Evaluating the Goals of Compassion

We hear in reference to a wide range of policy discussions how we should support this policy or that out of a sense of compassion- we hear this about the recent Syrian refugee crisis, about programs like the Affordable Care Act and Medicare, and about any other of a host of domestic measures.

Now, since contrary to the attitude which Congress, Presidents, and most voters have acted over the course of, at a minimum, my own lifetime, there is not infinite money, and we cannot solve all problems with the application of government funds.

Surely, we can admit that having in the 1930s destroyed the previous systems which helped those in need and replaced them with governmental action, until such a time as we can rebuild the non-governmental solutions it might be considered somewhat cruel to go immediately from the massive amount of aid we currently give (misspent and based on fictional currency as it is) to nothing overnight. So we will acknowledge that even as we work to reduce the power, scope, and dependency on the Federal Government, until such a time that the totality of Federal poverty alleviation programs are neither necessary nor desirable to the vast majority of the population (having been replaced by programs built on volunteerism and administered in good faith rather than through coercive governmental force and violence) we must retain some amount of these programs and must not drastically reduce spending.

But, a commitment to not pulling the rug out from under people, so to speak, is not the same as a commitment to continuing programs which are not working as intended, to continuing to ratchet spending to bail out these programs (which will still not work as intended), or a commitment to solve all of the problems of the nation with governmental dollars (as if such a thing were possible).

So, being that the fountain of money is not infinite, we should work to ensure that our tax dollars are having the maximum possible of their intended effect. Isn’t working to allow waste, abuse, and misaligned programs which do not have their intended effect its own form of callous disregard?

What is so compassionate about allowing people to suffer because the money we are spending to help them is not accomplishing its purpose?

So by what standards should we judge the policies we put in place to help people?

I posit, that all of our programs that are based on compassion in any regards must be designed to broadly meet some combination of the following three goals:

  1. To help the most people.
  2. To help people who need help the most
  3. To give the help most needed to the people we help

While these seem like obvious goals, they are often overlooked and many of our systems and programs fail on all three counts.

1. To Help the Most People

This is the goal that our programs come the closest to meeting- although this is mostly due to the need, politically, to sell programs through the middle class. We have programs that in their best versions should be anti-poverty measures (medicare, social security) which instead vastly “benefit” the middle class.

This of course is because the middle class represents entrenched votes for politicians, whereas the underclasses tend not to vote and are also, thankfully, a smaller class than the middle and upper middle classes.

Of course, where these programs often fall short is in that while they affect, or encompass many people, they often do not actually help all those people enrolled.

The obvious example is again, social security. Social security takes 12% of an average person’s income- 6% from their check directly and 6% from their employer. According to Politifact the average person pays in $722,000 over their career and receives in benefits $966,000 after turning 65.

On it’s head this looks like a lot of people are benefiting from Social Security, however- even at that 722/966 split it represents a small rate of return, particularly when annualized over many years. When you consider that the worker’s employer would have paid in an additional $722,000 so without any other adjustments you fall to a return of $966,000 on an input of $1,444,000, a fairly substantial loss in value.

To put it into perspective- the average Social Security enrollee would be better off taking their money, the money their employer would pay in on their behalf, tossing about one third of it into a well and stuffing the remaining portion into their mattress than allowing the government to take and administer these taxes on their behalf.

We can clearly see that even those programs which we spend our hard earned American treasure on which appear to help many people often merely encompass many people, not necessarily help them.

2. To Help the People Who Need Help the Most

This should again be a self evident goal- when we are confiscating wealth for the purpose of compassion, our compassion should be aimed at the people most in need of it.

But as already noted, most of our compassionate programs tend to aim towards the middle classes, rather than the truly poor.

