The Story Behind Funding, Debt

As the dust settles on the debt ceiling fight, a lot of people inside the Beltway — and outside it — are wondering what just happened.

There are no simple answers, but several books have given some hints as to what might be causing the increasingly polarized fight over the size and funding of the federal government. 

We asked four experts for their recommendations: Indiana University political science professor Jeffrey C. Isaac, Duke University political science professor Michael C. Munger, Georgetown University American government professor Michael A. Bailey and George Washington University associate political science professor Eric Lawrence.

Here are their suggestions:

 

“Winner-Take-All Politics”
by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson

To best understand our current political system, Isaac suggests this book, which he says is a worthy “contribution to broad public discussion of distributive politics.” 

Political scientists Hacker and Pierson explain how growing corporate influences and abuse of the legislative system have fundamentally changed the political system during the past 30 years. 

Some consequences of this, according to the authors, are a growing gap between economic classes and a radicalization of national politics.

“Its topic could not be more relevant to a U.S. polity wracked by bitter partisan disagreements about taxes, social spending, financial regulation, social insecurity and inequality,” Isaac said.

 

“Party Position Change in American Politics: Coalition Management”

by David Karol

Political parties obviously play a significant role in our politics, so understanding how they operate and how they have evolved should shed some light on what is happening in politics. One of the best explanations of how parties operate, according to Munger, is Karol’s book.

“This book helps us understand a lot of what we see, and don’t see, in political rhetoric and ads,” Munger said.

In it, the political scientist looks at the interest groups and professional politicians that make up a political party and explains how and why party beliefs can change.

 

“Taxing Ourselves: A Citizen’s Guide to the Debate Over Taxes” 

by Joel Slemrod and Jon Bakija

For many people, politics can be boiled down to the issue of taxes. Are they too high or too low? How can we reform our tax system? Should we? And while every pundit and politician has an opinion on taxes, the facts behind them are often few and far between. 

To remedy this, Bailey suggests reading “Taxing Ourselves.” 

“This book gives the facts about taxes straight up and such facts are dearly needed in the debate,” he said.

Written by two respected economics professors, “Taxing Ourselves” is a comprehensive look at the tax debate. It explains the effect that taxes have on the economy, looks at how the tax system operates and evaluates different proposals for reforming it.

 

“The Deficit and the Public Interest”

by Joseph White and Aaron Wildavsky

Another topic that frequently comes up in debates about politics is the deficit. But what is it and why was it so central? 

To answer these questions and more, Lawrence suggests reading this book by two political scientists.

“The Deficit and the Public Interest” provides a comprehensive political overview of the deficit debate that had a significant effect on the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. In particular, it looks at how Congress attempted to deal with the deficit in the 1980s.

“The book persuasively accounts for the challenge of forging deficit control measures and the limits to their effectiveness,” Lawrence said.

Aside from explaining the various political players, interests and policies tied to the deficit debate, the book’s authors also provide their own recommendations on how to solve it. And these recommendations are just as relevant now as they were in the 1980s — possibly even more relevant since, according to Lawrence, “20-odd years later, Congress is much more polarized, making compromise even more difficult.”

 

“The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics and a New Way Forward” 

by Bruce Bartlett

Speaking of the Gipper, Bailey suggests reading this book by Bartlett, a former Reagan adviser and author of 1981’s “Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.” 

In “The New American Economy,” Bartlett casts a critical eye over the policies that he helped formulate and explains how the failure to evolve political and economic philosophies in the face of a changing world has led to the political and economic climate we find ourselves in now.

“This is a fantastic overview of the U.S. political economy,” Bailey said. “Its strength is that it links solid history with serious policy analysis. It really is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the roots of the economic debates in Washington.”

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