At The Brink, the new book by economist Dr. John Lott (author of More Guns, Less Crime and other books; also, he is a friend of mine), provides a detailed examination of five areas where the Obama administration is about to take us over the edge into, perhaps, the irrevocable collapse of our republic. Unfortunately, Dr. Lott makes it clear that these problems are not just Obama’s doing, but the result of bad policy decisions that have been coming from D.C. for a long time.
The five areas that Dr. Lott examines, in his thorough but readable manner: Obamacare; the stimulus bills that actually destroyed more jobs than they created; how Obama’s gun control policy was politically driven when not actually criminal; the regulatory destruction of business (at least businesses that were not contributing money to the Obama campaign); and the effects of tax policy.
The theme of each chapter was not new to me and I suspect may not be new to many readers of this review, but the depth of information that Dr. Lott marshals is gratifying. For example: I knew that 90% of Americans were happy with their medical care before Obamacare. What was a bit surprising was hearing that even the uninsured were satisfied with their health care. Only 3.9% of uninsured Americans in a 2006 Kaiser Family Foundation survey described themselves as “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with their medical care. A 2003 ABC News/Washington Post survey taken in 2003 was only a bit worse: 4.9% of the uninsured were “somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied” with their medical care.
Dr. Lott uses statistics for the U.S. and Europe to demonstrate that the U.S. performs better — often much better — than Europe at the factors that should be among the demanding tests of the quality of a medical care system. For example: the percentage of cancer patients who survive for five years. The U.S. — ranked only 37th in medical care by the World Health Organization — performs better or far better on this measure than a number of countries that WHO ranks as having better medical care systems.
Remember those stories Obama told during the 2008 campaign about people dying because they lost their health insurance? Lott digs deep into some of those stories, demonstrating that Obama misrepresented — sometimes substantially — what actually happened and what the consequences were for these people.
With respect to the effects of the various stimulus packages, Dr. Lott demonstrates that — compared to previous recessions and recoveries — the Obama “recovery” was astonishingly weak as measured by jobs created and recovery of gross domestic product. Perhaps most astonishingly: “The Obama recovery is weak even compared with the recovery from the great Depression.” Most importantly, Dr. Lott shows that it was not bad luck, but bad policy that made the difference. In a series of graphs, Dr. Lott shows the relationship between austerity (reducing governmental spending) and improved employment across the other industrialized nations. Unsurprisingly, bringing governmental spending under control has been one of the most effective ways to increase private sector employment, grow GDP, and reduce deficits.
Perhaps the most impressive comparison is the one that Dr. Lott makes between Canada and the U.S. — two countries closely tied economically but which took fundamentally different approaches to the economic disaster that started in 2008. While both countries suffered similar unemployment rates in 2008 — both rising rapidly until early 2009 — the change in rates then decoupled. Canadian unemployment rates continued to rise — but at a far slower rate than those of the U.S. The big difference? Obama, with his $787 billion “stimulus,” drove up deficits dramatically, while Canada’s government chose instead to continue cutting corporate income tax rates. As Dr. Lott points out, the Europeans, who we tend to think of big-spending liberals, were far more restrained after the crash, and were concerned about the madness of U.S. spending policies.
Regular readers here doubtless know the crock of lies underlying the gun control cause and may find some of Dr. Lott’s chapter three not terribly surprising: still, it is useful to have this chapter documenting so much of the history and dishonesty of Operation Fast & Furious. This is especially useful as so much of the mainstream news media chose to ignore or whitewash the Obama administration’s actions.
At The Brink is pleasantly readable: while some of Dr. Lott’s earlier books could cause a well-educated reader to wish he had recently taken introductory statistics, Dr. Lott has made sure this is clear for a non-technical audience — without “dumbing down” the material.
Increasingly, America is divided into warring political camps, one of which will dismiss At The Brink because it criticizes the Obamessiah while the other will celebrate its blunt criticism. But there is an even more important and destructive divide going on: between those who read serious books (including people on both sides of the political divide) and the large majority of low-information voters. How much impact can an important book on public policy have in a society where food stamps and subsidized cell phones have replaced bread and circuses?