Book Review: “Unsustainable” by James MacDougald

If you think Illinois public salaries and pensions are bad, read this book.

When it comes to outrageous public salaries and pensions, Jim MacDougald has done for the whole country what Champion News has done for Illinois.

Jim MacDougald is a retired entrepreneur who as a public service invested seven figures into his new organization called He hired computer software experts, scads of researchers and went to work researching and reporting on excessive public employee salaries, pensions and benefits. Like Champion News’ own Jack Roeser, MacDougald has put his money where his mouth is without any expectation other than better, cheaper, less intrusive and more “sustainable” governance.

“Unsustainable” is the result of Jim’s crew looking into every nook and cranny of almost every state for the most recent and most egregious public compensation excesses whether the employees were teachers, police, state workers, nurses, prison guards or featherbedding executives and whether they worked for the local school district, county, city or state. No stone was left unturned and no quarter granted.

The result is a virtual Encyclopedia of how political trickery, and government nonfeasance and malfeasance has ended up handing out billions of taxpayer’s dollars to a legion of undeserving public employees making them pension multimillionaires.

MacDougald starts by explaining the background: how government redistributive policies conflict with the constitution and how that inevitably results in more government jobs and fewer private sector jobs. This, of course, means that fewer private sector taxpayers must continually pay more taxes to fund the compensation for the ever-increasing public sector employee count.

Chapter Three “Disparity of Public Sector Pay and Benefits” expands on what we have been saying at Champion News: the high salaries, low contribution rate and early age retirement of public employees puts virtually every government entity (and their associated taxpayers) on an unsustainable path. This chapter ends with some great (or maybe not so great) examples of excess including DROP programs, double dipping and some Champion News Top 100 Pension and salary examples. It gives definitive examples for 27 states.

Chapter Four “Hiding Costs from Taxpayers” is a little technical because the actuarial math involved in calculating future pension costs is very complicated. But there are good examples of how the true costs are minimized and by passing them on down the line are, in effect, a form of intergenerational theft, stealing from our children and grandchildren in order to make public employees multi-millionaires.

Other chapters go on to examine the Social Security crisis, the health care debacle, the undue influence of unions, debt and taxes, and the demonizing of capitalism by the left especially those non-profits whose entire existence, ironically, depends upon donations from the very capitalists they attack.

MacDougald has special expertise in health care since he spent his entire professional life in the health insurance industry. His insights here are especially valuable.

MacDougald ends with his 11 step prescriptive solution: Unleash the private sector.

The very last item in the book? The Bill of Rights. Take time to read that monument to independence once more. And remember, as this book reminds us, that Lincoln said “Of the people, by the people and for the people” not “Of the government, by the government and for the government.”

I really like “Unsustainable” and it’s pretty obvious I am not the only one who likes it. On “Unsustainable” has 25 ratings every one of them 5 stars.

So my recommendation is emphatic: buy “Unsustainable” now, read it now and then give it to someone else to read.

It is that important.

Bill Zettler is a free-lance writer and consultant specializing in public sector compensation. He can be contacted at this email address.