Tag Archives: deficit

Give Me Your Poor…

Want a way to decide what federal services to cut, and which to keep, in a fair and balanced way? Here’s a thought: the Democrats are all about the poor, the homeless, the children. Take care of them first. And by first, I mean before anyone else.

Set up a national safety net priority pyramid, kind of like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. No money is spent on the higher level priorities until all of the base needs are taken care of. For example, if hunger is agreed to be the most basic need, then all people will be fed before any money is spent on any other item. Once all people are fed, then people could receive housing, and clothing, and education, medical care, and so on.

There would be no question of corporate welfare until the basic needs of all people were taken care of. There would be no consumer protection agency until everyone had enough money to worry about losing. There would be no government backed mortgage financing until everyone had a house. There would be no student loans until everyone was college ready. If a person lost his job, and was unable to pay his mortgage, there would be no unemployment payments—that person would be assigned living quarters, and given food and clothing sufficient to bring him up to the level of the lowest person in the pyramid. Everyone would be kept alive, fed, and sheltered. Beyond that point, everyone would be on his own, until everyone achieved a base level of needs provided for.

At that point, once each person was assured of food, clothing, and shelter, the next level of need could be addressed. Say the next priority would be education. The most basic level of education would be provided for each person, no matter their age. If a fifty-year-old man somehow neglected to learn to read when he was in school, he would be eligible to be taught his ABC’s. And so forth, and so on. All of those people in the middle and upper classes would receive no benefit from government unless and until all of the people beneath them in income level were brought up to their standard of living.

In this manner, the entire pyramid would keep rising, with more needs taken care of, but only needs. Wants and desires would not be funded in any way, shape, or form by the government until all needs for all people had been satisfied. Anyone at a higher income level would be welcome to provide more for himself than would otherwise be provided by the government, but no one would be entitled to anything that was not available at the lowest income level.

Fortunately, we never have to worry about this sort of concept ever being implemented, and not because the Republicans hate people, either. The truth is that it’s just too difficult to pay in for years, and never get anything back. And, matter how hard we try, no matter what benefits are given to those in need, there will always be needy. There will never be enough to take care of those in dire need, and still have some left over for the amenities we all enjoy. It’s all a balancing act, and we just need to decide where we’re going to set the fulcrum. No demonizing necessary.

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Filed under Critical Thinking, Politics

Framing the Question

It’s a well-known logic premise that the way in which the question is framed dictates the boundaries of the answer that will be achieved (okay, I just made that up, but it does stand to reason). The current (tense) discussion about ‘gun control’ and what we should do to keep weapons/large-capacity magazines out of the hands of undesirables/criminals/people with mental issues’ hands narrows the issues that can be explored, and requires that any solution deal only with the variables that have been presented. As in a Venn Diagram, we can interlace overlapping circles of concepts, but only those concepts that fall within the framework of the question we have previously elucidated. We cannot reach outside the circles (or the ‘box’) to bring in other matters that may end up having more relevance to the problem that actually needs to be solved, once we have structured such a restrictive framework.

So, instead of discussing, or even broaching, the question of ‘How do we keep our children/citizens safe?’ we instead focus on the narrow issue of restricting gun ownership. ‘How do we keep ‘x’ safe?’ opens an entire world of possibilities, some of which may actually lead to more safety, better security, even a possibility of an alternate culture, none of which come into being when the topic is no larger than ‘Let’s ban assault looking weapons’, or ‘Keep large magazines out of the hands of criminals’.

But, then, why should the question of keeping our most vulnerable citizens safe be any different than any of the other questions that currently occupy our media and politicians? The topic of educating the next generations devolves to ‘We need to pay our teachers a living wage’; raising the debt ceiling becomes ‘How can we get those pesky Republicans to make good on debts they’ve already incurred?’; and the issue of moderating spending is—‘Say what? I didn’t hear that!’

Until we decide to tackle the big picture, the ultimate issues, the basic questions that affect our lives and inform our cultural biases and preconceptions, we will be diddled and riddled with small fixes that waste time, do nothing—or worse, and fail to resolve the troubles that plague our society. I’m not saying that we ever have to address the human condition directly. I’m just noting that, if we refuse to do so, at least let’s not pretend that we are, or pretend that we are making any headway.

It’s hard to peel away the skin, and get to the root causes of why we act the way we do, express directly what we would like the future to hold, and explore the fundamental changes that we must make in order to get there. It’s much easier to find ‘them’ to blame our troubles on: gun owners/criminals/those with mental issues. Such name-calling allows us an easy out, allows us to continue on without having to attend to our basic mores. Fine, fine. But let’s not kid ourselves. The real work still awaits, even while we spend beaucoup dollars and irreclaimable amounts of time on the minutest issues that having nothing to do with the real problems that exist. 

