Book Review: Peoples’ Guide to the Federal Budget

Peoples' Guide to the Federal BudgetPeoples’ Guide to the Federal Budget by National Priorities Project

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m sort of giving this book the benefit of the doubt, in the sense that I’m assuming the errors I’ve noted (see the in-progress burbling, which I’m presuming is visible to all and sundry) are the only ones to be found. But since I had next to no knowledge of how the federal budget is prepared prior to opening this book, it may simply be that in my ignorance I’ve missed one, several or many such. I say “sort of” largely in regard to the rating. There’s no way I could give this book 4 stars, but had I not seen what I noted, such a rating would have been on the table, even if I ultimately didn’t rate it that highly.

So, short and not-so-sweet:
>>> The bulk of the text has a degree of clarity I can only applaud. It does what it sets out to do, namely provide a brief survey of how what the government collects (via taxes and borrowing) gets distributed, and the ping-pong match/mating of elephants (and presumably donkeys) involved in the estimates, earmarks, and other assorted chicanery in getting from money in to money out.
>>> I particularly liked Chapter 6, Where Does the Money Go?, in particular the very handy explanation of how “mandatory” and “discretionary” spending differ, and how these differences have their own consequences
>>> Having noted both of the above, I’d still be very, very reluctant to cite any part of this work as ultimately true without some sort of independent verification. I felt there were simply too many errors in the text, “ticky-tack” or not, for my personal level of comfort. YMMV
>>>> One final issue I had with the text, not noted in my “in progress” notes: The “Debt Held by the Public” [p. 111] does note that approximately half of the USG’s debt is held by non-US entities, but does not say that this is a relatively recent phenomenon. I’m not willing to do the legwork to provide exact figures (life is too short, and, alas I have received no donations from either the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation or the Ford Foundation) or the changes over time, but I will go out on a limb and state that we (“we” being all of Uncle Sam’s progeny) owe more than ever AND owe more than ever to outsiders. There must be some sort of consequence to all that, though I’d be hard-pressed to say what. Possibly the lack of any sort of public demonstrations in recent times to “Free Tibet?”

So, a one sentence synopsis (Can I do it?): A decent introduction, but one I’d label as “proceed with caution.”


I started typing the drivel that follows as the opening to the review. Unfortunately it took on a life of its own, one that has at best a tangential relationship to the book under examination. I decided, WTH, I’ll keep it, but demote it to the caboose, and add this note that there’s “no there there,” in what follows. So, feel free to skip in the sense that there’s nothing critical here, just some diarrhea of the keyboard, which may or may not explain where I’m coming from.


The main question I’ve got: How many “ticky-tack” errors should one tolerate before concluding that the authors of a work are either lazy, apathetic or even downright misleading? Or even all of the preceding? And by misleading, I do not necessarily mean intentionally so. Simply that sloppy editing and what I presume is the left of center ideology of the National Priorities Project might have combined into something that is ultimately less than objective.

I suppose my tolerance for such things is likely lower than average, blessed as I am with the dual diagnosis of (the soon to be extinct) Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD, type Primarily Inattentive. But this does not make said minor errors any less real, simply that I am more likely to stumble over them as I note them than average, my focus hard-wired to view this tree, that tree, and so forth, rather than to apply the term “forest” to this collection of trees I’m looking upon. In any event, it has always been something of a conundrum in my (admittedly pathetic) life, one that I see no way, ultimately, to resolve.

Such are my inherent biases. Thus, though I cannot consider myself liberal, conservative, libertarian or moderate, for the simple reason that the more time goes on the more such labels seem to devolve into sludge before my eyes, I suppose “stumbler-over-tree-roots” would qualify me as an ideologue of sorts. One with a particular world-view and with my own bundle of preconceived notions and inherent biases.

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Thumbnail image of the in-process notes:



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