The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘libertarianism’

CAN WE AFFORD NOT TO BUILD A WALL?

Much of the focus on President Trump’s southern wall with our Mexican border has focused on several issues.  The first, of course, is will it really be built – or was this just some campaign hype?  The second is, how will we get Mexico to pay for it?  The third and most recent entrant into this discussion is, how much will it really cost?  As to the third of those questions, the most recent estimate I’ve seen is $21 Billion.  That’s a whole lot of moolah.  Or is it?

If we reflect back to the presidential campaign, Donald Trump put forward two reasons for building the southern wall.  By far the most controversial was his intent to control the never ending flow of people from coming into the country in contravention of the nation’s immigration laws.  Why that should be controversial is a bit beyond me – but those on the left seem to have an issue with it.  The second reason for building the wall was to stem the flow of illegal narcotics which also flood into the country through that same porous border.  There has been very little protest to building the wall to accomplish this.  And it is to that issue that I would like to focus in this post.

As a libertarian, I have absolutely no objection to anyone using a substance – even though that substance whether it be liquor or heroin be detrimental to their well-being.  That’s based on the theory that the individual, not the government, should dictate personal behavior.  But there is, of course, a caveat to that high-minded ideal.  While I might exhort you to behave as you please, the limit to your behavior occurs when it impacts me negatively.  That is why libertarians endorse laws which provide penalties for the commission of any of a variety of crimes which affect society as a whole.

It would be foolish to believe that simply building a wall will completely eliminate the flow of drugs into the country.  As we learned with Prohibition, when there is a demand for a product it will find its way into the marketplace.  But that is not to say that building a wall and stiff penalties for convicted drug traffickers might do much to curb the supply and thus the usage.  If you doubt the efficacy of harsh penalties for drug vendors check out Singapore which has virtually no drug addiction problem.  It executes drug pushers who are convicted.

The number of drug deaths in the United States now exceeds those Americans who die in automobile accidents.  Consider all the steps that we have taken to minimize traffic fatalities.  If you’re old enough, you might remember the introduction of automatic turn signals.  Then there were seat belts and then lap belts and then air bags.  This list is hardly extensive in discussing the number of safety features which are required of auto manufacturers on today’s new vehicles.  It’s a far cry from the first cars that rolled off Henry Ford’s assembly line.  So if we see the efficacy of installing safety features on cars, reducing the toll of deaths, why would we not apply the same reasoning to the illegal drug question?

What does the drug epidemic really cost the country – or more correctly, you and me the average citizen?  Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question.  But I imagine that if we could quantify it, the result would be mind-blowing.

How many purse snatchings, burglaries or armed robberies are committed annually so that the junkie can get the money for a fix?  The number of drug deaths I mentioned earlier relates strictly to those who die of overdose or drug related health issues.  It does not include the number of fatalities between rival drug gangs – which are plentiful.  And as to those who become ill from drug abuse, who pays for the cost of their medical treatment?  And who pays for the salaries of the police, the judiciary, the prison guards who arrest, try and maintain them in our penal institutions?  Who pays for the higher price of products in our stores because some of the merchandise has been stolen?  Of course, the answer to all of these questions is that you and I pay (involuntarily) for all of these – and many more.

Speaking personally, if I had my choice whether I would rather spend tax money in remediation or have that money spent in a positive way – say to help children achieve higher educational standards, I would opt for the latter.  I think most people would agree with that sentiment.  But while I can’t quantify specifically how much we spend on all drug related matters, I can give you some insight into one example of how the taxpayers paid additional, unnecessary costs because of drug usage.

When I ran my temporary employment agency, I received a call one day from an individual who held a management position with the University of Illinois Circle campus.  He was with the university’s School of Public Health.  In the call, he explained that the school had received a grant from the Federal government to conduct a five year study.  The goal of the study was to determine how much. if any benefit would inure among members of the drug using community if they were supplied with free bottles of alcohol and an unlimited supply of clean, disposable syringes so that they could get their heroin fixes.

