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By Gary R. Evans, Published by Academic Press, 1997

Reviewed by Michele Mark Levine, MPA, CPA

In the late 1980s, during a job interview, a partner at a then Big Eight firm asked me what I thought was the most important current national issue. Without hesitation I responded, "the deficit." With all the public discussion at the time, neither of us saw any need to elaborate. Lucky for me, since those two words had essentially exhausted my supply of intelligent commentary on the matter. In the decade since, the deficit has remained a prominent national issue, and my understanding of its significance, root causes, and viable "solutions" had remained woefully inadequate--until I read Gary Evans' cogent treatment of the matter.

In Red Ink, Evans has produced a brief, highly readable, lay person's guide to understanding the basics of an immensely complex and endlessly debatable set of issues. He explains the distinction between gross and net national debt (the latter excludes surpluses "borrowed" from Social Security and other trust funds), illustrates the connection between deficits and debt, discusses budget formulation, and clarifies widely used terms such as entitlements and structural deficit. The book also debunks some myths, such as national debt gets repaid, budget deficits are always bad, and the so-called trust funds can be "raided." Evans wisely relegates the more technical matters to appendices; there is even a special one just for accountants.

While intricate political processes and dynamics are illuminated, the author generally finesses political judgments, and claims his opinions when injected. A discussion of the early 1980s "trickle down economics" declares that deficit reduction was not the policy's purpose, even if the author blames it for the deficit explosion. As for proposing solutions to our current quagmire, Evans is similarly moderate, suggesting incremental rather than radical measures to reduce the deficit to a level he believes is more in line with the size of the U.S. economy.

The national debt and deficit are likely to remain with us, as financial conditions and national issues, for a long time to come. Evans has done much to inform the national debate and, I believe, this book should be read by anyone who considers him- or herself financially literate. For Red Ink, I give a gold star. *

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