Musings on 21st century politics

It has come to my attention lately that America really could really use an upgrade in the way we do America. There is a visceral reaction by conservatives when they hear a sentence like this, however, what I am referring to is not the what, but rather the “how”.
It’s not a place… This country is a thought that offers grace for everyone welcome that is sought.
~ Bono

The “what” that is America is a not a place, but rather a great idea. We are reminded of this from many people these days from Bono to Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska. The rights that we uphold and have shown to the rest of the world how the experiment can work has been a truly remarkable and great thing for mankind. In this idea called America, the common man is the ruler. And rule he must. However, the people of any democracy or republic are naturally going to have their selfish interests and therefore we have settled on Capitalism over Socialism or Communism as an economic system proving over and over that it is by far the best way to keep us a prosperous, fulfilled, and free people. However, in such a context, the wealthy naturally gain a majority of the wealth and the commoner, even though they wield the power of the majority vote, continue to not gain economically at the same rate as the ultra-wealthy. My understanding is that this “imbalance” is inevitable in a free market. This has resulted in a back-and-forth of Conservatives and Liberals in power as they are diametrically opposed to a few key things.

The facetious way to describe the economic policies of these 2 groups are as follows: Conservatives are not beholden to share anything with anyone (see Ayn Rand) while Liberals are so foolish that they can never understand that forcing people to share money will simply be worse for all parties for the economy. Conservatives are the super-greedy money-grubbers while the Liberals are the pot-smoking morons who just want the world to give them free money.

At this point in the essay, I should mention that I will not be concerned with being fair in terms of numbers in this essay. For example, if you are a liberal, you would probably react to my previous statement by saying, “Hey, there are a lot more ultra-powerful money-grubbing conservatives than there are lazy, pot-smoking government-money-sucking liberals out there.” That may be true (or perhaps it’s not, but the impact is greater, etc.), but I am not so concerned as both statements are true to a degree, yet the points in this essay remain.

The optimist or the problem-solver (of which I am some combination) will say rather that, “Conservatives believe in individual liberty as a fundamental right whereas liberals want things to be fair for each and every citizen of a society.” The problem that the other side has with these statements are as follows:

When one has to choose between the two, the “Liberal pull” often values the economy “being fair” over respecting someone’s fundamental rights. In the original United States, federal money was used so sparingly and so carefully that even when a single bridge in Kentucky was going to be built using federal funds, the people complained that it wasn’t right to use other people’s money to build the bridge even though everyone wanted the bridge. They wanted to respect the rights of those around the country and not take their money for something those other citizens would never see lest the same thing happen to them and their descendants. Alas, this is the USA we live in today for better and for worse. Ayn Rand, who was a self-loving atheist with impeccable logic, advocated very adamantly that people don’t owe anything to their fellow citizen and should never be compelled to support each other in any fashion. Under this system, every responsible person would have the freedom to work hard and keep what portion of the economy they contributed to the world to themselves. This is great for those who are able to do so, but for the vulnerable, this doesn’t work out so well and therefore, this system in itself does not work out for the Christian, the “moral person”, or the compassionate.

The “Conservative pull” tends to value an individual’s rights over “being fair”. For this reason, they are always pulling the economy in the direction of less taxes, less discretionary spending on aid programs, less money being put into welfare (especially because such a program is abused to an extent by people who could be otherwise working). If the overall economy is doing better, it is a win for conservatives even if the lowest section of the population is not keeping pace with the ultra-wealthy. This is, after all, because the poor are not providing society with as much economic benefit as those who are making more money. Even CEOs who make way too much money for what they are providing and know how to play the game are ultimately making the economy more money if the economy is truly free-market. How much they ought to make is a different matter.

This tension naturally means that we go back and forth between liberals and conservatives being in power and pushing things successfully as well as inefficiently and irrationally to grow the economy as a whole, grow the economy for each sector of society, and at the same time protect the vulnerable through government aid efficiently. This also means that we spend boatloads of money that we don’t have to on political ads just trying to sway people’s emotions in the direction that people want to go economically (among other things) and if enough people are passionate about an issue, that majority will eventually win the election. Case in point, Trump’s base as a reaction to the Obama administration’s safe, but dawdling economic policy.

But there is a new factor at play now that we didn’t have at our disposal 200, 100, or even 50 years ago to the same degree we have today: Technology in the Information Age.

