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Downsizing the Federal Goverment Paperback – October 14, 2005
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From the Back Cover
"In an era of rapid technology change and business innovation, the federal government remains a bloated and duplicative dinosaur. Chris Edwards brilliantly shows us how to downsize its operations and makes a convincing case that 'less is more' when it comes to government. This is the blueprint for reform that should be read by every American interested in policy and every candidate for Congress and the presidency."
--Donald Lambro, Chief Political Correspondent, Washington Times
"In this important new book, Chris Edwards provides fresh insights to understanding a Washington establishment that has grown far too big. He presents a bold and detailed plan to reduce the size of the government and take a first step to restoring America's heritage of liberty. Every taxpayer should read this book."
--John Berthoud, President, National Taxpayers Union
"Yes, government is fat and this book prescribes a radical diet, plus surgery, to get its weight down. Many will take offense at some of the proposed spending cuts, but the need for America to start living within its means cannot be denied. Read this book to see how deep our fiscal hole is and one brave and bruising way out."
--Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN)
"A responsible program-by-program set of proposals to get the federal government within reasonable limits. Utopian, indeed, but only to those who are blind to the dystopia that looms."
--James M. Buchanan, Nobel Laureate in Economics
"One of the great disappointments of Republican rule is the failure to get spending under control. In this well-researched book, Chris Edwards shows one way, and there are others. Such proposals need to be taken seriously to put the federal budget on a sustainable path."
--James C. Miller III, Director, White House Office of Management and Budget, 1985-1988
"Most conservatives wave their arms about cutting spending, but do nothing. Chris Edwards has finally shown how it can be done."
--Isabel V. Sawhill, Vice President and Director, Economic Studies, Brookings Institution --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Mr. Edwards argues that many current federal programs are harmful (e.g., import restrictions), unduly beneficial to special interests (agricultural subsidies, corporate welfare), and/or better left to the states (education) or private sector (rail transportation).
One special problem is government grants, which are used by the federal government to influence programs of state or local governments. Some $426 billion in grants were paid out in 2005, ranging from $186 billion for the federal share of Medicaid to "hundreds of more obscure programs that most taxpayers have never heard of." The result is to encourage overspending for the stated grant purposes, foster federal, state and local bureaucracies to document compliance with federal mandates, and reduce flexibility and innovation at the state level.
Another problem is duplication. Different federal programs often have overlapping objectives, resulting in "turf wars" and/or unnecessary costs to ensure coordination. Thus, the GAO has reported 50 different programs for the homeless in eight federal agencies, 23 programs for housing aid in four agencies, 26 programs for food and nutrition aid in six agencies, and 44 programs for employment and training services in nine agencies. If a program is ineffective or obsolete, the typical response is to create additional programs -- without eliminating the existing program.
Edwards lists more than 100 programs and agencies as candidates for elimination, with resultant savings of $380 billion per year. He also advocates cost-saving changes to entitlement programs. If all of his recommendations were implemented, the current federal deficit could be converted to a surplus without raising taxes.
Instead of streamlining the government, why not concentrate on managing its programs better? The answer is that efforts along this line, going back to the Committee of Economy and Efficiency in Government appointed by Taft in 1910, have failed repeatedly.
Is government downsizing possible? Sure, if enough people demand it, but our political leaders typically hear much more about how additional money should be spent than they do about how existing programs should be eliminated to save money.
In summary, this is a sound and useful book. Putting its recommendations into practice, however, may prove easier said than done.
My second thought was, "What's his agenda?" And so I checked his bio and found that it must be a Libertarian agenda because he is Director of Tax Policy at the Cato Institute. Okay, fine, at least I know where Edwards is coming from.
Armed with this knowledge, I began to read. "Downsizing" is refreshingly accessible--the language is clear and the plentiful graphs and tables should be easily understood by readers who paid attention in high school. I detected little of the disheartening doubletalk that occurs when someone is trying to promote their own interests at your expense.
For example, I'm sure we're all in favor of cutting "wasteful" federal programs, but how do you define what is wasteful? The author defines five categories on page 3, and they do not seem to be politically or culturally overloaded.
In all, Edwards proposes about $400 billion worth of cuts. In a federal budget of $2.5 trillion, it seems a reasonable goal. Where one might expect him to slash entitlements such as Medicare, he trims. Claims are supported by data; for instance, the author suggests privatizing the air traffic control system, pointing out that it has been successfully done in Canada and other countries--at least partially--and detailing a history of poor management in the agency. On the other hand, his proposed cuts under the category of "actively damaging programs," are more difficult to evaluate, since he relies on work by other think tanks whose methodologies and points-of-view would probably be unknown to the average reader.
Edwards doesn't stop with cuts, but also advocates numerous changes to the budget process and Washington's "culture of spending".
This is a book you can dip into from time-to-time: read a bit, mull it over and jot an email to your U.S. Representative. Edwards may be spitting into the wind, but his effort is credible, the goal is worthy and the book should be widely distributed if only to jump-start some dialog on this important topic.