James M. Stone has written a splendid book that provides a blueprint for action on some seemingly intractable public policy issues in the United States. Stone begins the book by providing background of his own experience as economist, public administrator, and businessman. He writes, “I am a democrat, but this is not a partisan book. Americans of every political stripe . . . share these concerns”.
Stone has become concerned about the calcified, ossified, and ineffective government that has prevailed over the last few years in Washington, D. C. He is alarmed by the acrimony, myth-making, and half-truths about public finance in this country. Rather than running to the respective corners to attack the other guy and the other party--on economic issues-- in order to aggravate and elevate the public vitriol—he hopes that elected officials will promote the public interest and find common ground in attempting to resolve the difficult financial issues that beset the country. He writes, “Politicians in both parties steer away from exactly the subjects they ought to be addressing in favor of sound bites, “gotchas” and mini-matters.” He concludes his introduction by stating that ”the book is a short collection of public essays aimed at convincing [the reader] that the adoption of a few familiar commonsense ideas could make the country operate more effectively”.
In succeeding chapters Stone unpacks the problems and solutions to five public policy areas that have bedeviled politicians for the past generation: fiscal balance; inequality; education; health care; and financial sector reform. In each chapter he provides rational and coherent policies that could be enacted to address the issues. For example, he suggests reducing “tax expenditures” and interest deductions to help balance the federal budget. He also provides fertile ideas for reducing the disparity in incomes and wealth, the costs of health care, and strategies to reform financial institutions such as investment banks. He also presents exciting ideas for changes in the U.S. education system—one of which is universal national service.
The idea of youth service in this country is not new. The Civilian Conservation Corps in the New Deal era is one of the best known examples. The Peace Corps, Vista, and Americorps are other examples that emerged in the 1960’s through the 1990’s. President George W. Bush advocated mandatory youth service in 2009 when he proposed the Serve America Act. Yet there has been insufficient political consensus on the value of universal mandatory service to the country. Objections include that it is compulsory—rather than voluntary—and that it is expensive. Stone counters with this thoughtful response. [It may be] “the only workable answer to the major issues in American education compatible with cultural realities. It would be an attractive course for its patriotic and social harmony benefits as well. The right program would trade service for financing in the case of the college contingent and provide the absent vocational training for those ending their academic training after high school.”
James M. Stone has written an excellent book concerning public policy reform in this country. His work serves simultaneously as a primer and resource full of suggestions that invite further study and better understanding of some critical policy issues we face as a nation. I recommend the book most highly.