POLICY thinking-statue-philosophy

Published on January 14th, 2013

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Can We Still Solve Problems?



What if we pried ourselves away from Fox News and MSNBC long enough to do some thinking? Maybe with some effort a large number of us, half or more, could identify a political agenda that spanned the traditional interests of both parties.  If that occurred it would not be difficult to convert that agenda into policy.  Could a sizable block of voters resist the distractions of the news cycle and press their representatives to achieve a small set of realistic, tangible goals?

What about this list?  What would you add, change, or remove?

1) Address the damage from the housing bubble.  With so much time wasted over the past four years, there are few options left.  Bankruptcy cram-downs, rent to foreclosure, even imminent domain offer some potential to help homeowners responsibly shed the dead weight of non-performing capital and begin to rebuild their lives.  It is national embarrassment that the real estate depression and its long-term impact on middle class wealth remains, four years after the crash, the most serious economic issue facing the country.

2) Drop the tangled mess of the ACA and choose a state-centered approach to delivering health care.  Leverage the capabilities of the Federal government to facilitate the creation of a true universal private insurance scheme, similar to the private insurance systems in France and Holland.  Let states decide whether to participate.  Citizens in states that want universal health care can finally have it.  Other states can create their own schemes.  As in nature, variation is likely to foster innovation, and innovation in our health care system would be much more valuable at this point than centralization.

3) Implement real, meaningful financial markets reform.  Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank are burying Wall Street in a blizzard of paper without changing the business practices that are hollowing out our capital system.  Force federally insured banks out of the derivatives business and eliminate dark-pool commodities trading.  Financial practices too complicated to be governed by reasonably simple regulations should not be regulated.  As a consequence, they should be beyond the reach of federally insured banks, insurance companies, and small-scale personal investors.

4) Start the next phase of our economic transformation by fostering lifetime education.  Shrink the duration of unemployment payments and devote that money to vouchers for education and vocational training.  In almost every field, from welding to database design, workers need constant retraining and hundreds of thousands of good-paying skilled jobs are going unfilled.  Our schools cannot meet their primary mission while training people for these specific jobs.  Developing a society that is constantly learning is every bit as important as building roads or airports.

5) Simplify and flatten the tax code.  There are too many people at lower ends of the economic spectrum who pay no income taxes and there are too many at the highest ends that pay too little.  Use three to five taxing tiers, ranging from about 6-25%.  End all tax expenditures – all of them, including the ones for carried interest and mortgage interest.  A flatter structure should allow capital gains and dividends to be treated as ordinary income.  Eliminate the great game of tax evasion and slash the amount of resources the country invests in tax compliance.  Along the way these reforms could put the country back on track to pay off the debt and stabilize our finances.

6) Require accountability in campaign finance.  In its depressingly out of touch Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court has made it impossible for the public to curb the de facto bribery that drives our government.  At a minimum we can require the prompt (within 48 hours) electronic disclosure of political contributions of all kinds and adopt the Abramoff Rule barring Congressional staffers from going to work for lobbyists.

7) We need a smarter immigration policy.  Immigration is the backbone of our economy, but our stalemate over the issue has prevented us from reaching our potential as a magnet for the world’s best talent.  Without a sensible immigration plan, we are fostering a vast, underground servant-class that is dampening innovation and depressing the value of labor.  It is time to consider either a national ID, or a strong multi-state compact which will allow state ID’s to reflect up-to-date immigration status.  With reliable ID’s we can finally impose real sanctions on employers who abuse the laws.  With greater confidence in the enforceability of our policies, we can start to adopt more innovative immigration policies that can attract more of the world’s best.

8)  Close unnecessary government bodies and implement a Sunset Commission.  Why does the Federal government still run a postal service?  Why does the Rural Utilities Service still exist after meeting its Depression-era goal of bringing electricity to farmers? This isn’t about money.  Closing agencies would not save nearly as much money as some people imagine.  The purpose is to trim the size and scope of the Federal bureaucracy, improving the government’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances.  In a world of accelerating complexity government cannot be effective unless it is lean and smart.  Federal employment cannot be an effective public service if it is also a public subsidy.

9) Win the drug war by ending the blanket prohibition of dangerous narcotics.  Explore the development of carefully controlled delivery channels so that addicts can destroy themselves, as they are already doing, without destroying entire communities and even nations along with them.

The country certainly faces more challenges than these, but by accomplishing just three or four of these goals America could see a remarkable change for the better.  They would require a determined electorate, sick of distractions, hype, and failure.

Could we do it?  How could such a collection of priorities be made acceptable to interests widely separated on the political map?  If the list had to be trimmed to only five priorities, what would they be?

Can we still solve problems?

*****

Chris Ladd is a Texan who is now living in the Chicago area.  He is the founder of Building a Better GOP and has served for several years as a Republican Precinct Committeeman in DuPage County, IL, and was active in state and local Republican campaigns in Texas for many years. (Email: chrladd AT gmail DOT com)

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