving this nation-threatening problem will surely become known as the great prophet of our generation. A dozen or more other eminent authors from across the political spectrum have written similar books during the past few years, all proposing to rally the people and government behind their plans to "solve the debt crisis and strengthen our economy and government."

Despite all these "clear and compelling visions" our partisan leaders in Washington keep digging their heels in ever deeper in ideological struggles over whether to raise or cut taxes and whether to expand the Welfare State into new frontiers of healthcare or to rein in its existing domain of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

I thus started reading this book skeptically. However, I was immediately drawn into it by its opening discussion of the 1812 War, which occurred during the Democratic-Republican administration of President James Madison. The war may have been justified, but Madison's party refused to raise the taxes to fund it properly. Due to lack of funding and poor generalship the army floundered from disaster to disaster during the early years of the war.

Fortunately, late-war heroics compensated for early blunders and the war ended on terms that Americans interpreted as a reasonable facsimile of victory.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Raymond Thomas on April 6, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
White House Burning provides an excellent explanation and analysis of our nation's fiscal crisis. The first three chapters provide a historical overview of our nations finances and examines some of the opposing views of our founding fathers on the benefeits of having a national debt. It goes on to describe US fiscal policy in a way that is interesting and will capture your attention. Yes, that's right, the authors have some how managed to explain the nuances of US fiscal policy and its interalationship with the rest of the world and keep it interesting. After the first three chapters, you'll be more knowledgeable on the subject than 99% of americans.

The next few chapters discusses the current fiscal situation we face as a nation. You not only get a detailed primer on the national debt and deficit, you're also are given a clear explanation of the implications these staggering numbers have on the future of the economy.

This is one of the few books that handle this politically charged topic from an objective and non-partisan view. Other books I've read on the subject are basically selective information provided to reinforce someone's personal political agenda. This book is different. After reading the first 6 chapters, you'll have a firm understanding of our nations finances.

This book is for both liberals and conservatives. Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you come from, you'll most likely come away with a different perspective of our fiscal crisis after reading this book. At the very least, you'll most likely be better prepared to speak to the subject than anyone you know.

I highly recommend White House Burning.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Dave Kuhlman on August 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is one of those special books where it's helpful to know where the authors are going
before reading it. I started with the last chapter, "Conclusion", then read the previous
chapter, "Where do we go from here?", and then read the chapter before that, "Arguing first
principles". Reading in that order helped me understand what Johnson and Kwak were trying
to accomplish and what policies they believed would lead to those goals.

Johnson and Kwak's conclusion is that ultimately our argument is about what kind of world
we want to live in and what services and protections we want our government to give us in
order to have that kind of world. In an increasingly risky world (with a shredded social
contract, reduced labor union protection, the inequality generated by a winner take all
economic system, etc), Johnson and Kwak argue that we will want *more* protections and
services from our government, not *less*.

Why doesn't this sane, rational argument work? There are a number of reasons, in addition
to the fact that humans are at times just not rational. Among those reasons are: (1) Yes
we want those services and protections, but no, we're not willing to pay for them. (2)
Yes we want those services and protections, but, no, not for those who are undeserving
(where "undeserving" often is a stand-in for "brown", "black", "immigrant", and "other" in
general). Or, (3) simply that we believe we want and can have small government and are
not willing to accept that services, benefits, and protections that *we* use are provided
by our government, are expensive, and must be paid for.

But, it's not a hopeful picture. Because of our political situation in the U.S.
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