Category Archives: Government

Trans(racial)phobia

Just when some people claimed the ability to “transcend” their biology, many of those same people have apparently decided that biology is still important, sometimes, depending. Well, it’s complicated. 

Learn to speak Klingon

We are told that it is now possible to choose one’s preferred gender, where the term gender is interchangeable with biological sex. For some reason, however, many will simultaneously condemn any attempt to choose one’s race. How can both concepts coexist when they are both based upon biological reality? I’ve often felt I identify more as a Vulcan than as a human. If they weren’t just a fictional species, I’d probably consider pursuing a trans-species lifestyle. Remember when people used to teach themselves to speak Klingon? Unfortunately, trans-anything now seems like it might be problematic. 

In April of 2017, Rebecca Tuvel, a tenure-track assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis, published the article, “In Defense of Transracialism” in the peer-reviewed feminist philosophy journal Hypatia. The article compared the situation of Caitlyn Jenner, a trans woman, to that of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who identifies as black. She argued that “[s]ince we should accept transgender individuals’ decisions to change sexes, we should also accept transracial individuals’ decisions to change races.” What soon followed was outrage and shaming on social media, an apology on behalf of “a majority” of the journal’s associate editors, a critical open letter with 830 signatories, and the resignation of Editor in Chief Sally Scholz and eight of the ten associate editors. 

The Transgender vs. Transracial philosophical divergence: Caitlyn Jenner (good) vs. Rachel Dolezal (bad)

The philosopher Kelly Oliver, who chaired Tuvel’s dissertation committee in 2014, defended Tuvel on Facebook by asking for arguments rather than insults, and suggested that Hypatia invite critical responses. She was told her comments were “unforgivable” and that her suggestions were “doing violence” and triggering PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Oliver writes: “Through every medium imaginable, senior feminist scholars were pressuring, even threatening, Tuvel that she wouldn’t get tenure and her career would be ruined if she didn’t retract her article.” Tuvel said that people were “absolutely vicious” toward her.

Apparently, there is no allowing for free speech or thought that encourages tolerance of that which must not be tolerated. And there will certainly be no forgiveness. Tuvel’s life was officially cancelled. The best she could hope for was to disappear. Gone but not forgotten. Forever cursed, unless she of course were willing to confess her sins. Yet even after sinners confess, they carry their scarlet letter until death. How is this not transphobia? 

Do people who claim a transracial identity genuinely feel they identify with another race? Do they feel they have been racially mis-identified based only on their biology at birth? There have been several recent cases of white women revealing that they took on the identity of a black woman. But most of them subsequently apologized for their actions and blamed themselves.

Rachel Dolezal, who was head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP and claimed to be black, was exposed after her parents revealed that she was not. She was fired from her job at the NCAAP and from her job teaching African studies at Eastern Washington University. She has been unable to find steady work since most local colleges, nonprofits, grocery stores, and even government agencies have refused to hire her. Dolezal, however, does not apologize. Race, she believes, is a “social construct” used to pigeonhole people. “I unapologetically stand on the black side,” she said. “Blackness better defines who I am philosophically and socially than whiteness does.”    

Spock says: “When humans say something is logical and it is actually emotional.”
Cancelled

On the other hand, professor of African history Jessica Krug resigned from George Washington University after admitting in a blog post that she pretended to be black, which was a “violent anti-black lie.” She called it “a Blackness that I had no right to claim…. I have not only claimed these identities as my own when I had absolutely no right to do so — when doing so is the very epitome of violence, of thievery and appropriation….my continued appropriation of a Black Caribbean identity is not only, in the starkest terms, wrong — unethical, immoral, anti-Black, colonial…. “
What should her punishment be? In her words, “I believe in cancel culture as a necessary and righteous tool for those with less structural power to wield against those with more power. I should absolutely be cancelled…. You should absolutely cancel me, and I absolutely cancel myself.” It is curious that she feels she should still be punished even though she intended no harm. In her words, “Intention never matters more than impact.” and “Mental health issues likely explain why I assumed a false identity….” 

Is it true that “intention never matters more than impact?” Someone recently re-surfaced a decades-old skit from Saturday Night Live where Jimmy Fallon wore blackface to imitate comedian Chris Rock. But did Fallon’s intention, to make people laugh–and not in a mean-spirited way–not matter?

Get Smart: “Missed it by that much.”

When asked for his reaction, Chris Rock replied, “Hey, man, I’m friends with Jimmy. Jimmy’s a great guy. And he didn’t mean anything. A lot of people want to say intention doesn’t matter, but it does. And I don’t think Jimmy Fallon intended to hurt me. And he didn’t.” When asked if people were taking the blackface controversy too far, Rock demonstrated clear knowledge of the consequences for giving the wrong answer, “If I say they are, then I’m the worst guy in the world. There’s literally one answer that ends my whole career.” Liberal, tolerant, nice guy, funnyman Jimmy Fallon, and his friend Chris Rock, just had a near-cancellation experience. As Agent 86 would say, “missed it by that much!”

The black/white and white/black faces in Star Trek.
Klingonface?

What ever happened to “imitation is the most sincere form of flattery?” Is parody as an art form no longer acceptable if the actor attempts to mimic the physical appearance of the subject? Can a male comedian in a skit no longer wear long hair and makeup to appear to be a woman, or is that assumption also now offensive? Can one even wear blackface when assuming the persona of a Klingon? In case you hadn’t noticed, Klingons have dark skin and bushy hair, and they are aggressive bad guys. Are the Klingons just a racist construct of a white writer? Please tell me I haven’t inspired someone to cancel all the Klingon episodes of Star Trek! That would be a tragedy, considering the real intention of writer/producer Gene Roddenberry. The first inter-racial kiss on TV happened on Star Trek and crew diversity clearly showed his intention to “boldly go where no man had gone before.” 

The diverse cast of Star Trek.

Satchuel Cole, an activist working with Black Lives Matter for racial equality and also for LGBTQ rights in Indianapolis, admitted to lying about being black. On a Facebook page, she posted the following: “Friends, I need to take accountability for my actions and the harm that I have done. My deception and lies have hurt those I care most about. I have taken up space as a Black person while knowing I am white. I have used Blackness when it was not mine to use. I have asked for support and energy as a Black person. I have caused harm to the city, friends and the work that I held so dear.” Dina Okamoto, director of the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society at Indiana University, outlined Cole’s crimes. “The negative consequences and harm to the community are tremendous — a racial justice advocate who has portrayed herself as Black has taken up space, opportunity, voice, and attention from Black advocates and activists…. Her fraudulent racial identity was used to build her career in activism for the Black community.”

Virtually all religions allow, and usually seek, converts. Christians and Muslims even have a history of forcible conversion, while the Jews merely tolerate voluntary conversions. There is an inside joke among Jews that the converts are always the most eager to show how Jewish they are by being the most zealous in enforcing the rules. Although the Jewish people have long suffered from persecution, nobody seems to mind the over-eager converts. So, why the anti-racial vitreol against transracial “converts” who truly identify with and want to be a part of the black community? 

Time: The Me Generation

What exactly does “taken up space” mean? Is there literally no space in the black community for people who are not black? Or are the key words “opportunity, voice, and attention” for a “career in activism?” Is it really about competition between people who merely want attention? Is the message less important than the messenger? Is it all about who gets to be heard and bask in the spotlight of black activism? In her paper, Rebecca Tuvel addressed the arguments that have been used to oppose transracial identity while simultaneously supporting transgender identity. Yet she could not find any reason why one community would react so differently from the other. Could the real answer be as simple as ego? Look at me! Hear me! Respect me! Love me! Are we witnessing spasms of jealousy from the “me” generation?

Is biology still important? Was Jessica Krug right when she said that mental health issues wrongly caused her to assume a false identity, or was her mental state perfectly reasonable and worthy of social acceptance? It is scientific fact that our sex at birth has a huge impact on who we are socially and emotionally and what we are capable of physically. Our race or ethnicity has far less impact, aside from the historical social constructs that are taught, but not a physical part of us.

