Building America's electricity system was one of the great achievements of the twentieth century, providing inexpensive energy to homes and businesses throughout the country. But in the twenty-first century, two crises occurred. In 2001, California experienced massive electricity shortages, leading to rolling blackouts and skyrocketing electrical bills. And in 2003, a blackout swept across eight states in the Midwest and Northeast, leaving tens of millions in the dark. Why did these problems arise now, after a century of progress? Were they the result of ill-advised attempts to deregulate the utility industry? Or is more deregulation actually the solution?
The September 11 attacks in New York and Washington have already cost America thousands of lives and billions of dollars in damages. But those are only the direct costs. How severe and how lasting will the impact be on our economy as whole? And how will new burdens on the federal government, including a military buildup and a bailout of the airline industry, affect fiscal policy? Should the government cut taxes or increase spending to get the economy moving again?
In 2001 President Bush established a bipartisan commission to study and report recommendations for restoring fiscal soundness to the current Social Security program. All three of the commission's models for reforming the system included the creation of individually controlled retirement accounts—a process commonly referred to as "privatizing Social Security." Some critics of the proposals argue that Social Security is not in as much trouble as the president's commission would have us believe and that major reform is unnecessary. Other critics say that creating private accounts will compound Social Security's problems rather than solve them. Who's right, the president's commission or its critics?
Following World War II, Japan reinvented itself both politically, as it adopted the institutions of democratic government, and economically, as it became a dominant producer and exporter of consumer goods. These reforms were so successful that, ten years ago, experts were predicting that Japan would overtake the United States as an economic superpower. Instead, Japan experienced a decade of recession and economic stagnation that continues still. What happened? Is this a sign of serious structural problems in Japan's political and economic institutions? In other words, is it time for Japan to reinvent itself once again? If so, how should the United States alter its relationship with a new Japan?
This week on Uncommon Knowledge, a conversation with author and historian Amity Shlaes on her new book, Great Society: A New History.
Be careful when one uses the superlative case—best, most, -est, etc.—or evokes end-of-the-world imagery...
On July 29, 1981, barely six months into his presidency and in the face of an economic crisis of historic proportions, Ronald Reagan succeeded in persuading both houses of Congress to pass dramatic tax cuts that set the stage for nearly three decades of vigorous economic growth...
During the 2004 presidential campaign, one principal plank of George W. Bush's domestic platform was reforming tort law, which includes class action lawsuits, asbestos liability, and medical malpractice liability. President Bush believes that tort law as it now stands permits trial lawyers to take advantage of good companies, driving up the costs of doing business for everyone. Others believe that existing tort law allows consumers to protect themselves against bad companies. Which is it? And should President Bush be given the tort reforms he wants? Peter Robinson speaks with David Davenport and Alan Morrison.
For forty-five years, the threat of conflict with the Soviet Union brought the United States and Western Europe into a tight partnership, most notably represented by the NATO military alliance. But with the Soviet Union gone and the European Union on the road to possible superpower status in its own right, does the transatlantic alliance have a future? Peter Robinson speaks with Niall Ferguson, Josef Joffe, and Coit Blacker.
The decades of the 1980s and 1990s seem to offer two different fiscal models for promoting economic growth. The 1980s under President Reagan suggest that cutting taxes is more important than balancing the budget. The 1990s under President Clinton suggest the importance of balancing the budget with moderate tax increases. Yet the results in each decade were similar: sustained economic growth. President George W. Bush has clearly been following the Reagan model in his first term: enacting large tax cuts even as the federal budget approaches record deficits. But has the Bush team taken the correct lessons from our recent economic past? Do the Bush policies promote long-term growth or jeopardize it?
Just two years ago, in the 2000 fiscal year, the annual federal budget had a surplus of $236 billion. Now the federal government is facing a budget deficit of more than $150 billion, possibly much more. And whereas during the presidential campaign of 2000, the candidates were debating how to spend trillions in expected future surpluses, the Congressional Budget Office is now projecting a cumulative $1 trillion deficit by 2011. What happened to the surplus, and what is to blame for the return of the deficit? Is it President Bush's tax cut? Or was it the recession of 2001 and the war on terrorism? In light of the deficit, what should we make of the president's budget plans?
After two decades of reform, Stalin and Mao wouldn't recognize Russia and China today. But each state has taken a different path away from their communist past. Russia has emphasized democratic reforms while enduring economic instability. China has promoted economic growth based on market reforms, while maintaining tight control over politics. Which path will prove to be more successful, Russia's or China's?
Does outsourcing—whether it means the transfer of customer service and high-tech jobs to India or of manufacturing jobs to China—benefit the American economy or harm it? And if American workers are being harmed by outsourcing, what should be done about it? Do we need legislation to prevent corporations from sending jobs overseas? Or should we focus our attention on creating new opportunities for the American labor force through education and job training?
In January 2004, President George W. Bush announced a plan for a manned mission to Mars in the first half of the twenty-first century. Is NASA up to the task? Given the recent failures of NASA's manned space program, from Space Shuttle disasters to the overbudget and barely functional International Space Station, should NASA even be running a manned space program? If so, what can be done to revitalize NASA and restore both its sense of purpose and the public's excitement for space exploration that has been missing for twenty years? Peter Robinson speaks with Sean O'Keefe.
It has been more than fifteen years since the People's Liberation Army crushed the prodemocracy rallies in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, killing hundreds of students and workers and wounding thousands more. Since then, although stifling political dissent, China has continued to liberalize its economy and is rapidly becoming an economic superpower. Will the explosion of new wealth in China lead to new pressures for democratic reform? And just what is the legacy of Tiananmen? Peter Robinson speaks with William McGurn and Orville Schell.
Over the last quarter century, Latin America appears to have made remarkable political and economic progress—an undeniable shift towards democratic government and free market economics. Yet during the last five years, several Latin American countries have experienced one political and economic crisis after another. Why? Have democratic and free market reforms failed Latin America? Or are enduring problems of governmental structure still to blame? Peter Robinson speaks with Stephen Haber and Alvaro Vargas Llosa.
In making Social Security reform a top priority of his second term, President George W. Bush has emphasized two points: first, that, without changes, our Social Security system will be bankrupt by 2042 and, second, that a key element of reform must be creating private accounts to allow workers to invest a portion of their payroll taxes in stocks and bonds. Is the president right on both counts? Peter Robinson speaks with John Cogan and Alan Auerbach.
From the 1950s through the 1980s, Japan experienced dramatic economic growth as it transformed itself from a defeated militaristic empire into a democratic, high-technology powerhouse. The Japanese economy became so dynamic that, by the late 1980s, some American experts were arguing that Japan would overtake the United States as the world's dominant economic power. And then the Japanese economy collapsed. And for nearly fifteen years, the economic malaise has continued. Why? What does Japan need to do to snap out of its doldrums? And what are the risks and benefits to American interests of a reinvigorated Japan?
For some six decades, the continent of Europe has enjoyed remarkable peace and prosperity. What role has the European Union played in this success? And what role should the European Union play in the future? According to some European leaders, the purpose of the European Union is to create a superpower capable of counterbalancing the United States. Is the goal of a superpower Europe a good idea? Is it even possible? Peter Robinson speaks with John O'Sullivan and Adrian Wooldridge.
A series of devastating accounting scandals at Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco, to name a few, have shaken the public's trust in the ethics and business practices of America's large corporations. What are the underlying factors behind this recent wave of scandals? Is deregulation the culprit? If so, do we need more regulation or merely better enforcement of existing regulations? Does the confluence of corporate lobbying and campaign contributions encourage corporate malfeasance? If so, what political reforms are necessary?