from Fish - Thursday, October 30, 2008
accessed 313 times
Recently I took the time to read both US presidential candidates’ election platforms, something which I had yet to do as, generally speaking, contemporary politics aren’t of interest to me. However, given all the election hype I thought I might check them out and perhaps even, god forbid, vote. My first impression was that both platforms were quite vague, particularly regarding some of their more outrageous promises. I found Obama most guilty in this respect, as he promised more. Nonetheless, I was interested enough to watch their final debate all the way through and, though I must say it made for great TV, it wasn’t particularly informative. If anything it made me even more dissatisfied with both candidates. Many of their proposed policies seem relatively unrealistic. Worse still, there were matters of considerable importance which they either skirted or simply didn’t cover, choosing instead to argue over who called what a terrorist or a plumber. This led me to the inescapable conclusion that if I want something done right I ought to do it myself.
Thus I hereby announce my candidacy! To hell with these vague promises of “hope” and “change,” this nonsense about autism and oil pipelines. As you can see by my fourteen page platform, I am not vague and I will bring real, meaningful change which, importantly, will be change for the better, not for the worse. The following details my proposals in the areas of the economy, international relations, healthcare, national identity, equality, education, immigration, taxation and the environment.
Anyone who thinks this article too obnoxiously long to suffer through is obviously not a true patriot and as such should vote for me by default. Those who, though patriots, don’t have the time to imbibe volumes of my rhetoric are advised to skip to the topics that interest them. The majority of these ideas are based on a variety of sources, both modern and ancient, while some I believe are entirely original. None of them are taken from any recent political article or treatise, though some ideas do come from economic work.
And now without further ado, I present my brilliant campaign platform.
As Americans, we must realize that our economy and that of the rest world are inseparable. Plumbers not withstanding, the current self-centered economic outlook held by many vocal Americans is flawed. It is simply not possible for the US to prosper while the world burns, nor conversely is it possible for the world to continue, business as usual, if the US burns. This understood, the US should follow a course, both domestic and international, which promotes maximum productivity for all concerned. To grossly oversimplify the matter, I would advocate a general approach of free trade with simplified regulation and tariffs. Artificial interference with normal market forces should be avoided as much as reasonably possible. If and when the world or US economy requires steering, this should be performed by competent and pragmatic economists and not by politicians with an eye on the next election.
An immediate step in this direction would be the establishment of a panel of experienced economists to facilitate in the long overdue “pragmatization” of national economic policy. This panel could be confirmed by the legislative branch of the government, but once in place would act as a kind of “supreme court” of economic policy. The hope would be that by removing the reigns of economic policy from the hands of inherently fickle, short sighted politicians and entrusting them instead to unelected experts, a more farsighted stable policy might be pursued, with the aim of the greatest good for the greatest number, rather than the favoritism prone, pork barrel, hit and miss efforts which have come to characterize America’s legislative economics.
Under this new order, the demise of sick or corrupt firms and corporations would be allowed if not outright assisted. In the extremely rare event that a firm is “bailed out” for the public good, the assets of its CO, board members and anyone else deemed responsible for its demise will be seized by the federal government to help recoup costs. To encourage competition, monopolies in any sector would be vigorously suppressed. Laws and regulations which interfere with the normal functioning of market forces would be reviewed and, if deemed spurious, revised or expunged. Federal regulation agencies would be overhauled to provide more consistent oversight, and policed vigorously to guard against corruption. Finally, this new order would recognize that economies tend to function in cycles, and though it would attempt to moderate these swings by continuing the current wisdom of countercyclical policy, it would not fly into a panic if the stock market goes into a period of correction, uncompetitive firms collapse, or citizens who live beyond their means go bankrupt.
2. International Relations
In the realm of foreign relations, ignorant Americans must have it impressed upon them how much, as a nation, they have begun to stink and offend the sensibilities of the international community. By supporting bad leaders, bad policies, and bad causes, they have made themselves repugnant and offensive to all. Any attempt to renew American prestige must therefore begin by making amends for the disastrous foreign policy of bizarre adventurism and extreme inconsistency which has characterized the current administration. America’s traditional “helpful” allies (the UK, EU and Japan) should be warmly embraced in a spirit of solidarity and mutual respect, not dictated to or bullied. These allies have stood by the US through bad times, and ought to be treated with gratitude. Mending fences with our friends should be our foremost concern, as their support is critical when dealing with other less friendly nations.