Or consider Obamacare- when the ACA was passed it was sold as a measure to help the uninsured, and especially those with preexisting conditions. But instead of a narrowly focused, less costly measure which might have simply expanded medicaid to these people (and the majority of those insured under ACA who were not insured previously are either due to expanded Medicard or 26 & unders staying on parental insurance longer), they chose to pass a massive bill which tied the fate of these uninsured and uninsurable people into the the Insurance market as a whole- attempting to help MORE people with a broader scope brush, and failing in the end to help even the few that a narrow measure easily might have.

A program which is truly aimed at helping those most in need of help would be narrowly focused on such a goal.

3. To Give the Help Most Needed to the People We Help

The counter intuitiveness of many of our programs can be illustrated by their failing this simple dictate.

Take, for instance, the Medicare program- it has proven, over time, to be incredibly expensive and incredibly popular, but to have absolutely no net effect on the reduction of poverty (the basis on which it is sold).

Like so many of our incredibly expensive anti-poverty programs, Medicare might be replaced with more robust bankruptcy protections and have the same overall effect.

This is the ultimate crux of the problem with so many of our programs- money is being spent which is not helping the people it is touching in ways that are allowing them to remove themselves from the situations that required them to need help.

Many of our programs are very good at ensuring that the poor stay poor rather than sliding into being extraordinarily poor. They are good at very little else.

Until we can have an honest conversation, rating programs based not on gut level popularity, but on their intended effects and an honest, empirical grading of if they are meeting those effects we will never be able to truly conquer the societal problems which we face.

The Penalty is Death

Over the past three years since Michael Brown was shot by an officer in the line of duty leading to the formation of the organization “Black Lives Matter” and the hashtag #BLM, a constant refrain has been “So he should have been killed, JUST for doing THAT?”

What it is that was done does not seem to matter- the rhetoric is always the same. Did Michael Brown deserve to be killed for robbing a convenience store?

Did Alton Sterling deserve to be killed for selling bootleg CDs?

Did Eric Garner deserve to be killed for selling “loosie” cigarettes?

Did Freddie Grey deserve to be killed for possessing a switchblade?

Did Tamir Rice deserve to be killed for brandishing a toy gun?

The actual specifics of the case are after a sense, the details that matter are a police stop whether on foot or in a vehicle that is escalated by a threat, real or perceived, to the officer’s life or the lives of by standers, prompting the officers to discharge weapons and leaving the suspect dead.

I won’t discuss the specifics about any of the cases. Whether this or that individual law enforcement officer was right or wrong to discharge their weapon given the particulars of the circumstance again, does not matter in the grand scheme.

Of course each case should be treated individually, and the full effects of the law applied to the officers who are found to have committed misconduct, whether murder or manslaughter or simply negligent misconduct through the same process of innocent until proven guilty and punished as appropriate to the crimes which they are found to have committed.

Of course there are changes to Police force engagement rules that we can and should have discussions about.

But we need to also be very clear about the simple fact of what a law means.

The maximum penalty for breaking any law is death.

Any time we initiate a police to citizen interaction, death is a potential result. This potential exists regardless of what the law is, what the legal system imposed penalties are, what the police officer’s standing procedures and training tell them to do, how well we’ve trained the citizenry to respond to police interaction, we introduce a rick that the suspect will be killed.

So, if you are wondering what the potential penalties for a particular crime are- you might simply recall that no matter what google or a lawyer may tell you, death is a possibility.

The penalty for tax evasion? Death.

The penalty for any of the ridiculous statutes listed here? Death.

The penalty for a tail light violation? Death.

The penalty for dancing in the street? Death.

The stories could go on and on. On the scale of infinity, eventually it is inevitable than any law for which a person may be pulled over, or a warrant issued for arrest will result in a citizen (potentially innocent) being slain.

In light of the myriad of potential situations which can results in death after a police/citizen interaction goes wrong, what can we do to protect innocent lives?

One solution which is given far too little consideration during the discussion is to repeal the laws which are unnecessary, onerous, and potentially illegitimate laws.

