Monday, November 10, 2014

Are you listening, Mr Boehner?

Americans have entrusted Republicans with control of both the House and Senate. We are humbled by this opportunity to help struggling middle-class Americans who are clearly frustrated by an increasing lack of opportunity, the stagnation of wages, and a government that seems incapable of performing even basic tasks. — John Boehner and Mitch McConnell

Speaker of the House John Boehner and current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell often state the importance of listening to the American people. When they emphasize the importance of listening, I am assuming they are stressing the importance of carefully considering all the many points of view expressed by Americans, and not only the opinions of those who make substantial contributions to the triumphant political party and those who can be counted on to vote for candidates who have been captured in the gravitational field of Messrs. Boehner and McConnell. Taking them at their word that they listen to American people, I am taking the liberty of writing this as an American person. I shall express my perspective on the state of our nation by offering a commentary to an opinion piece published in the November 5, 2014 Wall Street Journal by Mr. Boehner (R., Ohio) and Mr. McConnell (R., Kentucky).

Looking ahead to the next Congress, we will honor the voters’ trust by focusing, first, on jobs and the economy. Among other things, that means a renewed effort to debate and vote on the many bills that passed the Republican-led House in recent years with bipartisan support, but were never even brought to a vote by the Democratic Senate majority. It also means renewing our commitment to repeal ObamaCare, which is hurting the job market along with Americans’ health care.

First, it may be worth taking into consideration that many Americans find other issues every bit as pressing as the economy, especially given that when politicians talk about the economy, they are nearly always talking about that aspect of the economy that is measured in returns for investors in the stock market. A broader view of the economy also takes into account the level of wages for people who must sell their labor to make a living, the kinds of employment benefits available to workers, and the environmental sustainability of producing goods and services. It is disappointing, therefore, to see Messrs. Boehner and McConnell draw attention to their commitment to repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (which they choose to call ObamaCare). This is a matter on which the American people do not speak univocally. Many have been able to afford health insurance for the first time in their lives, thanks to that Act; those people may like to see the Act strengthened in various ways rather than repealed. Not everyone is in favor of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and those who are not contented with it are troubled by it for very different reasons. Some of us were hoping for a single-payer government-managed health insurance plan similar to what the citizens of Quebec enjoy; others would prefer to take their chances on remaining uninsured. Surely, when American opinion is so diversified, a more cautious promise to the American people would be to examine the PPACA carefully, rather than to repeal it altogether.

Secondly, it is worth mentioning that there were many factors involved in the undeniable dysfunction of the Senate. No small factor in the paralysis of the Congress was the tactic, repeatedly used by Republicans, of using filibuster to make debate impossible. The lack of a cooperative spirit in the Congress has by no means been one-sided. It takes at least two parties to participate in the condition commonly called gridlock. A common perception among American people of all political persuasions is that hardly anyone in the Congress is willing to put partisanship and ideological posturing aside. It is fundamentally dishonest for anyone in Congress to lay all the blame on those who sit on the opposite side of the aisle from themselves. It is the childish name-calling and sloganeering that many of the American people find distasteful about Congress. It is encouraging to hear a promise to remedy that infantile behavior, but the promise is unlikely to be fulfilled if all the newly empowered members of Congress can say are such things as “For years, the House did its job and produced a steady stream of bills that would remove barriers to job creation and lower energy costs for families. Many passed with bipartisan support—only to gather dust in a Democratic-controlled Senate that kept them from ever reaching the president’s desk.” The American people deserve better political analysis than that sort of one-sided finger-pointing.