In order to implement this program, the school had identified twenty people who were former drug users themselves whom the school felt would be accepted by ongoing users – their “client” base.  Of this group, fourteen were Hispanics and six were black.  There were twelve in this group who were male and eight female.  As you might expect, there were few who had high school diplomas – only two.

The problem for UIC to get this program up and running was that in order for the school to hire these individuals directly, they needed to pass the civil service exam as UIC  is a state school.  And, quite wisely, my contact had zero confidence that any of them would be able to do so.  Cleverly, he realized that under the grant he was allowed to hire a private independent contractor who could employ these people and thus circumvent the requirements of state law.  So his call was to find a firm that would add these people to their payroll and find out how much they would charge for this service.

After some negotiation, I came up with a markup number that would cover my cost of having to pay FICA and Medicare Tax as well as unemployment insurance – and some extra to cover our cost of payroll processing and a small profit.  We agreed on the number and by subverting the normal civil service process, it cost the school about fifteen percent more to add these “employees” to their project than they otherwise would have spent.  This relationship began in 1992.  By the way, you might find it interesting that the university offered all these employees a salary of $14 per hour – a far higher salary than a starting employee at a fast food restaurant would have earned then – or today.  When it’s not your money, I guess a person can afford to be quite generous with it.

But the sad fact is that all the waste that gets swept up into newer and higher debt ceilings; all the costs to society not only in terms of lives that are lost, property that is damaged and the general decline of morality and decency; all of these costs, and there are so many more, seem to me to make building the wall not an option but a necessity.

 

 

 

THE OXYMORON

We are all familiar with phrases which are composed of two words that seem to be inherently contradictory such as “Jumbo shrimp.”  We describe this as an oxymoron.  Occasionally we find one word which has the same characteristic and it is to that we turn our attention today.  The word I would like to examine is “Malnutrition.”

Of course, “Mal” means bad while the part of the word to which it is attached, “Nutrition” is something that sustains us.  When we use this word, our minds often gravitate to graphic images of children in the third world.

We have probably all seen pictures of infants and children so lacking in food that they have understandably become the poster children of private agencies asking that we send donations to remedy their horrible situations.  Even as a child I was moved to start making a monthly donation to CARE to help these poor kids.

Many years later it is still the same story.  There are children (and adults) who do not eat enough or nutritiously enough on a regular basis.  This problem is not limited to the third world – it exists in America as well.

The reason that millions die of starvation every year is the same as it was when I was a child.  Our ability to procreate exceeds our ability to provide.  And in the United States we encourage this overpopulation with its inevitable resultant consequences as a matter of both social and fiscal policy.

Consider our distribution of supplemental funds to those living at or below the poverty level in this country.  How much does a recipient receive on a monthly basis?  That is determined as a function of how many adults and children are in that particular family.  Each additional child provides an additional income.  Sadly the poor are often the uneducated and there have been reports of some recipients intentionally bearing more children simply to get the additional monthly stipend.

Our income tax laws also promulgate this same sort of “reward” for people with large families.  Each additional dependent provides an additional deduction from Form 1040.  Apparently the Congress which crafted the Internal Revenue Code subscribes to the biblical injunction, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Nutrition or, if you prefer, malnutrition is at the fundamental core of the problem that we euphemistically call, “healthcare.”   Now that the Supreme Court has decided that Obamacare’s dictate that most Americans purchase health insurance is a Tax, I would like to explore a few ideas on how an informed health-Tax policy might actually set us on the road to becoming a healthier nation in the future

We tax cigarettes and alcohol for one stated reason – they are supposed to be “bad” for us.  The fact that both the Federal and State governments derive huge amounts of revenue from these taxes is corollary to my argument.  Nor am I alleging that the use of tobacco or alcohol are good.  I accept the statement that they are deleterious to our health.

With the high court’s ruling,  we have potentially embarked on a new era of taxation in order to support our healthcare system.  It would be beneficial  if medical scientists and nutritionists would develop a list of other things that, like smoking and drinking, are bad for us and which we might tax.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has already correctly identified one of those.  That is soda (or pop) depending on where you live.  He has put forth several proposals that would either tax each soda sold in the city or limit the quantity that could be sold to a consumer in one purchase.

