A Citizen's Guide to Deficits and Debt
The Politics of Taxing, Spending, and Borrowing
Routledge – 2014 – 178 pages
America is currently involved in one of the worst economic crises of modern times. As alarm increases over how the government will balance the budget, handle the debt, and maintain prosperity for the future, the minutia of debts and deficits remains incomprehensible to many. Why is it so hard to find ways to resolve the fiscal crisis? This brief and intelligible book is a guide to understanding both the difficulties involved in managing the federal budget and why the on-going fiscal crisis is so significant for America’s future.
In order to introduce the reader to the basic composition of federal spending and to the ways that the government raises revenue, Hudson begins his guide with a "map" clarifying how to navigate the federal budget. He defines basic financial vocabulary and outlines concepts by using clear charts and diagrams that both provide basis for discussion and illustrate key points. With this budget map in mind, the second part of the book lays out how the partisan divide in America helps explain the fiscal crisis. Hudson analyzes the debate on the extent of the fiscal crisis, the ways that political parties have tried to solve it, and the political events and institutions that have surrounded the crisis.
This citizen’s guide reveals how differing views of America inform the arguments over deficits and debt. By the time readers finish the book, they will understand that the conflict over deficits and debt is not simply about where to cut or add spending, but instead is a struggle over national priorities and visions for the future.
"Succinct and insightful, this book is classic Bill Hudson. He has done citizens and students a service in providing such a clear overview of the most pressing domestic policy challenge of our time. It's often said that a budget is the concrete expression of values, and in this work Hudson deftly shows how deep normative commitments drive the battles over federal taxes and spending."
—Grant Reeher, Syracuse University
"Every American needs to read this well-written primer on the budget debate. It provides all the crucial facts and concepts citizens need to understand these increasingly bitter political battles and it will help them to intelligently decide where they stand on the crucial issues that will determine the future of American government."
—Douglas Amy, Mount Holyoke College
"Hudson offers a comprehensible investigation of the complex politics of federal budgeting. Analyzing federal deficits and debt from the perspective of what’s best for the public good, Hudson provides important insights into the causes and consequences of deficits and the national debt."
—Patrick Fisher, Seton Hall University
"Hudson does a superb job taking the reader through the ins and outs of fiscal policy, and in the process he makes this important topic very accessible. If you truly want to understand contemporary American politics, then this book is a must-read."
—Elizabeth A. Oldmixon, University of North Texas
"Hudson provides a clear, concise overview of federal government finances and what drives the US national deficit position. He neither overstates nor understates the political tensions, nor the economic and fiscal impact of adding to the US national debt, generally letting the facts and data deliver the message. The book does a good job of explaining why understanding arcane processes and terminology (i.e., discretionary spending, means tested entitlements, "starve the beast," social insurance, tax expenditures, the budget process, and trust funds) matters for driving deficits and why not all deficits have the same economic implications. The author makes clear that political gridlock--not economic limits, limited revenue-raising capacity, or unconstrained spending--presents the great American fiscal challenge. The presentation is accessible for nonexperts seeking an explanation of causes and potential consequences of deficits and increasing debt. The book also has enough technical detail and background that students of public policy and public affairs will profit from it as well. Its tone is never hysterical, but is completely professional and without slant. The book serves exactly as its title claims--and possibly a bit more." Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. -- J L. Mikesell, Indiana University--Bloomington, in CHOICE
Introduction: Political Conflict over Deficits and Debt: What’s it about? What’s at stake? Part I: The Shape of the Federal Budget. 1. Federal Deficits and Debt. 2. Budget Pies: An Overview of Federal Spending and Revenue. 3. Do Entitlements Entitle? Is What’s Mandated Mandatory? 4. How Discretionary Is Discretionary Spending? 5. Raising Federal Tax Revenue. 6. Predicting Future Deficits and Debt. Part II: The Politics of Deficits and Debt. 7. Deficit Hawks versus Deficit Doves. 8. "Starve the Beast" versus Protect the New Deal. 9. Partisan War over America’s Fiscal Future: 2009 – 2013. 10. The Future of Deficits and Debt.
William E. Hudson is professor of political science at Providence College. He is the author of The Libertarian Illusion and Experiencing Citizenship: Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Political Science (with Richard Battistoni). Hudson has published numerous articles on public policy issues in journals such as Political Science Quarterly, Polity, Western Political Quarterly, Economic Development Quarterly, and Policy Studies Journal.