Monday, December 26, 2005

Flat-Out Necessary

When it comes to tax policy in America, the issue has become an extremely complex, intricate, and burdensome one to understand. The tax code contains volumes of provisions that few people comprehensively grasp. Moreover, tax policy is used to encourage certain types of behaviors over others through tax credits, exemptions, and penalties. Perhaps most importantly, the tax system is used in our country as a mechanism to redistribute wealth through progressively taxing income, coupled with an extensive welfare state that uses those taxes to provide social welfare programs for those in poverty.

Philosophically, my belief in limited government and protections against government intrusion lead me to condemn the use of government coercion through the tax code. As a rule, government intrusion is highly troubling. While this especially bothers me when the government coerces in a way that I disagree with, any coercion causes me distress. A great example for me would be with marriage - even though as a conservative I believe the government ought to protect the institution of marriage, it is precisely that the manipulation of the tax code that causes homosexual rights activists to call for marriage rights. If there was no economic benefit to marriage, perhaps there would be no debate here.

To answer the second question, as to whether the tax system ought to be progressive, I would like to devote the rest of this post to answering. Many people argue that the conservative, pragmatic view of taxes is in opposition to the liberal, idealistic view of tax policy. Quite simply, this is an unfair and wrong way to frame the debate. Both positions are based on ideals: alleviating poverty, affording equal opportunity, reducing unemployment, and gathering tax revenue for the government to provide important services (roads, defense, schools, etc.).

At this point, I'll advocate my position on taxes: the flat tax is flat-out necessary for the economic well-being of our country. In terms of effectiveness, many estimates have the flat tax creating roughly 5 trillion dollars in wealth in just a couple of years. The Laffer Curve is definitely not "voodoo economics." When countries drop their tax rates substantially, they collect more total tax revenue! If anyone is unfamiliar with the Laffer Curve, just post and I'll explain it more in a comment. Purely based on economic considerations, the flat tax is far superior than a progressive tax. Progressive taxes restrain entrepreneurship and the creation of wealth by creating systemic penalties for creating wealth. As taxes are higher on those that run businesses, they can't hire as many workers, and unemployment goes up.

Need evidence? Look at how America is quickly beginning to lose our global advantage economically. As globalization takes hold of the international economic scene, investing will flow to economies that have unburdensome taxes and vibrant economies. A couple examples: Ireland has slashed its corporate taxes from over 50 percent to 12.5 percent, unemployment has gone from double digits to 5 percent (less than American unemployment). Russia has gone to a 13 percent flat tax, and their economy immediately began to turn around and grow. Romania, Georgia, and Poland have all adopted flat taxes and seen immediate results.

A flat tax upholds all of the ideals that I mentioned earlier. The primary mechanism for alleviating poverty is to reduce unemployment. The redistribution of wealth over the last half-century has proven to be a colossal failure at alleviating poverty (2.2 percent increase in poverty, and we've spent billions of dollars in the process). It is time to realize that economic freedom and prosperity, through low, uncomplicated taxes is the best way to go.

So, let's adopt a flat tax of roughly 17-20 percent. A consumption based tax that taxes income just once will promote saving and investing. Overall tax revenues will increase as wealth is created. What we have now, our taxes will continue to go up, because raising taxes causes a stagnation in tax revenues, and law makers will always increase taxes to find money for new programs. As they raise taxes, overall tax revenue will not increase, and thus the spiral toward European socialistic tax practices begins. Let's avoid this, and go with a flat tax.

In discussion, I'd love to express why I'm for a flat tax instead of a fair tax (sales tax).

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Finals Week

I'm only writing this post to apologize for not posting anything lately. It is finals week at school, and I have not been able to find the time to write anything of worth.

When finals week is over, I'd like to wrestle with some of the following topics:

1. Christian Kantianism
2. NFL Playoffs Preview and Predictions
3. Contraceptives (their effect on society and ethicality)
4. Courting vs. Dating
5. The Perfect Presidential Candidate in 2008
6. The Flat Tax (vs. Fair Tax vs. what was have now)

If you particularly like one of these or a few of these, let me know, and I'll do those ones first.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

24 Is the Best Show Ever

The past few months, my eyes have been opened to perhaps the greatest television show of all time: 24. Though I have never seen it on television, my friends and I have been watching the DVD's all fall, and I have now watched all of Seasons 1, 2, and 3. Please keep in consideration that I have not yet viewed Season 4, so in any of your comments do not give away anything that happened if you have seen it. In this post, I'd like to talk to you about my favorite storylines and characters, and ultimately the larger cultural commentary that the show provides.

First, let me explain the basic premise of the show. Each season is comprised of twenty-four, one-hour episodes, comprising a one-day period in which the show occurs in real time. Thus, every season functions as the equivalent of an 18 hour movie (if you take out the commercials) when watched back-to-back (like I have). The main character, Jack Bauer, works for a fictitious "Counter Terrorism Unit - Los Angeles" which is a federal law enforcement agency with regional offices, such as Bauer's in LA. Each season deals with a single terrorist threat, which have ranged from an assassination attempt of the President, a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles, and the release of a deadly virus.