We’ll also consider legislation to help protect and expand America’s emerging energy boom and to support innovative charter schools around the country.These bills include measures authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which will mean lower energy costs for families and more jobs for American workers…

Given that estimates for the number of permanent jobs that the Keystone XL pipeline will create vary between 35 and 50, it may be worth giving priority to developing solar and wind power. The pipeline is designed to transport crude from the oil sands of Canada, an operation that has had devastating consequences for the environment in Canada. Moreover, importing fossil fuels only encourages continuing their use at a time when climate scientists around the world are warning that irreversible damage is likely to ensue if alternatives to fossil fuels are not developed around the word immediately. The continued use of coal, natural gas and petroleum for energy production may have very short-term advantages, but their use is an example of ways in which the current generation is living at the expense of our children and grandchildren and further generations to come. The Republican caucus has repeatedly shown sensitivity to the moral bankruptcy involved in this generation’s prospering at the expense of generations to come; the call for a review of entitlement programs demonstrates Republican concern for generations to come. While a review of entitlements is indeed overdue and will no doubt require making difficult and unpopular decisions, it is to be hoped that concern for the future will not be limited to that issue but will also include environmental issues.

More good ideas aimed at helping the American middle class will follow. And as we work to persuade others of their merit, we won’t repeat the mistakes made when a different majority ran Congress in the first years of Barack Obama’s presidency, attempting to reshape large chunks of the nation’s economy with massive bills that few Americans have read and fewer understand.

Helping the American middle class is an excellent idea. During recent decades, wealth and opportunities have been diminishing for the middle class, and even more so for those at the bottom of the economic ladder, while the wealthiest have been prospering at unprecedented levels. The playing field of the American dream has been dramatically tilted in favor of the millionaires and billionaires, and everyone else is suffering. Changing that situation is urgently required. It is encouraging to know that the new Congress will make reform of the plutocratic system that has evolved in America since the Reagan years a priority.

Also encouraging is the promise—if it is kept—to design shorter bills that deal with only one issue and that Members of Congress can read and understand (for it is far more important for the lawmakers to be able to read and understand bills than it is for the general public). The practice of attaching irrelevant amendments and earmarks to bills as a tactic may be politically advantageous in the short term, but the long-term economic and political consequences can be catastrophic. The time for refraining from such practices and returning to more streamlined, straightforward and honest legislation is long overdue.

Messrs. Boehner and McConnell list several other priorities, some of which deserve careful consideration.

  • The insanely complex tax code that is driving American jobs overseas;

Presidential candidates have been promising since at least the mid-1970s to simplify the tax code. Attempts to do so have been constantly thwarted, largely by successful lobbying campaigns aimed at preserving provisions that individuals and corporations with vested interests find to their advantage. One can only wish the newly elected Congress luck in reducing the insane complexity of the code. It may also be worth exploring what other factors are driving international corporations to base their operations overseas rather than in America. Laying all the blame on the current tax code smacks of oversimplification.

Simplifying the tax code may be one of those tasks best accomplished not by trying to please the American people but by laying aside ideology and working in a bipartisan way. What is needed is for the Congress to figure out what is necessary and what is possible, to draft legislation and then, with the help of the Executive branch of government, to explain the solution to the American people and explain why the solution reached is to everyone’s long-term advantage.

  • Health costs that continue to rise under a hopelessly flawed law that Americans have never supported;

Health costs are bound to rise in a for-profit system. Opportunistic pharmaceutical companies, manufacturers of medical appliances, clinics and other healthcare providers have learned that people who are desperately in need of care are willing to pay handsomely to have their health restored. Rather than viewing healthcare as a potentially profitable business, it is time to view it as it is viewed in most other industrialized nations—a government-provided service that should be universally available to all legal residents of a country.

It is false to say without qualification that Americans have never supported the current law known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Many Americans did, and still do, support it. Many of those who did not support it were disappointed that it did not include a single-payer option. Public opinion on this matter has been truly divided, and that must be acknowledged if any progress is to be made. Simply claiming that Americans are united in their opposition to the current law is a misrepresentation of the facts and does not manifest the kind of bipartisanship and integrity that everyone hopes will characterize the newly elected Congress.

