I’ve titled this post Misanthropia because I believe that I have every bit as much chance of making these improvements as I do of creating a true Utopia, i.e. none.
Still, I’m going to label each suggestion either plausible or implausible. The plausible changes will be the ones I expect never to have implemented because the Koch brothers and other multi-gazillionaires own all of our politicians and control the whole system by which they are put in place. However, I expect that I would be able to convince most of the so-called 99% that these changes would be good. The implausible are the ones I feel strongly enough about to post despite the extreme likelihood that they are so radical that I couldn’t even convince a significant percentage of the so-called 99%.
Each of the following suggestions or cluster of suggestions are meant to be taken individually. I believe each on its own could help make the U.S. a better country. That said, even were all of these suggestions implemented tomorrow, I do not expect that it would fix all of our problems. I’m not that smart.
Please also note that unlikely most of my posts, I intend to modify and mostly extend this post as new ideas occur to me or are brought to my attention other than in the replies I may receive on this thread.
I. Implausible: Consumption Tax. Replace all income tax with consumption tax. I’d leave basic necessities such as normal groceries with no tax. Then tax most goods at some intermediate rate and luxuries and vices with higher taxes.
II. Plausible: Capital Gains. Repeal the capital gains tax, to be replaced with ordinary income tax. Add more tax brackets at higher income levels. The top tax bracket in this country was over 90% for a major chunk of history. The difference was that it kicked in at a very high income level. Today, that would never pass. But, how about going back to 39% for the top tax bracket or even going as high as 50%. If the top tax bracket were to start with income in excess of $5,000,000/yr., I would think that the impact on lifestyle would not be tremendous. Some people might have to drive a top of the line Mercedes instead of a Bentley. Or, perhaps they’d only be able to buy a 50′ yacht instead of a 60′ one. Of course, closing loopholes is essential.
But wait! Isn’t that socialism and redistribution of wealth? No. This is redistribution of wealth, with nice pretty easy to understand charts. Please do click through to this before calling me a socialist, thanks.
III. Plausible: 1040 SuperEZ. My idea of an income tax form, noting again that I’d prefer to tax consumption:
1. Enter total income from all sources here:
2. Look up your taxes in the convenient tables, as you’ve always done and enter it here:
3. Enter taxes you’ve already paid:
4. Subtract line 3 from line 2 and enter the result here:
5. If line 4 is negative indicate whether you would like the money refunded or applied to your next year’s taxes here:
What’s missing? All tax free income. Any mention of dependents. Any mortgage interest. In short, this form would leave the government concerned only about getting it’s taxes from your income, not about how you choose to spend your money or your life. Tea baggers should seriously love this. Renters would no longer subsidize home owners; those with fewer or no children would no longer subsidize the children of others. And, the simplicity of the form does not allow for loopholes of any kind. Of course, this puts all tax accountants and tax lawyers out of business. They may be forced to find jobs of greater use to society, e.g. “would you like fries with that?”
Two notes regarding this suggestion:
1. There is an implausible bit here relating to the constitutional change necessary to tax municipal bond interest. See the section on nationhood.
2. Until we have medicare for all, see the health section, we may need to still allow a deduction for medical expenses.
IV. Semi-Plausible: One Nation, Indivisible. I believe it is time to truly embrace our nationhood. We have lived as 54 different little fiefdoms for too long (includes the 50 states plus D.C., U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam). We call ourselves a nation in the pledge of allegiance. But, it’s a lie. What would this entail? Well, the two most important bits would be:
1. Have a true national election. We currently have separate elections in the fiefdoms where we elect representatives to vote for us in a national election. This is because we are a federation rather than a nation.
2. Establish the U.S. as a democracy, one person, one vote. We are not a democracy now. Texas, in particular, should be revolting. Some up north may think that they already are. But, to be serious. Right now in our once-great non-nation, it takes four Texans to equal the value of one Wyomingite.
I personally think that each of us has equal value to the nation. I think that to call a Texan a quarter of a person is insulting and discriminatory. Texas is the least represented state in the union, worse even than New York and California.
I have a ton of respect for the founders of the United States. I really do. But, like human beings everywhere, they were not infallible. They did not trust democracy. They did not believe one could last. It is time we recognize this as a mistake.
It is most definitely time to abolish the electoral college in favor of a national election where our votes are directly counted, one person, one vote.