Spock says “No logic exists in this situation at all.”

When people say they feel like a soul trapped in the wrong kind of body, it makes sense. Perception can be reality. Besides, we cannot scientifically disprove the possible existence of a soul that transcends the body. But when they say that biology is not real and must be denied, it flies in the face of scientific fact. If it were possible to transcend one of these physical barriers, one would think that race would be easy and sex would be difficult if not impossible. I guess it’s just the Vulcan logic in me. 

Live long and prosper. 

Canine Lives Matter

According to Department of Justice (DOJ) estimates, police officers shoot and kill about 10,000 dogs and about 1,000 humans each year. The DOJ asserts that dog killings have become an “epidemic.” It is time we address the obvious issue of systemic anti-canine racism among police officers. 

Do Police Hate Dogs?

Perhaps a better word to describe police canine racism would be “species-ism,” which is actually a real word in the dictionary. It means “the assumption of human superiority leading to the exploitation of animals.” But to emphasize the role played by deliberate discrimination against targeted groups, let’s just stick with the word racism.

Why would police kill so many of the creatures widely known as man’s best friend? And of the dogs who are shot, are they the victims of unfair prejudice against particular breeds? What kind of dogs are most likely to be shot? Pit Bulls and Rottweilers. And guess what? Both breeds are black and brown-haired dogs–a sure sign of systemic racism against dogs of color, no?

Sure, Put Bulls and Rottweilers also happen to be considered two of the most dangerous breeds. Research from DogsBite.org shows that during the 15-year period from 2005 to 2019, canines killed 521 Americans. Pit bulls and rottweilers accounted for 76% (397) of these deaths. According to another government study of dog attacks, “there appears to be a breed-specific problem with fatalities.” 

The Most Dangerous Dogs?

Police claim that most shootings happened because they feared an imminent attack. But were they really in danger of lethal attack, or was it their racially-biased perception of those breeds that was most responsible for the shootings? There have been no officer deaths from a dog attack in the last 70 years. Many victims claim that their dogs were doing nothing wrong and were merely scared themselves, but their behavior was mistaken by nervous cops for aggression. In other words, police violence was based on expectations derived from stereotypes rather than an objective evaluation of the situation. Surely, this is a sign of systemic racism. 

Clearly, police get jumpy around dogs they perceive to be aggressive. Officers shooting at dogs have killed many innocent bystanders, including dog owners, other kids, fellow cops, and even themselves trying to use lethal force against dogs. If cops cannot assess when lethal force should be used against a dog, it becomes more of a problem when it should be used against a person. 

A pet owner’s recourse to hold cops accountable for killing a family pet is not easy. The law provides “immunity” for cops unless their actions were “plainly incompetent” or they violated the law. In order for someone to show a constitutional violation when a cop kills his dog, a person must show that the cop’s actions were “unreasonable” given the situation.

Are more K-9 Police the solution to dog shootings?

While it is true that most police departments have their own K-9 police dogs, who are loved and treated like part of their law-enforcement family, it has not stopped the violence against other members of the species. Maybe if there were more K-9 officers, it would help to reduce the amount of violence against civilian dogs. 

Los Angeles attorney and former law enforcement officer Mildred O’Linn told law enforcement magazine Police that the public’s growing awareness of cops shooting dogs has resulted in an explosive community response. “The public cares about these kinds of incidents on a magnitude that is sometimes lost on law enforcement,” she said. “Given that there’s no shortage of actual human beings getting shot by police officers, pointing these stories out can sometimes seem a bit callous,” says Radley Balko, a journalist who has done much to expose cops killing dogs. “But I think they’re worth noting,” he says, “because they all point to the same problem.” Police magazine said “shooting a dog brings more heat down on an agency than an officer-involved shooting of a human.”

The bottom line is that there are too many cops killing both canines and humans. Is it possible there is a problem with police violence in general, or are shootings clear evidence of systemic racism deliberately targeted against certain breeds of canines? I think the answer is clear. What do you think?

The New New Deal, Part 3: Free Money for Everyone!

Parts 1 and 2 dealt with Free Health Care and Free Higher Education, respectively. Now, for the hardest one of all. Someday, computers and robots will do most of the hard work for us. But that day has not come yet, so don’t get your hopes up just yet. In between now and the future Socialist paradise, when humans will rule over slave armies of robots that will produce everything we need, will come a time of turbulence as jobs start to disappear. How will we get through this transitional period without allowing all the jobless people to starve or go on welfare? Maybe this is a start. Just don’t ask me what we do when the robots achieve self awareness and revolt. Someone else will have to cross that bridge when we get a bit closer.

Universal Basic Income – Deal or No Deal?

The last resort in a free-market economy is for the government to provide a universal basic income (UBI) sufficient for one to live above the poverty line. One impetus for this has been the steady decline in the percentage of the population that is working. Even though the unemployment rate had been decreasing to record lows before the COVID-19 shutdowns, the number of Americans no longer seeking work has remained very high. 

Universal Basic Income vs. Working

However, the most important factor going forward is likely to be the steady growth of automation, which portends a future where computers and robots continue to take jobs away from people. leaving a large number of people with no prospects. The growth of automation will theoretically lead to a higher standard of living for all, but only if its benefits are distributed to those who no longer have a source of income.

By definition, universal basic income is an unconditional periodic cash payment to everyone without any means testing. So, even the rich would receive the payment, meaning that the overall cost of the program would be huge. If these payments were not paid for by higher taxes, the most immediate effect would certainly be an increase in the money supply. Nearly everyone would have more money, but would be competing for the same set of goods and services–or maybe even fewer, if employment levels decrease and automation cannot keep pace. This would lead to inflation and a decrease in the purchasing power of the basic income, requiring a continued increase in payments or higher taxes, until we reach an equilibrium. So, it isn’t as simple as paying everyone while trying to find more tax revenue to offset it. Many things could go wrong, but few want to discuss the challenges of making it work as intended.

Here are a few things we need to avoid with a program of this magnitude:

  • Perfectly healthy people who don’t want to work and will just take the free money.
  • People who take the money while engaging in criminal behavior.
  • People who defraud the system by falsifying identities.People who steal or extort the money from legal recipients, including a relative.
  • People who take the money but fail to take care of their children.
  • People who waste the money on gambling, alcohol and drugs, and remain in poverty.
  • Employers who pay less because they know their employees are also getting a basic income.
  • Employers who can’t find employees due to a shortage of labor.
  • Inflation caused by higher average incomes with no decrease in the cost of goods and services.
  • Growth in government due to high administrative costs.Spiraling taxes with an increase in tax fraud.
  • Loss of liberty as more people become dependent upon government support.
  • An increase in corruption among government gatekeepers who control benefits for the poor.
  • An increase in income inequality as higher-income people also get the same basic income.

Some say that universal payments would permit lower administrative costs, since means testing would not be required. But fraud is likely to be so prevalent that administrative costs will still be high. How do you identify and stop fraudulent claims? During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment insurance fraud spiked. How do you deal with people who misuse their payments and remain in poverty or homelessness? For example, people might still spend their basic income on gambling, alcohol and drugs instead of on their kids or their own basic needs, leaving them unable to afford housing, food or other essentials. Lack of controls could undermine the entire purpose of a basic income for the poor. Government can’t fix everything, but if taxpayers are paying for a basic income, we have to be sure it is not wasted or misused.

Working is what old people used to do.

If we establish a universal basic income too soon, before we realize the benefits of automation or know the true effects on a changing job market, we may undermine the economy by placing too much burden on those who continue to work and could discourage others from working. Paying for a UBI will require higher taxes on those who can afford it. So, while we may not have “means testing” for UBI, we will still have its equivalent in the form of higher progressive income tax rates. If we pay too much, many will be unwilling to work and the labor pool will shrink further, leading to a rise in the cost of labor. Why would someone work if they only get a little more than someone who isn’t working? The incentives to outsource to foreign labor should also increase as the labor market shrinks. In other words, we risk huge distortions in our economy, which depends on sufficient affordable labor.