The reason is that refined white sugar (or perhaps even worse, artificial sweeteners) have long term detrimental effects on our health.  I’ve attached a link that outlines the history of refined white sugar’s role in the advancement of slavery as well as its harmful effects when consumed over long periods of time – but there are many others which come to the same conclusion should the reader wish to explore this subject more fully.

http://macrobiotics.co.uk/sugar.htm

If I were to go with one of the Mayor’s proposals it would be the first one.  Add a tax to the cost of each soda that is sold, whether at the supermarket or at restaurants.  This may surprise some of you who realize that I write from a Libertarian point of view – supporting yet another government tax.  But I view this as consistent with my principles.

I believe that everyone should be free to do whatever he or she wants without government intervention or interference – up until the point that their behavior affects me.  At that point I have the right – no I have the responsibility – to get involved in the conversation.

It is clear that the explosion in so many chronic diseases including diabetes and cardiovascular problems could be greatly reduced if we made good dietary and lifestyle choices.  The failure to do that on the part of some of our citizenry affects all the rest of us in terms of the cost and availability of our healthcare.  Just as we penalize smokers and alcohol users, the same logic should apply to diet.

There are many who probably do not understand the effects that their food choices have on their health.  Obviously government does understand this since it now requires the listing of ingredients in products, the number of calories that a particular item contains, the amount of saturated and non-saturated fats that can be found in a meal to cite a few examples.

There are certainly many who, despite the fact that they realize their food choices are unhealthful, continue to make those same choices.   Bad habits are hard to break – particularly if we have held to them for long periods of time.  And while I give credit to the fast food industry for introducing more healthful choices for their customers, I suspect that those represent a fairly small portion of their overall sales.

It would have been difficult to advance this argument with any hope of success as few as ten years ago.  You can imagine the reaction from the soda giants, Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola (which today will still lobby strongly against it).  But whether it was simply a matter of expanding their line of products or because they realized that the handwriting might be on the wall, both of these now sell bottled water which has been a fast growing segment of their businesses.

The longest journey begins with a single step – and we have a long way to go before we become a healthier nation.  Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to tax carbonated beverages is that first step – and one in the right direction.

BmprStck55576

ON POLITICAL HONESTY

BmprStck125687

This will be brief.  Okay, I’m done.

THE ABOMINABLE SNOW JOB

Although the late Anna Russell is best known for her entertaining analysis of Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” the skit which I most enjoyed was her piece entitled, “How To Write Your Own Gilbert & Sullivan Operetta.”  There are three reasons for my feelings.

The first is that while I do love grand opera, I can only take Wagner’s music in small doses.  I would grant that he probably composed some of the most lyrical melodies of all time – but you have to sit through so much other incredibly cacophonous stuff that it hardly seems worth the wait.  He is one of the few composers whose music I will only buy in it’s highlighted form.

Second, as a freshman in college I lived down the hall from a person who went far beyond the definition of being a devotee to Wagner.  This student played the entire Ring Cycle from beginning to end interminably – and at such a high volume that it could be heard two counties away.  This did nothing to elevate my feelings for  Wagner nor did Wagner’s political philosophy which Hitler greatly admired.

Third, in a grammar school production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s, “The Mikado” I got the part of Yum Yum – thus endearing those two collaborators forever to me.  So I’m going to take diva Russell’s advice and use the formula she set out and embark on writing my very own G & S operetta.

I’ve entitled it “The Abominable Snow Job.”  Although I’ve only completed the libretto thus far I have also penned the words for many of the songs and have just started sketching out the music – so the completed work will have to wait for a bit and you’ll have to check back later.

Our operetta is set in Flimflamington, the capital city of the country Dweeblandia.  There is much stirring as the citizens of Dweeblandia are distressed that they are being forced to work in order to learn a living.  They are outside the Commander of Cheats’ home, calling for an end to their suffering. They break into the opening chorus, “We Aint Gonna Work No More No More, We Aint Gonna Work No More.”  At the conclusion of their song Huzzahs go up from the throng.

