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Repairing governments

Books | Important lessons on the budget, Waco, and foreign policy

Issue: "Reno Under Fire," April 26, 1997

The next time some Washington politico declares that federal spending has been cut to the bone, you should pick up Balancing America's Budget. In it a leading conservative think tank proposes reducing outlays by $510 billion over five years. It's not enough-expenditures would still rise $176 billion over the period, or 2.1 percent a year. But it's a good start.

One problem with the Heritage plan is that it would hike defense outlays, even though America currently accounts for almost 40 percent of the globe's military outlays and dramatically outspends every other government. From my colleagues at the Cato Institute comes a more far-reaching critique of the federal policy: the Cato Handbook for Congress. It provides a comprehensive agenda for reform-eliminating foreign military commitments and aid, killing domestic agencies, preventing regulatory abuses, and much more. The book is a useful gauge for measuring the actions of Congress and the president.

The federal threat to the liberties of Americans is evident from No More Wacos, which analyzes the 1993 catastrophe at Waco. Attorney David Kopel and criminologist Paul Blackmun find a frightening pattern of government overreaching that demands a public response. The authors conclude: &quotIt is time for the American people to use the ballot box, the jury box, and all other peaceful means to tame their federal government's law enforcement agencies, which have now become a god that answereth by fire."

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How the United States should deal with friends and foes abroad is covered in American Diplomacy and the End of the Cold War and The Coming Conflict with China. The first reviews Washington's policy toward Europe between 1989 and 1992, when communism, the Soviet Union, and the Warsaw Pact all collapsed. The author, who served on the National Security Council, offers a wealth of interesting information and stories about one of the most important periods of world history.

The second volume is prescriptive. Although more moderate than its title implies, the authors (a journalist and a former journalist) foresee a stormy relationship between the United States and China. They never justify their basic assumption (war), but The Coming Conflict with China represents an important contribution in what is likely to become an increasingly contentious debate.


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