Here is the deal. To limit the costs and negative effects on the job market, we should start out with a basic income that is not universal. In other words, we require means testing instead of adding on to the tax code to try and take it back from high-income earners. The tax code is already a terrible and complicated mess that needs to be simplified, not made even more complex. The amount of the basic income payment should cover housing, utilities, food, clothing, and other essential needs, but not enough to discourage employment that would provide additional income. This would prevent most from suffering from poverty, but most people would still want to work to add disposable income. 

Since the cost of living varies by location, the value of a fixed basic income would also vary. The same basic income would be worth 82% more in Austin, TX than in Brooklyn, New York. If the cost of living is higher where they currently live, but there is a less-expensive area with a surplus of jobs, housing and/or public services, they could be offered free relocation services. People who would normally be unable to afford to move could now move to a place to enjoy a better standard of living and better employment opportunities instead of being locked into a high-cost area with mostly low-wage jobs. As people move out of high-cost areas, labor shortages should cause low-wage salaries to rise.

Cost of Living in the USA by State

What about people with a high net worth but low income? Can we deny a basic income to people who have lived a frugal life and have money in savings without forcing them to hide their assets or destroying the incentive to save? The last thing we want is to incentivize people to consume all their income until they become dependent on government payments. What about people who have a modest income? We don’t want to incentivize them to quit working and take the free money and would prefer that they be able to keep most of their other income. 

Those who are unable to work due to permanent medical reasons will be the easiest to qualify for the basic income. We already handle some of these cases through social security or other disability programs, so it would not be new other than to impose better anti-fraud measures. Those who are temporarily unable to work will be monitored through the free health insurance health-improvement program until they are able to work or are expelled from the program for non-compliance.  

For those who cannot find a job, no matter where they look, they will be assigned a public-service job. There are plenty of jobs that never get done due to a shortage of labor, or wages that are too low, or people without sufficient disposable income, and these are the jobs that will be created and filled. Free money isn’t free, so there has got to be a social benefit for those who are paying the bill that does not destroy the incentive for everyone else to work. The idea is to discourage unemployment and provide low-cost opportunities to improve public services and infrastructure. Ideally, the trick would be to make sure these new jobs do not displace existing jobs, but this will be difficult. Examples might be jobs to improve the cleanliness and maintenance of public streets, parks, and facilities, more tutors and teaching assistants for low-income kids, extra security for schools and at-risk neighborhoods, and more social workers.

The military has a good alternate model for delivery of a basic income. All new recruits are initially provided with shelter, food, clothing, and medical care, or a monetary allowance for all of them. Why couldn’t the same be done for some of those who need a basic income? This isn’t to say they have to be put in housing slums, but they could get vouchers for services instead of cash that could be mis-spent. This option might have to be mandatory for criminals on parole and people who abuse their basic income. A new private industry could arise to provide basic services. Instead of slums, there would be decent housing choices. If done well, it could be similar to how college students apply for housing and sign up for meal plans. There could be options for purchasing a home for a price that is within the basic income level.

Those who exceed a very high threshold of income or assets will not qualify since their lifestyle and incentive to work will probably not be greatly affected. For those with a middle-class income, their basic income benefit could be set aside in a savings program so that they cannot access it immediately. This will help to prevent employers from paying workers less by using the basic income to help subsidize their labor costs. It will also help people to save for their retirement and discourage excessive consumption.

For those who have little to no income, they will receive all benefits even if they take another job. In a study of UBI in Finland, people on the program showed a slight increase in employment. Since the basic income was a very modest amount, they still had an incentive to find work, even if the job paid less than they normally would have considered. The basic income dramatically increased well-being (e.g. less stress, depression and sadness), cognitive skills, life satisfaction, and trust in public institutions. These could theoretically translate into lower levels of mental or physical health issues, including substance abuse and suicide, and also less crime.

Children should also receive a basic income, but if the parents use it irresponsibly, they can be reported to social workers who could be assigned control of their funds to provide their basic needs. There will probably be many more jobs for social workers to ensure the viability of this program. 

Some of these measures would serve to increase government control over the lives of the poor, which is not a good outcome. But absent a clear ability to pay for a universal basic income without risk to the rest of the population and the economy, it seems unlikely that this can be avoided. Of course, without an enforceable immigration policy, any basic income benefit would also be at risk of compromise by a flood of illegal immigrants who may try and use fraudulent documents to claim an instant taxpayer-funded source of income.

Problem solved? Not by a long shot. Any new government benefit will certainly come with unexpected challenges and unintended consequences. For that reason, we cannot consider universal basic income a right. It is merely a benefit that might be worth trying as long as we are wise enough to manage it in an affordable way without destroying our economy and society in the process.

The New New Deal, Part 2: Free Higher Education

Part 1 of the New New Deal dealt with Free Health Care. Now, it’s on to the next step towards building the Socialist paradise, with a free-market incentivized twist. If you’ve agree to take the free health care deal, I think you will like the free school deal.

Free Higher Education – Deal or No Deal?

The same type of deal will of course apply to free education. Secondary school education is still, at least theoretically, free, but the curriculum is prescribed. Those families who opt out of the public education system must pay for a private school or home schooling, unless they are lucky enough to live where school choice and vouchers are available.

When it comes to higher education, there is a case to be made for a free education. This includes both college and trade schools for those who do not want to go to college or do not have the aptitude. But what about the cost? Who will pay for it and what will they get for their investment? When it comes to education, the entire society does receive a benefit in the form of higher productivity and, theoretically, an increase in the overall standard of living and the reduction of poverty. But there are inefficiencies in the system.

When a student chooses a course of study, it often has no direct relation to the market for jobs. When a student, or his parent, is solely responsible for paying for school, that is of course their choice. But if the society as a whole is paying for it, we should expect that course of study to be of benefit to the rest of us. In other words, if there is a shortage of plumbers or engineers or health care workers, we would expect to have enough students to fill that demand. Why should we pay for courses of study that yield no economic benefit? An excess of history, English, or other “soft” majors comes to mind.

So, here is the deal. A free education would be available as long as the student is willing to pursue one of those that provides an economic or social benefit and meets the entrance requirements (academic performance for college and aptitude for various trades). Other courses of study will still be available, but in more limited quantities, so only the most qualified applicants will be accepted. Testing will be offered for those who seek to enter a particular course of study. 

College Majors by Salary

The Federal government already offers loan forgiveness after 10 years for those who pursue public service jobs. This is just another step in that direction, but will also include in-demand private sector jobs.

10 Fastest Growing Jobs

The reason we have so many immigrants coming to the US on H1B visas is the shortage of American workers with the needed skills, so this is another step that will help to make Americans more qualified for good jobs. 

H1B Visa Skills Needed

What that means is that not everyone will qualify for college, or may only qualify for a 2-year program. Others may only want to pursue or qualify for a trade school. For those who do not qualify for either, well we’ll have to figure that out. There isn’t always a clear path for everyone, and a free education is not a guarantee of success. If society is to benefit from this new “right” to a higher education, there have to be some limits and the benefits have to be clear.

Coming up in part 3, Free Money for Everyone!

The New New Deal, Part 1: Free Health Care

Free lunch for the unemployed, Courtesy of Al Capone during the Great Depression.

There are now quite a few politicians, such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, calling for New Deal types of democratic socialist programs. They include universal basic income, free health care for all, and a free college education, and claim they are now human rights. They feel that the United States is now wealthy enough to be able to provide these benefits, er–rights, to everyone now. Unfortunately, everything has a cost, whether or not you know how to measure and pay for it. Can something really be a right if it must be paid for by taxing someone else to pay for it? What if you can’t really afford it after all?

