A 20-Point Plan for Fixing America

  By: Joe Messerli

Admittedly, these are some pie-in-the-sky solutions to various problems, but if we can come close to implementing some of them, we'd be a lot better off.

    Government Spending/National Deficit

  1. Cut the growth on all areas of government spending to zero (but not necessarily cut absolute spending amounts). Most people don't realize that in government-speak, a "cut" means a cut in the rate of growth of spending, not a cut in the actual budget. For example, assume $50 billion was spent for education this year and $55 billion is earmarked for next year based on the current growth rate; if the government decides to only spend $53 billion, they are said to be "cutting" education spending, even though they're actually increasing spending by $3 billion from the year before. What I propose is a freeze in the growth of all government spending. After all, most citizens have to cut costs and live within their means. Why shouldn't the government have the same responsibility? National income and corresponding tax revenues grow steadily every year. Even in the economic slowdown in 2001, we only had one quarter of negative growth. By simply reducing the rate of growth in government spending to zero, our record-setting deficits will turn into a surplus in 5-10 years. It'd be nice to drastically cut absolute spending amounts also, but almost all politicians are too worried about re-election to do this. Cutting growth may be the only solution that can be realistically implemented.

  2. Repeal the Davis-Bacon act. This is a little-known act that forces contractors bidding on government jobs to pay union wages, even if non-union shops can do the job for much less. This act is responsible for more government overspending than any other. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce believes that repealing the act would create 31,000 new construction jobs and cut costs on government contracts by 15 percent. That may not sound like much, but consider the cost savings in defense alone (think Stealth bombers, B-52's, etc.).
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  3. Make almost all entitlement spending time-limited ("a hand up, not a handout"). Welfare, WIC, unemployment insurance, AFDC, EIC, ....the list of government entitlement programs goes on and on. Why should people work a minimum wage job they dislike or strive for a higher-paying career when they can live almost the same lifestyle from government handouts? Programs born out of our compassion for poverty-stricken families and individuals have inadvertently become self-perpetuating policies. The welfare reform of the mid 90s, in which people are limited in the lifetime benefits they can receive, has been a tremendous success. I propose applying the same dollar and/or time benefit limits to virtually all government entitlement programs. We all go through tough times in our lives, financial or otherwise. It's good that we can rely on programs to help us through these tough times, but it shouldn't be a lifelong thing. Tommy Thompson, who while governor put together Wisconsin's modern welfare reform program, described it best when he said government programs should provide "a hand up, not a handout." Or as Ronald Reagan said, "Welfare's purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence."

  4. Give the President (or some other person or small group) more power on the budget, such as the ability to line-item veto or set a cap on total spending, with a 60 percent vote needed in both houses to override any decision. Most people don't realize that Congress has ultimate control over all budget decisions. And because "all politics is local", budgets are filled with wasteful projects Congressmen put together for their local constituents. In addition, all politicians have to worry about the election effects of any "cuts" in spending. This new power would finally provide a check on the exploding government spending.

  5. Introduce incentives for performance in government jobs. Human beings need some kind of motivation to do their best work. Some of us work for the sheer joy of our career, but most of us need some incentive to give our best effort, especially if our job is nothing more than a paycheck to us. In the private sector, these motivators include bonuses, salary increases, promotion, stock options, profit-sharing, and sometimes simply keeping our jobs. In government jobs, what is there to motivate the employees? Public sector workers usually have a set work week, 30+ days off per year, secure positions, statute-determined raises, and limited potential for advancement. On top of that, the Fund system of government accounting creates a disincentive to cut costs. The Fund system simply grants various government departments a set amount of money to spend each fiscal year. Unfortunately, if an efficient manager cuts costs dramatically in his/her department, the government (which is always looking for budgets that can be cut) will usually decide that department can get along with less money. Thus, managers will often purposely spend more money than they need to prevent a budget cut in the next fiscal year. Witness the activity level of any government accounting office towards the end of any fiscal year; you'll see the explosion of orders and expenditures from departments that are anxious to save their budgets. Obviously, we have a problem. We need to overhaul the system, creating a new system of accounting and performance-based pay. Pay can be based on things like cost-cutting success, customer satisfaction surveys, service call processing time, and so on.