We could reduce the deaths that occur for people who are selling loosey cigarettes by removing the law which prohibits selling loosey cigarettes.

We could reduce the deaths that occur at speeding stops and tail light stops by removing the power of police to pull cars over for such offenses.

We could reduce the deaths for the possession of switch blades (or fire arms) by removing laws which make possession of these items illegal.

We could reduce the deaths from tax evasion by ending taxation, which is theft.

Obviously, laws which prohibit brandishing of weapons, assault, attempted murder, and other such crimes with clear victims who require protection, but on many, many other laws which exist on the books, either enforced or unenforced about which we are not having any discussions on a national level.

In recent years there’s been a national push for the decriminalization or legalization of only three acts or products- gay marriage (which was settled with the Obergefall case), Marijuana (which exists in a quasi-legal state that is both unsustainable and unwise), and Illegal immigration (which is a political football, with arguments on all sides which are intentionally obtuse in order to drive voters through fear).

How many other laws exist which deserve to be challenged on either the Federal or the state levels?

How many of those could we derive a broad consensus on, since these are issues which people tend to care about less fervently since they are less tied to self identification and culture war?

I’d argue that if diligent conversation was had about the need to reduce laws on a broad, rather than narrow scope we might make some actual progress towards a less authoritarian state.

The Conservative Case Against Defunding Planned Parenthood

Talk of Congress defunding Planned Parenthood is in the air again, and this time, it may actually have some teeth since we now live under a unified Republican government for the first time since 2006.

The case for defunding planned Parenthood is simple to make- it is a despicable organization, founded for the purpose of forwarding eugenics era ideas of racial purity, which murders 300,000 babies per year.

The organization has also become a flashpoint for the Left/Right divide in our popular conversation, each side attacking or defending the organization as much out of reflex as principle by this point.

This is a fight in which both sides can only harden the hearts of their bases, and in which convincing anyone who supports Planned Parenthood or decries it that the Federal funding should stay or go contrary to their starting position is a simple impossibility. That Federal funds “can’t be used for abortions” is a ludicrous claim- can they be used to pay general operating expenses, thus allowing the funds that would otherwise have needed to defray those costs to go for abortions?

The “women’s healthcare” dodge is a spurious claim at best (PP is an abortion mill and both sides know this deep down) but conservatives will never convince Liberals who believe abortion is a good thing that essentially only providing abortions makes PP a bad organization. The fact that their other services- like cancer screenings, are simultaneously very costly and not very helpful won’t budge their thinking either.

Meanwhile, in the face of 300,000 slaughtered infants per year there is absolutely no argument in favor of Planned Parenthood that would sway a single conservative heart.

Which leads me to my case against defunding Planned Parenthood. I think, picking a fight where we once again trot out the many arguments on each side and retreat further into our respective fox holes is counterproductive, and even if we win- as we are likely to do in the short term on this, we will simply strengthen the opposition in the same way that the Obergefall case stiffened conservative opposition to the Left’s culture warriors.

Rather, if we begin with an argument built on a a question of what government itself should and should not do, we arrive at a conversation which will further the public debate, absent the triggering emotional baggage of a specific organization like Planned Parenthood.

Both the Left and the Right have a vested interest in fighting public corruption. When the conversation rests in the abstract, rather than in the case of a particular case, both your average moderate Democrat and moderate Republican can be convinced that, for instance, groups which are engaged in donating to politicians or political parties should not receive Federal government dollars in direct subsidy.

This case seems absurdly easy to make. Illustrating the concept, in general, that a group receiving government money who then donates part of that money to a politician or political party, who then votes to give that organization more taxpayer money is a corrupt practice which should be ended. A piece of legislation built in general language which barred companies from simultaneously receiving Federal funds and donating to political causes, pitched from a government reform standpoint and applied dispassionately to all organizations equally could gain a broad bipartisan support of the public (if remaining unpopular among status quo politicians.)

