All Our National Problems Solved

The tax regs book is about the size of the Oxford English Dictionary. TR Reid’s excellent book, A Fine Mess, explains why and how this disaster came about. Expanding on what he says, I here complete the task of fixing this mess and a number of others while I’m at it. Please thank me before I die.

The first thing we must do is to discard the OED-sized tax regs. All of them. We should be able to restructure most of the mess into ten pages or fewer.

BBLR is the way to do it. Broad Based, Low Rates. Who wouldn’t approve of low tax rates? The very rich, that’s who, because they have devoted much energy, lobbying efforts, and huge amounts of cash to purchasing Congress so that they could assure themselves of unfairly low taxation.

The idea behind BBLR is to spread out taxation so that no one escapes paying taxes—except the extremely poor, who don’t have enough to pay anyway—and everyone pays taxes that are fair, that they can afford. New Zealand comes closest to making this happen. A number of ideas unfamiliar to most US Americans are the best way to accomplish it.

Probably the most startling change is that tax deductions—all of them—would vanish. That would include everyone’s favorite, mortgage interest. But in fact, deductible mortgage interest is not the world norm. It’s just something we cooked up to encourage home ownership. It’s demise doesn’t mean we’ll pay more tax. Not at all. There are thousands of other exemptions, mostly that the rich have paid to have made into law. None of them are needed. None.

I think the best tax structure is the simplest fair structure. So schemes like the flat tax are out because they are inherently unfair because taxes should be based on ability to pay. I believe that people whose income is at the lowest level should pay no income tax at all, because any tax at all would be brutally punitive, and I believe every single person deserves a decent life free of misery. At the opposite end, the highest rate should apply to the very richest because no matter how much they pay it cannot actually harm them. There are two arguments against that: the rich deserve breaks because they work so hard; progressive tax is unfair. Both arguments are pure nonsense.

The difficulty comes when we try to define how many steps there should be in the progression, and where the cutoff points should be. Since I have defined two, the highest and the lowest, I suggest two in between, three at the most.

To make these determinations and all others more palatable, all tax changes must take place at least five years after they are signed into law. I also propose that any further changes to them also take place five years after signing into law. This delay makes it harder to construct the sort of Byzantine system of unfair exceptions and favoritism we have now. It encourages laws based on rationality rather than personal benefit at the time.

So. Everyone with any income at all is taxed at a fair rate.

Now let’s make a few observations about how our society is evolving. First let us realize that innovation has created a condition that allows us far more leisure time with the same level of economic effort. Nearly a century ago, JM Keynes calculated that by this time improvements in efficiency would allow us to work only some 20 hours a week, yet enjoy all the benefits that innovation brings. But somehow we’re still working 40 hours, and the number of permanently unemployed is way too high, and too many are brutally poor and ill.

The working week gradually came down from 72 hours to 40 back in the day, so movement is possible. But we seem to be stuck there. There are several things we could do about that. The most obvious is to begin reducing the work week, perhaps over a decade or more, until it reaches 20 hours or so. To bring it about, make hours beyond the defined work week payable at 150% or more, with no exceptions. A number of nations do it with great success.

Automation is the reason we need a shorter work week. We simply don’t need 40 hours. A shorter work week has the effect of requiring additional workers, which means greater numbers of employed workers, or lower unemployment. The national economy benefits in several ways.

It is also the reason we need a guaranteed minimum income and national health care. Hardly any business has escaped its effect, and large numbers of workers have found that the occupations they planned to last a lifetime have evaporated before their eyes. Some have found new work; some have not. The latter must be protected from abject poverty by a guaranteed minimum income and national health care at the very least. A guaranteed minimum income means that recipients are able to survive, not that they get enough that it becomes a desirable way of life. National health care is a moral necessity, as I have argued in previous posts. Denying life-saving treatment to someone who lacks insurance is, simply, murder.

OK, those are some thoughts about personal income, but there is also business income, up next.

Corporate taxes are every bit as Byzantine as individual taxes, probably moreso, and just as unfair. The problem is that there is no global norm, and corporations play off the laws of one nation against another. Corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars building shadow corporations with no employees for the sole purpose of shuttling billions of dollars around to avoid taxes—which of course makes their own country and its people worse off. At minimum they open an office in someplace like Ireland, which has low corporate taxes, so they can claim they don’t owe US tax because they paid in Ireland. All perfectly legal, of course. And all perfectly maddening simply because it’s not fair no matter how legal it is.

To begin with, the US should reduce the maximum corporate tax rate, which now stands at almost 39%. But nobody pays that much. Something in the range of 20% is reasonable, but government economists must be the ones to determine that. But there must be no exceptions, and here is where we run into difficulty. Ya gotta pay your fair share.