  • A savage global terrorist threat that seeks to wage war on every American;

This is an issue that must be examined honestly and in some depth. It must be asked why some people are so displeased with America that they are prepared to visit violence on Americans and on people from countries that cooperate with America. Simply characterizing other people as savage is not a good beginning at finding a way to bring their anger to an end.

The United States of America is the largest military presence on the planet, and the leaders of the United States have not always used military power well. US military operations in foreign countries have not always been altruistic, and have not always been welcome. It is not at all surprising that the US is perceived as a colonial power and as a bully. Our collective response to threats has nearly always been to use force, and the constant use of force is a significant factor in alienating people in other countries. It is not that the United States has enemies so much as that the United States has policies that turn friends into enemies. Bringing an end to the global terrorist threat can only begin by honest and careful reflection on what kinds of policies have turned other people hostile and made them resort to measures that terrify us. No enemy can ever be pacified until we have collectively made an attempt to understood what we have done to make them hostile towards us.

  • An education system that denies choice to parents and denies a good education to too many children;

This is so vague as to be nearly meaningless. While it always seems pleasant and benign to offer people choices, it must be asked what kinds of choices are being talked about here. Are we talking about giving people a choice to have their children taught in Spanish or Arabic instead of English? Are we talking about giving people a choice to have their children taught a particular religious mythology instead of the findings of science? Are we talking about giving parents the option to have their children taught the speculations of conspiracy theorists instead of the historical perspectives of mainstream society?

It may well be that it is not so much a lack of choice in curriculum that is depriving children of a good education, but other facts such as poverty and its attendant problems of malnutrition and homelessness. There are more children living below the poverty level in the United States than in any other industrialized country. For far too many children in this country, poverty stands as an insurmountable obstacle to getting any kind of education other than what they learn on the streets. For them, offering choices in curriculum and pedagogical style is meaningless, since all choices are equally out of reach to too many citizens and legal residents of the United States.

  • Excessive regulations and frivolous lawsuits that are driving up costs for families and preventing the economy from growing;

This is another example of an oversimplification. Surely there is far more to rising costs than excessive regulations and lawsuits, and surely regulations and lawsuits have consequences other than simply driving up costs. Some costs go up because of a scarcity of resources; others go up because of greed and opportunism on the part of those who provide goods and services; others go up because of the lack of real competition in the marketplace. Most of the regulations that exist nowadays were designed to prevent abuses to consumers, abuses of workers, and abuses to the environment. While it is no doubt true that many regulations fail to offer the full protections they were originally designed to produce, the remedy to a poorly designed regulation is to replace it with a better-designed regulation, not simply to jettison regulation altogether.

As for lawsuits, it is really the Judicial branch of government that has the task of deciding which lawsuits are frivolous and which are legitimate. That sort of thing is not for Congress to decide. Just as it is not in anyone’s interest to have judges legislating from the bench, it is also not in anyone’s interest to have legislators passing judgment on matters of law. Lawsuits are, and should be, legal. Leave it to the courts to decide when a legal lawsuit has merit and when it does not. That is the Judicial branch’s job.

  • A national debt that has Americans stealing from their children and grandchildren, robbing them of benefits that they will never see and leaving them with burdens that will be nearly impossible to repay.

Early Americans such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine stated that government is for the living and not for the dead, by which they meant that no generation has a right to live in such a way that subsequent generations will not be able to live at approximately the same level of flourishing. Very few people today would argue against the claim that the decisions that the current generation of Americans are making will saddle the future generations with almost unbearable burdens. The impact of our collective lifestyle on the environment has already been mentioned. Current fiscal behavior is also in urgent need of addressing carefully and honestly.

By far the greatest amount of wasteful expenditure in the world today, and especially in the United States of America, is money put into the military. Finding a way to trim the swollen budgets of the military is the most urgent economic task before the nation today. Finding a way to bring the military budget down to a more modest and reasonable size would reduce the debt and make money available for education, healthcare, providing shelter for the homeless and taking care of the physically and mentally disabled. Spending money for those constructive endeavors instead of for the essentially destructive endeavor of preparing for military campaigns on foreign soil may well be the single best way to improve the American economy.