For the current foreign policy talking points, my program is as follows:
Russia, so much in the news these days, and once again resuming its role as Hollywood’s politically correct “bad guy” (they’re white and not Muslim, so its ok to hate them), should, if at all possible, be once more befriended. Friendship with Russia is useful on many levels, not the least of which is their capacity as an oil producing country to counterbalance the avarice of OPEC. It would also help the west contain economic and political threats from China and other hardnosed states. To my mind there is no good reason for the current counterproductive ill will the US manifests towards Russia. The entire Georgian affair has been blow well out of proportion. If anything, Russia ought to be allowed to settle minor skirmishes with its former vassals without the US howling on the side in impotent self-righteous disapproval. Doing so only makes the US appear softheaded and contemptible.
In the unlikely event that it proves impossible to rekindle friendly ties with Russia, they should simply be left alone. As a middling economy with a fast dwindling populace, they are no threat if not provoked, and there is no good reason to provoke them.
If the US follows the steps articulated above (soothing its ally’s ruffled feathers and befriending Russia) then dealing with Iran should be relatively simple. First we must reach a clear decision with our allies (and Russia, if possible) on steps to be taken in the event of Iran’s noncompliance with UN inspections. If Iran persists in developing nuclear technology, they must be stopped, period. Provided the proper diplomatic groundwork is laid, I believe any western country would agree with this. It also seems highly unlikely that Iran will continue to provoke the international community if it is made aware that noncompliance will be met with harsh sanctions and possible military action.
It seems that everyone, both left and right, agree it would be desirable for the US to extricate itself from the colossal blunder which is Iraq. The timetable is where the quibbling starts. For my part, I would leave such military decisions to generals who have proven themselves competent, with the understanding that “the sooner the better.” One thing I would actively pursue however, is the reimbursement of any taxpayer funds spent on improving Iraq. It’s not clear why a corrupt Iraqi government should be allowed to horde hundreds of billions in oil money while the US taxpayer foots the bill for the infrastructure Iraqi insurgents seem bent on demolishing. We spent enough getting rid of Sadam, they can pay for their own roads and pipelines.
While I understand the deep religious ties many Americans feel towards Israel, I fail to see why religious sentiment ought to dictate foreign policy. In my opinion, America’s love affair with Israel is entirely one sided. Israel consumes a disproportionate amount of US aid, but gives almost nothing back, even by way of thanks. It has flouted international law, UN referendums, and even America’s private wishes. So long as the US allows this state of affairs to continue, it will be next to impossible for it to gain any reasonable level of respect or credibility with those nations which do not have the same special feelings for Israel, that is to say, most non Christian nations.
My policy towards Israel would be designed to serve the interests of America and international stability, rather than those of a relatively small yet disproportionately aggressive state. Israel would no longer receive a blank check. Instead, if it wants US aid, it will have to do what all other dollar recipients do: Exactly as it’s told. Israel will help to further American interests along with its own, instead of only furthering its own, often at the expense of the US.
My overarching policy in international affairs would be one of dignified moderation, guided by economic and military pragmatism. I would care less whether something is “right” or “good” and more whether it is feasible or desirable. I would cast off the inherently fallacious ideal held by the current administration that democracy necessarily equates with friendliness or usefulness to the West. This is manifestly not the case. Rather I would engage and promote those governments friendly to the West, be they democracies, oligarchies or even despots, so long as they are useful and facilitate in the gradual education of their populace to the western ideals of secularism, liberalism and tolerance.