Our next scene takes us to the legislative center of Dweeblandia where the leader of the House of Ill Repute, Ninny Pepperoni is planning to seize even more power.  She sings her solo, “Promise Them Anything But Give Them Arepege” in which she describes her plan to cover the stench from the rapidly failing infrastructure by casting perfume on the refuse and offal that are rapidly accumulating throughout the land.

At the conclusion of her aria she is joined by the leader of the Upper House, Hapless Henry Road-Kill who confesses that he hasn’t had an original thought in his entire life and is happy to go through the balance of it without entertaining one.  He then sings his solo, “Life Is Like A Box Of Buffalo Chips.”

The two of them exit as a new player enters the stage.  This is our hero, a strange and exotic minstrel with a propensity for Rhythm & Blues music which he performs with difficulty on his one-string guitar.  His name is Jumbled Lyah – and other than the fact that he comes from somewhere out west, he reveals little of his own background.  He has come to Flimflamington to seek fame and fortune as he describes in his solo, “Gimmee, Gimmee, Gimmee.”

As he finishes his song, the chorus of Dweeblandians come on stage.  Charmed by this interesting stranger they kneel at his feet and explain their plight.  Jumbled Lyah promises that if he were ensconced as Commander of Cheats he would remove their suffering, take away their pain, make their lives enjoyable and they would forevermore have all that they wanted and far more than they needed.  He would bring equality and fairness to the land.

The ecstatic crowd picks Jumbled Lyah up and carries him triumphantly off the stage as they sing “Happy Days Are Here Again” and then refrain, “We Aint Gonna Work No More.”

The curtain falls as Act I concludes.

The Madding Crowd has elevated Jumbled Lyah into the office of Commander of Cheats – sweeping his predecessor,  Dunderhead Bush-League into a well deserved obscurity.  But all is not well as Jumbled Lyah begins to assemble the staff who will assist in his dominance over the Dweeblandians.

The annoying people who opposed him, members of the Garrulous Old Poppycockers have challenged his appointment for Chancellor of the Exchequer – Tomothy Can’t-Get-It-Rightner.  They have challenged his capability to run the country’s finances since it has come to light that he doesn’t comprehend the tax code which he will be sworn to uphold.

But Can’t-Get-It-Rightner defends himself in the energetic song, “It’s All Done With Smoke And Mirrors.”  At the conclusion of the aria, he is confirmed in his position as the members of the upper chamber understand his thinking and explanation – true models of their own actions.

Meanwhile, in another part of the House of Ill Repute, Jumbled Lyah, Ninny Pepperoni and Hapless Henry Road-Kill are having a clandestine meeting in one of the cloak and dagger rooms.  They are distressed that they are unable to deliver on the promises that they have made to the Dweeblandians and decide that the only way they can stay in power is to make even greater promises that they will not be able to fulfill – putting off the day of judgment.   They sing the trio, “It’s Our Party And We’ll Lie If We Want To.”

As Dweeblandia falls into yet greater ruin an elder statesman, Romulus Paulinus attempts to set things right but is castigated by the state-dominated media and his message is lost on the general populace.  He sings the dirge, “If I Could Give My Life To Set Things Right.” 

At the conclusion of his song the populace decides to grant his wish by burning him at the stake.  They seize this elder statesman and prepare to execute him as they bind him to a post and fuel the fire with all the bonds that their government has printed – thus killing two birds with one stone.

Alas, the fury of the flames does more than immolate statesman Paulinus.  A strong gust of wind comes up during the execution spreading the flames to the House of Ill Repute which burns to the ground and which ignites further devastation ultimately razing all of Flimflamington. 

Amid the disaster the Dweeblandians rejoice and sing the final chorus, “We Are One.”  They have brought equality to their land.  Nobody any longer has anything and in that abundance there is more than enough for all.

The curtain falls on Act II.

End of the operetta – and perhaps much more.

Tag Cloud