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The End Is Near and It's Going to Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure Hardcover – May 7, 2013
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Mr. Williamson is an astute observer and a talented stylist, and his book is full of vivid images and sharp phrases. -- Kyle Peterson, The Washington Times
At last, a conservative treatise that isn't too bilious to taste--and that is often entertaining even as it is provocative. It's a pleasure to find so even and logical a voice in these pages, which deserve broad airing. -- Kirkus Reviews
From the Author
Why are our smart phones so smart--getting better and cheaper every year--while our government is so dumb? Is there a way to apply the creative and productive institutions that produced the iPhone to education, public schools, or Medicare?
A few years ago, I was giving a lecture in which I mentioned, as an aside, that libertarians and free-market conservatives often utter the words "the market will take care of it" or "voluntary charity will take care of it" as though those sentences were real answers to meaningful questions. And when they do try to address social concerns in a more substantive fashion, they too often fall into the trap of drawing up blueprints for utopias.
We live in remarkable times, an age of extraordinary wealth, freedom, and creativity. But a few critical areas of life--education, health care, and retirement prominent among them--are dominated by antiquated political systems that cannot respond adequately to the complexity of 21st century life. The problem is not so much left-wing politics or right-wing politics, "good" politics or "bad" politics, but the centrality of politics per se, the inevitable defects associated with centralized, hierarchical decision-making institutions that cannot evolve in response to fast-moving, complex knowledge.
Economists spend a great deal of time talking about efficiency, productivity, GDP, marginal output and the like, but I am more interested in the question T. S. Eliot put to us: "When the Stranger says: 'What is the meaning of this city? Do you huddle close together because you love each other?' What will you answer? 'We all dwell together to make money from each other'? or 'This is a community'?" I live a few blocks from Wall Street--what, indeed, is the meaning of this city? If we do not have a good answer to that question, then all of the efficiency and productivity in the world are not going to do us a great deal of good.
My book has a two-part argument; I call it "short-term pessimism, long-term optimism." It is not always obvious, but government as we know it is in retreat, a retreat that I expect to be accelerated by economic trends related to public debt and unfunded government liabilities. But once the disorder is behind us, we will discover new and better ways to serve one another. You would not know it to listen to many of the self-appointed defenders of capitalism, but that is what the economy is there for.
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His assertions that government can be defined as an institution with a monopoly on violence is not particularly original, but he explains it in a very accessible way. Same with the idea that government is immune to competitive pressures.
Williamson explains the benefits of markets - the chief of them being "freedom of exit" for the consumer - and how that translates to huge improvements in quality and reduced costs. He then tackles social security, health care, and education as the big three areas where this pattern has failed to manifest, and shows how government (which he describes as an "immortal corporation") prevents this improvements in cost and quality from occurring.
Williamson made the case for vouchers in an interesting way I had not previously encountered.
Rather than saying that vouchers would promote "competition" (certainly true), he elevated the discussion by pointing out that the current system is confused about who its customers are and what its product is.
The current system pretends that it is set up to serve the students - but since they do not control the money, it ends up trying to satisfy the sole customer who actually controls the dollars: the state. And since the state is a mess of political signals that are contradictory, self-serving, and often corrupt, the education system ends up mirroring that dysfunction. Thus, the education establishment ends up becoming an arm of the state...and the needs of students are ignored.
A voucher system would reorganize the system around the needs of the students - the people who should be the real customers. He suggests that a system organized that way would rapidly change the way it operates and we would see a wide variety of different educational choices.
It is the same argument as "competition" just presented in a way I had not heard before. This is useful because the "competition" talking points have grown stale.
One big complaint is that the book contains no footnotes or references where I can check his sources. This is possibly just in the Kindle edition.
What biases? First, the presumption that free markets are cutthroat, competitive, and pitiless, benefiting only the winners. Williamson reminds us that markets depend as much on cooperation, trust and trustworthiness, and reputation. Free choice in an open market is the most efficient way to satisfy individual needs.
Second, that governments automatically operate in the interest of their citizens and are the best, if not the only, way to treat people equitably. Williamson reminds us that economic choices are always about value, weighing cost vs. benefit. The government tries to provide equality by imposing a uniform value system--but because people don't all value the same things, from educational goals to retirement saving to security needs, the government will make poor choices for many, if not most, people.
Third, that governments are operated by a superior form of human being--wiser, more selfless, and incorruptible. Williamson reminds us that politicians have opinions, drives, and weaknesses, too.
All in all, a refreshing read.
For libertarians: This is your argument, presented in ways you might never have imagined.
Political conservatives: New ways to present your traditional views. If only we can get "our"
politicians to accept Reagan's dictum: "There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit." Let the cream rise to the top; don't be tempted by homogenization; Williamson shows how.
Christian conservatives: Ask yourself how can we use the language of this book, as the Early Church Fathers used Greek philosophy, to more effectively proclaim the Gospel?
Liberals with integrity: Ponder this book -- How can the poorest of citizens in the Western world be materially richer than the poor a mere fifty years ago? Is it the Great Society who drove the bus, or was it creativity of the entrepreneur?
When I reached the end of this marvelous product, I was disappointed. The last time I had this experience was with Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. Williamson's columns on NR will have to suffice; of course, if he devotes more time to his NR day job, the more that the next book will be delayed.
Much longer reviews have already spelled out much of the content, so I have selected just one example to whet your appetite -- Williamson on deficit spending: "Everyone agrees that everyone is doing the wrong thing, and everyone keeps on doing it."
As far as I am concerned, he's now up there with Roger Kimball and Thomas Sowell, which is very good company indeed.
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There are seven chapters, and they break down something like:
1.Knowledge And DecisionsPriceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis (Independent Studies in Political Economy)Read more