V. Barely Plausible: Munis. Tax municipal bonds, at least federally.
For background, municipal bonds are currently most usually exempt from income tax at the local, state, and federal level. There is a calculation normally done when purchasing these called tax equivalent yield (TEY). This accounts for your own tax bracket at all levels of government where you live and tells you that, for example, a 4% yield with no NYC, NYS, or federal taxes might be equivalent to a 7% yield that is taxed, depending on your tax bracket. Those who earn less would get a lower TEY because their tax bracket is lower.
So, the way it stands today, municipal bonds are essentially a tool of the rich. This is partially because of the difference in tax bracket and partially because a wealthy individual can afford to earn a larger percentage of their income from interest on their existing wealth. The vast majority of municipal bonds never even make it to the retail market. Wealthy individuals buy a whole series of bonds and hold them to maturity. About 10% of the bonds, last I heard, actually make it to the secondary market where you or I could buy them at a stiff premium and get an even lower yield from a brokerage house.
If we can embrace our nationhood, it is barely possible that we might be able to change the way in which the federal government subsidizes municipal bonds. Currently, it does so by not taxing the interest. I would change the laws such that the federal government pay a percentage of the interest and then tax the interest as it is earned. The accounting will look similar to the federal government, or at least accomplish the same result.
Whether states and localities would then also choose to tax the interest at their levels, in the cases where the states and localities have income taxes, would be up to the states and localities themselves to decide.
The differences would be:
1. Wealthy individuals would lose their access to tax free income, making all income identical.
2. Municipal bonds would pay as well for those of us in lower tax brackets as they do for the wealthy, making them a useful investment for all of us.
3. Municipalities may even find it easier to float debt, for good and for bad, because of the increased attractiveness of the investment to a larger market.
VI. Plausible: Medicare for all. I know this seems implausible at first. However, that is just because as painful as health insurance is today, people don’t realize how bad it will be and how soon. I won’t have to convince anyone; the health insurance companies are doing that for me. The basic problem is that the health insurance companies are for-profit corporations.
They are legally bound by a requirement to maximize shareholder profit.
What this means is that they absolutely must charge as much as possible for the insurance and pay out as little as possible. They are very very good at this. If you have tried to find out why a claim was denied, you know that their first line of defense against actually paying what they are obligated to pay is to simply never answer the phone. How many minutes or hours will you stay on the line to fight for a $75 claim? They’re betting you’ll give up. They win that bet a lot.
Would medicare really be better? Would I want my health insurance managed as well as the post office?
Yes and hell yes!
First, despite the fact that the federal government has in recent times made it very difficult for the post office to operate, we should recognize that it is still operating beautifully, albeit with inadequate funding and no freedom to raise their prices at will or as needed without seeking approval.
That said, it’s still about half the price to send a package via USPS versus UPS and FedEx. And, no one else is even willing to get into the business of carrying first class mail, especially for less than half a buck to anywhere in the country. This is one of the great bargains of our time!
But, back to medicare. Right now, medicare has huge problems precisely because they are only insuring that least profitable segment of the population that the insurance companies flat out refuse to insure. Were we to have the option to select medicare prior to the age of 65, I think that many of us would do so. In fact, I think the reason the insurance companies fight it so vehemently is because they can’t compete with medicare. Medicare is simply too fucking good!
Consider this, ask this of a doctor you’ve been going to for years and trust and can speak to candidly. “Off the record, have you ever been unable to recommend a test or procedure for me because an insurance company would not cover it?” I bet that if your doctor feels he or she can be honest with you, the answer will be yes. Then tell me how much you love private insurance. I know my doctor has told me that he dropped a certain insurance company I had been on because they wouldn’t let him provide good care to me.
What changes can we expect from medicare for all?
1. Our corporations will be more able to compete in the world market against companies from the civilized nations of the world where health care is paid for by the government because it won’t be the job of the corporation anymore. I have no idea why GM was not actively lobbying for this in the 1950s.
2. We will have a system run by somewhat competent bureaucrats instead of by very competent thieves. Make no mistake about it. The people making decisions at our for-profit health insurance corporations are indeed very competent. But, their job is NOT to provide you with care.
3. Medicare, as a program, will become more solvent. The problem today is that they charge a low premium while providing care for the segment of the population who needs the most care.
4. We can get some efficiency by having just a single federal health insurance program instead of three. Medicare would subsume medicaid and the VA.
