Although I purchased Rollback about the time it was published, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that I have been able to read all the way through it. It is full of information that is necessary to anyone who wants to participate in the national conversation about the future of the relationship between American society and the federal government (and no, those two entities are not synonymous, despite decades of propaganda to the contrary).
To begin with, you should not view this work as a typical red-meat-for-conservatives book, despite its cover featuring Barack Obama. The publisher decided on that packaging as a marketing device, and it actually misrepresents the content of the book to some degree. The tone throughout is non-partisan, and politicians of both major parties come out the worse for wear.
The first chapter alone is worth the purchase price of the book. It uses official figures and projections to quantify the size of the fiscal crisis we have entered in the last few years, with particular attention to the immensity of the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare. Everyone who has looked at them agrees that the numbers are correct, but still they beggar the imagination and are almost never brought up in public debate. If you come to grips with these figures, you will understand that the federal government simply cannot keep the promises it has made to the public, even if it raises taxes on all the “millionaires and billionaires” through the roof AND increases taxes on the middle class and the poor. This realization makes all the more repellent the lack of substantive debate on entitlement reform in Washington.
The remaining chapters focus on particular structural problems we desperately need to address: the health care system, the monetary system, the military-industrial complex, etc. In each case, Woods shows the importance of understanding the causes of the crisis so that a proper prescription can be made. The political class actively discourages this kind of reflection; it much prefers the panicky cries of “Just Do Something!” that will enable it to go about aggrandizing more power to itself so that it can “solve” problems it created in the first place.
The final chapter offers some ideas to kick start policy discussions: opt-outs to Social Security and Medicare for younger workers, legalizing currency competition through the repeal of legal-tender laws, across-the-board cuts to every federal department, and several others. Woods does not fall prey to the fallacy that there is some quick and painless fix to this problem that was decades in the making, but of course he is swimming against a strong tide of political “debate” where the time horizon is only the next election and where most participants are calling for digging the hole deeper.
Amazon.com is currently selling Rollback at an amazing 65% discount as of today. I urge you to get a copy to help inoculate and arm yourself for the 2012 political season. Hold your political candidates to account on these issues; force them to offer real solutions.