The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

On Mark McKinnon's program (Part 1 of 3)

Mark McKinnon's post had a total of twelve proposals. Discussing all of them in one post would be impossibly long to digest. I'm going to divide them into three groups of four, and even so the posts will be quite long. His first point was:
1. Get lobbyists, corporations, unions, and bundlers out of buying federal elections. Give the power back to the voters. In the last two weeks before adjournment, House candidates attended more than 400 fundraisers in the D.C. area. The top 10 heavy hitters, a list that includes trial lawyers and more unions than corporations, have contributed more than $355 million to the two parties from 1989 through mid-September. Forty-eight Super PACs with unlimited giving potential, from the right and the left, have registered with the FEC in the last few months. No wonder 70 percent of voters believe most members of Congress are willing to sell their vote for a campaign contribution. We can start reforming the system by passing the Fair Elections Now Act, and we can radically disrupt the way campaigns are financed through state constitutional conventions. Congress won't reform itself, but the framers anticipated such a problem, giving us Article V to go around Congress.
This was the old McCain-Feingold Act's proposal. The whole reason that the Court found it unconstitutional was that it restricted First Amendment guarantees on freedom of speech. And I really think the court was right there — you just can't sensibly restrict freedom of speech just because some people (and corporations, but they simply act in accordance with whatever the people who control them want) have a lot of money and can buy more advertising. The fact is that money can't buy an election if the candidate isn't what the people want (think of Ross Perot). So this is no worry of mine. (Imagine if one could buy the Presidency, or a Governorship. I'd be happy that Meg Whitman would be unbeatable in California!)
2. Butcher the pork, freeze the fat. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is wrong. We do care about "all those little, tiny, yes, porky amendments." With a deficit of $1.4 trillion, does it make any sense to be spending taxpayer dollars on researching exotic ants in the Indian Ocean? If expanding the government to such gross levels was good for the health of the nation, Europe would be leading the world, not suffering from economic sclerosis. When the government tries to borrow and spend its way to economic growth, the private sector—the job creators—cuts back its investments in anticipation of tax increases. An economy that's hostile to business will go the way of Greece. It's time to focus government spending on only mission-critical services, and not just freeze spending but reduce spending to a fixed percent of GDP. All spending, discretionary and non-discretionary, needs to be on the table. No sacred cows. Not even NASA. (Call me an interplanetary isolationist, but I think we should take care of lives here on Earth before we search for life on other planets.) Follow the model of Secretary of Defense Bob Gates: Reduce overhead costs by eliminating excess and duplication without risking critical force structure. We should permanently ban earmarks. Break up spending bills into individual requests. And restrict emergency spending for real emergencies only.
To a large part I agree. But we need to set priorities, and some of these things may be well worth spending money on. I certainly would not shut down NASA. Government spending on scientific research may well be the only way to get it done. (I say this with a certain prejudice, because most of my working life was done on projects that were government-contracted, so I see more value to such work than McKinnon might!)
3. Call an end to the privileged class. Middle America believes in fair play, an equal opportunity to succeed or to fail. But as seen in the GM bailout, unions are protected from failure with taxpayer dollars. Unions have destroyed the manufacturing sector, forcing jobs overseas by driving labor costs above the price consumers here will pay. Though membership has drastically declined, there are now more union members in the public sector than in the private sector. Eighty-six percent of state- and local-government workers have employer-provided health insurance versus 45 percent of private-sector workers. And unfunded public pensions already threaten to bankrupt California and New York. It's time to get unions out of federal, state, county and municipal government services. And it's time to privatize non-essential government services. According to the Office of Management and Budget, one-third of federal employees have jobs that could be performed by a private contractor. There are probably more. Let's start by privatizing the ever-in-debt postal service, which pays 1,125 employees to sit idly each day at a cost of $50 million annually.
With most of this I agree. Especially what he says about unions, which have made us uncompetitive in the world. The remark about "federal employees [who] have jobs that could be performed by a private contractor" actually resonates with me, as I've had a lot of those private contractor jobs, and I think we worked a lot harder than our Government-employee opposite numbers.
4. Flatten the world (of the IRS). When unabashed capitalist Steve Forbes and former Gov. "Moonbeam" Jerry Brown are comparing notes on a flat tax, it's time to pay attention. Lower tax rates spur economic growth, which generates more government revenue. Both Presidents Kennedy and Reagan recognized this. And under President George W. Bush, get ready for this, the rich actually paid more in taxes—because tax rates were lowered. In 1980, when the top tax rate was 70 percent, the top one percent of earners paid 19 percent of all income taxes. In 2008, with a top tax rate at 35 percent, half the rate of 1980, the top one percent paid 38 percent of all income taxes, double the share of 1980. Today almost half in the country pay no federal income tax; many actually "make a profit" through tax rebates. Taking more taxes from job creators, as will happen if the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, creates no sustainable, self-funding jobs. A simplified, lowered, and flat tax will increase revenues and create an all-in approach that would force folks to think more clearly about benefits they will have to help fund. No deductions, credits, or loopholes. Only one exemption setting a taxable income threshold based on family size. A flat tax treats people fairly: Those who make 1,000 times more than the average Joe pay 1,000 times more in taxes. While I'll leave it for economists to pick the right rate for consumers and corporations, if 10 percent is good enough for God, 15 percent ought to be good enough for government work.
This is probably the right way to go, though the excat percentage will have to be determined by how much the money the Government actually needs, and that cannot be worked out until points #2 and #3 have been looked into. The "exemption setting a taxable income threshold" should be set based on the minimum amount needed to live, and thus automatically adjusted annually, based on cost of living, so people who do not make enough to live on don't get taxed out of money they cannot afford to give up. If this is done, I favor the proposal.

These are the first 4 of his 12 points; more to follow.

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