Things I'd like to see in the US government

Since the election, a lot of people have been talking about what they don’t like. I think it might be important to also talk about what we would like. Having such a list can help us focus on specific actions to increase the chances the future we would like comes about as soon as possible. What follows is a current list of things that seem like good ideas to me.

Address the Big Challenges

  1. The earth is warming and carbon is the cause. We need to address this serious problem. I am an optimist on climate, but we must act. I don’t think it will hurt he economy to solve the climate problem, but inaction could be catastrophic. Basic prudence, even if you are a skeptic (which almost no one with training in climate is) should motivate action. I’d like to see a revenue neutral carbon tax (which might offset lowering or eliminating corporate taxes or income taxes).
  2. Automation poses a serious risk to the job market in our lifetimes. We need to investigate solutions to deal with this. Some say basic income is a solution, but that seems radical to me at this stage. At least we should be investing big in education and retraining programs to get more people to jobs that are more difficult to automate. We should specifically forecast which jobs are most and least at risk and provide assistance to get training needed to move fields.
  3. We need to have treaties on cyberwarfare and the government needs to move to a model of securing American businesses and infrastructure rather than hoarding vulnerabilities to attack others. For an excellent documentary on these issues see Zero Days.
  4. The insurance model for health care is failing. Insurance is about hedging risk. 100 years ago, predicting health care cost for an individual was intractable and insurance probably worked. Going forward, advancements in health care and machine learning mean that costs for an individual will be much more predictable (hello pre-existing conditions!) and highly variable between individuals. We should not amplify the lottery of birth with an individual’s responsible for paying very uneven insurance premiums. What to replace this model with is unclear, but employer based insurance is not holding up. We need bi-partisan and on-going experimentation. It seems to me ACA was a step forward (e.g. protections against discriminating for pre-existing conditions), but too many have high deductibles which leave them only covered for disasters.

Constitutional issues

  1. An amendment to clarify human rights. Currently we overly rely on the courts to interpret rights. Something like the E.R.A. But also explicitly addressing LGBTQ rights.
  2. Remove the electoral college. The president represents all the people. States rights are protected by congressional representation allocations. Presidents should be elected with a uniform federally administered popular election.
  3. An amendment to the 2nd amendment. The 2nd amendment is unclear (what does a militia have, if anything to do with the right), and weapons have changed dramatically since it was written (biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, fully automatic assault rifles). We should stop punting this to the courts and hash out what should and should not be legal.

Voting issues

  1. We should make it as easy as possible to get and stay registered to vote. Requiring an automatic registration when getting a state ID or driver’s license, for instance. We could consider a tax incentive to vote (if you vote, you automatically get a tax credit on federal taxes). We may decide it is time to have a US citizen ID, such that presenting it on the day of voting is enough. We have a patchwork now (passports, social security cards, birth certificates), it may be time to simplify things.
  2. We should work to weaken political parties. I’d love to see all elections be non-partisan with an open primary, followed by a general election of the top two vote getters, or instant run-off voting.
  3. Voting districts should be drawn in a non-partisan way according to clear criteria.

Policing issues

  1. We need to demilitarize our police forces. Militaries attack enemies, police serve and protect the citizenry. We must not confuse these roles. I am a big fan of safety and law and order, but we can’t let that blind us to the reality that even some police are criminals. We have to investigate rigorously when policing results in death especially when the dead were unarmed, and we have to be unafraid of punishing criminals on our police forces.
  2. We have to end civil forfeiture which incentivizes police forces to unjustly take property from those they are sworn to serve. Police need budgets, but those budgets should be provided by governments.

Tax issues

We don’t have a lot of fairness in the tax code. The very wealthy usually pay very low tax rates (see Warren Buffet’s challenge on this). Additionally filing taxes is one of the main interactions with the federal government and for many it is very painful and costly. This can be improved.

  1. Make the tax code simple enough that filing is not required. IRS should send a statement and a check or bill for 90% of tax payers. The statement should include a break down of where your money is going. How do we get there?
  2. I don’t believe in corporate personhood. as part of a compromise to roll that back, I support moving corporate income tax to zero on the principle that we only tax person’s income. To offset we would raise other taxes.
  3. Institute the principle of preferring to tax things we want less of vs things we want more of.
  4. Rebuild the tax code around simple ideas: consumption tax, flat income tax, carbon tax, property/wealth tax, and basic income. Have a consumption tax on non-essentials (exclude food, housing, clothing). Have a flat-tax (say 20% of income above the poverty line, ideally merging capital gains/losses/dividends all into the same rate). Have a carbon tax on businesses (but no income tax). A federal property/wealth tax discourages aristocratic dynasties, which exacerbate the lottery of birth and works against the American ideal of all are created equal. I would trade the estate tax for an annual tax on value of personal property of say 0.5% after say 1 million dollars. This is on par with what many pay in wealth management fees, but could bring significant tax revenues and shift burdens away from the poor and middle class. Since taxes are only negative, we can compensate some of the punishing effects of taxation with a basic income. Potentially, automation and cheap energy (solar, wind, fission, fusion) could decrease the cost of goods such that a basic income might actually replace other social programs.

In the next four years, rather than only venting about government actions with which I disagree, I hope I work towards concrete changes to realize some of these views.