Right now numerous large corporations devote many millions for the sole purpose of avoiding payment of their fair share. They call it something else, but it’s really tax evasion in my opinion, no matter the legal definition. Perhaps if the maximum tax rate were reduced corporations wouldn’t feel compelled to waste so much money avoiding payment.

As a first step, I propose that any corporation that claims they are not a US company be treated as a foreign corporation, and required to pay import fees for any of their products sold in the US. No exceptions.

See! All our major problems, solved at last. You may thank me now.

Published in: on 2017/08/07 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Health Care In the Meantime

The people who bring medical and dental care to the rural poor are saints. Recent articles have described big tents set up twice a year, and the caravans of poor people with problems arriving by hundreds, hurting, desperate. For the most part, these folks are proudly independent. But a toothache will bring them in.

These are people who have no medical care at all. Usually they go it alone, but when illness strikes, even something so mundane as a toothache, their pain compels them to seek relief. For some, that means pulling their own teeth with a pair of pliers. These are US American citizens, the ones who should be served by the national health care we, the last among modern nations, don’t have.

Republicans recoil from national health care in horror, screaming “Socialism!”—apparently ignorant of the fact that national health care is not socialism. Instead, it’s the most economical way to provide health care, even when we must pay for the very poor.

Perhaps the fact that best tells us how effective it is is that no nation that enacted national health care has ever given it up.

Who knows how long it will be before Republicans wake up and realize that health care is a right, that no one deserves to be denied whatever will save their life or bring them back to health. Penicillin was invented long ago. What would you say about the morals of someone who would deny an inexpensive injection that will completely cure an otherwise fatal disease? Obviously, such persons are amoral. Denial is murder, bringing death to someone for no reason.

If you agree, then you must also agree that the only thing preventing the provision of even the most modern and expensive treatment can be that the cost is too expensive even for the nation. But that’s ridiculous when a single military plane can cost billions.

There can be no moral reason to deny any person health care, which means national health care is imperative. But Republicans deny it, and seem compelled to do so for the foreseeable future, so the question becomes, What can we do about it until then?

What we can do is to greatly expand these Big Tent programs. They cost money and they are an imperfect system, but like national health care, the cost is far lower than our present corrupt corporate system.

Corrupt? You bet. There is no other way to describe the Congressional sellout to thousands of Big Med and Big Pharma lobbyists when they passed laws that favor and protect only the bigwigs of the industry, not us. The Pharma industry are the only ones allowed to set prices for their wares; bargaining for better prices is disallowed. It cannot be denied that this is corruption.

Then there is the Med Insurance program, which peddles the most expensive and least effective medical care in the modern world, and leaves millions with no health care at all. Call it the Med Execs benefit program. Med insurance provides zero health care and should go riding into the sunset, thus reducing our medical costs by at least a third.

Big Tents and national health care are cheap compared to what we have.

Now, why should we do this tent thing? Isn’t it just dollars down the drain? No. Aside from the moral compulsion to keep our own citizens healthy, there is good reason to believe that such programs make sense economically as well. Illness and pain will bring any of us up short. We come to a complete halt until we are well again. If we have a job, we won’t be able to go to work. If that goes on long enough, our employer will be compelled to replace us. The ill person will need help, which often means unemployment benefits and other government assistance, and most likely further medical care. A healthy employed populace will be contributing to government revenue.

Big Tent health care ain’t nearly enough, but for those brought low by bad teeth, by an unrelenting stomach pain, by cataracts, or any number of other conditions, being able to see a real doctor, even twice a year, can be the difference between being able to function normally and not.

Until Republicans come to their senses about national health care we should support and encourage these Big Tent health providers.

Published in: on 2017/08/02 at 3:14 pm  Comments (3)  

The Long Road Back

As I write this, political discourse has sunk to the lowest it has ever been. Donald Trump’s newest appointee, Anthony Scaramucci, sounds like a half-literate high school troublemaker mouthing off in the boy’s locker room. This is only a continuation of Trump’s ranting and bad language. Trump himself honors no decorum, and violates our sense of decency day after day. Worse, angry Trumpsters stomp about town carrying guns, swearing at people, threatening or committing violence against people they don’t know but have decided to hate. And the impersonal internet amplifies the lack of humanitarian impulse, allowing people to use inexcusable language where they should exercise only kindness.

That’s not to say that harsh language has no place, but there is no reason it should become the new norm, the coin of ordinary discourse. If we speak entirely in profanities, harsh words lose their power. Perhaps worse, constant use of vile language tends to anger people, making it difficult to act rationally with someone who we don’t know well, and don’t count as a friend.

