Mike Kueber's Blog

April 21, 2012

Sunday Book Review #71 – Back to Work, by Bill Clinton

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 10:42 am

Back to Work is a surprisingly lame book, given Bill Clinton’s reputation as a brilliant politician and a public-policy wonk.  It contains nothing that you won’t hear during a week or two on the mostly superficial TV & radio talk shows.

Not surprisingly, the liberal NY Times was impressed with the book.  In fact, it noted in a review that the slender book (192 pages) was actually three books in one:

  1. A series of shrewd talking points for the Democrats to use in the 2012 election;
  2. A self-serving reminder of how great times were under the Clinton administration; and
  3. A practical set of proposals to get the American economy moving again.

The Times summed up the book as follows:

  • At a time when anti-government ranting dominates the Republican debates and the Democrats often seem on the defensive, Mr. Clinton serves up a succinct common-sense argument for why America needs a strong national government, why both spending cuts and increased tax revenues are necessary for addressing the debt problem (which is going to get worse given the demographics of an aging baby-boomer population and the high costs of interest payments), and why that debt problem “can’t be solved unless the economy starts growing again.

I recently noted to a fellow conservative that the Republican Party seems to have created a straw-man argument that the Democrats want to balance the budget on the backs of the rich, even though everyone knows (including the Democrats) that you could have a 100% tax on rich people’s income and still not balance the budget.  

But Bill Clinton and his book have more than a passing acquaintance with straw-man arguments.  In the book, he asserts, “The Republicans seemed to be saying that the financial crash and the recession that followed … were caused by too much government taxing, spending, and regulation.”  I don’t know of a single Republican who has made that argument, and I’d love to challenge Clinton to name one.  After setting up his straw-man argument, Clinton deftly explains that “the meltdown happened because banks were overleveraged, with too many risky investments, especially in subprime mortgages and the securities and derivatives that were spun out of them, and too little cash to cover the risks.”  Bill, tell us something we don’t already know. 

Another straw-man argument – Clinton claims that conservatives want to balance the budget by reducing foreign aid, even though everyone (including Republicans) knows that foreign aid consumes a very small percentage of the federal budget (about 1%). 

Although the book contains no great insights, it does contain two interesting statements:

  1. “For reasons that are unclear, the President and the Democratic Congress did not raise the debt ceiling after the election, in November or December of 2010, when they still had a majority.”  You’d think that Clinton could obtain clarify this matter, if he were really interested.
  2. From 1981 to 2009, the greatest accomplishment of the anti-government Republicans was not to reduce the size of the federal government but to stop paying for it.”  There is more than a little truth to this sarcastic talking point.

He also makes a statement that doesn’t seem credible:

  • After World War II until 1980, the bottom 90% of Americans consistently earned about 65% of the national income, and the top ten percent earned about 35%, of which 10% went to the top 1%.”  It’s hard to imagine the top 10% making only 3.5 times what bottom 90% make.

As the Times noted, Clinton has no modesty or humility about the good economic numbers during his presidency.  You can tell that he is just busting at the seams with pride. 

The real essence of Back to Work is that Clinton believes the anti-government forces in America have been winning the battle for 30 years and that they need to be defeated because government is needed for the following:

  1. National security;
  2. Safety net, including social security;
  3. Promote equal access to opportunity;
  4. Economic development;
  5. Oversight of financial markets;
  6. Protect public interests in the economy (clean air, clean water, safe food, safe transportation, safe workplace, civil rights);

Again, Clinton’s argument is a straw man.  There is actually very little debate over what government functions should be, but rather over how intrusive the government should be with those functions and over which level of government should before the function.  ObamaCare is a classic example on both fronts.

Clinton finishes the book by providing a long list (46) of programs that will get America working again.  Leading the list are ending the ongoing mortgage mess and getting corporations to start investing their dormant cash.  The objectives are obvious, but how to get there is not so obvious.    

If you aren’t interested in learning the Democratic talking points for 2012 or hearing a reminder of good the Clinton-administration economic numbers were, I suggest passing on this book.





1 Comment »

  1. i’ll pass then…

    Comment by q — April 21, 2012 @ 4:39 pm | Reply

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