On July 8, 2016, the Hoover Press (Stanford University) released a free, online volume edited by George P. Shultz entitled Blueprint for America. The book consists of 12 chapters on domestic and foreign policy, including an Introduction, Conclusion, and three commentaries written by Shultz interspersed among the chapters. The authors include 5 economists, 1 MD, two retired four-star generals, 1 diplomat, and 1 foreign policy specialist.
Like Gaul, book reviews are divided into three parts: (1) purpose, (2) content, and (3) strengths and weaknesses.
The title conveys the purpose—to offer accessible policy ideas for civic, economic, and security architecture that would shore up the long-term foundations of American strengths, and address the basic policy priorities facing an incoming president and Congress.
The content consists of 12 chapters that address questions of entitlement reform, deficits, monetary reform, national debt, regulatory reform, tax reform, health care reform, K-12 education reform, a realistic and proactive agenda setting for national security, and the practice of diplomacy in turbulent times.
The book’s strength is that all the contributors are recognized experts in their fields. The policies they propound are based on sound economic and military reasoning. The majority has combined academic with political experience, having served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. The four-star general officers have served with distinction from their entrance into, and their retirement from, the military.
The book’s weakness can be expressed in four words: “same old, same old. “ I mean old in two respects.
First, I mean old in that there are few new ideas presented in the book. The policy recommendations are, by and large, the same as those presented to Ronald Reagan on his accession to the presidency in 1981.
Second, I mean old as in the age of the authors. In the order in which their names appear in the table of contents, the authors are 95, 70, 68, 60, 69, 58, 73, 68, 65, 58, and 87 (average age of 70.1). Elderly professionals are prone to justify long-held views and tend to restate them in speeches, articles, books, op-eds, etc. Rarely will anyone reject his or her long-held views and replace them with new ideas in the latter stage of their careers. I think the book would carry more weight with the current academic, political, and media generations if it included younger contributors in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
Let’s go back 26 years, when the Hoover Institution Press published The United States in the 1980s. George P. Shultz, then 59, played an important role serving on the book’s advisory board.
The United States in the 1980s
In 1980, the Hoover Institution published, The United States in the 1980s, which is acknowledged to be its most influential book addressing issues of domestic and international policy. The book consisted of 28 essays, 14 written by experts in fields of U.S. domestic policy and 14 in international policy. Many of the authors served, or advised, on policy in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
The opening paragraph of the “Introduction,” written by the co-editors Peter Duignan and Alvin Rabushka, describes conditions (except for the absence of inflation) in the United States in 2016.
“Two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson is reputed to have wisely proclaimed: “That government is best which governs least.” As we enter the 1980s, we in the United States would do well to remember his maxim. The 1960s and 1970s were decades of dramatic growth in legislation, government regulation, public sector spending, and bold policy initiatives in a host of social areas. We have learned by now that we cannot solve social problems by throwing money at them. Too, we have reaped a harvest of rising inflation, waste, and inefficiency in government, and of declining productivity among workers. All this is vividly reflected in ever-increasing disenchantment with and distrust of government.
The authors proposed a number of measures to remedy these problems. They included business tax policy (fleshed out in the Hall-Rabushka fully integrated, business cash-flow expenditure tax—the Flat Tax), tax and spending limits for state and local governments, welfare reform, insuring the solvency of Social Security, reducing costly business regulation, deregulating energy markets, market alternatives to government intervention in health care, and other measures designed to minimize government distortions in achieving a cleaner environment, safer urban areas, and more access to higher education.
I was responsible for editing the domestic half of the book. After an introductory essay by Milton and Rose Friedman, the ages of the contributors, in the order in which their essays appeared in the first half of the book, were 55, 40, 57, 73, 43, 34, 53, 48, 49, 59, 53, 40, and 55 (average of 50.6). The 20-year difference is half the lifetime of most productive professional careers. The policy proposals set forth in The United States in the 1980s were refreshingly new, an antidote to the prevailing big government orthodoxy of the prior years. It is all too easy for the academic-political-media world to dismiss policy ideas proposed in 2016 that are similar to those recommended, and in many cases adopted, based on a book published 36 years ago.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe the ideas in Blueprint for America will provide a basis for action in the coming 4-8 years. But, it hardly seems likely if Hillary Clinton is elected president. As for Trump, most of the contributors have expressed their concern and doubt about the future if Donald Trump is elected. This brief volume would have been an appropriate handbook for Jeb Bush or some other mainstream Republican.