With Socialism, Communism, or Fascism the cost is hidden. It begins with a loss of political control to an elite that usually says everyone everyone is equal, but acts as though some are more equal than others. What follows is the loss of a strong incentive to work and a resultant decline in standard of living until everyone is equally poor. Of course, it doesn’t HAVE to be that bad. Some Western European countries have done well with some loss of incentives, and still manage to maintain a pretty good standard of living. So, I thought I’d spend a couple of hours coming up with a fix for our most pressing socio-economic problems. Here you go. You are welcome.

The Hidden Cost of Socialism

The youngest generation of Americans seem to be set on a course in favor of a dramatic increase in government-provided social benefits. If they eventually turn out to be an unstoppable political force, or job losses from automation create economic chaos, what path should America choose to make these social benefits actually work? I have in mind a bargain that would more clearly identify and assign the costs so that it is a win-win for everyone. For those who receive the benefits, there will be a price to pay, while for those who pay the taxes, there will be some benefit as well. Of course, the price will not be in money. After all, if someone really needs free health care and a basic income, they obviously don’t have means to pay for it. The price will come in the form of rights and responsibilities.

Win-Win Deal or No Deal?

Here is the deal. It is completely voluntary. Nobody will be forced to accept it and anyone can opt out of the deal at any time. No need to try and get control of the presidency or both houses of Congress to make a real change. However, if you choose to leave the program, you will not be able to change your mind and get back in for another 5 years. It’s a win-win deal for everybody, theoretically.

Free Health Care – Deal or No Deal?

Let’s start with health care because a society where everyone has access to health care would be a great privilege. I still don’t call it a right because a right doesn’t impose a cost on everyone else, which free health care does. Especially if people don’t keep themselves healthy. Here is the deal. In return for free health care, you agree to a lower priority for services that are severely limited, such as organ transplants. If there aren’t enough to go around, then the people who pay for their own health care get priority. You don’t expect billionaires like George Soros, Bill Gates, or Jeff Bezos to stand aside and let you go first if they need an organ transplant, do you? We may all have equal rights, but life will never be fair and some people will always manage to be more equal than others. It’s just human nature.

But that is just the start. You also have to accept the doctor, or physician’s assistant, or nurse, or counselor, as appropriate, that is assigned to you. You can’t expect to get the best, most in-demand doctors. Maybe you will get lucky and be assigned to someone who is willing to work for a lower salary to serve the public. Or maybe you will get the doctors that nobody else wants. It’s kind of a crap shoot. Again, you are at the back of the line.

But there is still more. The above sacrifices don’t actually help to pay for your health care, so we need you to help reduce costs. Some of the biggest costs on the healthcare system are the results of obesity, alcohol, drugs, and a sedentary lifestyle. You will need to go on a strict program of healthy living, which may mean you have to lose weight, avoid sugary foods, exercise, and stay off all but a minimal amount of alcohol and no illegal drugs. Even after years of a sedentary lifestyle, studies have shown how exercise can restore the body to health. One study showed how a late-in-life 6-month program of walking, cycling and jogging helped volunteers lose about 10 pounds, and largely reversed their decline in cardiovascular fitness. After six months of moderate exercise, the average volunteer’s blood pressure, resting heart rate, and cardiac output returned to his 20-year-old level! Better health translates directly into lower health care costs.

Ronald Reagan: “Trust but Verify”

As Ronald Reagan said about his nuclear arms agreements with the Russians, “trust but verify.” That’s just another way of saying we don’t trust you so we are going to monitor you to make sure you live up to your commitments. In this case, anyone who takes the free health care deal will be monitored constantly, and preferably in real time, through the use of wireless sensors. I know it sounds creepy, but it really will be for your own good. An active health improvement program should dramatically increase the health of a majority of the population and reduce costs so that they are actually affordable. We can’t just give away health care for free and watch people flush it down the toilet with bad behaviors! There is no free lunch.

Wireless Real-Time Health Sensors

That means anyone who wants to have free health care has to help pay for it in terms of personal responsibility and privacy. Isn’t that something we tell our kids all the time? Sounds like a deal to me! Besides, think of all the jobs that will be created in the health care industry for the monitoring and evaluation of everyone in the health care program!

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3, where we cover Free Higher Education and Free Money for Everyone!

The Chinese Just Want to be Loved

Battle Beneath the Earth (1967)

In 1967, the science fiction movie Battle Beneath the Earth portrayed the Communist Chinese as evil enemies who launched a plot to use advanced earth boring machines to dig through the Earth’s core to reach the US, where they attempted to place atomic bombs beneath American cities. Since then, most movies have turned to the Russians for their evil villains. In the 1984 movie Red Dawn, it was the Soviets and their Cuban and Nicaraguan allies.

Red Dawn (1984)

So, when the sequel to Red Dawn was released in 2010, I assumed it would just be a remake of the original film. To my surprise, the attackers were North Koreas. Whoa, who in the world would ever believe that North Korea would be capable of launching an airborne invasion of the US? Were the producers stupid? No, they weren’t. The plot was originally written with the attack coming from China, but the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would have none of that. So, the movie was changed in post-production. Even so, it was never released in China, movie producer MGM went bankrupt, and the movie turned out to be a box office failure.

Hold on, are you telling me that the Chinese are controlling Hollywood by censoring American movies? Yes. It turns out that China is the second largest market for box office revenue and Hollywood wants as much as it can get. American movies earned $3.2 billion in China in 2018, with Disney accounting for nearly a quarter of that with $700 million. But China has quotas for foreign films, censors content they do not like, and is even willing to partially fund films they do like. You can bet that the CCP isn’t listed along with the other producers when they fund a movie production.

The last time a major Hollywood studio made a movie that presented Chinese government aggression was in 1997 with Seven Years in Tibet, starring Brad Pitt. The Chinese government responded by slapping a five-year ban on Columbia TriStar, a response that cast a chill over the U.S. movie industry. Other Brad Pitt movies, such as World War Z (2013) were also banned and he was personally denied access to enter China.

Instead, Hollywood has fallen for the money by self censoring and allowing the CCP to make changes to scripts and cast. According to Axios, “They are removing content that they worry could upset the Chinese government even before actually proposing it to the Chinese government. And there is pressure to include content that is more flattering to Beijing.” What does China object to? To start, the three T’s: Tiananmen, Tibet, and Taiwan. But it goes beyond those sensitive topics.

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama speaks with Hollywood actor Richard Gere.

Any movie that Richard Gere makes is not going to be shown in China, He promoted the cause of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan independence, and the Buddhist religion. Chinese displeasure with him denied hundreds of millions of dollars to Hollywood studios. So, guess who’s not in a major Hollywood blockbuster, and hasn’t been in the last 20 years? Richard Gere. In 1993, Gere was banned from being an Academy Award presenter after he denounced the Chinese government while announcing the nominees. In 2007, Gere called for the boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games to put pressure on China to make Tibet independent. Donald Trump has aggressively targeted China, but in 2016 Gere supported Hillary Clinton for president. If you believe that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,”  maybe Trump would have been a better ally.

Censorship of Hollywood movies is not just censorship of movies that are shown in the Chinese mainland. It’s also the censorship of movies that are shown to American audiences or the addition of themes that make China look good. Here are some examples.

Humanity Saved by Chinese Arks in 2012

2012 (2009): Humanity is saved by Chinese-built life-saving arks. Thank you China!

Men in Black 3 (2012): Censors removed scenes that they deemed offensive. No big deal, I guess.

Looper (2012): Writers changed the future global capital from Paris to Shanghai. Apparently, China is destined for global leadership.

Gravity (2013): An American astronaut survives by getting to the Chinese space station. Thank you again China!

The Martian (2015): An American astronaut is rescued after an American resupply rocket blows up but the Chinese offer their rocket to save the US mission. Thank you so much China–we love you and you are apparently much more competent than NASA!