5. Members of congress will be on medicare. That is guaranteed to improve the program even if they buy supplemental insurance. Note that I have no objection to supplemental insurance. It would be up to the company to make it worth the money. They’d have to provide care instead of denying it for that to be the case.
Laws and Regulations:
VII. Plausible: Glass-Steagal. Reinstate the Glass-Steagal Act, i.e. overturn Graham-Leech-Bliley. Having banks that are insured by FDIC playing casino with their money is just unacceptable. Had it just been the casinos (brokerage houses) that had gone belly-up, we could have considered letting them fail. After all, the government had no insurance on that part of the business. But, the government was obligated via insurance to keep the banks afloat. Separating these two types of institutions just makes good business sense.
VIII. Plausible: Limit 12 to a customer Huh? Well, it used to be that banks could only borrow up to 12 times their net worth. That’s like putting 8.33% down on a house. Or, given that Glass-Steagal no longer applies, putting 8.33% down at the casino. So, the bank bets $833,333, for example. And, the government foots the bill for the rest of your $10,000,000 bet. It’s a good deal for the banks.
But, it wasn’t good enough. They wanted 40. And, they got it. That’s now like putting down 2.5% at the casino. The bank’s $10,000,000 bet now only costs them $250,000 of their own money.
But, what if they lose the $10,000,000? Well, they’re FDIC insured, right?
The name of the game is privatizing the profit while socializing the risk.
IX. Plausible: Credit Default Swaps. This is going to take a bit of explaining. A credit default swap (CDS) functions as if it were insurance. If the payment stream stops paying, one can go to the company that sold the CDS and they will pay the missing money. The similarity ends there.
CDSs are traded over the counter and with no regulation. If you were stupid enough, which you likely aren’t, I could sell you a CDS that would “insure” a trillion dollar revenue stream for whatever is deemed a reasonable price. Most likely, since I don’t actually have a trillion dollars, I would just abscond with your money and flee. JP Morgan Chase sold 45 trillion dollars worth of these things. And no one had any checks in place to make sure that they actually had the money to cover the bets. This is the difference with insurance. Insurance companies are regulated to ensure that they have the money they may be required to pay out, or at least some significant percentage of it.
Here’s the catch. Buying a CDS allowed the bank with the risky asset to avoid mark to market each day. And, more importantly, it allowed them to account for the entire revenue stream immediately. The could count 10 years’ worth of profits as if they had already received them. Neat trick. It makes this year’s accounting look fantastic. Bonuses for everyone! Never mind what may happen next year … or even next quarter.
The fix for this is to regulate the hell out of these things. Make them fit the same requirement as real insurance. This will be easier if they are not traded over the counter. But, either way, they should be regulated. If they’re going to be used like insurance and allow the same changes in accounting as insurance, they must be regulated just like insurance. (Thanks bobbo for noting this missing paragraph.)
Note that they are currently explicitly excluded from regulation by a bipartisan bill from the Clinton era. Wall St. is very good at making sure they buy politicians from both parties. So, all of their wettest dreams of deregulation pass with huge bipartisan support, like Graham-Leech-Bliley did.
X. Plausible: Citizens United. Create a constitutional amendment overturning the horrific Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. Ensure that corporations are never considered people and their money is never equated with speech.
XI. Plausible: Campaign Finance. Make all elections publicly financed. Ensure that not only are candidates prevented from taking and spending campaign contributions, that they are not even allowed to campaign using their own money. Those who get enough signatures to run for any particular office all get identical pots of money with which to run their campaigns. No other funds may be used.
XII. Plausible: Congressional Salary. Tie the salaries of elected officials to some multiple of the median household income in their district. This would have an effect similar to putting them on commission to improve the nation.
XIII. Implausible: National Education Standards. All of the civilized nations of the world have national education standards. I probably won’t convince anyone that this is a good idea. But, come on, look around. Our education system is so substandard that we no longer produce technical staff. We’re rapidly falling behind the rest of the world in just about every science or mathematics related field. Sorry religious wrong, your ideas are causing us to race forward into the 11th century. For those of us who do not wish to see a repeat of the dark ages, we are forced to fight you on the issue of teaching religion in public schools at the expense of science. Not only does your curriculum guarantee us last place in the educated world, but it is a clear and obvious violation of the first amendment’s establishment clause for any of us still capable of reading.