That it might, incidentally, defund Planned Parenthood (or force them to cease their donations to the Democratic party and Democrat politicians) is secondary to the broader goal. That it might reform other institutions who engage in de facto kickback schemes, regardless of their political affiliation, thus providing a far larger societal benefit than a simple defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Another, more useful, and potentially more bipartisan method to pursue is to simply cut off government subsidies altogether. Every segment of the political spectrum has a particular government subsidy they rail against- whether the Left and far Left against big oil, or the right against PP and green energy, or Libertarians against everything. Government subsidies are bad. Everyone understands this when they are railing against a government subsidy for something they don’t like. Similarly, everyone understands why their particular thing they like is just oh so important that even though government subsidies are bad, it’s ok, even necessary to use a government subsidy for this.

It’s needless to say, neither side would like to unilaterally disarm and leave the subsidies they don’t like in place, while eliminating those for programs they prefer.

So, why not attack the problem in the abstract again? A coordinated campaign to build public desire for a law which, for instance, eliminated the government’s ability to directly subsidize companies, non-profits, and other organizations- that is a law requiring that Federal funds only be given “in exchange for actual services rendered or goods delivered.”

I’ll be perfectly honest- I don’t have a problem with an organization like Planned Parenthood receiving the Medicare cost for a cancer screening covered by Medicare that they provide to a Medicare patient in exchange for doing a screening. I have a problem with the half a billion dollars they receive per annum that are not attached directly to a specific service they provide.

In the same way I have no problem with the government paying the energy company (whether fossil fuels or green energy) that supplies the electricity to a government building. I’d just like to cut off the subsidies paid to them directly (yes to both fossil fuels and green energy companies).

This is why, although I am against Planned Parenthood as an institution, and against it receiving Federal funding, I am not in favor of measures designed specifically to defund Planned Parenthood. If we change the conversation towards a true conservative value of reforming and shrinking government we can accomplish this, while providing far greater benefits to society by also removing other corrupt and costly programs.

Trump Capitulates to #BetterWay on Taxes

Speaking in Detroit, MI this week Donald Trump laid out his new and improved tax reform plan. In it he promises to “simplify the tax code” and to “reduce the tax brackets from 7 to 3, set at 12%, 25%, and 33%”. If this sounds a lot like Paul Ryan’s “A Better Way” tax plan, there’s a reason. Trump also said, “We will work with House Republicans on this plan.”

Actually, the plans he spoke of differed from the #BetterWay plan in only one aspect (Trump suggested 15% business tax rate, while Better Way calls for 25%). Both Trump and the white paper call for an end to corporate inversions, for incentives to repatriate funds, and of course Trump has essentially copied the personal income tax reforms from Better Way word for word.

While many of Trump’s earliest and loudest supporters may be crying into their coffee this morning, Trump’s utter capitulation to Paul Ryan here represents a massive step forward for his campaign. Why should we cheer Trump’s acceptance of Ryan’s vision?

Because first and foremost, it is a good plan. Regardless of who is elected President, the vast majority of the Better Way plan deserves implementation. That we have a candidate now willing to say so and embrace it wholesale represents a glimmer of hope for the national conversation around an otherwise, dreary, personality based campaign season.

The Better Way plan offers a bevy of ideas on taxation, with acknowledgements towards the broader goals of both sides—tax cuts and simplification for Republicans, and loophole closures for Democrats. The plan could easily be passed and signed either by a President Trump or a President Clinton if she decided to secure her legacy by governing as a moderate the way her husband eventually did rather than go down in the flames of hyper partisanship as her predecessor in the office has.

Democrats have repeatedly tried to characterize this plan as “tax cuts for the wealthy”. This represents them fundamentally misunderstanding the plan, most likely because those making these attacks have either never read the plan, or they simply do not understand the way taxes work because they enough to simply hand a stack of papers to a CPA and limply sign their names.