Chinese Rocket

Doctor Strange (2016): The comic book and script for the movie “Doctor Strange” had a Tibetan character, but the studio changed it to a Celtic character in order not to acknowledge that such a thing as a Tibetan exists. China would prefer that Tibet, and of course Richard Gere, be erased from all public discourse. Besides, screenwriter Robert Cargill said the comic book character of the Ancient One was just “a racist stereotype” anyway.

The Ancient One changes from a Tibetan Monk to a Celtic mystic.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2018): This film had to be edited because Captain Sao Feng, played by Chow Yun-fat, apparently demonized the Chinese. Again, no Chinese villains allowed!

21 and Over (2020): A different version of this movie was created for Chinese audiences. In China, it is a story about a boy who leaves China, gets corrupted by our wayward, Western partying ways and goes back to China a better person. In the Chinese version, the movie starts off at a Chinese college campus and returns there at the end of the film after what turns out to be an ill-conceived stint as a transfer student in the U.S. Those scenes do not exist in the US version. Thank you Hollywood–what responsible Chinese parent would ever want their kids to leave China for the USA?

Top Gun Maverick (coming soon in 2020): The Taiwanese and Japanese flag patches, on Tom Cruise’s jacket in the original Top Gun movie were gone in the 2019 trailer for the sequel. The Taiwan patch was replaced with an ambiguous patch featuring the same colors. The Japan patch was replaced with a red triangle on a white background. Obviously, they are too similar to not be intentional changes.

Space Jam (Michael Jordan) and Space Jam 2 (LeBron James)

Space Jam 2 (scheduled for 2021): This sequel to the first movie, which starred Michael Jordan, will feature Lakers’ basketball star LeBron James. I doubt there will be anything in this movie that the Chinese don’t like considering how LeBron James has already taken side with the Chinese regime and denounced criticism of its authoritarian tactics. He drew outrage when he blasted Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey for tweeting support for Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, calling Morey “misinformed.” Morey’s tweet had provoked a harsh response from the Chinese. TV broadcasts of the Lakers and Nets exhibition games in China were canceled, local sponsorship deals were voided and various fan events scrapped. Hong Kong protestors responded to LeBron James by tweeting: “Has he been brainwashed by the Chinese Communist Party’s fake news or has he been bought?” and “Martin Luther King Jr. fought for civil rights, but LeBron James supports totalitarianism?” Or just the money he gets from Nike, the NBA, and Hollywood? I guess Black Lives Matter but Chinese Lives Don’t Matter.

Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Protestors
Black Lives Matter Protestors

But the Chinese censors don’t always win. In some cases, there is just no way to make a successful film while caving to their demands.

The Karate Kid (2010): In 2009, Sony Pictures and its partner, the China Film Group, submitted their script for “The Karate Kid” to China’s censors, and dutifully changed parts of the story to suit them. But the finished film was rejected because film bureaucrats were unhappy that its villain was Chinese. There is just no satisfying the commies. Apparently there are no Chinese bad guys. Never. Ever. I wonder how Disney had to compromise on its new movie Mulan into Chinese theaters.

The Laundromat (2019): Since Netflix does not do business in China, they had nothing to fear from a film that showed a Chinese government organ harvesting program that killed prisoners for transplant money. It also showed corruption in the CCP, although, in the end, the Chinese arrested the corrupt leader and his wife, a silver lining to a show that the CCP certainly would have censored had they been able.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019): The movie was “pulled from China’s movie release schedule only a week before the film was slated to be released within the country, reportedly in response to the movie’s insufficiently heroic depiction of Bruce Lee.” Director Quentin Tarantino “refused to recut the film to appease China’s National Film Administration, nixing the movie’s chances of a China release.” Screenwriter Howard Rodman, a former head of the Writers Guild of America, was quoted as saying: “When the story of a director refusing to participate is newsworthy, you know that this is a pervasive phenomenon.”

South Park Banned in China

South Park (2019): Two days after South Park was banned in China, in response to criticism of the Chinese response to Hong Kong protests, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone served up Hollywood’s most defiant rebuke of the communist government in decades with the words “Fuck the Chinese government!” Meanwhile, Apple dropped the Richard Gere drama Bastards from its planned Apple TV+ service. Apple had to pay a penalty to do so, but it just has too much money at stake in China. Shame on you Apple! I think Trey Parker has officially picked up the flag from the fallen Richard Gere.

You can find a list of many other banned, partially banned, unreleased, and edited films on this Wikipedia page of Film Censorship in China.

So, what can be done about this? A July 2020 94-page report by the US Attorney General William Barr, titled “Made in Hollywood, Censored by Beijing: The US Film Industry and Chinese Government Influence,” criticized the film industry and called for transparency around film censoring. Perhaps amending the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to include censorship would be a good start. People will still try and get around it with so much money at stake, but it will at least prevent producers and directors from submitting projects to the Chinese censors and allowing censors to be on set, and will give them pause before they self sensor.

But according to writer Scott Moore, any pushback the studios could offer would go only so far. “They dub it all anyway, so whatever dialogue we all wrote that’s in English, we don’t actually know what the Chinese version says.” Seriously? Does that means the studios are actually losing control of their intellectual property when they turn a movie over to China for “modification.” Or is that just a copout as they turn a blind eye to China?

Unfortunately, there are apologists in the US who actually think this is OK. According to a 2013 article in “The Atlantic,” “There’s no point in ramping up anti-Chinese sentiment here in the States or in angering Chinese audiences abroad…. Given the slow pace of social progress in Hollywood, more overseas investment might offer the quickest route to a more diverse film industry.” Ouch–Bad America! Good China. Don’t you know the Chinese are offering us diversity and social progress, so we should be happy about it?

Wiley E. Coyote

I’ve always found the Russians to be the perfect villains. They are like Wiley E. Coyote. That is, theoretically very smart, but ultimately unable to prevent their efforts from blowing up in their faces. The Chinese Communists are more like the Siamese cats from the Aristokats. Also smart, but more sneaky and inherently evil (I know–so racist!).

Siamese Cats from the Aristokats

The CCP is more likely to successfully undermine democracy and the entire western world. But maybe the Chinese are simply misunderstood and just want to be loved. They are building up their political, economic and military influence to make sure they can love us to death, so why can’t we just love them back? Just don’t ask if they are loved in Tibet, Taiwan, Xinjiang, or Hong Kong, assuming those places still exist.

Progressive Baseball

Mark Cuban and the Cubs

Mark Cuban and the Cubs

Welcome to 2026 World Series of Progressive Baseball. It’s been a wild ride this year, so let’s recap what has happened in the baseball world since the election of Joe Biden and the majority takeover of the House and Senate by the Anti-Capitalist Reform America Party (A-CRAP), formerly known as the Democratic Party.

In 2021, after President Joe Biden was removed from office due to complete dementia, President Harris began the implementation of economic and political fairness legislation for all private enterprises, transforming capitalist America into a place where everyone receives a fair and equitable salary, regardless of their skill, ability, or willingness to work, as well as free health care, a free college education, free food banks, and a free home with utilities that will never be turned off due to non-payment. These socio-economic changes soon transformed the world of sports as well. After five years, we have the following milestones to celebrate the reform of baseball.

Wrigley Field Burning

Wrigley Field Attack

Caps on ticket prices and the new 90% tax rate on the unearned income of billionaire owners resulted in the sale of most baseball franchises to the local municipalities for pennies on the dollar. As a result, most teams are now managed by elected officials! The only remaining private owner is Mark Cuban, who bought the Chicago Cubs after Wrigley Field was burned to the ground by protesters demanding equal representation for LGBTQ players after the team alleged that they could not find any such players of sufficient caliber and willing to play for the $200,000 salary cap.

Dominican Republic Baseball

Dominican Republic players celebrate after winning the World Baseball Classic.

