Thursday, March 10, 2011

How I'd fix America

I'm not a politician or an economist. I was a political cartoonist for seven years, so if what I'm about to say offends you, take it as being humorously intended. I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm just one person, and this is just one person's opinion.

I see two main problems with our economy: first, we buy too much stuff from overseas and not enough American-made stuff. Not only does this ship our money overseas, it ships our jobs there too. If companies can make more money producing goods in China with lower paid workers, they won't hire workers here. This doesn't just apply to manufacturing but customer support, some health services, and pretty much everything else.

The answer I see is to tax American companies that sell products here for every employee overseas. This should be a fixed amount, say $1,000-$2,000. Non-American companies should also have a tax added to the products they sell here, say 10%. This should also apply to parts produced overseas and shipped here to be put into products that are only assembled in the USA. This money should then go directly to American businesses to pay for American workers. For every employee who earns, say, between $20,000 and $50,000 a year in America, the company would get  $1,000-$2,000. Basically, a fraction of the taxes those employees pay would help finance their own employment. The price of goods from overseas would go up, but so would employment in the USA and our ability to buy things. This would be a good thing for the rest of the world, too, because our biggest asset to the global economy is as consumers. Americans buy products from companies that employ the world. The more buying power we have, the better it is for everyone.

The second problem I see is that 60% of our government budget is made up of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security--and that number is only growing as Baby Boomers retire and Americans in general become unhealthier. What most people don't realize is that the purpose of so-called "universal health-care" isn't to finance everyone's medical insurance but rather to force the middle class to finance minimal health-care: in other words, Medicaid. Everyone who can't afford good health care will get Medicaid, and the middle class will foot the bill. The rich, meanwhile, will continue to pay for the quality health-care they're already getting. This doesn't really seem like a good solution to me.

Instead, when it comes to health care, I would look to our current legal system. Today if you get sick because you once had a job that exposed you to asbestos, you can sue your former employee for your health costs, pain and suffering. That only seems fair. The person responsible for you getting sick should foot the bill.

But what if you're responsible for your own illness? Should the rest of us have to pay for your cancer treatments if you smoke a pack a day? Should the rest of us have to pay for your diabetes treatments if you ate yourself into obesity and never exercised? I don't think we should. If the only people who received Medicaid were those who became sick through no fault of their own, not only would we cut the cost of Medicaid by more than half, the quality of health care to those who deserve it would rise, others would be more motivated to quit smoking, eat right and exercise, and the new health care program would--gasp!--actually lead to people being healthier.

Because, you see, what we have now isn't a health-care system, but an illness care system. Go ahead, smoke a pack a day, spend all your free time in your car or in front of the TV, and eat nothing but fat and sugar. You might send yourself into a diabetic coma, but you won't have to pay for the tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills, so what do you care? This doesn't make sense.

The only thing I can say about Medicare is that it shouldn't be given to those who can afford to pay their own health care. If you have over $1,000,000  in cash and property, you shouldn't get it. That just goes without saying. Otherwise, I wouldn't touch that program.

I would, however, eliminate the forced retirement age and make retirement optional after the age of 65. People live longer and are healthier when they're active and productive, so why should we deny them that? I'd also restrict Social Security to those who are retired, don't earn more than $40,000 a year, or don't own more than $1,000,000 in property. Again, I think this is just common sense. We could even give a higher Social Security rate to retired people who work as volunteers. Retired teachers could continue to work in the classroom as volunteers, and that would improve their quality of life. It would be a win-win for everyone.

Speaking of teachers, the teacher strike in Wisconsin has placed a lot of focus on the cost of public education. This is ridiculous, not only because education is only a small part of the budget, but because there is no greater investment in our future. A well-educated student can get a better job, earn more money, and put more money into the economy. A poorly educated student will have a hard time getting a job, is more likely to turn to crime, and will cost society as a whole over time.

Still, I do have an idea of how we could save money on public education: I would simply eliminate all competitive sports. Too much is spent of football, basketball and baseball, and not enough on actual education. Lately we've seen high-school athletes dying, in part because of the stress such sports put on young hearts. We've also seen a professional football player kill himself because he couldn't deal with the adverse health affects the sport had on his brain.

Just like people should be responsible for the illnesses they get stemming from their own actions, I believe we shouldn't finance activities that harm our kids both in the short run and in the long run. Sports take a huge part of a school's budget, but if that were put into something else--like math, science, and computer education--it would better serve our kids today and in the future, and that would better serve our community as a whole. Imagine an America where instead of dreaming of becoming the next movie, pop or basketball star, kids dreamed of becoming the next Steve Jobs or Jonas Salk? Not only would the next generation fix America, it would fix the world.

Lastly, one of the reasons state and local politicians give for wanting to fire or pay government workers--including teachers, police, and firefighters-- less is that the alternative is to raise property taxes, and people don't want that. I think property taxes should be raised, but only on houses valued at over $100,000 per resident. You're married and you have two kids? Your family of four can continue to pay the same property tax on your house valued at under $400,000. You're a single guy, and you live in a $200,000 house? Either pay the higher property tax, get someone to live with you (like your aging parent), move into a cheaper house, or sell your house and rent a place. If we did this, there might even be a little money left over to reduce the property taxes for people who are living within their means or simply can't afford to pay those taxes, like the unemployed.   

Like I said, I'm not an economist or a politician. I don't know if these ideas will work. But I do wish someone in government would stop asking, "How can we cut the budget without raising taxes?" and start asking "What's fair, and what makes sense?"  

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