‘Scuse me, I need to go restring my violin.

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Filed under Critical Thinking, Education, Politics, Self-help

What Compromise?

Image Courtesy of Arvind Balaraman

I have been an advocate of compromise between the conservatives and the liberals. In trying to figure out when and where to compromise, I was struck by the thought that no one has yet given a satisfactory argument for why economic compromise is necessary, or even beneficial. It is simply a given. Those who stick by their fiscal principles are labeled whack jobs (that’s the technical term).

Ayn Rand, the libertarian, is labeled an extremist, whose views are completely outside the bounds of human discourse. Why is that? Why is it anathema that pure capitalism exist in any society, anywhere in the world? Why is it accepted that the United States must go the way of Europe and parts of Asia? Why can there not be one place on this planet where people are expected to live up to high standards of conduct?

Socialism, communism, these concepts are often embraced these days as the inevitable outgrowth of right-thinking, even if they are not called by those names. Note to President Obama: Having rich people’s “fair share” of taxes be larger than other people’s simply because the rich are better able to afford it, and taking rich people’s money and giving it to other people because those with less deserve a fair shake, is the same idea as:

From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.*

I don’t care if you do call it fighting for the middle class, or progressivism, the idea that people will only behave themselves when the government gets involved is the essence of redistribution of wealth.

Taking the fruits of one person’s labors to give to another is not only encouraged these days, but expected, and enforced by imprisonment. This method of running society is praised as it spreads all over the world, with no country left untouched, even though wherever it is tried, it does not succeed for very long. Why can’t there be one country where people are free to bargain with each other, free to live or die based on their own efforts, free to associate with whomever they want?

You know, like the Wild West, before it was incorporated into America. I guess Ayn Rand’s metaphor wasn’t so far off, after all. One reason for the polarity in this country is that the people who settled the West had personalities suited to individual achievement and individual responsibility. That does not mean that they were unsociable—quite the contrary. They knew that their very survival depended on them treating their fellow settlers with the utmost respect and consideration, returning favor for favor, and having each other’s backs.

When conservatives talk about taking the country back, it is to that mindset and those values that they refer, regardless of how liberals paint it. Liberals snicker at the “Wild West mentality”, as though it is some form of mental illness to rise by your own hard work, to help out your neighbor knowing that he would do the same for you, and to put something aside, just in case.

So, there were those individualists, living out their lives pretty much well unmolested, growing their own food, taking care of their own wants, raising their own children. As cities rose up around them, their rights began to be infringed upon by those who believed in collective action. So long as there were plenty of individualists around who could be roused enough to take public action, they managed to deal with the inroads, pacified with the knowledge that they were helping out their fellow man, no matter how imperfectly.

But each year, the government grew and grew, and the conservatives became more uncomfortable. They were none too happy that President Bush’s fiscal policies began to more closely mirror the liberals’ values than their own. That the solution to every ill seemed to be, “Throw more money at it,” rather than scaling back any programs or subsidies. That, no matter how much revenue the government collected, it was not enough. And there was apparently never enough regulation—every day, it seemed that there were 100 more rules to comply with.

Then along came President Obama. He started out with “Hope and Change.” It turned out that the change he wanted was an increased pace of redistribution. He blamed President Bush for the state of the economy, but doubled down on President Bush’s remedy for the problem: More money to more people. If you don’t have enough, print some.

Now that President Obama has doubled the deficit and make the debt skyrocket, he comes to Congress, saying that he is willing to work with them, to compromise. But there is no need for him to compromise, except on raising the debt ceiling. He needs that lifted, so that he can have more money for his ever-expanding government. However, so does Congress.

As for the sequestration, President Obama is in a win-win situation. If taxes go up on everybody, he can claim (and has already) that that was Congress’ idea, and renew his promise to “fight for the middle class.” He ends up a white knight. And he doesn’t have a problem lopping a fair bit off the Republican sacrament of defense.

So long as Congress is too horrified to shut down the federal government, they have no bargaining power. Things will progress much as they have, with the debt ceiling being lifted every so often, no budget being passed, and the Republicans being blamed for stonewalling. Unless and until the Republicans stand firm on the debt ceiling, there will be no hope for rolling back any of the government.

President Obama’s stated plan for rollback is to reduce spending by $2.50 for every $1 in extra revenue that Congress will allow. If he’s so interested in lowering spending, why doesn’t he just reduce it by $1.50, and cut out all the middlemen? I’ll tell you why. It’s so that he has some wiggle room. When Congress doesn’t agree to the revenue hikes, he can blame everything on them: the failure to raise revenue, the failure to lower spending, the whole kit and caboodle.

Why not compromise? Because I can’t see anywhere that the Republicans can compromise.  They done give away the whole shooting match, already. The rugged individualist has no more place on this planet, at least in this lifetime.

