Friday, December 28, 2012
The Left-Wing Conservative- Leap Off The Fiscal Cliff!
I'm certainly not the first to observe that the so-called "Fiscal Cliff" is a false crisis, an artificial cage match set up between the GOP and the Democrats over a year ago to see who would blink first over taxing and spending.
As far as I can tell, going over the cliff means about 88% of taxpayers will see an increase in taxes, and about 8 to 9 % of the federal budget will be cut over the next decade.
And I'm not the first to notice that we are all are essentially pissed off about the same thing: the creeping feeling that, in our national politics, we are becoming less of a representative democracy, and more of a Third World banana republic, where imperious centralized elites (of the Big Government and/or the Big Business variety, depending who you ask) are intent on chipping away at our rights and our wallets.
So maybe we all need to stop paying admission to the cage match, join hands, and jump off the fiscal cliff together.
Experience, they say, is the best teacher. Maybe having to confront taxes and spending cuts will clarify our, and our representatives' thinking.
For reference, let's take a quick look at the US Constitution.
The US Constitution is not holy writ sent down from a fiery mountaintop.
The US Constitution is a treaty among several different independent states (In fact, it was typical in the Founders time for folks like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams to refer to Virginia and Massachusetts, respective, as their "country"). Each state agrees to give up some of their own sovereign powers to a central federal government for roughly three general purposes:
1. Common national defense and security
2. Remove trade barriers among the states, and set some national standards, to create a national market for goods and services.
3. Establish a national baseline of individual civil rights for US citizens by guaranteeing equal protection of the law (people get treated the same under the law regardless of race, religion, national origin, etc) and due process of law (the government cannot deprive you of your life, liberty, or property unless they give you notice, a hearing, right to counsel, etc. Also, it considers whether there are some areas of our lives that the government cannot interfere with, regardless of notice, a hearing, right to counsel, etc.)
Beyond these three general purposes, it was expected that public health, morality, and welfare would be taken care of by the individual states, the theory being that these standards vary based on culture, geography, and region, and therefore the states are in a better position to pass laws on these topics.
I'm sure we could argue about the details of the above three principles. In fact, I think we are supposed to -- these were all left very broadly cast, and our forefather's assumption was that citizens would be competent to use free speech, reason, and debate to sort out the details on how to fulfill these goals.
However, I think we have been laboring mightily against the reality that, aside from these common principles of mutual benefit, we really are, in many ways, still a collection of different countries, each with its own culture, priorities, and morals. This diversity is, overall, a good thing, I think. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously referred to each state being a "laboratory of democracy", in which various ways of living can be explored.
I have lived in New Jersey almost my entire life, and while I have not traveled extensively, when I do and I am asked where I am from, my first thought is "New Jersey". And plenty of other people feel the same way about their own state.
Also, maybe it is time to think about whether being fiscally yoked to every other state, beyond the three purposes of national defense, a national market, or civil rights, makes sense.
Anthony Bourdain, the travel and food writer, speaks often of how his experiences in various countries have opened his mind and broken him of his Manhattanite superiority complex toward his fellow Americans. Now, when he visits places and meets folks in the US that he used to dismiss as "hicks" in "flyover country", he says he now views them as he would citizens of a foreign country, and now sees the richness and complexity of their culture, even if he would not want to live in that culture.
So let's appreciate the richness and complexity of other viewpoints. If states want to pass laws I don't agree with regarding same sex marriage, abortion, contraception, medical marijuana, unions, creationism versus evolution, and sex education, while I don't have to like it, perhaps I can view it as another "laboratory of democracy" working through a few experiments....
And perhaps the massive centralization of taxing and spending with the Federal Government is a place to start.
As a citizen of New Jersey, I am fortunate to live in, like California and New York, an affluent state. However, by most estimates New Jersey also has the worst return on investment on tax dollars (about 62 cents on the dollar) sent to the Feds v. Federal largess returned to New Jersey.
I note that the states that have the culture, values and morals that I most disagree with, seem to have the best return, upwards of $1.50 back to their state for every federal tax dollar they pay.
I can't help but suspect that some of the troubles these states have requiring more federal dollars are a result of many of that state's policy choices, and are not directly tied to national defense, a national market, or civil rights.
Perhaps, instead of financing other states' bad policy choices via federal taxes, states like New Jersey could provide loans directly to these states. Even with the low, low interest rates prevailing, we could certainly make back a few percentage points, a "vig" if you will.
And if any of the borrowers welch, New Jersey has many, many folks with experience in aggressive "debt collection".
Note-This is based on an earlier 2012 post "Thoughts on Politics".