This election, Democratic candidates have made a considerable to do regarding “universal healthcare” or “near universal healthcare.”(whatever that means) Though I agree that affordable healthcare for all is a laudable goal, it’s not clear that free healthcare is a practical idea, particularly for the US. The current health care system is already a gargantuan behemoth which yearly devours an increasingly obscene portion of the national budget. The US spends an excessive amount of money on healthcare compared to other first world nations, yet Americans are clearly not the healthiest or longest lived of the group. As it is, the healthcare system is functioning at an unsustainable cost and needs serious rethinking. Government spending on healthcare is ridiculously high, considering the general dissatisfaction with the results. And while some steps might be taken to lower costs, the fact remains that more healthcare equals higher costs. In my opinion, even if costs could be drastically reduced, free healthcare remains a kind of trade off and should not be seen as pure benefit. Nations currently providing universal healthcare are riddled with all manner of problems and inequalities. Many procedures Americans take for granted (dialysis for instance) are simply not made available due to their costly nature. It’s highly improbable a system which essentially tells anyone with a particular illness to simply “die” will gain much credence in the US and the alternative, the system paying for every available treatment, would drive taxpayers to bankruptcy. Given these factors, I think this issue is simply too big, costly and affects too many people for one man, or even the legislative branch to decide. Rather, I would hold a series of national referendums on the matter. More healthcare means much higher taxes. Is that really what we want? Or would we rather have a completely privatized, competitive healthcare system? Perhaps we could have one like Japan’s, with a national insurance that pays a percentage of any hospital bill, but requires the patient to pay some also, so as to limit unnecessary and frivolous hospital visits.
Regardless of the final choice, I would have it decided by as broad a sample of the public as possible. I find Obama’s vague promises of healthcare decidedly suspect. The money is going to have to come from somewhere, and considering how intrinsically flawed the current healthcare system is, simply feeding it more money seems likely to turn a gluttonous behemoth into a ravenous monstrosity.
4. National Identity
The subject of national identity has to my knowledge yet to be addressed by either candidate, and considering what an insanely volatile and politically suicidal subject it is, they will doubtless continue to ignore it. However, I believe it is one of the most critical issues facing contemporary America, as attitudes towards national identity will shape decisions in many sectors, particularly in those of education, immigration, social policy and civil rights.
Who are we Americans, as a nation and a culture? More importantly, who do we want to be? A basic question, but a strangely uncomfortable one. Are we a Western country? Yes, would seem the obvious answer. Do we want to remain one? What does it really mean to be American? These aren’t simplistic questions, they’re vitally important ones. I think the American people, if they want any control over their nation’s future, need to seriously consider this matter. In the early 90s Singapore asked the same questions of its people, namely, “What makes us Singaporeans?” “What values do we aspire to?” As a nation with a mixed populous of Indians, Chinese, Malaysians and British, some kind of agreement on these questions was desired to bind them together as a united culture. They are not alone. Many European countries require prospective immigrants to take a test in order to gauge how their values and culture correlate with their own. (Germany has gained particular notoriety by administering a “gay questionnaire” to judge the prospective émigré’s tolerance or lack of it.)
Why is it that we have no such set of “American values?” Why do we, instead, promote a vague and contradictory policy of “multiculturalism?” Is one American when they refuse to learn English, haven’t an inkling of Western history, culture or ideology, fly a foreign flag, and fail to participate at all in the betterment of their new country? Clinging to the uniquely western ideal of multiculturalism, we tolerate them perhaps, but what happens when they decide not to tolerate us? Why are policy makers stringently held to the ideal of multiculturalism, yet the very people this multicultural policy is applied to are not required to be tolerant or “multicultural” in the least?
My remedy is as follows: First, as with healthcare, I would hold a series of national referendums, to discover the values and culture identified with and aspired too by the majority of Americans. This done I would ask the legislative branch to compile a statement of cultural values from data collected by the referendums. Finally, the judiciary would correlate this statement with the constitution, and anything deemed contradictory would be revised or expunged. This done, we would have a “statement of cultural values,” and at last know with at least a modicum of certainty what America and being an American stand for. I believe a general consensus on this question would be of enormous worth. Not only would it help knit the country together, but (among other things) it would engender a spirit of honest transparency. Everyone, both American and non American, would know, at least in theory, where we as a civilization and culture stood. This knowledge would aid in foreign policy decisions, help set the criteria for immigration policy, set the curriculum for our schools, help direct the expenditure of public funds, and inform a plethora of other decisions, from welfare to abortion.
Under my administration there would be total equality before the free market, as well as the law. Any government discrimination by sex, race or sexual orientation would be comprehensively banned. This would mean the complete disavowal of any law or practice which singles out a race or sex for special favoritism or penalization. As obviously, one cannot allow special favors to one group without by that very favoritism, penalizing all those not so favored. Not only is selective favoritism inherently unfair, breeding a spirit of resentment in those not favored, it also implies that the recipients of the special treatment are somehow inferior, as they require artificial intervention in an otherwise free market environment.