Church and State:
XIV. Plausible: Gay Marriage. The ability to marry the person one loves is so clearly and obviously part of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that I really can’t imagine how any sane person can oppose this. I have no idea why the immoral minority cares about this so much. Are they worried that they may be forced into gay marriages? Please tell me exactly how a same sex married couple is going to weaken my quarter of a century long marriage. I fail to understand this. I also fail to understand why someone would care about the sexual orientation of someone with whom they were not trying to have sex. But, that’s just me.
Further, gay marriage, as written up by Mother Jones, would be a $3 billion a year industry. People spend a lot on marriage. Gays and lesbians would spend no less. Here’s free business.
The only reason to oppose same sex marriage comes from religious beliefs. That alone should be the answer. We live in a secular country founded on secular beliefs by secular human beings. Stopping you from legislating from your religious beliefs is NOT an attack on religion. You are perfectly free to follow your religion. What you are not free to do is force others into your beliefs. Banning same sex marriage is an obvious step toward theocracy.
People: Human rights are not a popularity contest. Every so often, we update our rights to grant them to more and more people. This is progress. We used to ban interracial marriage. Then we became more civilized and allowed interracial marriages recognizing the banning of them for the discrimination that it was. Same sex marriage is no different. We shouldn’t be voting on this because it’s not about majority rule. It’s about that other side of democracy, protection of the minority from the majority.
If you don’t like same sex marriage, don’t marry someone of the same sex.
XV. Semi-Plausible: Reproductive Rights: Similarly, the only reason to oppose reproductive rights is one’s religious convictions. We don’t legislate from religion here. Or, at least we must stop doing so. This is not Iran. We do not want this to become a Christian Iran, right? Raise your hand if you want to see rape victims stoned to death for being raped within city limits. Raise your hand if you want to see people stoned to death for working on the sabbath. Raise your hand if you want to see people killed for wearing a garment made of a mix of linen and wool. This is what a religious dictatorship looks like. This is what Dominionism would create. These are the punishments for these “crimes” as laid out in the Bible. Sure sounds just like Sharia Law, no? Why oppose one but not the other?
Further, on abortion and contraception here are some facts probably unknown to most Christians. If these don’t change your mind about contraception, then your brain has fossilized into stone on this subject. For those who are still capable of thought and opposed to women’s rights, this should change your mind. If not, please please please explain how you can continue to hold on to the religious wrong’s viewpoint after reading this.
1. Birth control existed long before Jesus. As early as 700 BC, silphium was widely used throughout the ancient world as birth control. It was highly valued largely because of this and was a main stable of trade and was even depicted on coins, in one case with a woman touching the plant and pointing to her reproductive area. It was also an effective abortifacient. It is unthinkable that Jesus was unaware of this plant and its use.
2. Abortion predates Jesus by even longer. Abortion dates at least as far back as 1550 BC and is referenced in Egyptian papyrus. This also predates Moses, according to Jewish calculations. Moses also had nothing to say about abortion. Again, it is unthinkable that Jesus was unaware of abortion by medicinal means and by medical procedure. Both of these were commonplace at the time.
3. There is not a single mention anywhere in the Bible of abortion or contraception. There is not a single admonition against the use of either. Any attempt to claim that the Bible opposes either is a misinterpretation based on current male desire to rule over women. This is misogynistic and dishonest. If you still oppose contraception and abortion, you are really just saying you hate women.
Jesus was fine with both abortion and contraception.
If you still oppose abortion and contraception even knowing this, you are not only attempting to impose your theocracy on others, you are getting your own religion wrong. I don’t care how many idiot misogynistic preachers have told you differently, do your own search. Find a reference to abortion or contraception in the Bible. Find anywhere where either concept is mentioned by name.
Humorous note: If I actually believed there were a God and heaven and all, it would be amusing to off myself and hang out just outside the pearly gates for about 50 years or so (I bet a decent God would give me a dispensation for that long, not to get inside, of course) and watch as today’s right wing nutjob preachers walk up to the gates and get told by Pete to take the elevator over there to the sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-basement for bearing false witness against Jesus Christ himself in their claims regarding abortion and contraception. I’d love to watch their faces. Too bad the whole thing is a fantasy.
XVI. Implausible: E. Pluribus Unum: We might have to translate this to English before returning to our original motto. It means, “out of many, one.” It is a unifying message that includes everyone in the nation, not just those who believe in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god. Today’s motto, “In God We Trust,” is highly exclusionary. Buddhists, Hindus, non-theists of all types, native Americans, and maybe even Muslims who prefer the name Allah are all excluded. We used to be proud of our melting pot heritage. McCarthyism is widely recognized as a bad era in this country’s history. Most of us do not think of the good old days of the witch hunts and blackballing and actions of the house unamerican activities commission and all of that.