Of course, if they are smart enough and informed enough for understand and have read the plan and still characterize it in this fashion, then they are lying and reveal themselves as wicked men of low moral character spreading specious falsehoods. We can trust the main stream media not to be a partisan propaganda branch, right?

So what exactly does #BetterWay do for the American people? Until it is passed and signed into law, nothing, clearly. It exists right now in a “white paper” format- much the same as Obamacare before the election. A series of documents laying out the key issues with our current system, the key reforms, and the areas where committees will need to hammer out the details as it is drafted into law. In this case the plan relies on the Ways & Means committee to fill in the blanks.

But, even in this simplified form I understand that most won’t bother to read #BetterWay, so I will bring to you now the highlights of the “Trump” tax plan (which is really the Ryan tax plan, Ryan having cleverly “cucked” Trump to borrow Trump supporter’s own language- Trump opens his mouth, and Ryan’s tax plan spills out.)

So why should you care about and support the #BetterWay tax plan? Here are three reasons. . .

  1. #BetterWay doubles the standard deduction.Did you itemize on your taxes last year? I’m guessing unless you are a business owner or in a relatively high tax bracket the answer to this question is “no.” #BetterWay takes the current standard deduction (roughly 6,000 for singles and 12,000 for couples) and doubles it to 12,000 for singles, 18,000 for singles with dependents, and 24,000 for married couples. Would you like an extra 6,000 bucks? Sure, who wouldn’t? #BetterWay provides tax relief to low and lower middle incomes by giving them a larger chunk to deduct without having to expend money for this, that, the other and make sure you save the receipt or it’ll be Audit City up in here.

    For those of who that live the way I and many other millennials live, that is who grab the standard deduction then spend the year trying to minimize what would be deductible expenditures, considering the difference between what we spend and the 6,000 we get to claim question free found money, this is a massive tax cut. This also creates an incentive for better behavior—it rewards those who consume effectively and efficiently, rather than a perverse set of deductions that punishes savers, penny-pinchers, and down-sizers by paying their opposites for unnecessary consumption. Take another look at your taxes last year.

    Even if you itemized deductions, which assumes your deductions make up more than $6,000 they very well might not crack the new $12,000 deduction. So you itemized for $10,000 last year—this new deduction is still a tax break for you, albeit not as large a one as the person who did not itemize. Best of all, these new standard deductions will be indexed to inflation, meaning the value of these tax cuts will never degrade in the future.

  2. #BetterWay reduces deductions to make the code fairer and make the rich pay their fair share.So, we’ve doubled the standard deduction to cut taxes for the poor, but let’s cut out all those “loopholes” that the rich use to “not pay their fair share.” Yes, #BetterWay drops the top tax raw rates, but if you do choose to itemize deductions now, as an individual you get to deduct only two things—mortgage interest on your primary residence and charitable donations. Take a look at a politician’s tax return. Take Bernie Sanders’ return for instance. Keep in mind now, Sanders is in the top 1% of all earners. He is what he has spent his career railing against and he paid an effective tax rate of less than 13% on his over $200,000.

    The Sanders deducted these two things to the tune of roughly $33,000 dollars. (23K in mortgage interest and 10K in charitable donations). Now under #BetterWay the Sanders family could keep these two deductions, and still itemize to the tune of about $9,000 dollars past the new standard deduction of $24,000.

    But Bernie and Jill didn’t stop there on their itemization. They also claims $14,843 on real-estate taxes, $9,666 in state and local taxes, and $4,473 in “business expenses”. This adds up to total of $28,982 dollars which would be tax eligible under the new system.

    That’s right folks, #BetterWay raises taxes on the rich by eliminating thousands of dollars in loopholes that they can use that you just don’t make enough to take for your own advantage. This asks those making a few hundred thousand to a few million dollars a year to pay both their local, state, and Federal governments rather than letting them deduct the amount of their real-estate, local, and state taxes from their Federal income.