Thus I would immediately put an end to the travesty of affirmative action, as well as any other laws designed to favor one group at the expense of another. Hate crime laws would also be abolished, as would any laws regarding “hate speech.” A crime, whatever the motive, is still a crime, and will be punished as such. As for “hate speech,” it’s not clear to me how laws suppressing any form of free speech were approved in the first place.
This all encompassing drive toward equality would treat all people in an unbiased and straightforwardly statistical manner. For example, if it were statistically shown that 95 percent of American hijackings are perpetrated by white scientologist males from Alabama, at airports a disproportionate number of white males from Alabama would be searched, and Jewish African American women from New York would be let alone. The Alabamans would have no cause to complain, as there is no implication that they as an ethnicity or religion are somehow inferior, rather, they are simply overwhelmingly more likely to hijack a plane, and as such warrant closer scrutiny. Numbers are numbers, and the honest, pragmatic application of numbers ought never to be deemed offensive.
I believe that the erasure of these at times biased at other overly sensitive policies would engender greater harmony in the US. True, some individuals and firms may act in a bigoted manner, but the free market has proven itself a great force for democracy. Their loss will be another firm’s gain, and eventually such bigoted practices will hurt their overall competitiveness.
I grant that many of the laws I would abolish had a place, and may have even been desirable several decades ago, but now its obvious that their usefulness has passed and they need to be laid to rest.
I believe the primary goal of education should be the discovery of an individual’s interests and abilities, and once discovered, the nurturing and refinement of those abilities for the benefit of the individual and of society as a whole. Obviously this is not a novel idea. As a matter of fact, it’s as old as the concept of education itself. This being the case, I find it perversely odd that this goal has been entirely disregarded by both current candidates.
Obama promises to ensure that a university education will be made available to “anyone who wants to go,” while McCain would essentially maintain the status quo, that is, education remains available only to the well off.
Both these systems are deeply flawed. Opening up universities to “anyone” is plainly idiotic. This idea stems from what seems to be a basic tenant of the Democratic Party, and possibly its greatest flaw, namely: that all people are, or somehow should be, equal. While I absolutely embrace the ideal of equality of opportunity, this ideology that all people are or can ever be equal is simply wrong. People are different, not equal. We all have varying strengths and weaknesses, different physical and mental abilities, not to mention temperaments, desires and world views. This being the case, society should be constructed in a way which allows people to find a place where they can use there unique traits for the betterment of all. Encouraging those whose abilities are suited to manual labor to instead enter medical school will only result in a decline in the quality and productivity of both areas. By definition we can’t all be “above average,” and doctoring the system to make it appear that we are is simply lowering intellectual standards.
If Democratic attempts at forced equality are misguided, then the current status quo is downright criminal. Making education available only to the wealthy has created a system wherein the pilots of our economic progress and government policy are no longer the most able; rather they are those from the wealthiest families. Though we like to think of our culture as a democracy, it is essentially an oligarchy. Our current president is proof of this. So long as the wealthy were among the most able this system was tolerable, if distasteful. However, the free market forces which under normal circumstances ought to kill off an influx of rich morons have been countered and subverted by cronyism and political intervention. Again, this is not an original thought, its more or less common knowledge. I think a retiring hedge fund executive put it succinctly when he wrote:
"The low-hanging fruit, ie idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking. These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior supporting the aristocracy only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America."
My previously stated belief that education ought to be a kind of sieve, sorting and sending people in the direction best suited to their abilities, and society’s needs, engenders a policy which avoids the excesses of the two stated above. It would not attempt to cram “anyone who wants” through some kind of dumbed down industrialized university system, nor would it allow the current practice of rich idiots riding through school on their parents wallets to continue. Instead, it would foster equality of educational opportunity, with the aim of creating a true meritocracy, rather than a forced false “equality” or a dynastic oligarchy.
With the above policy in mind, I would make the following changes to the education system:
It’s clear that the current administrations crude policy of pressuring teachers for higher test scores has failed. It’s also clear that simply pumping more money into the school system in no ways guaranties higher grades. If one compares the budget of a poor, inner city catholic school with that of its state or federally funded equivalent, one will find that often with less than half the budget of the state schools, the catholic students will score twice as high as their state school counterparts. This would seem to indicate that when it comes to producing well educated pupils, the school’s ethos or culture is as, or even more, important than the amount of funds it expends.
