By C. Eugene Steuerle
Published by The Century Foundation Press, March 31, 2014
The news coming out of Washington, D.C., and reverberating around the nation increasingly sounds like a broken record: low or zero growth in employment, inadequate funds to pay future Social Security and Medicare obligations, declining rates of investment, cuts in funding for education and children’s programs, arbitrary sequesters or cutbacks in good and bad programs alike, underfunded pensions, bankrupt cities, threats not to pay our nation’s growing debts, rancorous partisanship, and political parties with no real vision for twenty-first-century government.
In Dead Men Ruling, C. Eugene Steuerle argues that these seemingly separable economic and political problems are actually symptoms of a common disease, one unique to our time. Unless that disease and the history of how it spread over time is understood, Steuerle says, it is easy for politicians and voters alike to fall prey to believing in simple but ineffective nostrums, hoping that a cure lies merely in switching political parties or reducing the deficit or protecting and expanding our favorite program.
Despite the despairing claims of many, Steuerle points out that we no more live in an age of austerity than did Americans at the turn into the twentieth century with the demise of the frontier. Conditions are ripe to advance opportunity in ways never before possible, including doing for children and the young in this century what the twentieth did for senior citizens, yet without abandoning those earlier gains. Recognizing this extraordinary but checked potential is also the secret to breaking the political logjam that—as Steuerle points out—was created largely by now dead (or retired) men.
C. Eugene Steuerle is Richard B. Fisher chair and Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute, and a columnist under the title The Government We Deserve. Among past positions, he has served as deputy assistant secretary of the treasury for tax analysis (1987–89), president of the National Tax Association (2001–02), chair of the 1999 Technical Panel advising Social Security on its methods and assumptions, economic coordinator and original organizer of the 1984 Treasury study that led to the Tax Reform Act of 1986, president of the National Economists Club Educational Foundation, vice-president of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, federal executive fellow at the Brookings Institution, a columnist for the Financial Times, co-founder of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, the Urban Institute Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy, and Act for Alexandria, a community foundation.
Great book. I could not put it down. Gene Steuerle’s Dead Men Ruling . . . documents how and why American governments at all levels . . . are crowding out discretionary spending that would allow the country to respond flexibly to challenges and opportunities and make economically and socially productive investments. This is a vital concern to those of us who study the gains possible by investing early and well in children.
– James J. Heckman, Nobel Prize Laureate and professor of economics, University of Chicago
This book moves beyond the urgent to the truly important as it seeks to provide a broad theory of our problems and to chart a forward course. Anyone concerned with our economic future should carefully consider Steuerle’s arguments.
– Lawrence H. Summers, former secretary of the treasury and former director, White House National Economic Council
Everyone who cares about the future of America's children should read Steuerle's book. His vision and values expose the arid debates about deficit reduction, and point to the urgency of investing in children, enhancing opportunities, and increasing social mobility. He makes a compelling case that a nation that does not invest in its children is a nation in decline.
– Ruby Takanishi, former president of the Foundation for Child Development and senior research fellow, Early Education Initiative, New America Foundation
Dead Men Ruling is a must-read for anyone who believes in bringing profound change to the federal budget and restoring our ability to invest in growth and opportunity for future generations.
– Jonathan Cowan, president of Third Way
I’ve witnessed first-hand Gene’s rare talent at pulling together Democrats and Republicans when others feel there is no way forward, whether for the most significant tax reform in modern history or helping a budget commission step boldly into the future. In this book he reframes our tired debates and proposes how to get . . . to a 21st century agenda focused on children, investment, and posterity.
– Senator Kent Conrad (ret., ND), former chair, Senate Budget Committee
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