2009 June 25

     I find a mix of ideas floating around various political fora, some smart, some stupid, some relevant, and many having nothing to do with anything that belongs in the political arena. There are some very good ideas for society that aren't good for our economic and political system. They should be realized in other ways.

     Here is my idea of the best constitutional amendment, or collection of amendments, that would codify many of the ideas that I think belong in our country's political framework.

     A. The seventeenth amendment of this constitution is hearby repealed. Furthermore, no government agency within the United States shall tax income or profit. Let's get rid of income taxes once and for all. They were passed because we needed a quick way to fund the World War against Germany in 1917, that war ended in 1918, and the tax is still with us. The idea here is that income and profit reflect productivity, which is a good thing that we don't want to penalize. If we decide that rich people are fat pigs who should pay more, then have them pay to consume rather than to produce. Shame on anybody whose jealousy is so extreme as to favor a tax on rich people anyway. Either somebody worked for their wealth or it was stolen and we have laws to deal with theft.

     B. Government agencies may have a constant-amount tax on any individual who can vote in their communities. Those who are wards of the state, convicts, or welfare recipients, shall not have the right to vote nor shall they pay this tax. This is not a poll tax, rather this is the one-and-only tax authorized by the founding fathers of the United States for good reason. They said equal tax and equal vote. When the tax became unequal, the vote should have followed to some degree.

     C. In addition to the constant-amount tax in (B), the federal government of the United States may levy a value-added tax (VAT) on consumable or durable goods up to twenty percent (20%) of the value added at sale. The tax may vary from one general area to another but may not vary among individual products in one area. Consumption is the key here, you don't pay until you have or use consumable or durable goods. The production-dampening effect of taxes on productivity, income and profits taxes, is huge while a sales tax makes every savings account tax-deferred to motivate people to invest rather than to spend. The VAT has the advantage that there aren't pre-tax and post-tax universes that have to be patrolled by tax enforcers. The idea of the last part is that you can tax cigarettes more than supermarket vegetables but not Kools more than Winstons, so individual brands cannot be targeted as political favors.

     D. In addition to the constant-amount tax in (B), and instead of the sales tax in (C), the federal government of the United States may levy environmental taxes applied universally upon emission or consumption or commitment to emit or consume the resource or emission. This means the government can give up the sales/VAT tax and have a carbon tax and other environmental taxes instead. The catch is that it must be universal, so the airlines and railroads don't get a break on a carbon tax. The last clause about "commitment" allows the government to tax gasoline and jet fuel at the time it goes into a fuel tank rather than waiting until it is actually burned. While man-caused global warming may be a myth a carbon tax would have all kinds of environmental and political benefits including developing genuine alternatives (like nuclear) and paying for all the military effort it takes to ensure a supply of oil for gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles (SUVs). We could also have a tax on nuclear waste until we figure out what to do with it. These may be stupid taxes, but they may motivate people in non-stupid ways. They can't have their cake and eat it too, no environmental taxes on top of a sales tax.

     E. No government agency may profit directly or indirectly from law enforcement fines or penalties. This keeps the local cops from giving tickets to collect the fines, but it may also keep bigger agencies from profiting from arbitrary fees and penalties in legislation. If the police believe in traffic safety, then they can give the fines to other communities not under their control.

     F. Government agencies that provide services associated with property may tax said property to pay for those services. No other property taxes may be collected by any government agency. The local communities that provide police to protect my home may reasonably collect a tax for the police. While home value may be a reasonable measure of value received, road frontage may be a better indicator. Since schools are associated with children of proper age rather than property, this would put an end to paying for schools with property tax.

     G. User fees may be collected for government services where competition is allowed and unrestricted. Government monopolies at all levels may not charge fees but must be paid for out of the taxes above. The post office can charge for stamps if they let other companies carry the mail. National parks can charge admissions fees so long as other, private agencies can open parks and charge admission. Roads can have tolls only if they allow private companies to open toll roads with the same eminent-domain privileges. The tolls for bridges and tunnels in the New York bight are silly without a time-of-day feature to discourage use during rush hour and maybe the government should sell the bridges to private companies to run them if they're going to charge money to use them. The same goes for the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway.