Given the consistent decline in the quality of government provided education, rather than just throwing more money into the system, I would propose the semi privatization of the entire school system. Districts would continue to pay a school tax, but instead of this going to any predefined school, it would go directly to the student in the form of a school voucher. All schools would be privately run but policed by federal regulators. So long as the schools staff was properly accredited, they would be permitted to receive students, and the corresponding income from their vouchers. The idea being that by using this competitive system, good schools would thrive, while bad ones would collapse. Private schools currently extant would have the choice of complying with federal regulations and receiving voucher money from their students, or continuing on as they are, and being entirely privately funded. In the case of poor areas being unable to raise enough tax money for the vouchers in their district, the federal government would cover the deficit, the idea being that money spent in this manner, on good schools providing good educations, would be more than repaid by a lower poverty rate and the corresponding lower crime and welfare spending. To assess the progress of individual students and schools, a federally prepared test would be administered annually. Schools would have no prior knowledge of its contents, and therefore the temptation for teachers to cheat by simply teaching students the answers would be avoided. The scores from these annual tests would be made available to the public, and would aid in directing students to good schools, and away from flawed ones.
In higher education things would also change considerably. For starters, I would steer well away from the unrealistic ideal that everyone ought to attend university and hold a degree. They don’t. In fact I would go so far as to say that most shouldn’t. The amount of investment needed to get a degree is considerable, and the reward for that expenditure of time and money is already somewhat doubtful. Rather than attempting to cram a maximum number of people into the college system, I would focus on allowing those most qualified to enter, and seeing to it that they were well educated. To do this, a purely meritocratic federal scholarship program would be initiated, much like that conducted by the Soviet Union in its heyday. All those who score appropriately high will be granted full scholarships, provided their scores remain above a certain level. For those wanting to study a particular technical field, ex: dentistry, the government would assess its labor statistics and see whether the nation requires more dentists. If not, the student is still free to study that subject, but will be required to pay a greater proportion of the tuition, while those studying for vocations in demand will receive complete government funding. The current system whereby the rich, stupid or no, get into good universities, while the poor, smart or no, are denied, will be abolished. My new tax code (see below) which will provide the funding for these federal scholarships will also make it unlikely that underachievers will gain admittance into university merely on the strength of their parent’s wealth.
Those who don’t qualify for government sponsored university need not despair. Other attractive options would be made available. Depending on their scores and individual interests, they could attend a technical school of one kind or another. Once again, government funding would focus on the disciplines most in demand. The goal of this system would be to raise the productivity of the American labor force by educating people according to their various abilities. The hope would be that with everyone trained in a field they are intellectually suited to; American productivity would increase, raising salaries and the standard of living. If successful, this policy would benefit everyone, including those few who fall through its cracks, as with low skilled labor less available, the demand and consequently the pay for it will rise.
This policy is not meant to transform education into some kind of totalitarian experience where one is forced into a societal niche by the level of their test scores. Even if one does not qualify for a full government sponsored scholarship they would still be permitted to attend any university they wished, so long as they could gain admittance and foot the bill themselves.
With this new system in place, a true meritocracy will prevail. Anyone, so long as they are an American citizen, can register, undergo a series of tests and interviews and, so long as their score is adequate, attend a university befitting their intellectual capacity free of charge. This system would also hugely aid in raising the level of K-12 education, as parents and students alike would have a clear target to aim at. Lastly, it would help people take responsibility for themselves and their future. With such a fair and accessible education system in place, claims of “the system is against me” would gain little credence.
I find the attitude commonly held by liberals regarding immigration hypocritical and contradictory in the extreme. These people who staunchly defend the cause of all immigration, be it legal or illegal, are often the same ones who agitate against aggressive free trade. I find it wantonly bizarre to argue for unskilled immigration with such self-righteous froth as “Everyone has the right to try and make a better life for themselves,” while at the same time promoting protectionist trade policies which essentially deny this same “better life” to entire nations. If we truly want a “better life” for those in poor countries, rather than encouraging the entire third world to immigrate to the US, would it not be more practical to implement economic policies which will eventually raise the international standard of living?