  6. Shift taxes from income to consumption. The most fundamental principle of human psychology is operant conditioning. This common sense principle says that humans tend to repeat behavior that is rewarded and tend to reduce or eliminate behavior that is punished. Now think about the focus of our tax system: income. What produces income? Income is produced almost entirely from working, running a business, or saving/investing. Are these things we want to discourage by taxation? Americans who take out risky investments like starting a business are taxed the more money they make. Conversely, if they lose money, they only get back tax money if they have some other income to offset. What about those people that put themselves through college, work 80 hours per week, take on high-stress jobs, and so on? Again, they are punished with taxes. Now consider consumption. The United States consumes more resources than any other country in the world despite trailing in population to several others. We have very little to restrain our spending. Wouldn't it make more sense to tax commodities like oil that we want to conserve? Before the recent surge in gas prices, did you personally feel the need to carpool, buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle, encourage politicians to invest in alternative energy, etc.? How about now? Nothing changes behavior like price. It's part of the simple economic model of supply and demand. Our government obviously needs to raise a substantial amount of revenue. Wouldn't it make more sense to produce this revenue while encouraging work, investment, and savings along with a reduction in the consumption of limited resources?

  7. Overhaul and simplify the income tax system. The ideal system would provide only 3 variables: a flat tax rate, a standard deduction, and personal exemptions. The only other possible deduction would be for a home. An independent governing body similar to the Federal Reserve would be free to adjust the variables quarterly or annually; i.e. economic decisions would be made by economists, not politicians. Thus, in a faltering economy, money could be instantly added to everyone's paycheck by raising the deduction or lowering the rate. The opposite would be true in an overheating economy. The standard deduction could be set high enough so poorer families (e.g. those making less than $35,000) wouldn't have to pay a cent. This new tax system would instantly free up billions of dollars in IRS tax processing costs every year. It also would free up billions more in the private sector needed to comply with the impossibly complex tax laws. Most of all, it would encourage investment and reward people who produce, which are the keys to growing the economy and producing jobs.
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  8. Abolish the minimum wage. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are lost every year because of the minimum wage. Every increase in the rate costs more jobs and destroys business flexibility. Low-paying jobs remain the entry point into careers for those without experience or marketable skills. Market forces are much better at setting wages based on ease and necessity of the work. Most low-paying jobs belong to teenagers, part-time employees, interns, and workers-in-training. In addition, increased labor costs mean increased prices to consumers and less workers available for customer service.
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  9. Eliminate business taxes; instead, only tax earnings when they're finally disbursed to the owners. Consider the taxes a business pays: federal income tax, state income tax, matching social security tax for every employee, unemployment taxes, startup fees, license fees, and on and on. It's kind of discouraging for someone starting a business to not only deal with substantial risk but also the government's constant attempt to pick at any earning it may make. If a potential investor or business owner can't make a certain level of profit to justify the risk, he or she will just say "Screw it, I'll just invest in a CD or bond that guarantees me a return." Who gets hurt? Everyone. Consumers loses a new good or service, and job seekers lose another employment opportunity. Look how many jobs are created by companies like GM, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, IBM, etc. When you cut into the income of those companies, you cut into the money that can be invested in hiring new employees, investing in new technology, building more production plants, and earning profits for investor 401(k)'s. Many politicians seem to believe that all businesses have an infinite amount of cash that can be tapped into, but we know from all the business failures during the last decade that that's simply not the case. And let's not forget that all business income is eventually taxed when it's distributed to owners. Some may say, how do you replace the lost government revenue? The same question was asked when Reagan cut the top income tax bracket from 70 percent to 28 percent. The skyrocketing gross national product that resulted more than made up for the gap, actually doubling annual government revenue by the end of the 80s. For an explanation of this phenomenon, research the Laffer Curve in Economics. Eliminating business taxes would also mean less demand for welfare, unemployment compensation, and other entitlements since there will be an explosion of job opportunities out there, almost guaranteeing anyone who wants a job has a job.

    Health Care

  10. Implement a series of measures to create a more market & competition-based system of health care. Health care is such a complex issue that I've developed a separate 15-pt plan that includes the following: 1) De-regulate the medical profession. 2) Create a range of new medical training levels and specialties. 3) Develop a new no-patent government drug research & development facility. 4) Create a new statute to punish those who bring frivolous malpractice suits and extort money from doctors. 5) Develop a new court system to deal with medical malpractice lawsuits. 6) Create liability caps on damages for pain & suffering and punitive damages in malpractice lawsuits. 7) Build a series of lawsuit-prohibited medical facilities. 8) Streamline or eliminate the FDA, and de-regulate the process of approving drugs. 9) Streamline the process of purchasing drugs for consumers. 10) Pass a law requiring publication of price lists of all medical services. 11) Set up a new scholarship/grant program for those that want to enter the health profession. 12) Increase awareness of WebMD, Ask-a-Nurse, and other free medical advice. 13) Develop a national health information system that centralizes all medical information. 14) Ease right-to-die rules. 15) Design new insurance plans that shift more costs from premiums to out-of-pocket costs.


