Running on Empty How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It

Peter G. Peterson




Trade Paperback

288 Pages



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When George W. Bush came into office in 2001, the ten-year budget balance was officially projected to be at a surplus of $5.6 trillion. But after three big tax cuts, the bursting of the stock market bubble, and the devastating effects of 9/11 on the economy, the surplus has evaporated, and the deficit is expected to grow to $5 trillion over the next decade. America was once the greatest creditor to nations around the globe; it is now the largest debtor in the world. And the domestic deficit is only half the story. Given our $500 billion trade deficit and our anemic savings rate, we depend on an unprecedented $2 billion of foreign capital every working day. If foreign confidence were to wane, this could lead to a dreaded hard landing.

President Bush says that the deficit is just "numbers on paper." Vice President Cheney claims that Reagan proved "deficits don't matter." Peter G. Peterson—a lifelong Republican, chairman of the Blackstone Group, and former secretary of commerce under Nixon—shatters the myths with hard facts and a harrowing view of the twin deficits' real impact. Republicans and Democrats alike have mortgaged America's future through reckless tax cuts, out-of-control spending, and Enron-style accounting in Congress. And the situation will only get worse as the Baby Boom generation begins to retire, making unprecedented demands on entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Despite what Bush says, we are on a path that could end in economic meltdown, and we simply cannot grow out of the deficit.

In Running on Empty, Peterson takes us behind the politicians' smoke-and-mirror games, and forcefully explains what we must do to rescue the future of our country.

This paperback edition includes a new preface by the author.


Praise for Running on Empty

"His writing is compact, unusually clear and accessible, logically consistent, and highly convincing."—Howard Marks, Los Angeles Times

"Level-headed . . . [Peterson writes] with precision and punch, Mr. Peterson . . . blames both parties for conniving against fiscal common sense, [but] he puts the present administration in a class of its own"—Christopher Caldwell, The New York Times

"Important . . . The real import of [Peterson's] argument is that even with growth, the financing of the current entitlement system will eventually have to be dramatically rebuilt—and that's a message that should be heard."—Michael J. Mandel, Business Week

"Lucid, powerful, and alarming . . . [By] the next presidential election [in 2008] the dire fiscal future that Peterson eloquently describes . . . will already have arrived."—Michael Mandelbaum, Newsday

"Running on Empty far exceeds the sum of its statistics and predictions. For Peterson's book poses a central moral question: How much should America spend on the 'past'— benefits for retirees—at the expense of the 'future'—a growing economy for unborn generations?"—The New York Post

"Today, too many of our country's key economic decisions are being made with an eye to the next election rather than to the next generation. This book explains in simple but powerful terms why it's imperative that our attention be refocused—now."—Warren E. Buffett, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway

"Peter Peterson's book Running on Empty provides a clear, concise, and unvarnished look at America's political and fiscal deterioration. Peterson's commonsense approach to reform, in order to take on the enormous challenges we face, is a refreshing tack which, sadly, is not often seen when it comes to America's economic situation. His observations about the social, economic, and international implications of our inaction are right on the mark. This book should be required reading for everyone involved in public policy and anyone who cares about America's future."—Senator John McCain

"Peter Peterson has performed a great national service with Running on Empty. No one knows better the costly consequences of record deficits for future generations. This is a wake-up call we cannot ignore."—Tom Brokaw, NBC News

"Peter Peterson articulates with clarity and force a common concern among many of us. Simply put, our fiscal profligacy and growing dependence on foreign savings cannot be sustained."—Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve

"This book is a clear, realistic, insightful, and compelling picture of America's fiscal and economic future. And, unlike most, this book actually proposes solutions. It deserves to be the intellectual foundation for a movement to put the fuel back in our tank."—former Senator Bob Kerrey

"[As Peter Peterson puts it]: 'I want to ask every American, young people especially: Is your future better off now than it was four years ago—now that you are saddled with these large new liabilities and the higher taxes that must eventually accompany them?' . . . If this isn't the election issue, I don't know what is."—Thomas L. Friedman, op-ed 2/1/04, The New York Times

"Peterson lays out in extraordinary detail how both major political parties have ignored the fiscal juggernaut that is bearing down upon us. His facts are irrefutable; his opinions grounded in those facts. It is a chilling story of what could be a fiscal disaster for this country that we all love."—former Senator Warren B. Rudman

"Running on Empty is a must-read for anyone who is concerned about the crushing fiscal burden we are amassing for our children and grandchildren, why our increasingly polarized political system makes the problem worse, and what we need to do to ensure a brighter future."—former Senator Sam Nunn

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Running on Empty
Chapter 1BANKRUPT PARTIES, BANKRUPT NATIONWhen the towers fell, I was out of town attending a corporate board meeting (which promptly adjourned) and spent the rest of the day watching cable news and trying to call my wife and family in Manhattan. Four days later, when I finally managed to get a plane home, I saw a New York--and an America--transformed. I saw parents doting on their kids and neighbors helping neighbors and college students lining up to donate blood and cars and streets in a sea of flags. Out of tears and tragedy there came a new sense of community purpose and
Read the full excerpt


  • Peter G. Peterson

  • Peter G. Peterson, a former Secretary of Commerce in the Nixon administration, is the author of Gray Dawn: How the Coming Age Wave Will Transform America—and the World. He is senior chairman and co-founder of the Blackstone Group, chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, founding president of the Concord Coalition, and chairman of the Institute for International Economics.