It seems that saying anything about turning away immigrants, even illegal ones, is somehow taboo, and yet few would seriously suggest we simply throw open all borders and shout “Come one, come all!” Doing anything short of this will require that some prospective immigrants are turned away. This being the case, I believe a frank and unapologetic dialogue should be held regarding the volume and quality of immigration.
My policy regarding legal immigration would disassociate it completely from illegal immigration which is an entirely different matter. For legal immigration, a yearly quota could be set taking into account recommendations from the economic panel and the legislature. Though the number of immigrants let in does affect the economy and is no doubt important, I believe more important than the quantity is the quality of those allowed in. The current criteria for immigration would be radically altered. The practice of admitting “family members” of past émigrés would be curbed. It’s not clear why an adult émigré needs to import their parents, grandparents, cousins, or great uncles. I find this policy absolutely useless. Instead, the worthiness of applicants would be judged by their ability to have a positive impact on the American economy, society and public purse. Factors like age, education, and value system would be considered. A test to correlate their cultural values with those held by Americans would be administered, and those whose values are deemed irreconcilable with those of America, or who find American values repugnant will be denied entry. As educated specialists benefit the taxpayer far more than low skilled laborers, these would be given preferential treatment. I would no longer set quotas for particular countries, rather a worldwide lottery would be held. Applicants deemed more beneficial (such as educated specialists) would have a substantially higher chance of wining, but everyone would at least have a chance however small.
As for illegal immigrants, the idea that there can be any kind of serious controversy over the subject is incomprehensible to me. If something is illegal, then it is illegal, period. Does the criminal act of sneaking across an international border somehow prove the worth of anyone who succeeds? By this logic, any felon who manages to break out of prison ought to be pardoned, as the courageous act of escaping has somehow ennobled them. Clearly, this is nonsense. The law is the law and it ought to be properly enforced or simply revoked, rather than only partially enforced, and this in a slipshod haphazard manner as if this lethargic enforcement constituted some kind of morally righteous “civil disobedience.” Under my administration, all nonsense of this sort would stop.
In taxation, three sweeping changes would be initiated, with the goals of simplification, equalization of opportunity, and the improvement of America’s standard of living, particularly for the working poor. These are: the reform of the income tax, the addition of a consumption tax, and the imposition of an “inheritance cap.”
Income Tax Reform:
The income tax would be altered from its current overly complex, loophole full state, into a more manageable, enforceable form. Excessive brackets would be abolished, and instead, a simple, three tiered, “flattish” system would be implemented (I say “flattish” because though not exactly a “flat tax” it incorporates aspects of that proposed system). Under this three bracket system, the income of those falling in the lowest bracket, i.e. the working poor, would simply not be taxed. The middle and top brackets would respectively pay a low and medium percentage income tax. Basically, the result of this system would be no income tax on the poor, approximately current levels of taxation on the middle and upper middle classes, and only slightly higher taxes on the rich. The obvious aim of this removal of income tax from the poor would be to encourage them to work. Currently, given the structure of the welfare, healthcare and tax system, it often makes little short term sense for the uneducated poor to even try to work, as whatever minimal salary they procure will be eaten up by taxation and the loss of government sponsored welfare and healthcare benefits. I believe every effort should be made to improve the lives of the poor, to get people off of welfare and into employment, and I believe this change in taxation one of the best ways to go about it.
In order to compensate for the reduction of revenue caused by giving the working poor this tax exempt status and, more importantly, to encourage savings and investment and curb the infamous American proclivity for living beyond ones means, a new “consumption tax” will be imposed. Rather than simply taxing income, this new tax would focus on money spent. At the end of each year, one would add up money earned, and then subtract from this sum the total amount of money saved or invested (“invested” as defined by the government). The difference, the amount spent or “consumed,” would be taxed. This tax, like the income tax, will be applied in three brackets, with the very poor paying none, the middle paying some, and the rich paying more. As this consumption tax is put in place, the domestic portion of the “capital gains” tax would be greatly reduced, adding further incentive for national investment. The hope is that this consumption tax would cause a greater level of domestic investment, and therefore limit the excessive use of foreign capital. It is my opinion that a crucial cause of the current worldwide economic crisis was American over reliance on foreign capital and the carry trade to support its growing trade deficit. Greater domestic savings and investment, with less borrowing and overspending, ought to bring greater economic stability and productivity to the US, and by implication, the rest of the economically engaged world.
