Friday, August 22, 2014

What Three Things Should We Do? Sorry, I'll Have to Punt on That

I just had a spirited discussion with a new acquaintance, a Seattle businessman, and eventually we came to the businessman's big question:  What three things would you do to fix the government?

And I punted.

That's because I think we are nowhere near being able to do big things about the current mess.

Let me be clear.  I have plenty of big ideas to fix things.  I just don't believe that this is the time for big things.  Not yet.

Here's my Three Point Plan.  Actually, it is a Four Point Plan.

First, middle-class Americans should pay for their own retirement.  The current system is a system of intergenerational injustice where older, richer seniors get paid pensions by younger, poorer workers.  My plan of intergenerational justice is that middle-class people get to retire when they have accumulated the savings to create enough productive jobs for the young 'uns to support the old 'uns.

Second, middle-class Americans should pay for their own healthcare in retirement.  Of course we want to do the right thing by seniors like me, but not at the expense of young people trying to buy a home and raise a family.

Third, American children should not be sent to government child-custodial facilities for twelve years to sit on benches all day with no time off for good behavior.  Yes: can you spell J-A-I-L?

Fourth, the system of welfare where people trying to get off welfare pay higher marginal taxes than billionaires is unjust.  If we are to have a system of government welfare it should be focused like a laser on getting people back to work now.  Settled science says that people lose job skills from the day they are laid off.

In my ideal world workers wouldn't be paying swingeing taxes to pay grandpa's Social Security; income tax payers wouldn't be paying for grandma's frequent trips to the cardiologist, neurologist so that she needs two sets of weekly pill organizers.  They wouldn't be sending their kids to school but the neighborhood mothers would organize home-school cooperatively.  And the poor would be helped by the ABCDEFG method developed by charity professionals in the 19th century, backed up by mutual-aid associations that also flourished in the 19th century until the welfare state killed them both stone dead.

But there isn't a chance in hell that my four step program could be passed today.  That's because change -- real change -- can only come as a result of a great moral movement.  Think Reformation, Puritans, Great Awakening, Anti-slavery, Islamism.  And don't forget the secular moral movements like romanticism, socialism, nationalism, fascism, communism, environmentalism, feminism, gay rights.

Right now there is no moral movement that is organizing and socializing people to change the welfare state.  The average person accepts the current system and merely grumbles about minor indignities.  People are afraid of any change and rightly worry that any change would hurt them.  They are right to be afraid.  When political change comes to town the current generation gets screwed.  Ask the Indians after the Puritans showed up.  Ask the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  They almost all lost their lives, their fortunes, and I'm not so sure what happened to their sacred honor.  The Civil War?  Wiped out a generation of young men and condemned the slaves to a century of Jim Crow.  War against Nazism?  Great for the US, but whacked Europe and Russia for a generation.

Yeah, it would be great to solve the great injustices of the current era, but if you ask me things are going to have to get worse before they get better.  Eventually the "worse" will lead to a new moral movement of renewal.  Which may fail.  Even if the moral movement succeeds and rebuilds the culture and politics on new foundations, it will still exact an enormous cost on the generation that lives through it.

Gee.  I just Googled myself and I find that I wrote this whole thing back in 2010.

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