And yet, three things remain in our country to remind us of this era, the changing of our motto from “E. Pluribus Unum” to “In God We Trust”, the addition of this godvertisement on our money, and the words “under God” in our pledge of allegiance.
Let’s undo the last vestiges of McCarthyism.
XVII. Implausible: Wall of Separation: This should be a slam dunk. It should be the most plausible suggestion in the list. Unfortunately, the religious wrong are being told lies by too many people and will not believe this. So, please look it up for yourself. Therefore, I state strongly that we should go back to judging constitutionality of laws based on this wall of separation, as the supreme court did for over a century leading up to the McCarthy era.
When Jefferson wrote the letter containing the reference to the “wall of separation between church and state”, he was reassuring Christians that the first amendment would protect them from other Christians!
Huh??!!? What? Yup. It’s true. The letter was a letter from then-president and author of the constitution Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists reassuring them that they would be able to continue to worship as they wished. The Danbury Baptists were, as their name implies, religious Christians. They were worried that they might be denied their right to worship as they saw fit. They were worried that other Christians would take this right away from them.
Jefferson was reassuring Christians that the first amendment would protect them from other Christians.
Full text of the letter at the Library of Congress website: http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.html
This is huge. Think about the way you worship and wish to continue to do so. Do you engage in
cannibalism communion? Do you worship idols/graven images at alters with images of saints and the Virgin Mary? Do you believe in the cross as the symbol for Christianity or think that it is inappropriate to use the weapon of Christ’s death as a symbol? Do you believe you must be born again in Jesus? Do you think contraception is allowed or forbidden? Do you drink alcohol or think that it is against your religion?
All of the above questions can be answered either yes or no by someone who is a devout Christian. Depending on the sect of Christianity, these answers will differ. This is huge. Do you want to be told either that you must or must not engage in Communion? Do you want to be told that you must worship at an alter or may not worship at an altar with a graven image? Do you want to be told that the cross is forbidden as a symbol o Christianity and that all crosses must be taken down?
In short, do you really want a Christian theocracy when you think about the fact that Christianity has many different sets of beliefs because it has evolved over the centuries? Which Christian sect will win? Will it be yours? Well, given the high number of Christian sects from which to choose, it is unlikely that yours will be selected as The One True Flavor of Christianity. So, I ask again, do you really want to legislate from belief? Will that belief be yours or someone else’s?
Christians: Where does your own breed of Christianity fall on the List of Christian Denominations by Number of Members? Will yours be the one? If not, I’d suggest very very strongly that you not advocate becoming a Christian nation. If you are in the lead on this popularity contest, consider how you would feel killing or jailing another Christian for following Christianity in The Wrong Way.
Elections (added 2/19/2012)
XVIII. Plausible: No Parties. Our two party system is fundamentally flawed. Neither party is even remotely democratic about how they select our candidates. When done, they present us with two people. Generally, both suck. We’re then forced to choose one of these awful candidates because choosing someone else is a waste of a vote as only these two parties generally have a change.
This is a horrible system.
The correct number of parties is zero. Imagine being able to vote for a human being.
No longer would we have partisan politics for there would be no blocks of elected officials all voting one way all of the time because they have to vote the way their party wants them to, especially on the Republican side. They seem much more effective at keeping all their ducks in a row. One might expect that these well lined up ducks would have an amazing ability to get shit done. Nope. All they’re good at is stopping shit from getting done.
Combine this with publicly funded campaigns and we can all vote for whatever candidate seems best.
XIX. Plausible: Approval Voting One of the real problems we have in elections is that we usually can’t vote for some decent candidate from another party because we would be wasting our vote. If we used approval voting, we would simply check off all candidates of whom we approve. So, we could vote for many candidates equally. The candidate with the most approval votes wins. This even makes sense because this would not necessarily be everyone’s first choice, but would be the candidate that the most people thought was OK. We might even get more moderate candidates this way since those who piss off one side or the other too badly are not going to get as many OK votes.
Also, please note that there is some overlap between my main headers. Included in this section could also be my electoral college and campaign finance. But, since I wrote those earlier, I’ll leave them where they are.