My final and most outrageous, yet most vital tax reform would be the abolishment of the concept “inheritance” as it is currently understood. It’s not clear why rich parents should have the right to bequeath fortunes to their already privileged children, while children born to the very poor are forced to fend for themselves, often being denied the most basic necessities. One might argue that this situation is the fault of the parents. Though to a small extent this may be true, I find this argument doubtful at best. Numerous contemporary studies show a decided lack of social mobility in our system, particularly in the cases of the very poor and the very rich. If one is born rich, it is highly unlikely one will ever be anything but rich, and if one is born poor the same applies. However, my biggest objection to this argument contravenes it completely. In our society, are children to be held responsible for their parents decisions, whether good or bad? If a criminal escapes justice, is their child punished by way of proxy? No they are not. Equally so, I see no reason why the children of the rich should receive disproportionate benefits even if their ancestors made “good” decisions, or why the children of the poor should suffer for the supposed “bad” choices of their parents.
Under my inheritance reform a maximum “inheritance cap” would be put in place, allowing for the inheritance of a moderate amount of material and financial assets. Anything above this cap, be it material goods, real estate, stocks, businesses, or funds, would return to the state. Of course, heirs would be given the opportunity to purchase any portion of their parent’s estate from the government, should they have the money and be so inclined. For instance, if a rich parent were to die and the total value of his house exceeded the “inheritance cap” his heirs would have the option of retaining the house, so long as they eventually repaid the portion which fell to the state.
Rather than simply affect the amount of wealth received at the death of a relative, the inheritance cap will begin at birth. It will limit the amount of assets a parent is permitted to spend directly on a child. “Direct spending” would include payment for higher education or luxury items above a certain price and, of course, the transfer of any substantial asset to the child’s ownership. This (and the consumption tax) will prevent people from attempting to contravene the system by simply gifting or spending all their assets on their offspring before their death. With the above detailed consumption tax in place, it should be relatively easy to monitor and enforce this inheritance cap.
The substantial revenue created by the consumption tax and the inheritance cap will fund the considerable education reforms detailed above. It will also be put to use bettering the lives of poor children through various government sponsored initiatives.
These changes to the tax system would be made with the hope of fostering a nation of hardworking, productive and financially stable self made citizens. The descendants of rich and poor alike would have, if not total equality of opportunity, at least a reasonably level playing field to compete in before the free market, and such a collegial situation must give rise to greater invention, productivity, unity and ultimately, social progress.
When it comes to environmental issues, I find it instructive that the only people consistently agitating for the environment are the financially comfortable. Its hard to imagine a minimum wage earner losing much sleep over the fate of polar icecaps as doubtless they have more immediate concerns. I also find it telling that during the current financial crisis all talk about global warming and cutting down on pollution has quietly slipped to the bottom of the national agenda. I believe the simple truth of the matter is, when confronted with poverty and environmental damage; the vast majority are far more concerned about the former than the latter. This being the case, any policy which focuses solely on specific environmental issues while ignoring the financial aspect is doomed from the start. Making windy speeches and soapbox documentaries regarding climate change is well and good, but without the provision of substantial financial incentives they effect nothing.
As it’s apparent that nations must reach a certain level of prosperity before they can begin to take environmental concerns seriously, I believe the best way to aid the environment is to encourage international free trade and maximum productivity. I don’t see any palatable long term alternative to this.
For more immediate concerns, such as deforestation, air pollution or the extinction of certain species, if we truly care, rather than carry on lecturing, we ought to act. For instance, the EPA could be expanded to include global as well as domestic concerns. Its pitiful budget could be massively increased. Considerable government grants could be offered to private companies for the research of environmentally crucial technologies, which would then be made available, free of charge, to nations requiring them. For instance, if we dislike the amount of air pollution being discharged by Indian factories, a government contract could be offered to whichever private sector company produces the cheapest and most efficient air filtration system. The company that wins this contract would then be paid to go around India and install filtration devices where needed. We could take a proactive stance in other international matters as well. For example, if we are concerned about deforestation in the Amazon, we could “lease” tracks of the rainforest from the countries in question. As the rainforest benefits the entire planet, it doesn’t seem particularly unreasonable for wealthy nations to help in a meaningful way with its preservation.
