What a mess! What do we do? Who is to blame? – Book Review

By Bob Clark
November 20, 2008

I.O.U.S.A.: One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt. by Addison Wiggin and Kate Incontrera.
Published by: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, N. J., Sept. 2008, 272 pages, $19.95.

This book is timely. It grew from the documentary film of the same name. In addition, it includes a forward by David Walker (former U.S. Comptroller General) and portions of interviews used to create the film.

In the book, Wiggin and Incontrera communicate a good deal of information on a subject sure to glaze over the eyes of many people. The numbers are so large and the issues so complex that any discussion of federal budget shortfalls and national debt can be mind numbing. The authors successfully deliver solid information and an interesting perspective. The inclusion of the interview transcripts is a very helpful part of the package.

The authors articulate a good case for looking at the “deficit” issue in America as a problem larger than just the federal budget. By their measure, four major deficits exist:
-¢ The obvious federal budget deficit and national debt that results from choices made by the government.
-¢ The personal savings deficit created by our insistence on spending more than we earn with great regularity.
-¢ The trade deficit driven by our purchasing choices that result in Americans consuming more than they produce.
-¢ A leadership deficit among our public officials who give lip service to discipline and never practice it, and are not restrained by any effective citizen demand for accountability.

Wiggin and Incontrera build a sound case for each deficit and the implications that flow from each. Near the end of chapter five, the authors include a ‘Hit List’ of actions that they believe are needed now. It is a challenging list from any perspective and includes: demanding more from our elected officials; rethinking what we expect government to do; facing the reality that substantive policy trade offs must be made; making a personal commitment to increase our saving and not abusing credit; and finally, teaching our children the hard lessons of personal financial responsibility.

The facts presented are accurate, and the challenges set forth are reasonable. It is a book worth reading, and reflecting on the ideas in it may cause the reader to reexamine personal choices and long-held convictions. That would be a good outcome, and one the authors are encouraging.

The authors made a real effort to be non-partisan, and they mostly succeeded. It does seem that an inordinate share of the blame for something several decades in the making is leveled at the Executive Branch and the current administration. Congress, other administrations, and both parties are linked to the problem. This occasional lack of political balance sometimes gets in the way of the important message. But, the actions proposed by Mr. Addison and Ms. Incontrera are less focused on finding a culprit and more directed toward securing a better future. That makes the book a solid contribution to the ongoing debate about deficits.

Bob Clark is the president of RWC Consulting LLC and has more than 30 years’ experience in labor-management relations. He provides consulting help in labor relations and is an adjunct professor at Concordia University in Ann Arbor.