A debut book presents a diagnosis of the U.S.’s current political ailments, coupled with a litany of suggested reforms.
Stockdell begins his study with a grim appraisal of America’s current state of health; it’s not merely that the economy is in tatters, but that the political class is no longer generally trusted to trigger a turnaround. The principal problem seems to be monstrously bloated government, practically ineffective, fiscally prodigal, and highly vulnerable to corruption. The author analyzes the inherent failings of a centralized bureaucracy while reflecting on his own experiences as a civil servant. Stockdell particularly objects to government’s heavy-handed attempts to either coerce behavior or provide the kinds of services best offered by the private sector. He discusses the psychological motivations behind big government ideology, which largely embrace the impatient impulse to technocratically solve every problem quickly, or the self-aggrandizement of government officials. The author also furnishes a broad historical context, detailing the way leftist politics in the U.S. has borrowed from the failed legacy of European political theory: “In recent years, the progressive ideology has morphed into a form of socialism, which believes in the absolute dominance of the government and radical redistribution of wealth.” Ultimately, the nation’s problems are so systemically deep, he recommends a Constitutional Convention that, among other things, makes it easier for the public to directly initiate Constitutional reform. He suggests some amendments, too: for example, term limits for members of Congress and federal judges and limits on campaign spending. This is a wide-ranging analysis that covers everything from gun control to the Electoral College. The author certainly has his political commitments (the book is inspired by Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, which advocates individualism), but each section is written with impressive bipartisan moderation. Stockdell often anticipates rational objections to his policy preferences and furnishes reasonable responses to them. The book covers far too much ground, and so the work turns out to be pithy rather than deep, something one might anticipate from the immodest title. It can also be delightfully quirky: there’s an extended aside on postmodern thought. There isn’t much new here philosophically, but the author contributes some concrete policy proposals worthy of consideration.
A thoughtful, if overextended, critique of big government.