The question I think we should be asking ourselves as Americans now is, “Do we want to continue going through this same debate for the rest of the lifetime of our nation?” Questions and aspects of morality, foreign policy, etc. are harder questions to calculate a mathematical balance on (and should also be explored), but why shouldn’t we try to agree on some sort of calculation of balance based on mutually agreeable criteria instead of fighting over how many representatives, both corrupt and righteous….mostly corrupt, can get into power to ultimately push the economy in some sort of direction that is good for their side. Take the 2017 Tax reform bill that just passed. Conservatives are very excited about it and predict it will be wildly successful. I do not doubt it will. But, are all Americans using the same criteria for success? Clearly not. And do all Americans rule this country? Absolutely. Can we not achieve some sort of calculation balance in certain areas like taxes, economic equality, and protecting the vulnerable? Couldn’t the data we have at our fingertips now allow us to do this and move forward in an intelligent way?

A way forward

For example, one of the biggest disagreements or tensions in American economic discussions is always “The liberals would just prefer to raise taxes so high that business would suffer to the point where everyone would suffer due to the socialist policies of the Liberals.” I believe we can move past such questions and instead simply calculate, using agreed upon criteria, a tax policy that would help the vulnerable, improve the economy for each economic strata of our society, and drastically improve the economy as a whole. All we would have to do is use the data available today to determine:

The vulnerable

  1. What programs are helping the vulnerable get un-vulnerable and sustaining a pace to get the overall population moving in a positive trend?
  2. If I know how much each ounce of cereal I buy at the grocery store costs, shouldn’t I also know which programs such as the ones in the previous question produce a positive trend in helping the vulnerable get un-vulnerable?
  3. Likewise, I should know how much impact $10,000 vs. $1,000,000 would have for an organization? i.e. what is the optimal point of investment to achieve the overall goal of a positive trend in self-reliance for the overall population.
  4. What amount of money is required to protect the currently vulnerable in programs that actually help and are necessary? (i.e. if the 1st 3 questions are acceleration, this is the velocity question)

The overall economy

  1. What amount of taxes for individuals of each strata + businesses (small, medium, and large) would actually be so much that the overall economy would suffer? i.e. where is the sweet spot?
  2. How do we find a balanced agreed upon criteria based on what the people want as a measurement for this “sweet spot”?
  3. How many strata do the American people prefer to measure? (e.g. Poor, Middle-class, rich? 7 categories based on minority groups and immigrants, etc.?)

If we moved towards this model, we wouldn’t have to have all of these meaningless conversations about who feels more fair and who can trick the masses into thinking they are getting a deal for their side. Let’s actually measure our values and construct an economic model based on it. Now for some slightly more interesting, but necessary questions…

Questions necessary for a selfish society that rules the land

  1. If the majority approves the criteria for assisting the vulnerable, should ALL citizens be forced to participate in the model? OR Should the number of citizens that vote for the bill represent the percentage of the funds that will be mandatory and the remainder should come as part of a voluntary donation from tax-holders at tax time?
    1. The latter would produce drastically fewer funds for what is needed and many of the vulnerable would suffer, but this would actually be the most democratic way to achieve such a system. I.e. if you don’t like it, your vote actually counts for reducing the burden.
  2. Should we have the top priorities of balancing our budget by a certain year in time and beyond forever (as some suggest with a balance budget amendment) and have a clear, measurable strategy for paying off our national debt by a certain specific year? This would mean that all other calculations would be based off of what was first required for running the necessary functions of government (which of course are many varying levels of “necessary”) Many programs are much more crucial than we realize, but if the people can be involved in prioritizing these priorities then things will be aligned properly.
  3. What balance of Ayn Rand economics vs. Bernie Sanders’ “democratic socialism” do the people want? We don’t need to pick 1 or the other. Just take a vote every so often with different options and go with that balance for taxes. It’s not hard.
    1. For example, let’s suppose that
      1. 60% of the population wants the balance approach of taxing the rich as much as we can where it will not hurt the wealth of the bottom 90% of the population.
      2. 20% of the population wants to tax everyone until everyone below the poverty line get free money in the amount of assistance that would equal the poverty line (assuming the national GDP could sustain this based on its priority). This would effectively eliminate poverty in a fictional world where everyone was responsible with their money (so, meh, good enough)
      3. 20% of the population wants to have a flat tax where no one is punished for their success and everything is equal. Equal production, equal tax bracket.

If this is the case, can’t we just stop arguing about who will have enough votes to push their agenda all the way? All we have to do is construct tax levels every X year(s) that balance these priorities in a 60/20/20 fashion.

You can begin to see how we argue about the specifics rather than the criteria that reflect our values. Furthermore, since we are a republic, the power lies in our representatives. For us Americans, we are currently stuck in a system where Washington bureaucrats fight over votes that may or may not be in line with an overall economic design that we agree with. With this alternative model proposed here, we move this sector of our republic more towards a democracy and let people manage their own money with their individual votes. Best of all, agreed upon answers to questions, criteria, values, and priorities can be put in the hands of the people (albeit with some natural safeguards). I propose this newer model is still in keeping with our constitution and is the natural next evolution as the American people rule this great nation and perpetuate this truly great idea for generations to come.

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