On to storylines. I'll try not to give anything away here, so I'll speak somewhat generally. I love the fact that in every season, main characters die. Their work is dangerous, and the show would be incredibly unrealistic if they were constantly getting into gun fights, being held hostage, etc., and nobody ever died. Also, not to sound incredibly sadistic, but I think it is sweet that the terrorists are often mildly successful. In both season two and season three, the terrorists are able to blow up a federal building, release a deadly virus in a busy building (killing over a thousand people), and twist the arm of even the President himself. I think this is cool, because it makes the urgency of what the good guys are doing that much greater, because their failures lead to the deaths of at least thousands, and possibly millions. Another recurring storyline that I love is that characters are constantly "switching sides." Again, without giving anything away, every season includes characters who you think are good, being revealed as evil, and characters that you think are evil being revealed as good. As you watch, you never know who to trust, and that makes it that much sweeter.

As for characters, everybody has to love Jack Bauer. First, I have a theory that his name is symbolic of the "right bower" in Euchre. For those of you that don't play Euchre, the Jack of the trump suit is the strongest card, and trumps everything else, and it is called the right bower. Just a thought. But Jack is pretty much the sweetest guy ever. He's formerly special forces, and he is the toughest guy alive. He is able to torture bad guys with no remorse, yet he somehow is incredibly compassionate and caring. He is constantly willing to sacrifice his own life to save others, yet is so good that he always saves his own life as well. Let's be honest, every girl wants Jack, and every guy wants to be Jack. But Jack isn't my favorite character that has appeared on the show. This might give something away, but an IT guy, named Gael, from the third season, is my favorite character, because for most of the season, I totally misjudged him. Without going into detail, while you think he is the most evil guy ever, he ends up being a totally sweet guy. The last dialogue that he is a part of before he dies goes something like this:

(Gael is dying from a horrible disease that eats away at his body. Michelle pulls out her gun and places it on the table...)
Michelle: Nobody could fault you for ending your suffering, in this life.... or the next.

(Gael puts his hand on the gun...)
Gael: Are you so sure about that?
(...and he slides it back across the table)

So, there's so much to talk about with characters and storylines, but I've tried my best to not give anything away, because you guys should all rent this show and watch it, all of it. It is amazing. The show has brought up some cultural commentary however, that I will only pose as questions for now:

1. Are mild forms of torture useful in stopping terrorism? Morally justifiable? (The show seems to answer yes and yes.) (A bigger question might be whether it is strategically counterproductive)

2. How should we deal with terrorists when a threat is imminent? We say we will not negotiate with terrorists, but that position is difficult when there is a nuclear bomb set to go off and kill millions.

3. Can the President really pardon a terrorist in order to stop other terrorists?

4. CTU Agents are always conveniently disregarding privacy laws, and they always seem to have access to private phone numbers, email accounts, etc. Are we ok with this? Is it realistic even?

Please comment with praise of 24, answers to these societal questions, and additional comments about the show.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Public Schools Should Work Like the NFL

Over the years I have developed what I believe to be a unique theory about how public schools should run, and interestingly enough it has much to do with my passion for football. In my previous post, I mentioned how I would love to do away with public school altogether, but I understand that this is unrealistic and will never happen. Instead, I have developed a theory as to how we can make a flawed system better.

In the National Football League, in the name of competitive parity, there is a salary cap for every team, and there is revenue sharing, so that teams which bring in more fans and sell more merchandise end up giving a lot of money to teams that do not do as well. Sounds communistic right? Well, it is, but the NFL is a single product, not 32 competing economic entities. Similarly, public schools are really part of a single product (public education), but compete with each other for government resources, teachers, and achievement levels. What then can public schools learn from the NFL? The free-agency system.

The tenure system is stupid. You get paid more not because you are a better teacher, but because you have been there longer. I would go on and on about why this is stupid, but I can't imagine anyone saying that the tenure system is a good one. But nobody else is proposing a new system... but I dare to go there today.

A free-agency system would work superbly. The state would give schools a salary cap (which would keep local taxes down), and there is already a built in revenue sharing since the tax revenue from all of the districts is regulated by the state government. At this point, schools could sign teachers to contracts of varying lengths and amounts, all while fitting under the salary cap. It would be the district's job (probably the Superintendent/Principal) to come up with the right mix of teachers to fit under the alloted salary cap. This artificial market-based approach would reward teachers based on their qualifications, experience, and potential as well. Thus, a Harvard educated teacher would get paid like a 1st round draft pick, just as a proven, experienced teacher would get paid like an established NFL veteran.

I think that this system is appealing to everyone. Why wouldn't teachers want to be able to switch schools freely if they get a better offer? Why wouldn't teachers like the idea of being able to renegotiate their contract every few years? Why wouldn't schools like the accountability of teachers needing to perform to earn their money?

Clearly, one drawback is an over-emphasis on achievement scores. But, a good principal would be constantly observing teachers, seeking student input, and so on to get a good understanding of who the best teachers are and who are not.

In my system, the kids win. Almost as much as if all school was privatized...