    This can help level the playing field by removing the backwards incentives for big suburban wealthy school districts to raise taxes, knowing that their constituents just deduct these on the backend and effectively rob Federal money to transfer it to wealthy school districts and municipalities.This plan asks millionaires and billionaires to pay for their own unreimbursed business expenses rather than to shift the bill onto the government.This plan, in its raw simplicity asks for the rich to pay their fair share.

    Yes, there are still deductions, and yes, the rich will still benefit from these simplified amounts more than the middle class. However, since they exist in such a narrow sphere this Federal subsidy for behavior exists only for things truly worthy of subsidizing.First, mortgage interest subsidizes home ownership, long considered an ideal for governmental policy. But, the #BetterWay plan would put more limits on this than currently exists (and this does currently exist, clearly). Under #BetterWay you could only deduct interest to certain limits, and only for a single familial residence.

    Yes, current loans are exempted/grandfathered in theory, but going forward the ultra-wealthy won’t be able to deduct interest on each of a dozen properties. Had we passed #BetterWay last year, Bernie Sanders would still be able to deduct the $23,000 he paid in interest on his existing two mansions, but not the interest on that new $600,000 mansion he just bought to serve as his third home. No, the limits to this deduction would direct as much of the benefits it provides to families with a single home commensurate to their ability to pay for that home. Which is what we really want anyways, right?

    The second surviving deduction is of course the charitable giving deduction. I think we can all agree that the millions of dollars that the rich give to causes ranging from cancer research, to community enrichment, to anti-poverty efforts are worthy of allowing a deduction? I mean, perhaps the money going to scam organizations like the Clinton Foundation shouldn’t be, but providing a subsidy for people who want to give heavily to the American Red Cross is probably ok, right? What’s the worst that this incentive causes? More generous rich people?

    No, #BetterWay removes many existing loopholes from the personal tax code, and leaves only those that are truly worth preserving in place.

  3. #BetterWay simplifies taxes to a form you can both understand and file yourself.Want your $300 bucks back from H&R Block? #BetterWay offers it to you, but bringing the tax filing process into a form that you can file yourself.

    I’ve filed my own taxes each of the last four years. I’ve used a variety of forms, typically the 1040. There is a 1040EZ” but I’ve never qualified to use that form because my (relatively simple) taxes were “too complex” to file on the EZ form.

    That would be why many, many people feel the need to pay a CPA or a big corporate institution like H&R Block to help. But #BetterWay offers hope! The new tax form is simpler than even today’s “EZ” form. Trust me when I say that the new form if you’ve read this far into my article, you can file your own taxes. There are only 14 lines and they tell you the math to do as you go.

    Wages, add half investment income, subtract savings plan contributions, subtract standard deduction OR subtract mortgage interest rate and subtract charitable contribution, taxable income, preliminary tax from table, subtract child credit, subtract earned income credit, subtract higher education credit, total tax, subtract taxes withheld, refund due / taxes owed.

    There you have it. 48 words, one table to reference for tax, two possibilities for deductions, three credits, and the subtraction to get your refund or liability. Figured exactly in order from top to bottom for every American.

    I’ve been incredibly critical of Donald Trump. Current trends don’t suggest he will win the election, and I still could not vote for him. He needed to start making these kind of speeches six months ago and acknowledging then that he’d let better, smarter men like Paul Ryan lead (hasn’t “I hire the best people” been a campaign theme all along?) Instead he has spent that time feuding with Ryan, feuding with John McCain, attacking Ted Cruz, attacking gold star families, retweeting Nazis, cozying up with the Ruskies, and a dozen other scandals and gaffes. I had this article half written when he decided to make his Hillary 2nd Amendment comments, so as Ben Shapiro would say we get some good Trump (accepting Paul Ryan’s #BetterWay) and we get a whole lot of bad.

    (This article was originally posted on 8/10/2016 on https://lovesthoughts.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/trump-capitulates-to-betterway-on-taxes/)