  11. Increase spending for CIA, FBI, and special ops while decreasing spending in conventional military areas. The days of conventional big armor showdowns are largely over. Nuclear weapons and superior air power have made large scale war with another nation unlikely anytime in the near future. The real threat to our survival as a nation is the threat of terrorism. Information and quick-strike capability have become the two crucial weapons needed to combat the new threat. Our military needs to be more mobile and able to strike surgically rather than in the past, when a massive show of firepower was the key. Thus, it doesn't make sense to direct the majority of our funds to conventional items. The stunning speed of our victories in Afghanistan and Iraq with such low casualty rates attest to the importance of intelligence and special operations. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield has largely started this transformation of the military.
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  12. Establish an international police/peacekeeper/anti-terrorism organization (that's not controlled by the corrupt/do-nothing UN). No matter how civilized and advanced a society, there is always going to be a criminal element around. You always need a way to keep law and order. Within nations, we have organizations such as the police department and FBI. However, internationally we have nothing. Various nations, most notably the United States, have played this role at different times, but it's usually slow to act and involves endless debate and political maneuvering. We need a new, dedicated international police force to deal with the Osama bin Laden's, Charles Taylor's, Idi Amin's, and Pol Pot's of the world. This new force would be financed by willing nations and made up of all-volunteer soldiers from several nations that train together to specialize in anti-terrorism and peacekeeping. Bloody civil wars, terrorism against innocents, and ethnic cleansing never seem to go away. It seems like a worthwhile cause to trade a few hundred lives and a few billion dollars to save thousands or millions of lives and preserve the stability essential to world commerce. Tom Clancy describes a small version of this type of force in his book Rainbow Six.

  13. Reform the structure of the United Nations. Ultimately, to advance civilizations in this world, we need an international organization that works together to solve issues of trade, war & peace, education, terrorism, world hunger, AIDS, and so on. Unfortunately, the closest thing we have is the feeble United Nations. Does anyone see a problem with an organization that can have Libya chairing the Human Rights Committee, Iran chairing the Weapons Non-Proliferation Committee, and China holding the power to veto any resolution even if it's unanimous otherwise? Never in our history did we see so much arguing among civil nations and hear so much laughing from dictators as we did during the Iraq War debate. Disagreement and negotiation are expected in any debate, but putting veto power in any one nation (including the United States) and shutting out nations like India, Australia, and Japan is patently stupid. We need a complete overhaul of the governing structure. The ideal structure would be something similar to the American government, where you have a division of power with a system of checks and balances. One elected President would share power with two houses, one which gives equal voting power to every nation; the other would give variable power based on population, economy size, and financial/military contributions. An international court system and joint-police force (described above) would supplement the decision-making power of the President and two houses. One final note: only true democracies with first-amendment type freedoms should be eligible for membership.  Allowing membership to countries like Iran and Cuba gives national leadership credibility to murderers, dictators, and fanatical thugs who are never elected and have no accountability to the people they purport to represent.

    Other Issues

  14. Eliminate social security for younger workers who have paid little or nothing into the system. Do you consider an American who makes $40,000 per year to be wealthy? What if I said that every American who makes exactly that could be a millionaire when they retire -- without a 401(k), IRA, pension plan, or a single cent of their take-home pay being put into savings? Sound too good to be true? Well, if you eliminated social security taxes (which are currently 15.3 percent of income when you add in business's share), then took that tax savings and invested it in Treasury Bonds or other low-risk item that earns only 5 percent, you would accumulate a million dollars by the time you retire (this assumes you work from the age of 20 to 65 and earn an average of $40,000 per year). Do you think social security benefits would even be an issue if retirees had that kind of money when they retired? Remember, this is accumulated savings without even considering 401(k), a home, or other investments. People who make an average of $80,000 per year would accumulate over $2 million just from the investment of social security taxes (and remember, that's assuming a conservative 5 percent rate). Yes, I realize that most people aren't disciplined enough to save that kind of money, but a big part of the reason is they know that the government has that safety net waiting for them when they're 65. In addition to that, do you think charitable giving may increase a little if Americans had that much money at their disposal? Here's a little known fact -- the biggest charitable donor in the world over the past 10 years has been none other than the "evil, monopolistic" Bill Gates. Is this because he's the kindest, most caring person in the world? Of course not, he simply has much more to give than anyone else. If the social security program were eliminated, we'd have geometrically more new millionaire Americans created every year. They would step up to care for the older Americans who didn't save they way they should. The federal government would also be able to set up a fund from all the additional income taxes they'd be collecting. No system is ever perfect, but one thing is consistent -- the federal government NEVER manages money better than individual Americans who have a personal stake in the results of what is spent. For those close to retirement age, social security needs to stay the way it is. For younger Americans and those that haven't started paying into the system, it's time to scrap social security altogether. Human civilization managed to go on for thousands of years without the existence of the program...that is, back in the days when personal responsibility meant something.