     H. Fuel taxes may be levied for air, ground, and marine transportation if the taxes go entirely to supporting these communities of interest and no segment of the population pays more than its initial share. Private service providers shall receive their fair share of these funds for comparable services. Road maintenance through fuel taxes is so much simpler and more practical than figuring out a way to pay as you go for vehicle weight and bigger vehicles that do more damage use more fuel anyway. Airlines and general aviation pay fuel taxes that support the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) services. The initial-share issue is to make sure one segment of the user population doesn't get stuck with a bill for more than it would cost if they were the only users. Figure out what it would cost to provide all the services the airlines need all by themselves without general aviation (us little airplanes) and that would set a ceiling on their tax. Similarly, general aviation shouldn't be paying for the huge runways and elaborate air traffic systems that the airlines need to manage their huge airplanes in their hub airports.

     I. All government agencies must balance their budgets. Besides the obvious bad karma around spending more tax revenue, people think they're getting something for free, the long term effect of government deficits is devaluation of government financial "instruments." Do you think anybody in Washington today would give me an ounce of gold for my $20 bill in the expectation that all government debt will be repaid to the point where a one-ounce $20 gold piece will be worth twenty dollars? It's bad for morale when government gets away with deficit spending.

     J. No government agency may prohibit, require, encourage by funding, or discourage by tax or fees
J-1. Health care choices including reproductive choices which shall be left to an individual and spouse.
J-2. Areas of scientific research.
J-3. Sexual orientation and marriage choices.
J-4. School and education choices.
J-5. Racial, ethnic, sex, and sexual-orientation choices in employment and commerce.
Government agencies may provide advisory services and may use public funding to provide those services.
Here we go, no laws against abortion but no funding for it, either. In fact, no government health care, period. The tax advantage of employer-provided health care went away with the income tax, so individuals are free to manage their own choices. No laws against stem cell research but, again, no funding either. People who piss and moan about gay marriage have too much time on their hands and should do something useful with it rather than hassle people who want to marry the same sex. School choices are up to the parents, not the government, and funding public schools compels the government to fund alternative private choices. Finally, no more affirmative-action or other government-racial-quota programs, but an employer may choose whom he or she wishes to hire and a business may choose whom it wants as customers. You may not like it, but you can feel smug that businesses do a lot better when they don't discriminate. The last clause about "advisory services" means they can have a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to tell us which drugs they think are safe enough, maybe put green dots on the good drugs and red dots on the untested stuff, but they can't keep us from taking experimental medication if a doctor thinks it's a good idea.

     K. Privacy is an important goal in government policy at all levels. Legislation allowing invasion of personal privacy shall pass a burden-of-proof test that non-invasive law cannot achieve the same goal. There are all kinds of nasty things government does, so I'll pick an example, drunk driving laws. We have laws against weaving out of lane, not using signals, and otherwise driving recklessly. If the anti-drunk-driving advocates can prove their case in a reasonable, scientific, statistical forum that equally weaving, non-signaling, reckless drivers differ in safety depending on intoxication, then I'm all in favor of laws specifically against drinking. Otherwise, enforce the non-invasive laws properly and don't require breath tests which are invasive.

     L. Separation of State and Economy: Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade. This "eleventh amendment" in the Bill of Rights is from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and I have nothing to add to say it better. (I added this and the following on 2009 December 15.)

     There are other suggestions I've seen for constitutional revision. The fundamental problem is that people don't really understand what our constitution is trying to do. In the absense of that compass, nothing is going to fix the problems we currently face.

     I'd like to take a look at this issue for a moment. The purpose of law (including the Consitution of the United States) is to create a set of rules, like rules of a game, that we can follow to get the kind of society we want to have. We agree that killing is wrong so we have laws against murder. There are exceptions, so we put them in the law. Good law briefly, completely, and correctly defines rules of the game that we can all follow to our best advantage so we all win, so we get the kind of society we all agree we want to have. In the case of murder, if we all obey the laws about murder, then we have a murder-free, safe society except when killing is appropriate (like self defense).

     This only works, however, when there's a clear compass of what is right. If almost all agree stealing is wrong, then we can have good law against theft. If 52% decide that stealing is okay, at least for the 52% doing the stealing, then we get bad law with lots of loopholes. Only if we decide that government should not be a vehicle for 52% to steal from the other 48% can any system of constitutional law protect us from the evil America has been drawn to in the past century.

     These suggestions above are rules that can help us remember what kind of society we created in America and the freedom it represented.



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