Cover image for The sixteen-trillion-dollar mistake : how the U.S. bungled its national priorities from the New Deal to the present
The sixteen-trillion-dollar mistake : how the U.S. bungled its national priorities from the New Deal to the present
Jansson, Bruce S.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xi, 492 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1710 Lexile.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV95 .J355 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Choices about budget priorities are arguably the most important made by the federal government, profoundly affecting the well-being of citizens. Bruce Jansson documents how presidents from FDR to Clinton have made ill-advised choices that wasted trillions of dollars. Going beyond charges of corruption or bureaucratic waste, the book is an eye-opening exposé revealing innumerable useless projects (military as well as civilian), unnecessary tax concessions, and the use of interest payments to cover deficit spending, among other costly mistakes. Using Office of Management and Budget projections through 2004, Jansson shows how the madness continues--and how an informed electorate can put an end to it.

Author Notes

Bruce S. Jansson is the author of Social Policy: From Theory to Political Practice, The Reluctant Welfare State, and many other books and articles on social policy and welfare. He teaches at the University of Southern California and lives in Los Angeles.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Regardless of the promises politicians make or the agendas they set, it is our federal budget that ultimately and most accurately reflects the U.S.'s "real" priorities. Jansson, who has taught at the University of California's School of Social Work for more than 25 years, analyzes social and domestic policy over the past 70 years through the prism of the budget. He has spent 10 years researching this current book, combing five presidential libraries and conducting extended computer analyses of budgetary data. Beginning with the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt ("when the U.S. first institutionalized a large federal budget"), Jansson faults government--regardless of the party in power--for squandering America's money on excessive military spending, tax concessions to the affluent, corporate welfare, outrageous pork-barrel projects, overpaying interest on the national debt, and just plain waste. He then demonstrates that this money could have supported instead free child care for women in need, primary-care health clinics, and dozens of other social investment programs. --David Rouse

Publisher's Weekly Review

Spurred by unrealized talk of a peace dividend when the Cold War ended, Jansson (The Reluctant Welfare State), a scholar at the University of Southern California, took nearly a decade to research and write this lucid, remarkably flowing, critical history of American government spending and national priorities from 1932 to the present, tracing the policy and political dynamics that, he says, have wasted $16 trillion (a conservative estimate, he claims). Jansson is not referring primarily to the pork-barrel expenditures usually associated with government waste, which, he states, amount to only "pennies on the dollar." Instead, he focuses primarily on undertaxation (of individuals as well as corporations) and the resulting huge debt payments and military spending, which have chronically crippled vital domestic government programs. Jansson clearly documents sometimes surprising but key historical issues, such as the severe underfunding of the New Deal and Great Society ("Historians often portray the New Deal as mammoth," he notes, "but it had relatively few resources" because FDR wouldn't increase taxes to subsidize it). He similarly notes the massive size of Nixon's entitlements expansion and Reagan's ballooning of the debt (with the resulting vast interest payments). Both liberals and conservatives should care about eliminating the real mother lode of government waste, Jansson argues, and he suggests tax levels (20% of GDP) and military policies to do so. Jansson's analysis is strongly persuasive in showing that we've paid dearly for short-term expediency and ideological rigidity and surely need to change. 8 tables, 35 charts. (Mar.) Forecast: This detailed study will probably be more talked about than read. It should generate controversy in the media, aided by a publication that coincides with President Bush's submitting of his first budget. Columbia clearly has high hopes for this book it has hired an outside publicist, and Jansson will go on a 6-city speaking tour. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Jansson (social work, Univ. of Southern California) is clear about his federal budgetary priorities. The US spends too much on the military, tax rates are too low, corporations should not receive subsidies, the affluent should furnish a higher percentage of tax revenue, and pork barrel spending should cease. He expresses a strong preference for a European-style welfare state. Jansson advocates increased federal spending for childcare, more primary-care health clinics, more food stamps, higher Supplementary Security Income, generous Medicaid, better public transportation, enhanced environmental cleanup and protection, and infrastructure repair. By examining federal budgets under presidents from Roosevelt through Clinton he discovers 16 trillion dollars of wasted spending or uncollected taxes that could have been used to finance his agenda. Much of this sum comes from his assumption that the Cold War threat was exaggerated. Chapter titles include "Johnson's Policy Gluttony," "Nixon's Megalomania," "Reagan's Fantasies," and "Bush's Myopia." He finds American politics sloppy and wasteful. Assuming that most voters share his own priorities, Jansson recommends a better-informed and more actively involved citizenry. This book and his earlier work on becoming an effective policy advocate show the way. Most suitable for public and undergraduate library collections. R. T. Averitt Smith College

Table of Contents

1 Failed National Priorities from FDR to Clinton
2 Roosevelt as Magician
3 Roosevelt's Dilemma
4 The Conservatives' Revenge
5 Truman's Nightmare
6 Truman's Bombshells
7 Eisenhower's Ambivalence and Kennedy's Obsession
8 Johnson's Policy Gluttony
9 Nixon's Megalomania
10 Reagan's Fantasies
11 Reagan's Gordian Knot
12 Bush's Myopia
13 Clinton as Backpedaler and Counterpuncher
14 Clinton Boxes with Reagan's Shadow
15 On the Magnitude of Failed National Priorities Notes Collections, Oral Histories, Interviews