Kevin D. Williamson has become one of my favorite writers on matters political and economic over the past few years. His new book was a must-buy.
The long title has an even longer subtitle: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure . It's kind of odd that Mr. Williamson doesn't really do a lot to develop the thesis promised in the title. What he does do (and very well) is compare goods and services produced via market mechanisms to those produced by politics.
For example: in the 1987 movie Wall Street, one of the status symbols owned by Michael Douglas's sleazy Gordon Gekko character was a Motorola DynaTAC cell phone, costing about $10K up front, $1K a month, weighed nearly two pounds, all for 30 minutes of talk time. And, Williamson points out, "you couldn't play Angry Birds on it." Today, … well, you know what happened to cell phones.
In contrast, we have goods and services produced or controlled largely, if not completely, by politics: examples include the public school system; entitlement programs typified by Social Security; health care; the legal system; the Department of Homeland Security. Quality is poor. They aren't subject to market pressures, so they are stultified and static. And the only reason we put up with them is their support via government's monopoly on coercive power.
For the "end is near" argument, Williamson puts forth the numbers that anyone who's been paying attention will know about: government at all levels has promised far more than it can deliver; unfunded liabilities will soon outstrip whatever government is likely to collect in taxes. At that point, Williamson notes, it will be "faced with a choice of which howling mob it wants to face: recipients of Social Security and Medicare benefits, or the world bond market."
Williamson's conclusion: "Don't bet on grandma."
The meat of the book involves demonstrating that less coercive methods for providing things "traditionally" produced by government would be both feasible and superior. If you've read Reason magazine for a few dozen years, like I have, there won't be a lot new or surprising here. But Williamson is a fine writer, and you'll find those familiar themes explained well.
So it's possible and desirable that the market take over some traditionally state-provided goods and services, Williamson's title seems to hint that such an outcome is likely. Nay: a virtual certainty. But (as near as I can tell) he doesn't make that bit of argument at all. I think I would have noticed if he had, but maybe I missed it. So while Williamson might be "long-term" optimistic about the prospects for liberty and prosperity, I wasn't convinced. This is, after all, a country that elected B. Obama twice.
Williamson's arguments and examples are very libertarian; unfortunately, he rarely uses that word, and when he does, it's dismissive. A puzzling decision, perhaps to avoid being pigeonholed into a movement that the mainstream has written off as kooky. But don't be fooled: this is the real deal.
One of my other favorite writers, Jonah Goldberg, reviews the book here.