Democrats must resist this new norm of hateful language. In fact Democrats must adopt a stance of accepting and listening to every person, whether or not we like them. This should be a central tenet of the Democratic Party. It should be central to everything we all do. Counting every person as deserving of normal respect is what will make us a real democracy, and it’s nearly the opposite of what is happening now.

Our beloved country is very near the nadir in many ways. When the Trump era passes it will be a long, long road back to decency, to rationality, to respect. Regardless of whether the next president is a Democrat, Democrats must not succumb to the degeneracy of today’s political world and its foul language. It is imperative that our politicians restore a sense of common decency in language and action. It is even more important that the rest of us do the same.

Maybe the most important thing is for Democrats to address the real concerns of people who voted for Trump, and who are angry about things Democrats have failed to understand.

Published in: on 2017/07/30 at 11:02 am  Comments (3)  

Dem Rx

Certain folk are complaining that the Democratic Party has gone off the rails, and is incapable of doing anything right. Nonsense. Dems believe in what they have always believed, that the strength of our democracy depends on how well our citizens are treated.

It’s the Republicans who have gone off the rails, and are now devoting all their time to serving the very rich and living in a fantasy world where magic works just fine. In recent decades Republicans have operated at the edge of the law. This has resulted in 120 indictments, 89 convictions, and 34 prison sentences for Republicans, compared to 3 indictments, 1 conviction, and 1 prison sentence for Democrats over the same period. And that’s pre-Trump.

But aren’t the Dems just as corrupted by corporate bribery as the Repubs? The way I see it is that the Dems have no choice but to accept Corporate Personhood bucks if they want to mount an electoral defense against multi-billionaire fossil fuel science deniers and the like. That’s unfortunate, but unavoidable, and Dems in this trap have to be extremely careful.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is to correct the ongoing lies that Trump voters believe no matter what evidence there is to the contrary. The absurd Republican belief is that making the billionaires richer will help everyone. The opposite has been proven numerous times to be the case. Pure greed is the only thing the Republican belief serves. It makes the rest of us worse off.

Some problems and how to fix them.

Poverty: It seems so obvious. Set a minimum wage that allows people to simply live, without working two jobs. Currently that seems to be about $15 per hour. Every place where $15 has been tried has thrived.

Shorten the work week. We no longer work a 72-hour week, yet the 40-hour week didn’t bankrupt us. A 20-to-30 hour week is overdue. The transition will need to be carefully managed, but the result will be that more people will have work and fewer will be unemployed, which helps the country.

Get rid of desperate poverty with a guaranteed minimum income that prevents suffering from the worst effects of extreme poverty, but won’t be enough that it would be desirable.

Establish tax-supported national health care. This will save tens of thousands of lives yearly, and will vastly improve the national health, which in turn will boost economic health. Since cost control would be a part of national health care, excessive costs from fees, technology, and medicines would be reduced. We would no longer waste one of every three dollars on insurance administration, which contributes absolutely nothing to health care. The cost savings would be some $200B annually. That’s a savings of $645 per person per year just for instituting universal health care.

There are many other things Dems should support, policies that create greater common wealth. For example, encouragement of worker ownership of businesses. Policies that help domestic businesses be more competitive against overseas businesses that exploit workers with very low pay. For example assistance in financing a new business and modernizing older ones, and improvements in transportation and marketing. Tax breaks that help real people, not just corporate billionaires.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Dems is reaching Trumpsters, who have fallen for blatant lies, and live in a fantasy world where Trump will make them all rich. Dems must learn how to reach these people and show them how government actually works, and what will help them personally. That’s a tough challenge, because many such people are very resistant to such realization, and would rather remain in their fantasy world. They hate Obama and Democrats because they hate Obama and Democrats.

No, Democrats haven’t gone off the rails. The Democratic platform should be what it has always been: serve the people, all the people, not just the rich. Enact laws based on factual evidence, not quasi-religious faith that doesn’t hold up under inspection.

A Few Republican Opinions

Idaho Rep Raul Labrador: Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.

Health Sec Tom Price: It’s reasonable that the elderly pay five times what the young pay.

Mo Brooks, AL: people who “lead good lives” should pay less for health insurance.

John Shimkus, IL: Men shouldn’t have to pay for prenatal care because they don’t deliver children.

Tila Hubrecht: Pregnancy by rape is God’s silver lining.

People protesting Trump are actually protesting God.

Mick Mulvaney of the White House says diabetics don’t deserve health insurance because they gave themselves diabetes.

GOP lawmaker: Poor women have abortions because “there is a free trip involved”.

Sen. Cotton: Black people are trying to be poor to get Social Security benefit.

WH Budget Director Rick Mulvaney attacked those who receive government benefits for the poor by claiming they are thieves for receiving this money.