It will be noted that the above proposals will require money, most likely quite a bit of it. This brings me back to my original statement that prosperity is a prerequisite to environmental preservation. It’s unreasonable for western countries to expect poor nations to sacrifice productivity for polar bears. If we want to save the world, we need to stop waiting around for some unlikely unilateral agreement to materialize; instead we should lead by example. Further, as conservation is often expensive, we should take an unemotional view of environmental issues, prioritize, and attempt to deal with them in an economic manner. For example, does it make sense to spend millions of dollars protecting a single species, or would that money be better spent preserving an entire ecosystem? Do we really need to dredge up abandoned industrial waste sites from the 40’s and using a costly and inefficient method make them clean enough that a toddler could drink out of a puddle there, or would this money be better spent preventing deforestation in Brazil? Every dollar spent on the environment ought to be spent in a thrifty manner, and with a global view in mind. And just as we must spend our funds judiciously, we should practice the same parsimony in the demands we make on poor nations. Confronting a poor nation with hundreds of complex environmental demands is unreasonable and unproductive. Concerns ought to be prioritized, and dealt with in order of urgency. Also, a clear line should be draw between true environmental issues and concerns that are specific to our culture. For instance, we westerners like dolphins and dislike it when certain poor nations destroy them in their tuna nets. However, dolphins aren’t even endangered and there is scant evidence that killing them damages the global environment. Therefore, rather than expending our energy or their patience on things like dolphins; would it not make more sense to focus on matters, like climate change, which actually effect us all?
On the domestic front, Al Gore not withstanding, the US record on environmental concern as expressed in funds spent rather than documentaries produced falls well short of many other rich nations. If we care about global warming then why on earth don’t we have a reasonably high gasoline tax? Most wealthy countries do, even if they don’t crank out “inconvenient truths.” This is one of the first things I would change, doubtless to the sound of deafening howls. However, taxing petroleum would not only show the rest of the world we are serious about curbing greenhouse gasses, it would also have numerous side benefits. The revenue could go toward developing alternative fuels and improving mass transit systems, while the higher costs of gasoline would lessen our demand, and therefore our reliance on Middle Eastern oil. Instituting a gasoline tax would also make it much easier for us to compel developing nations to tax gasoline as well, or at any rate, to refrain from subsidizing it.
If the above steps are taken, though they would by no means solve all current environmental problems, they would be a reasonable start.
For those who have taken the time to read this weekend exercise in wish fulfillment, I salute you. Admittedly this was written in an offhand, part satirical vain. However, in all sincerity and goodwill, I can’t help but think that if these ideas were implemented the US would be a better place.
With my education policy all citizens would have a reasonable chance at reaching their full intellectual potential. Tighter controls on the quality of immigration would raise the prestige and value of American citizenship, while a stronger understanding of our national identity would knit the country together by agreement on values and principals, rather than factiously split it into clicks based on race, income or background. My drive towards equality of opportunity, both in the erasure of any racially biased law, as well as my inheritance tax reform would give every citizen, regardless of race, sex or social background a substantial opportunity to rise to any level of society. With my alterations to the income tax, the lives of the working poor would be made considerably easier. My adherence to the principals of free trade and free market would help lower the costs of daily necessities while boosting worldwide commerce and productivity. Lastly, my global and pragmatic view of the environment would ensure that something of substance is finally accomplished in that sector.
Other than some of these ideas’s utter impracticability under the established system of government, I see no good reason for anyone to object to them. Minorities will be better off, the poor and the middle class will be better off. Immigrants who make it in will be better off. The international community will be better off, and the global environment will be better off. Even the rich, though perhaps not better off, will not be particularly worse off, as they will be left in full enjoyment of their wealth with only moderately higher taxes. I can see them objecting to the disinheritance of their children, but they will need to take a broader view of the matter and start thinking of themselves as virtuous individual citizens, rather than as an asocial dynast of looters or parasites.
The only people who I can see having a genuine problem with these proposals are the unintelligent children of the rich, namely: Paris Hilton. It follows therefore, that if you have a problem with these ideas, you either are Paris Hilton or you want to be like her. For everyone else, seeing how these ideas would never be implemented under the corrupt establishment, forget the vote and instead go buy a black shirt. Its time to march on the capital.
VIVA LA REVOLUTION!!