Dominican, Cuban, and most hispanic players fled the US after foreign owners created the Dominican League and unfairly paid players a 50% premium over the equitable US salary cap. The Dominican League has even attracted talented US expatriates and has won each of the last three world series’ in 4 games, resulting in the Federal Government filing a dispute with the World Trade Organization to force the world to adopt the US salary cap to ensure fair worldwide sports competition. Chicago’s mayor vows to buy the Cubs from Mark Cuban as soon as the city can rebuild its business base and can generate sufficient tax revenue. In the meantime, the Cubs have been playing games at the abandoned University of Illinois baseball field.

Healthy Ballpark Food

Healthy Ballpark Food

Caps on salaries have helped to reduce ticket prices for fans and excessive prices for food at field concessions were lowered in an effort to make games more accessible. Although stadium maintenance has suffered, the smaller number of serviceable seats, combined with permanent social distancing guidelines, has resulted in 50% less capacity and therefore a much safer and healthier environment. Since high-sugar drinks and high-fat foods were banned from the stadium to promote healthy living, people have turned to bringing their own, presumably healthy, snacks to games, further reducing the cost of a day at the park.

On the player front, performance-enhancing drugs have been approved when prescribed by a medical doctor who has certified that the player suffers from inherent physical disadvantages or by a psychiatrist who has certified that the player suffers from the perception of physical inferiority or has been bullied due to his/her/their body image or gender preference.

Players originally sued the league over the imposition of salary caps, which they claimed was a case of anti-competitive collusion and price fixing–an antitrust violation, but the suit failed. They then sued for overtime pay (time and a half) for games that went into extra innings, which hinged on the argument that they should be treated as well as other day laborers. This lawsuit was successful in increasing overall player compensation, but unexpectedly resulted in more tie games and a consequent increase in the length of the average game. Since baseball has always suffered from the problem of long games, this had to finally be addressed.

Games now come to an end after 9 innings even if it results in a tie. This shortens the average length of games and also helps to eliminate the risks of injury during a long game. To further reduce game time, pitchers are now limited to a maximum of 6 pitches per batter, with a foul ball after two strikes counting as a strikeout. This was also necessary to compensate for the unexpected and dramatic increase in batting averages and home runs following the retirement of many leading pitchers or recruitment by foreign teams and consequent drop in average pitch velocity.

When the pitch limits failed to sufficiently reduce batting averages, the US League implemented a batting average cap to reduce performance inequities. Players who exceed a 300 batting average receive a graduated (progressive) “hitting tax.” For players with a 300+ average, the tax is 50%, resulting in a home run being taxed down from 4 to 2 bases (a double). A triple would then be taxed down 1.5 bases, which means the first triple becomes a single and the second triple becomes a double. A double becomes a single and a single becomes an out. For players with a 400+ average, the tax is 75%, with similar effects.

On the other end of the batting average, to further reduce performance inequities, players with a batting average lower than 100 receive a 1-base credit. This means that a strikeout becomes a walk, a walk becomes a single with an extra base, a single becomes a double, and so forth. The result has been a game that places more emphasis on equity than the celebration of winners, which is why MVP awards are now given to the players who best exhibit the most positive attitude, and the national values of inclusion and participation.

Dr. Fauci's First Pitch

Dr. Fauci Throwing the First Pitch

Now that the National Football League has been disbanded after an executive order declared physical contact to be a felony, baseball is back to being the national past time! Welcome to the World Series and get ready to play ball!

Tax Wars

Cost of Tax Compliance

Cost of Tax Compliance

A 2005 Tax Foundation study on the cost of complying with our incredibly complex tax code estimated that individuals, businesses and nonprofits would spend an estimated 6 billion hours complying with the federal income tax code and an estimated compliance cost of over $265.1 billion. The compliance cost is an estimate based on the time spent on tax preparation valued at the compensation rate of the filer or his tax professional. This represents about 22% of federal income taxes and is equivalent to more than half the revenue of Wal-Mart. The time spent working on taxes is equivalent to a workforce of 2.8 million workers, which is about the same as the number of soldiers, sailors and airmen in the US military on active duty and in the reserves.

Italy Calls in Military to Protect Tax Collectors

Italy Calls in Military to Protect Tax Collectors

Essentially, our tax code has created the equivalent of a large second army that has been fighting a costly war for longer than any other war in American history. And the costs have been increasing. You can think of the IRS and its workforce as the equivalent of the Pentagon, which provides direction and control of the army. The accountants, tax attorneys, and other tax professionals are the junior officers, NCOs and regular soldiers following orders and participating in the tax battles and skirmishes that take place all year long. The rest of us, small business owners and individual taxpayers, are the part-time reserves and militia providing part-time service when the tax army mobilizes for its annual spring offensive every April.

Income Distribution of Tax Compliance Costs

Income Distribution of Tax Compliance Costs

In monetary terms, for every dollar in taxes you pay, the equivalent of 22 cents is wasted. These costs do not even include the additional costs of tax planning, tax audits and litigation. This burden falls more heavily on small businesses and individuals who earn the lowest amount of income when measured as a percentage of their income. This is because they file most of the tax returns. Larger corporations and wealthier individuals may have higher compliance costs, but they also earn more, so it is a lower fraction of what they earn. Therefore, tax simplification would most help those who pay the least in taxes. Nobel Laureate economist Gary Becker provides an excellent overview of the economics of tax complexity.

Tax Compliance Costs per Employee

Tax Compliance Costs per Employee

The Tax Foundation study estimates costs based on the value of your time. Certainly, your time, or the money you spend having someone else prepare your taxes, has value. But how does that compare with more concrete costs? For reference, the 2013 budget request for the IRS is $12.9 billion. Intuit, maker of Turbotax and other accounting software and services, earned $4.15 billion in 2012. H&R Block, a large tax preparation company, earned $3.04 billion in 2012. These are certainly a lot less than the tax compliance cost estimates above, but also do not take into account other costs.

The actual cost of salaries, equipment, or software paid for in-house accountants or attorneys who work on tax-related recordkeeping or preparation is unknown. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, average annual employment in tax preparation services was 113,000 in 2009, but this excludes Certified Public Accountants and companies that provide accounting, bookkeeping, billing, or payroll processing services in addition to tax preparation services.

For reference, here is a sample of relevant 2010 job and income statistics:
Tax examiners, collectors and revenue agents: 74,500 jobs at a median $49,360 per year
Tax preparers: 59,180 jobs at a median $39,410 per year
Personal financial advisors: 206,800 jobs at $64,750 per year
Accountants and auditors: 1.2 million jobs with a median pay of $61,690 per year
Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks: 1.9 million jobs at $34,030 per year
Financial examiners: 29,300 jobs at a median $74,940 per year
Financial managers: 527,100 jobs at a median $103,910 per year
Financial analysts: 236,000 jobs at a median $74,350 per year

The above occupations account for over 4 million jobs and $233 billion in salaries. While only a fraction of the people in some of these occupations work on tax planning and preparation, the direct economic cost of tax preparation and management, including private and government salaries, equipment, software, and other expenses, but not counting the cost of your time, has got to at least be in the tens of billions, if not much, much more.

Tax Compliance Costs

Tax Compliance Costs

Of the 140 million individuals and families who file tax returns each year in America, 60% pay someone else to fill out forms for them, while 29% buy tax-preparation software or online services. It is possible that automated electronic tax preparation and filing software has and will continue to reduce tax preparation costs for small businesses and individuals. However, tax complexity still requires more time spent on tax preparation and planning that would otherwise be necessary.

How many of you dread the process of filing a tax return and worry about paying too much because you didn’t know about some special deductions you might have been able to take advantage of? It is extremely likely that many people do not take advantage of legal deductions. Research by the Government Accountability Office and Internal Revenue Service indicates that between 15% and 25% of households who are entitled to the Earned Income Tax Credit do not even claim their credit, or between 3.5 million and 7 million households. Simultaneously, others are able to fraudulently claim a credit.

