"He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent." - V, from the movie "V for Vendetta"
GOVERNMENT MUST BE MORE EFFICIENT.
Regardless of whether you believe government is "good" or "bad" - or whether the size of government should be "large" or "small" - or whether regulation is "necessary" or "unnecessary" - perhaps we can all agree that whatever government laws and regulations we do have should make sense. That government should be as efficient as possible. And that waste of government resources (i.e., our tax dollars) should not occur.
Let's take just three examples, starting with an easy one.
- According to a Feb. 2016 post in the Chicago Tribune, "Each one-cent coin — made almost entirely of zinc — cost 1.43 cents to produce last year ...." Tens of millions of dollars are spent each year, despite the existence of solutions that would lower production costs (or eliminate the penny altogether).
- In the recent gun control battles in the U.S. Congress, bills were sought to be voted on that would have imposed background checks for guns sold at gun shows and in private sales. While limited background checks will, no doubt, have limited effects, won't the "bad guys" (felons, etc., who are prohibited from purchasing guns) just go to gun shows to buy guns? Why do we spend tens of millions and millions each year on background checks, when they are only done some of the time? (Over 25 million gun purchase background checks were performed by the FBI in 2015.) Wouldn't the following have been a better vote for your Senators and Representatives? - Please choose one:
- ____ No background checks on any gun purchases.
- ____ Background checks for all those who purchase guns.
- (THE FOLLOWING IS NOT A CHOICE: SPENDING MILLIONS WASTEFULLY BY REQUIRING BACKGROUND CHECKS ONLY FOR SOME SALES.)
- We have a plethora of types of defined benefit and defined contribution plans, including (just in the defined contribution space) "small business" plans such as SIMPLE IRAs and SEP IRAs, 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, traditional 401(a) profit-sharing plans, 457 plans, and more. And the contribution limits to these plans vary, and distribution rules can also vary. Oh, yes, we also have traditional contributory and rollover IRA accounts. Why so many? Why can't we simplify all of these plans into just two types: defined benefit (pension plan) and defined contribution (IRA), with prescribed plan documents containing far more limited options for employers to choose (for example, 100% vesting required, same hardship rules for loans and withdrawals, auto-enrollment and auto-escalation required for the one type of DC plan, etc.) Imagine the money we could save on actuaries, plan writing and administration costs, writing of administrative regulations, and even enforcement costs.
CHANGE BEGINS AND ENDS WITH THE REMOVAL OF $$$ FROM POLITICS.
The question is ... how do we stop such waste (and abuse of the American taxpayer)? I suggest three policy responses.
FIRST AND FOREMOST, we need to remove money from politics. A Constitutional amendment will likely be required. Much waste today occurs due to the influence of money. (For example, contributions by key producers of certain metals helps defeat bills that would change manufacturing processes and designs to make U.S. coin production less expensive.)
SECOND, we should elect wise stewards of our tax dollars, whatever their party affiliation. We need legislators who can work across the aisle to get common-sense reforms done. We will always have those who possess different visions of the size and role of government - that's o.k., and indeed can be healthy. But all who are elected should commit to ensuring that whatever government exists - regardless of its size or intensity - must not be wasteful. (Of course, electing such stewards may not occur if the first action step - removing money from politics - does not occur.)
We should never elect, nor re-elect, "obstructionists." Those who "embody a kind of oppositional politics that critics say has left voters cynical about Washington," said The New York Times in 2010, in describing Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans. Why have you continued such obstructionism for so many years? Is it out of racism? Is it out of greed? Whatever it has been, such an attitude and such actions are altogether wrong - whether taken by either party.
The consequence has been a failure to govern. An abdication of duty. No wonder the Republican masses turned against all "insiders" (existing leaders) and sought, in desperation, an outsider.
THIRD, we need the U.S. Congress to reform itself. To change its own rules to facilitate members of Congress getting to know each other, and to work with each other. To adopt the mantra that members of Congress should always vote their conscience, not just on select issues. (Again, this reform is unlikely to occur unless the first action step is accomplished.)
CHANGE IS DESIRED. BUT - BEWARE THE DEMAGOGUE.
In our nation today, Americans - of different political leanings - often possess the view that government has been ineffective and wasteful. It is for this, and other, reasons that the call for "change" and "new leaders" has been advanced.
I, too, desire change. I desire a government that works. I desire leaders who will seek solutions, reach across the aisle, and accomplish through negotiation those actions necessary to effect wise government, frugal government, and fair government.
But, change for change's sake and new leaders for the sake of change is not, in itself, enough. For we must not, as a nation, fall prey to those who espouse change, but who do not possess the intelligence, wisdom, character, and ability to be truly effective leaders.
Perhaps I am being a bit pessimistic. But, I doubt I am alone. There are many who desire change. But, many today don't foresee the type of change desired as a likely occurrence in the near term. Indeed, many who desire change are are fearful. For, as the desperation of the electorate increases for a government that "works," the populace might turn to demagogues who promote change for change's sake, thereby hijacking and distorting the true will of the people. And, such demagogues, if elected, would likely cause far more and lasting harm to our government, and our society.
BELIEFS MUST TRANSLATE INTO ACTION.
Permit me to close, in this rare general political essay, with the following statement of beliefs.
- We believe in the United States of America.
- We believe America is a great country.
- We believe in the American Spirit.
- Of Innovation.
- Of Discovery.
- Of Entrepreneurship.
- Of Compassion.
- Of Individualism.
- Of Inclusion.
- Of Tolerance.
- Of Independence.
- Of Freedom.
- Of Resolve, in the Face of Challenges.
- We believe that, through enlightened discourse, with renewed commitment to understand each other's often disparate views, we can achieve solutions to permit America's future to be even brighter.
- We believe America can be an even greater country.
We must seek to guard the ideals of democracy against undue influences.
We must, through the power of the ballot box, the press, and our own individual and collective advocacy efforts, seek to the effect change wisely.
"Beneath this mask there is an idea. And ideas are bulletproof." - V.