Paul Ryan calls working moms with two jobs “takers”.

Rep Tim Walburg: God will take care of climate change, if it exists.

A Christian conservative: Jesus wouldn’t want me to care about global warming.

Pat Robertson: Non-religious children should be beaten until they respect Christian beliefs.

Rep. Robert Fisher: Rape isn’t an absolute bad because the rapist enjoys it a lot.

James Dobson says transgender people using public bathrooms should be shot.

Rep. Lawrence Lockman: If a woman has a right to an abortion why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman?

Paul Ryan: If we feed the poor, we will never get rid of them.

Louisiana Republican Rep. Clay Higgins said that Muslims should be hunted down and killed.

Published in: on 2017/06/08 at 1:45 pm  Comments (5)  
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Measuring Quality of Life

GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is convenient for economists and politicians, but it misleads us into thinking an increase in GDP makes us better off. More guns, worse natural disasters, and private prisons add to GDP, but show us that not every contribution to GDP improves our lives.

Measures of the improvement in the quality of our lives is vastly more important. Unfortunately, GDP is easier to measure, so that’s what we look at. As any laid-off or underpaid worker can tell you, the quality of life for everyone but the richest few has been stagnant or declining for decades in spite of rocketing GDP. The desperation of these workers is why Donald Trump’s lies about how he was going to make everything better convinced them.

Every demagogue knows he must tell his followers that they have an enemy who is to blame for all their miseries. Hitler blamed the Jews, and Trump blamed Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton. Those elite, pointy-headed, out-of-touch ivory tower intellectuals who never worked a day in their lives and don’t know what the real world is like. Liars. Criminals.

We don’t have a good, simple measure of the quality of life yet, but we do know that it does not lie in the realm of “stuff”. We already have too much stuff, and the addition of an 80-inch TV will not improve our quality of life.

Actually, it’s relatively easy in modern nations to have high quality of life. Why do we not have it? We do not have high quality of life because the very rich and corporate powers have given far too much wealth to themselves and to Congress. Members of Congress are all given fabulous amounts of money in the expectation that it will earn access for lobbyists to convince Congress to vote in ways that favor these interests. It works. Congress again and again votes for bills that make the rich richer and the rest of us less well off. We cannot, for example, use leverage to obtain better prices for medicines because Big Pharma paid Congress to pass a bill that says we can’t. So we are forced to subsidize a multi-million dollar bonus for a Big Pharma CEO when we buy our grossly overpriced meds.

Wealth is finite. If it goes to the very wealthy it cannot go elsewhere. The wealthy do not use it to build factories and provide jobs. They merely invest it for themselves, taking it out of circulation, where it would improve the quality of our lives.

Health care is one of the most important elements of quality of life.

Congress, almost entirely because of the Republican position, has never given serious study to one of the most important ways to improve the quality of life: national health care. We are literally the only modern nation without national health care, and it shows. Our health as a nation is much worse than virtually any other modern nation, in spite of the fact that we pay literally double what others pay. This doesn’t bother the wealthy because they can easily buy top quality medical care. The poor who can’t get treatment just die.

A large part of this tragedy is because a quarter of our health care bill goes to private insurers, who provide absolutely no health care at all. Another big chunk goes down the drain because we can’t readily control the price of what we pay for medical care or medications. Countries with national care have neither of these major problems. We still have this antiquated system largely because Republicans have a pathological aversion to anything they think is “socialism”, which they apparently equate with Stalinist communism. They stick to this story because they are beholden to moneyed interests that get them re-elected.

Are we entitled to health care? Yes, we are.

Consider the case of one of the most important medical advances in recent centuries, penicillin. Penicillin and its later offspring has cured diseases that in the past claimed millions of lives. Penicillin greatly improved our quality of life. It also earned truckloads of money for those who manufactured it, but that money did not improve our quality of life.

I maintain that we are all entitled to penicillin if we need it, and it would be amoral to withhold this lifesaver from anyone, even if they are penniless. The same holds true even for expensive medical treatment. Half a million families every year are bankrupted after selling everything they own to pay for an expensive medical treatment. This creates a net negative effect for the whole country, because each of these families is thrust into worse quality of life. The children may have to give up college plans, so the effect lasts more than a generation. This national disaster happens only in the US, the only country without national health care.

Inexplicably, Republicans waste endless hours trying to preserve unearned wealth yet make health care affordable. They cannot understand that the biggest insurance pool is the most efficient, that the private health care insurance industry is completely useless, and that the cost of medical procedures and medicines can easily be managed by national boards. We are the only modern nation in the world that hasn’t figured this out.

Health care is not rocket science, it’s simple arithmetic.