Another side effect of tax system complexity is an increased ability to evade taxes through use of loopholes. The more complex the system, the harder it becomes to detect fraud or the more it costs to monitor tax returns and other tax-reporting data.

Is there a way to reduce these tax compliance costs and put the money back to productive use? Of course, but special interests will fight it every step of the way because everyone is looking out for their own self interest. Most of the lobbying comes from large businesses and tax-exempt charities. So, it makes sense to take them completely out of the equation by eliminating all income taxes on organizations and passing through all taxes to the individuals who earn the profits. If large organizations have no interest in the tax code, they will not try and influence legislators to give them special exemptions. This will help stop the practice of using the tax code as a system for rewarding those who are able to convince legislators to give them special benefits. After all, large organizations are just collections of individuals who are the ultimate beneficiaries of any profits they earn. Corporate taxes are just taxes that could be passed through to individual investors, where they can be taxed at their appropriate rate, without all the corporate tax manipulation.

IRS Revenue Sources

IRS Revenue Sources

Automation will also help to reduce compliance costs as well as tax evasion. Sales taxes are fairly well automated, although elimination of all sales tax exemptions would make it even more so. Tax-exempt charities will have to pay sales taxes. An agreement between states to resolve the issue of inter-state sales taxes would eliminate the complexity of sales versus use taxes and provide businesses with a simpler way of collecting and reporting sales taxes. For instance, everyone should pay either an in-state sales tax or a flat inter-state sales tax.

I know this sounds like just another tax, but the objective is to reduce overall rates, not to generate more revenue. The inter-state tax could be distributed to the states according to where the purchasers reside, thus effectively enforcing the “use taxes” that most states have on the books but cannot currently enforce. Overall, the result will not be an increase or decrease in tax rates, but a more efficient system that will reduce the burden on businesses and end the inter-state fights over sales and use taxes.

The payroll tax is already a highly automated method for collecting income taxes. However, better automation of all forms of income, including automatic withholding of investment income, would help to make automatic year-end calculation of income taxes possible. If income tax calculation were simple enough to be automatic at the end of the year, the cost of tax compliance would plummet.

What about income from cash transactions? We know that cash-based businesses are notorious for under-reporting income. We can’t just eliminate cash, even though there are other fringe benefits. Studies show that paper money is costly to produce and also tends to carry bacteria that can make you sick. The growing use of electronic payments is already quickly reducing the number of cash transactions. We could further encourage this trend by providing tax benefits to anyone who uses such forms of payment.

For instance, electronic transaction networks could be required to collect, report, and deposit all sales and use taxes. This would help businesses by automating and eliminating their sales tax-collection burden. At the end of each month, the amount of sales tax paid could be automatically applied to each individual’s income tax withholding as a deduction. If they are in a low-income bracket, they will finally gain a benefit that high-income earners normally get when they itemize deductions. Those who end up with a credit could opt to have it deposited into an investment account or receive an automatic electronic refund.

Any other remaining expenses that are tax deductible, such as home mortgage interest and refinancing costs, or state and local taxes, should be automatically credited to an individual or joint tax account, with excess payments invested or refunded monthly. Any other forms of investment income should, similarly, be collected automatically and invested or refunded monthly. At the end of the year, a simple income tax calculation will be automatic.

This kind of automation and simplification is desperately needed. Special interests will fight it because they only care about themselves, but the overall effect will be to lower average rates by eliminating loopholes, tax evasion and tax compliance costs. Will it be fair? There is no such thing, so let’s stop talking about fair and start talking about what is efficient, reasonable, and transparent enough that people finally know what they are paying in comparison to everyone else.

Putting wasted assets to more productive use will make America stronger and more competitive with the rest of the world. Higher standards of living come from increases in productivity and are dragged down by waste and inefficiency. We are capable of amazing technical feats, so I’m confident we can design a simple, efficient, progressive tax system that will take more from the wealthy, but not enough to reduce the incentive to produce or to take extraordinary measures to avoid or evade taxes. Imagine if we could redirect some of the billions of dollars in annual compliance costs to pay down the national debt? Is that worth your vote? Does anyone in government have the guts to push for a revolutionary simplified tax system that can achieve this goal?

I don’t want to end this with nothing to show for it but a bunch of useless complaining. What is the point of complaining about something if you don’t have something better in mind? So, here are a few simple, yet revolutionary, recommendations on how to rebalance the tax system and thereby our economic and political system. Politics is all about money and power, so let’s start by talking about where our tax money comes from. It might not be what everyone agrees is fair, but at least it will be simple, transparent, and efficient, without a lot of waste or hidden loopholes. I don’t really believe there will ever be such a thing as a “fair” tax code, but if there were, this would be a big leap in that direction.

It’s time to stop fighting a tax war and demobilize the tax army. Support our tax troops by bringing them home! What will all those IRS workers, tax accountants, tax attorneys and other full-time tax professionals do when they lose their jobs in the tax army? How about a new GI Bill to get them into new and productive jobs that will make our country even stronger!

Bring the Tax Army Home!

Bring the Tax Army Home!

Invest in Me

Tuition Costs

Tuition Costs

In 2012, a Florida state task force on education recommended adjusting tuition by major. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors would cost less, while some majors, such as psychology and the performing arts, would cost more. This recommendation has not been implemented, but here is the basic idea.

“Tuition would be lower for students pursuing degrees most needed for Florida’s job market, including ones in science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as the STEM fields…. The purpose would not be to exterminate programs or keep students from pursuing them. There will always be a need for them … but you better really want to do it, because you may have to pay more.”

Kevin Stange, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, studies the outcomes of differential tuition and has found that higher prices tend to dissuade students from pursuing a particular major. The generally accepted consensus is that a $1,000 change in costs is associated with a 5 percentage point difference in enrollment rates. A study from Hanover Research found that for every $100 increase in tuition, enrollment decreased by 0.5% to 1%.

Sounds reasonable, no? It is good to consider the value of an education and treat it like an investment, because that is partly what it is–an investment in one’s future earnings potential. But people also have to live with their choice of employment and can’t just choose a path for its simple economic return. Unfortunately, pricing tuition by major is a centralized government solution that, like most government solutions, probably will not work out as expected. This is because the actual cost of providing educational services may be more or less than the artificially determined price and because any time that bureaucrats are allowed to determine the cost or benefit of a product without any market input, they typically fail miserably.

Instead of increasing tuition across the board, many universities now charge more for majors with courses that are more costly to provide. Degrees in biology and engineering, for example, typically involve smaller class sizes, higher faculty salaries and cutting-edge labs with expensive equipment, so they charge more. Today, 45% of large public research universities differentiate their pricing this way. At the University of Texas at Austin, which started charging different tuition rates in 2004, engineering students pay $5,107 each semester, while liberal-arts majors pay $4,673. This is a market-based solution that makes sense. Sure, a technical education may be worth more in earnings power, but it can also cost more to provide.

Tuition Debt

Tuition Debt

If the cost of a technical education is artificially lowered, while liberal arts majors are artificially raised, people will object to their representatives to stop the policy. But even more importantly, students will vote with their dollars. They will simply attend schools in other states where the tuition is lower. Besides, do we really trust the government to decide what majors are best? When has the government ever made good economic decisions for us? It will be highly subjective to adjust the cost of different majors based on their perceived value to each state government. Determining the market value of a course of study is something best done by the market, not by the government. This means allowing the market to finance an education based on cost, risk, and expected return. Thinking about the value of an education is a concept that is going in the right direction, but I think it would be better to treat educational expenses like the investments they are.

How about financing educational expenses based on the expected return on investment over the first 10 years or so or their working life? For instance, if a degree is projected to net one student an average salary of $70K per year, while another student is projected to net only $35K per year, the first student might be offered up to double the amount of money in tuition loans or scholarships over the same payback period. Furthermore, it is likely that the risk the loan would not be repaid can be correlated with high school grades and college assessment scores (e.g. SAT or ACT scores). If banks were to make investment decisions on a per student basis, this would directly link the value and cost of the education and thereby influence the educational decisions that students make without any need for government interference.

