The 2% Solution:
Fixing America's Problems In Ways Liberals And Conservative Can Love
Suppose I told you that for just two cents on the national dollar we could have a country where everyone had health insurance, full-time workers earned a living wage, poor children had great teachers in fixed-up schools, and politicians spent their time with average Americans because they no longer had to grovel to wealthy donors? Suppose I also said we'd largely be using "conservative" means (like tax subsidies and vouchers) to help reach these seemingly "liberal" goalsand that when we were done government would still be smaller than it was when Ronald Reagan was president?
If you're like most people, you'd probably think that for two cents on the dollar this sounds like an intriguing deal. But then suppose I explained that 2 percent of our $11 trillion national income (or GDP) is $220 billion a yearorders of magnitude beyond the boundaries of Washington debate? If you listen to the "experts" who set the terms of public discussionthe politicians, the press, and the vast associated network of analysts, advocates and other talking headsyou'd conclude such a plan was impossible. If you listen to common sense, of course, finding two cents on the dollar to reach the goals I've mentioned seems almost a snap.
Between our proper intuition that two percent is a small amount, and the Washington consensus that a two percent shift in priorities is beyond imagining, lies a chasm in which nearly every claimed "solution" from our political leaders indeed much of public debate itselfturns out to be a hoax. Things don't have to be this way. The 2% Solution will change national politics by showing Americans how we can reframe the debate about our collective possibilitiesand thereby fix some of the nation's biggest domestic problems through solutions that are pragmatic, broadly acceptable, and just.
If this sounds a little audacious, it has to be, because the price of persisting with false fixes will soon be too high. Less than ten years remain before the baby boomer's retirement will drain away all the cash and political energy to do anything but cope with their colossal health and pension costs. In other words, if you think it's hard now to get a discussion going about the 40 million Americans who lack health insurance, the 15 million who dwell in poverty despite living in families headed by full-time workers, or the 10 million poor children whose lives are being blighted by dysfunctional urban school systems, then starting in 2010 it will be next to impossible.
These problems take money to solve; it's money we have; and a series of "grand bargains" that harness market forces for public purposes can be struck that make dramatic progress. I explain how and why current debate falls short, detail the fixes, and show how to get from here to there. The book features the voices of political, business and media leaders, as well as public opinion research commissioned specially for the book that shows the public is ready for bolder answers.
In this way, The 2% Solution will fill the void in public debate in which ambitious talk of social justice has all but vanished. By showing how current talk about our biggest domestic woes is a charade, pointing the way toward pragmatic consensus, and challenging progressive-minded people to embrace new, "ideologically androgynous" answers, The 2% Solution will expand the bounds of permissible debate, and make American politics safe for real answers during the crucial decade before the baby boomers retire.
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Table of Contents
Prologue: Here's The Deal
PART ONE: THE PROBLEM
-We're Not Serious
-Why We're Not Serious
-The Clock Is Ticking
PART TWO: THE TWO PERCENT SOLUTION
-Taking Luck Seriously
-Universal Coverage, American-Style
-Vouchers Liberals Can Love
-Uncle Sam (Not Your Boss) Guarantees You A Living Wage
-Finding Two Cents
-Fixing Everything Else
PART THREE: THE TWO PERCENT SOCIETY
-Is The Public Ready?
-Will The Press Step Up?
-Building A Two Percent Nation
Postscript: Getting To Two
Suppose I told you that for just two cents on the national dollar we could have a country where everyone had health insurance, every full-time worker earned a living wage, every poor child had a great teacher in a fixed-up school, and politicians spent their time with average Americans because they no longer had to grovel to wealthy donors? Suppose I also said we'd largely be using "conservative" means (like tax subsidies and vouchers) to reach these seemingly "liberal" goalsand that when we were done, government would be smaller than it was when Ronald Reagan was president?
If you're like most people, I'd wager that for two cents on the dollar you'd say this sounds like an intriguing deal. But then suppose I explained that "two cents on the dollar" means two percent of our $11 trillion national income (gross domestic product, or GDP), which is $220 billion a yearorders of magnitude beyond the boundaries of Washington debate? If you listen to the "experts" who set the terms of that debatethe politicians, the mainstream press, and the vast associated network of analysts, advocates, and other talking headsyou'd conclude such a plan was impossible. If you listen to common sense, however, finding two cents on the dollar to reach the goals I've mentioned seems almost a snap.
