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A Nation of Takers: America's Entitlement Epidemic Paperback – October 19, 2012
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About the Author
Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist and a demographer by training, holds the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at American Enterprise Institute. He is also a senior adviser to the National Board of Asian Research, a member of the visiting committee at the Harvard School of Public Health, and a member of the Global Leadership Council at the World Economic Forum. He researches and writes extensively on economic development, foreign aid, global health, demographics, and poverty.William A. Galston is a political theorist. He holds the Zilkha Chair in Governance at the Brookings Institution. In addition he is College Park Professor at the University of Maryland. He was a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton on domestic policy.
Yuval Levin is the Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, founding editor of National Affairs magazine, and a senior editor of EPPC's journal The New Atlantis. His areas of specialty include health care, entitlement reform, economic and domestic policy, science and technology policy, political philosophy, and bioethics. Mr. Levin served on the White House domestic policy staff under President George W. Bush focusing on health care as well as bioethics and culture-of-life issues. Mr. Levin previously served as Executive Director of the President's Council on Bioethics, and as a congressional staffer.
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And the book is a fairly good review of the subject, mostly at the top level of overall budgets for entitlements in comparison to GDP (and their changes over the last five decades).
There's one exception: The explosion in the use of Social Security's disability Insurance [DI] program is discussed in more detail and, naturally enough, follows immediately upon a section titled "The Male Flight from Work in the Entitlement Society." One point, in particular, sticks in my mind: "[T]he proclivity to rely upon government disability payments today is at least as much a 'white thing' as a tendency for any other American group." This conclusion (pp. 53 -55) is based upon the demography of regions that have high DI use compared to ones that don't.
Eberstadt works at the American Enterprise Institute, and his views are consistent with that. The book also contains few-page-response sections from William Galston and Yuval Levin. Galston is at the Brookings Institution, and he politely disagrees with Eberstadt's theme that the huge surge in use of entitlements directly reflects a degradation in the civic character of American society. I come down on Eberstadt's side, but Galston's demurral is definitely worth considering. (Levin's remarks, largely in accord with Eberstadt's viewpoint, are tantalizingly interesting but too terse for me to fully understand what he's saying.)
I don't think this product is worth five stars, because I think it needed further polishing. There are quite a few typos, and many of the charts (graphs) are indifferently labeled, so it can be a chore to figure out just what they're telling us.
Why not four stars then? Because the paperback is a highly-reader-unfriendly package for this chart-laden material. The book is five inches by seven inches, so it's understandable that each chart takes up a whole page. But this means that one usually has to flip back and forth several pages to see the chart and read the corresponding discussion -- highly distracting and inconvenient!
So somebody made a bad choice in going for this layout, but they may have done it to disguise the fact that this "book" is really more of a middling-length essay -- in a larger format, it would be obviously "skinny," and perhaps $8.45 would seem a bit much for what you get.