If I have stellar grades and SAT scores and choose to pursue a high-paying major, I would have the opportunity to borrow more and/or to borrow it at a lower rate of interest because my risk and return factors lower the investment risk. Maybe I could then afford a higher-cost technical bachelor’s degree plus a masters degree on top. On the other hand, if I have low grades and SAT scores and choose to pursue a low-paying major, I would have great difficulty borrowing enough to cover my costs for just a bachelor’s degree or would have to pay a higher rate of interest. Like mortgage applicants with low scores, I might have to pay 20-30% of the tuition costs out of pocket first (or use grant or scholarship money) before I receive any financing.  An education that results in lower financial returns might be more expensive, but it might not. If I have great qualifications (e.g. grades and scores), I might be able to finance it over a longer term at an affordable rate.

Lower-paying majors should not necessarily cost more than higher-paying ones. Maybe they actually cost less to provide. But, in the end, somebody has to bear the financing risk. It makes sense that students should bear most, or at least a significant amount, of this risk, but I think we still want to enable people to pursue an education for reasons other than pure financial return. This is America and we want people to have the freedom to pursue happiness, but not at the expense of everyone else. I think we benefit as a society from a broadly educated and diverse population. So, maybe we need a better balance between publicly-funded and privately-funded education costs.

Student Debt

Student Debt

Adding more responsibility to the financing of an education would limit public exposure to bad investments by lowering losses on student loans that don’t pay off for investors. Considering that the government is often the investor, this will result in a better value for the taxpayers and for the nation as a whole. But why do all degrees have to cost so much? Student debt is at all-time highs, even for those who choose majors that will not generate enough income to pay off their huge loans. Maybe some education programs could be structured for completion in less time–say three years instead of four. Some schools seem to be trying to extend degree programs to five years rather than shorten them, which might be the opposite of what we really need. Does an art major need as much time as a physics major to achieve competency?

Why should everyone need the same amount of time to achieve proficiency in completely different courses of study? All doctors need to attend medical school, but does a brain surgeon require the same amount of study and preparation as a gynecologist? I actually don’t know the answer, but I suspect that the amount of preparation time is not equal and we should not expect it to be. I certainly would not want anyone messing with my brain if he didn’t spend a lot of time practicing and preparing, and I don’t mean playing the game Operation.

I have no problem with people who want to pursue lower-paying careers, or even pursuing education for the hell of it. Stay in school forever if you want. Just don’t expect me to pay for it. I just want students to be primarily responsible for evaluating the cost and value of an education and to be able to make an appropriate decision.

Pay to Go Away

Renouncing US Citizenship

Renouncing US Citizenship

Americans have always enjoyed the freedom to travel without restrictions within the country and, for the most part, abroad. No, we still can’t travel to Cuba on vacation, only for business. How this makes any sense, I don’t know. The embargo against Cuba, enacted in 1960, was the result of a federal temper tantrum resulting from our humiliating inability to overthrow Fidel Castro’s communist regime sitting just miles from the US coast. I would think we’d be over it by now, considering how Americans can travel to just about any other crappy dictatorship on the planet. But that’s another story. This one is the flip side to my Pay to Stay idea for dealing with illegal immigrants.

Our freedom to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness usually comes without a price tag. Well, that is, aside from the cost of national defense and the loss of life required to defend it. We are even free to vote, thanks to the Voting Rights Act, without having to pay any kind of poll tax or anything else that smacks of a tax–even an ID card.

You would think, therefore, that we would also be free to leave the country without having to pay a tax. After all, taxes are financial barriers that can stop people dead in their tracks. If you can’t afford to pay a tax, your rights are effectively limited. This is one reason why it is so important that our founding fathers prohibited taxes on interstate commerce, thus ensuring free trade throughout the country. But are we really free leave the country? As long as you plan to come back, sure, but if you renounce your citizenship and try to leave for good, sorry but no, you can’t.

Americans Renouncing Citizenship

Americans Renouncing Citizenship

American citizens who give up their citizenship may have to pay an exit tax, depending on the amount of their assets. Green card holders (lawful resident non-citizens) also have to pay an expatriation tax. If you are a U.S. citizen or long-term resident who expatriated on or after June 17, 2008, the tax law treats you as having sold all of your worldwide property for its fair market value the day before you leave. Even if you don’t sell your assets, the IRS will tax you on what you would have gotten if you had sold everything. This, of course, is based on a complicated process that requires appraisals and additional out of pocket costs. If the theoretical gains add up to more than $651,000, it is subject to U.S. tax at the capital gains rate.

I guess we could call this the “kick in the pants on your way out” tax. I guess the idea is that we have to allow you to leave, but you can’t take everything with you. That doesn’t sound quite right to me. For wealthy Americans with dual citizenship, however, it is a small price to pay to avoid the estate tax that will drastically impact their heirs.

Obviously these taxes are not very well known since not many Americans give up their citizenship and move out of the country. But the first quarter of 2013 saw 670 Americans to date doing just that. This is the largest number since the IRS began publishing figures in 1998. Isabel Getty, daughter and heir to the Getty oil fortune, and Eduardo Saverin, Facebook co-founder, are some of the latest ex-Americans.

What does the IRS have to do with citizenship? They are the ones to tax you on the way out, of course. It seems that the leading reasons for giving up US citizenship are US tax laws, including the estate tax and the taxation of worldwide income instead of just income that is earned within the US.

The US is the only industrialized country in the world that imposes taxes based on citizenship, meaning worldwide income and assets. Of course, they don’t get double taxed by countries that have a tax treaty with us, so it isn’t as bad as it might seem. The IRS has been on a witch hunt to find Americans who earn money overseas and do not declare it, so some wealthy individuals who have dual citizenship or spend a lot of time overseas are just deciding that it isn’t worth the cost to continue to be an American. I know what you are thinking, good riddance, right? Why shouldn’t they pay their fair share just like the rest of us in order to enjoy the benefits of citizenship?

Taxation of Foreign Income

Taxation of Foreign Income

Good point. But wealthy citizens already pay far more than the average American and, when you already live overseas or are faced with the prospect of paying millions of dollars you otherwise don’t have to, the benefits of citizenship can start to fade. Do we really want to be the country that penalizes its’ most successful and wealthy citizens or do we want them to move to other countries that will not impose onerous taxes? I do believe that the wealthy can afford to pay more and that our country benefits from the use of progressive taxation, but there has got to be a reasonable limit. Some countries, like Canada, will not even let you in unless you have a million dollars in the bank or highly employable skills. The United States will let just about anybody in but will tax the wealthy on the way out.

Atlas Shrugged movie

Atlas Shrugged movie

Obviously, this is of no relevance to 99.9% of the country, because most of us don’t plan to leave and even if we did, there wouldn’t be much to tax. Why Congress has bothered to even impose excessive personal taxes on foreign earned income, but continues to exempt multinational business income that is not brought back into the US, I don’t know. We’d be much better off focusing on the non-paying people right here in the country who are currently getting a free ride. So, let’s propose a new tax plan to Congress called Pay to Stay, Not to Go Away!

In case this doesn’t work, I have a plan to establish a new nation on a rising volcanic island or a sea platform. It keeps looking better all the time. With a few wealthy sponsors, I should easily be able to fund its development and settlement. Anyone who is willing to pay a tax to leave the country probably has enough to invest in a better alternative. I’ll call my new nation Atlas and the national salute will be a shoulder shrug. When Elon Musk gets his rockets working a little more reliably, we’ll move it to a platform in orbit and then to Mars.

Atlas Stage 1: Sea Platform

Seasteading Platform

Seasteading Platform

Atlas Stage 2: Space Platform

Elysium Space Station

Elysium Space Station

Atlas Stage 3: Mars Colony

Mars Colony

Mars Colony