Between our proper intuition that two percent is a small number and the Washington consensus that a $220 billion shift in national priorities and resources is beyond imagining lies a chasm in which nearly every claimed "solution" from our political leadersindeed much of public debate itselfturns out to be a hoax. Things don't have to be this way...
Read full prologue (printable version)
Reviews & Press Coverage
"The 2% Solution is a welcome return to political thinking on a big-canvas agenda. Miller's plans do not reduce to cynical exercises... designed mainly to win and hold on to executive power. Instead, they are intended to include all citizens under the simple idea that the public sector can intelligently do some good in the world."
Chris Lehmann, Washington Post Book World (read full review (PDF))
"Most people think that making America a far more decent placea place with a lot less poverty and miseryis an unattainable dream. It ain't soand this book explains why. Matt Miller's book is the best explanation I've seen so far of how a bit more money and a lot more sense can improve our society."
"A small marvel of a book, an extended discussion of public policy that will wake you up rather than put you to sleep... the Republican in the White House should take heed as well."
Gary Rosen, Wall Street Journal
"Matt Miller shows that the biggest crisis we face is the crisis of imagination. Political leaders refuse to think outside the conventional ruts. But Miller has done just that, superbly. I haven't felt this hopeful about domestic policy and our national prospects in a long time."
"In this stimulating and constructive book, syndicated columnist Matthew Miller not only calls our attention to some of the most serious and urgent problems confronting our country, but also accomplishes the even more laudable feat of offering some workableand affordablesolutions.... Miller has a gift for setting forth his ideas in vigorous, direct and irresistibly lively language."
Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times
"Matt Miller for president... If you care about where the nation is headed, if you worry about 40 million Americans having no health coverage, about struggling urban schools... about the 15 million Americans who work full time but still live below the poverty line, read Miller's book... Miller is passionate and bold."
Chris Satullo, The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Read the first 50 pages of The 2% Solution and you won't be able to stop. Matt Miller is a major new talent in American public life, and his first book flows like a fresh, cold stream through the Rockies, slicing through mountains of rhetoric toward irresistible conclusions. But be warned: you won't be able to finish the book without feeling incensed about the way we're failing to fix our health care, our schools, and our future."
"Whether you mostly agree or disagree with Matt Miller, you can never fault him for thinking small. Indeed, he is fast becoming one of the most original and interesting essayists on politics and policy in the country. The 2% Solution offers another intelligent challenge to the tired conventions of contemporary political debate from a man whose chief interest is always the progress of his country."
"[Miller is] an engaging writer and out-of-the- box thinker... His solutions uniquely combine a powerful moral dimension with economic sophistication and a lot of original thinking."
Dan Seligman, Commentary
"If liberals and conservatives could ever agree on anything, it would have to be something as blazingly simpleand originalas Matt Miller's 'two percent solution.' And Miller is one hundred percent right: We've got to get serious about fixing our nation's substandard schools, insultingly low wages, and unaffordable health insurance. The 2% Solution is an ideal place to begin the debate on rebuilding America."
"While other political authors rant and point fingers, Miller offers readers a centrist vision of how we might redeem America's 'commitments to equal opportunity and a minimally decent life'
Mark Paul, The Sacramento Bee
"[An] elegant read"
David Gratzer, National Review
"A grand new policy vision that seeks to enrich public life and solve seemingly intractable policy dilemmas while re-animating the dormant center of American politics."
Benjamin Healy, The Atlantic Monthly Online
"For pure American-style optimism, nothing beats Miller's reformist thesiscarefully researched and argued in convincing economic and political detailthat at the cost of two percent of the GDP, health insurance could become universal, public education for the poor could be dramatically improved and poverty could be nearly eliminated.... This book is a blueprint to the United States society I wish I lived in."
Gregg Easterbrook, New Republic Online
"Original, arresting, and carefully argued, The 2% Solution establishes Matt Miller as the liberal to reckoned with. Conservatives need to pay attentionbecause what Miller is proposing today, we're all going to be debating tomorrow."
"In addressing the obligation of the more to the less fortunate... Miller, a disciple of philosopher John Rawls, is at his most prophetic."
R. Stephen Warner, Christian Century
"Matt Miller's Two Percent Solution challenges us to get serious about social justice by confronting the reality of America, not the unreality of most political campaigns. This critical book asks us to open our minds far enough to see that real remedies exist for some of this country's toughest problems."
"The 2% Solution proves what those who have read his newspaper column know: Matt Miller is not only brilliant but he has what is even rarer, an original mind that comes up with fresh answers to old problems. And what's more, he presents it all in prose that is as lively as it is incisive."