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)  

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.

Low Tax is Not What We Need

Low tax never made anyone’s life good.

Consider India. Millions of Indians pay no tax at all, and they are so miserable that suicide is at a record high. In the US, low tax means nothing to you if you can’t pay for your cancer treatment until you go bankrupt. We already have taxes that are too low.

Taxes too low!? How is that possible?

It’s very simple. The cost of a good life is not measured by how low taxes are. We forget that only the rich can afford high quality with low tax, because they can buy anything they want. That’s why they always want to cut their own taxes.

What we want is the best quality of life, and that’s very different from mere low taxes. Let’s attempt to determine what gives us high quality of life. Here’s what I think.

First, high quality of life isn’t very dramatic. The elements of a good life are pretty basic: clean air, clean water, safe housing, healthy food, competent medical care, and a few more. All of these will cost much more if they aren’t paid for with taxes.

We don’t really need public transit, right? But if we have nothing but private cars a simple trip downtown in any US city will cost a fortune, the trip will take much longer, and parking will be a bear. Good public transit is much better, and far cheaper. Scope it out yourself, beginning with car cost, insurance, and maintenance. Cars are damned expensive.

But perhaps medical care is the easiest element to illustrate why low tax can mean high cost.

It’s not a contradiction at all. As literally every modern nation except ours knows, the cost of national medical care is about half the cost of individually purchased healthcare.

Did that come through? We pay twice as much.

Look at it from the other end. Let’s say a new nation wanted to have health care for everyone. They might decide that $2,000 a year for every person is enough. That would work fine if everybody had the same income, because everyone would have the same advantages. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same income. Capitalists earn a lot, and the poor don’t earn enough to buy health care.

If health risks for the poor are not shared, any serious disease will easily kill them, which will cost everyone more. Repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act would cause 44,000 additional deaths each year. All of us eventually pay for these unnecessary events.

Back to our new nation. What happens if health care is paid for with private insurance? The cost for health care would be $2,000 plus the extra cost the insurance companies would add. Don’t forget that insurance premiums provide no health care at all, and capitalism demands that profit be maximized for the benefit of the owners.

In sum, we pay a lot of money to insurance companies that provide no health care at all, yet absorb a large part of the money spent on health care. And the poor are often left to die because they can’t afford the insurance. We have this gross malfunction even though we spend twice the money that countries with national health care pay.

There are other reasons we spend so much on health care. First, training for health care professionals is very expensive, which leaves new doctors with huge debt they must discharge through high earnings. In other countries the government pays for their training, and they don’t have to earn a huge salary just to get by. Second, the cost of medications is determined by capitalists, who, as we have seen, have no compunction about pure greed. They apparently do not understand that they are not making fly swatters, that health care is a sacred duty. Third, charges for care often have little relationship to the quality of care because they are controlled by profit-maximizing capitalists. In countries where the government manages all the elements of health care, all costs are kept at a fair and consistent level. Providers are paid fairly and everyone gets all the care they need, paid for with taxes, because that’s the most efficient and fairest way.

In virtually the same way, all the other elements of good living—clean air and water, healthy food, safe housing, and so on—are most efficiently paid for with tax revenue and/or managed by the government. Everyone benefits and the cost to individuals is much lower. Imagine having to pay for clean water by yourself—think Flint—with corporations allowed to dump whatever they wanted to into the water supply. Imagine your house wired by some dodo unclear on the concept of electrical codes.

But, some say, government just can’t do anything right. That is nonsense. Government services, from federal to local, are full of programs that are well managed and efficiently priced.

It’s not low taxes we need, it’s the best services, and that has very little to do with low taxes. Low tax virtually guarantees higher cost.

The Lingering Death of the Carbon Age

Donald Trump’s presidency, custom built for the benefit of the very rich, is not a new fashion. Every few years the power shifts in an unsteady balance between those motivated by the welfare of the people, as Lincoln’s memorable Gettysburg address states, and those who think money itself is the highest order because they have a lot of it.

What is new is the failure of the latter to understand that the larger world has changed. But it has, a lot. Republicans show every sign of resisting or ignoring the increasingly obvious sea change from from carbon captured millions of years ago in the age of dinosaurs, to energy from the sun that surrounds us every moment and will not be exhausted. Energy from sunshine in the form of electricity and heat, wind-derived electricity, ocean wave-generated energy, natural purification powered by the sun, from tides, and many other sources, and continually improved by the ingenious devices of people everywhere.

This change is happening no matter who doesn’t want it or how rich they are. Several nations have either achieved or are about to achieve complete energy derivation from the sun, and independence from all fossil-based fuels. These are nations where government isn’t so interested in making a few people very rich, and are permanently focussed on the welfare of all their people.

The very rich deniers, in fact, risk the very lives of their own descendants—and ours—because the Carbon Age has died, and they waste large sums of money that should be spent on the future, not on dinosaurs.

Some of you have probably seen the bones of the colossal dinosaur in New York’s Museum of Natural History. It’s so big that its tail extends out of the huge main hall and into a hallway. It is said that the tail is so far away from its tiny brain that there needs to be a sort of second brain to operate the tail.

What has happened is that the Carbon Age dinosaur has died, but the little tail-brain of carbon investors doesn’t know it. Those who do are moving on, building new societies not built around oil and coal.

Here’s another way of looking at it. We’ve all seen the guy in the cab at the rear of the fire department’s “hook and ladder”. He steers the rear wheels. He turns the rear wheels first in the “wrong” direction, then the “right”, so the very long truck can make sharp turns. He is like the old carbon investors who deny that the world has changed. They are not going to steer in the “wrong” direction because they deny that it’s necessary. And they are going to crash the fire truck, which then becomes useless, like a 21st century economy built around coal-powered steam trains.

The US has from the very beginning been a nation ruled by the Almighty Dollar, something noted by Alexis de Tocqueville in his mid-1800s tour of the country. As a nation of inventors and innovators, there were more than a few people who turned their talents into wealth, sometimes vast wealth. Among these were the millionaires, now the billionaires, whose great wealth derived from oil, gas, and coal. Today many descendants of these same people expect their carbon-powered festival to continue forever.

But it won’t. It can’t, because the combination of over 7.5 billion people in the world and the pollution caused by the use of these fossil fuels has poisoned everything and created global warming and other signs of radical change that are now inescapable. But, in spite of massive undeniable evidence, the carbon dinosaurs still don’t believe it, because to do so would mean the end of their big celebration. So they spend many millions to convince others by means of manipulated evidence and outright lies that the changes that are all around us don’t exist.

Our new president is one of these ignorant deniers, because he too gets richer from these antique investments. As the commander in charge of the country he will do all he can to preserve his own bragging-wealth, along with the other very wealthy. These are the people who keep the dying Carbon Age on ever more expensive life support, while more advanced countries understood long ago that a new age of renewable power was already upon us, and we must shift our efforts to survive. They have succeeded, whereas the deniers harm the future for the sake of money they don’t need.