Commonsense Solutions for America’s Entitlement Crisis

Published September 14, 2015

Review of Power to the People: The New Road to Freedom and Prosperity for the Poor, Seniors, and Those Most in Need of the World’s Best Health Care, by Peter Ferrara (The Heartland Institute), 2015, 149 pages; ISBN-13: 978-1934791530: $12.95 on

Books about economic issues often contain many complex charts, graphs, and equations, but they also tend to lack common sense.

Peter Ferrara’s new book, Power to the People: The New Road to Freedom and Prosperity for the Poor, Seniors, and Those Most in Need of the World’s Best Health Care, is not one of those books.

Drawing on his 35 years of experience at Harvard Law School, in the Reagan administration, and at the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News, Ferrara shows how elected officials have been primarily interested in retaining power and pandering to their special interests and uninterested in actually solving the problems the nation faces.

Commonsense Principles

By ignoring simple solutions for providing a social safety net, lawmakers have bloated the nation’s entitlement programs, making them ineffective and indeed harmful to the people they’re supposed to serve. Like many answers to the questions facing lawmakers today, Ferrara’s simple solutions are based on commonsense, constitutional, and free-market principles.

For example, Ferrara explains one of the most complex entitlement programs in modern history, Obamacare, in an easily understandable manner. The only confusion left in the reader’s mind will be how it ever became a law.

“Throwing out the separation of powers, Obamacare grants the president unprecedented power, taking us back before the Magna Carta, with monarchial power for the president to bypass Congress completely,” Ferrara wrote.

Harming Instead of Helping

Ferrara explains how the U.S. welfare system operates in reverse, keeping people in poverty and continually adding to the welfare rolls.

By penalizing the nation’s impoverished when they attempt to work, poverty programs place the equivalent of a 70–100 percent effective tax rate on earned income. Backing up these anecdotes with data, the book details the harmful outcomes caused by the federal government’s 200 separate welfare programs, 186 of which are listed by name.

Empowering States

Central to Ferrara’s plan is the use of federal block grants to put the states in charge of how welfare funds are spent. That would empower states to make more sensible decisions and improve the quality of care, Ferrara explains.

“With the states back in charge, each would have the flexibility to structure its welfare system to suit the needs and circumstances of its citizens,” Ferrara said.

Ferrara says returning this power to state governments would allow experimentation. States would be able to implement policies meeting their own unique needs, and successful policy reforms would be copied by other states over time.

Power to the People is big on ideas, but it does not overwhelm the reader with complexity. Instead of leaving one with confusion, it leaves the reader with amazement that such obvious answers to the problems facing our nations were not enacted long ago. 

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is science director of The Heartland Institute.