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"A Fiscal Cliff" - a man stands on a cliff looking out

A Fiscal Cliff

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The unsustainable, and still rapidly growing, U.S. federal government debt is a classic case of ‘‘in denial.” Despite numerous congressional committees, bipartisan commissions, and votes, we are no closer to a solution to the debt crisis than we were more than a decade ago. In fact, in 2018, a congressional committee was appointed to recommend budget process reforms, but that committee could not agree on any recommendations to submit to Congress.

In this timely volume, scholars and policymakers assess the United States’ fiscal constraints and provide new perspectives that are desperately needed in order to solve the nation’s debt crisis. Previous recommendations focused on the outcomes of fiscal policy but perhaps we should take a step back and ask whether the fiscal and budget process rules themselves should be reformed. The essays in A Fiscal Cliff suggest that “unless we reform our fiscal rules and institutions, we are not likely to solve the debt crisis and restore sustainable fiscal policies.” Topics discussed include

  • Historical perspectives on the origins and the pre‐​pandemic state of the crisis

  • In‐​depth, international perspectives on the U.S. debt crisis

  • Fiscal policy reforms designed to significantly reduce deficits and debt

  • Reforms to the budget process, including transparency, accountability, and constraints

  • The U.S. debt examined through the lens of public choice theory

While the dominant sentiment is that maybe if we ignore it, it will just go away, the debt crisis will not just vanish. A Fiscal Cliff is a timely addition to a critical policy discussion.



A Fiscal Cliff is precisely the right book for perilous fiscal times. Giants in economics and public policy offer a spirited defense of fiscal rules critically needed to protect our children and grandchildren from a bleak future.”
— Richard K. Vedder, Distinguished Professor of Economics Emeritus, Ohio University

“The unsustainability of the federal budget is one of the nation’s most pressing problems. A Fiscal Cliff, edited by two leading scholars of government budgeting in John Merrifield and Barry Poulson and featuring contributions from many of the nation’s foremost experts on fiscal policy, provides this vital topic the treatment deserves. This volume should be a guide to policymakers to implement fiscal rules that will constrain overspending and debt, ensuring the American dream for generations to come.”
—Matthew D. Dickerson, policy manager, Americans for Prosperity

“This book includes a number of essays from a range of scholars who provide their personal views on the nature and scope of our fiscal challenges, lessons from others, and possible solutions. I hope this book will serve to stimulate some much needed and long overdue discussion regarding how best to put our nation’s finances in order so that our future can be better than our past.”
—David Walker, U.S. Comptroller General, 1998–2008