*Karl Marx, the father of fighting for the middle class

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The Play’s Not The Thing

(Photo by zoonabar)

The first debate is over, and the collective wisdom has been gathered and sifted. Mr. Romney wore red, and Mr. Obama wore blue (ties, anyway). We’ve all been told what to think about their body language, eye contact, and note-taking. Mr. Romney was forceful and aggressive, without being offensive. Mr. Obama rose above the fray. Fascinating things, those debates.

Now, look past the hype, the postures, and the posturing, and listen to what the candidates said. They may have prepped and studied, cramming those talking points into the recesses of the brain from whence they could easily be retrieved, but in the heat of the discussion, they still revealed themselves in their choice of words. Listen, and ye shall learn.

Both candidates are in favor of keeping the amount of the revenue sent to the federal government the same for now. Mr. Romney says that he wants to lower the tax rate, but delete deductions, so that the net effect is revenue neutral. Mr. Obama wants to keep the Bush era tax cuts for the middle class, but raise the rates on higher income earners, again with the goal of revenue neutrality. The difference lies in what they want to do with that money once it gets to Washington.

To create jobs, Mr. Obama wants to redirect the war chest as the war in Afghanistan winds down, and invest that money in the middle class. Those earners are then expected to spend the money on consumer goods, stimulating businesses to gear up production and start hiring.

He also wants to improve education system through investment, hire 200,000 math & science teachers, and create 2,000,000 slots in community colleges.

Further goals include lowering manufacturing tax rates, boosting energy production, and investing in new energy sources.

Mr. Romney has a five point plan to stimulate job growth: 1) make North America energy independent; 2) open trade with Latin America, and crack down on China when they cheat; 3) give Americans skills to cope with the new economy, and help schools by transferring federal programs to the states; 4) balance the budget by lowering the tax rate but closing loopholes; and 5) champion small business by reducing regulations.

Mr. Obama will deal with the deficit through a $4,000,000,000,000 reduction, effected  by cutting $2.50 for every $1 in revenue. He also plans to eliminate corporate tax breaks. His litmus test is whether a particular program will help grow the middle class.

Mr. Romney has a 3-point deficit plan. 1) a litmus test for spending asks whether any particular program is worth borrowing money from China to implement (he’s already decided that Obamacare and PBS will not make the cut); 2) transfer programs to the states; and 3) reduce the size of the federal government through attrition.

Both men plan to retain Medicare and Social Security as they are for people 55 and over. Mr. Romney is in favor of a voucher program for those under the age of 56.

On the question of the role of government, the first words out of Mr. Obama’s mouth were, “To keep the American people safe.” To the same question, Mr. Romney responded, “to protect the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”

The candidates differ in their management styles. Mr. Romney stated that he has strategies for growing the economy, but he is deliberately unable to give many specifics about the tactics involved at this point. He will not know exactly how to accomplish his mission until he has a chance to hammer out the details in weekly meetings with Congressional leaders beginning the day after he wins the election.

In contrast, when implementing Obamacare, Mr. Obama traveled the country, listened to taxpayers, and talked with experts. He then formulated his health care plan and presented the fully fleshed out deal to Congress for them to vote up or down.

Mr. Obama is a believer in the power of the federal government to effect change. He thinks that the country works best when we are all on the same track. The problem so far is that Congress has not allowed Mr. Obama free rein to test out his theories. His plan upon re-election is to bypass Congress and take his case directly to the American people. Once he has explained his goals to the voters, they will put pressure on their elected representatives to fall in line. Once everyone begins to abide by his policies, they will effect the change that he has been hoping for.

On the other hand, Mr. Romney prefers that the states retain the flexibility to deal with their own issues as they see fit. He thinks that the states are the best laboratories to come up with effective plans to assist their own citizens when they need help, and the places to look to grow businesses. Right now, he thinks that the combined federal burdens of taxes and regulations are so high that they are stifling the productive spirit. He wants to unleash the power of small business to grow the economy.

Mr. Obama has not set a timeline for the eventual success of his mission. He has stated that he started so far down in the hole that it has ended up taking more than the expected four years to achieve all of his promises, but he’s willing to keep up the good fight.

Mr. Romney has vowed to raise incomes and help create 12,000,000 million new jobs, but has not set a complete timeline for his goals, either.

According to the after-debate polls, Mr. Romney’s strong performance swayed many previously undecided voters to his cause. The proof will be in the pudding, however. Once the shine has faded and the voters are left only with the on-going ads, feelings may shift again.

It’s interesting to see that, after 200 years, we’re still trying to determine where the line between rights reserved to the states and the enumerated powers of the federal government should lie. I wonder if there will ever be a decisive outcome.

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Filed under Critical Thinking, Elections, Politics