  15. Institute term limits for members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. It'd be nice to occasionally get some fresh ideas & perspectives injected into Congress. It'd be nice to get some people who aren't slaves to the special interests that got them into office and keep them there. Unfortunately for the American people, it's very difficult to unseat an incumbent politician from the Senate or House. So-called "pork" contracts are one of the main reasons federal spending is out of control. Yet, these contracts, which bring money to the local economies, are unlikely to ever end until term limits are instituted. Also, most politicians don't have the courage to deal with controversial events when re-election is still an issue. Consider social security. Everyone agrees the system has to be fixed to ensure long-term survival. So why hasn't it been dealt with prior to President Bush's recent push? It's simple -- social security is a politically-charged, controversial issue. Why rock the boat on your re-election chances by dealing with the problem now? Notice that Bush didn't say much of anything about the issue until he entered his final term.

  16. Implement a compromise constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to two unrelated adults. It'd be nice to get the government out of the marriage business altogether, since marriage is more an emotional and religious institution than a civic one. However, since that really isn't very realistic given our entrenched tax and legal system as well as the most compelling reason for having government-regulated marriage--children--I propose a compromise solution, defining marriage between two people (regardless of gender).

  17. Abolish all race and gender-based preferences. When you fill out a job application or apply for college, do they ask you your height or eye color? If it's a situation where appearance is involved maybe, but in the vast majority of cases, the answer is no. Why? Because height and eye color have no connection with intelligence, discipline, work ethic, and other predictors of success. So why do we continue to call attention to race and ethnicity? They don't have any connection with the predictors of success either. Wouldn't it be great if one day we lived in a society where skin color was just as insignificant as height and eye color? Affirmative action and the "civil rights movement" were formed to combat the obvious diversity and discrimination problems in our society of decades ago. Guess what? They've won! They've accomplished their mission! The United States is the most diverse and open civilization in the world. No other country treats its minorities so well or affords them so many opportunities. We truly have become a society that judges one not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Sure, we're not perfect, but the main reason we haven't achieved near-perfection is that we continue to draw attention to minority status rather than focusing on the values that bring success (hard work, perseverance, etc.).  Keeping minority-based preferences around now simply punishes qualified individuals in the majority and sets a low level of accountability for those in the minority. It is condescending to say to a black person: "You're not good enough to succeed on your own; here, let me give you a boost." Expect less, get less.
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  18. Legalize marijuana and other soft-core drugs. Studies show that many drugs that are currently illegal aren't more harmful than alcohol or tobacco. And even if they are more harmful, the person is only harming himself. The "war on drugs" has been an utter failure, with billions of dollars being wasted every year. We should still do everything we can to go after the harder, more addictive drugs like crack and heroin. However, when considering softer drugs, wouldn't it be better to use our limited police resources to fight terror, solve violent crimes, curb gang activity, and so on? Remember, legalization does not mean encouragement. People have the right to be stupid, but let's focus our energy on the criminals and terrorists that really do serious damage to society.
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  19. Introduce testing requirements for advancement in all levels of the schools system. We continue to pour a ton of money into our education system. The result? Graduate knowledge of math, science, geography, history, and virtually every other subject is declining. In addition, many students who can barely read or write somehow slip through the system. I propose putting accountability back into the system. Minimum-level statewide exams should be enforced for all major subjects at all grade levels. Students who don't pass will be given a couple of opportunities to retake the exams, but if they fail, they must repeat the class or grade. This may seem harsh, but most subjects are cumulative in nature. For example, you can't learn high school algebra if you haven't mastered multiplication and division. You can't master high school English or History if you read at a 3rd-grade level. When students get behind early, it can lead to them being perpetually behind, not to mention being discouraged with school in general. Statewide testing would force schools to really put the effort and accountability in their classes, since they wouldn't simply be able to slide sub-par students through the system.
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  20. Expand political voting methods to the phone and internet systems. Special interests dominate the political process. Politicians worship them not only for the money they raise but also for the blocks of voters they can mobilize. When you add the option of voting online or by phone, you vastly increase the numbers of voters in every election. In addition, with online voting, biographies and political positions can be posted by hyperlink on the same website citizens use to vote. Thus, people can read up on each candidate before they vote. In any case, the more voters you get, the more you dilute the effects of special interests. It means you more adequately reflect the wants and needs of the people.

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Note: many of these ideas are an expansion/tweaking of those of libertarian guru extraordinaire, Larry Elder.

"A new idea is first condemned as ridiculous and then dismissed as trivial, until finally, it becomes what everybody knows." --William James

"It is not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work -- work with us, not over us; stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it." --Ronald Reagan

"A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul." --George Bernard Shaw

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