In closing, let me point out that the turnout in the 2014 election was only 36.4% of all eligible voters, which is the lowest voter turnout since 1942. Those who voted in 2014 have collectively expressed their preferences in local elections, but an aggressive attempt should be made to research what the priorities are of the 63.6% of eligible American voters who chose not to cast votes in the 2014 elections. It may be worth trying to learn why nearly two-thirds of voters chose not to make their voices heard. It is no doubt true that the American political system has become dysfunctional in many ways, and one of the manifestations of the malaise is the apparent indifference, and perhaps even despair, of the American people. Many of them seem to have given up hope. It is time to give all Americans, and not just those who write large checks to support their favorite political party, a truly good reason to hope. A first step in offering that reason to hope is for those in power to listen.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Aging gracefully

“At 15, I set my heart on learning. At 30 I knew where I stand. At 40, I had no more doubts, at 50, I knew the will of Heaven. At 60 my ears were attuned. At 70, I follow my heart’s desire without crossing the line.”—Confucius

Although I am increasingly reluctant to watch news programs on television—one can stand to see only so much bloodshed and tragedy—, I still have the habit of watching the evening news on PBS or one of the three networks I knew as a child: ABC, CBS or NBC. Watching the network news stations entails seeing a good deal of advertising. Watching which products are advertised with the evening news makes it clear that the networks have learned what kinds of people watch their news programs. Almost all of the products advertised are aimed at the so-called Baby Boomer generation, the folks who are most likely in the market for Viagra or Cialis, or products that ease the pain of post-menopausal sexual intercourse or arthritis or that relieve the symptoms of enlarged prostate or leaky bladders or indigestion, or products that minimize the effects of osteoporosis, or products that hide or eliminate or prevents wrinkles or double chins or bags under the eyes. The advertising one sees on the network news suggest two social trends that are separate from one another but collectively somewhat troubling. One of the issues is troubling to many older people, and the other is (or ought to be) troubling to everyone.

To begin with the social trend that is troubling to many people over the age of 60 or so, there is a perception that young adults do not know what is going on in the world. Some years ago I taught a course in reasoning and critical thinking, one of the required core courses for all undergraduates at my university, and one election year I decided to focus on the quality of argumentation found in political campaigning and in the official platforms of the various political parties (Republicans, Democrats, Green and Libertarian). In one of the first classes of the semester, I asked the class how many of them read the New York Times. None. Los Angeles Times? Wall Street Journal? Christian Science Monitor? USA Today? The local newspaper? None. Well, I thought, perhaps newspapers are not as popular as periodical news magazines, so I asked how many students in the class read Time Magazine. None. Newsweek? The Economist? Foreign Affairs? Mother Jones? The National Review? The New Republic? None. Well, I thought, perhaps students prefer watching television—although I had seen a Pew Research Center report that young adults were far less interested in television than their parents and grandparents were. So I asked how many students watched news on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC or C-SPAN. None. Finally, not having named a single news source that any of my students would admit to using, I asked where they went to get information about what is going on in the world. Students began calling out their favorite sources of news, almost all of them sites on the Internet. Of the sources they named, I had heard of only two: Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and The Colbert Report (both of which I had watched for a few minutes before flipping the channel to something that seemed a little more promising).

As the semester progressed, it was apparent to me that most of the students had a pretty good idea of what was going on in the world, combined with a fairly poor idea of where anything in the world is located and an even worse idea of what happened in the world before last Tuesday. With a few exceptions, their general knowledge of history and geography seemed to range from mediocre to abysmal, but they did seem to be acquiring fairly good information about current affairs. It’s just that their sources were mostly unfamiliar to me, just as my sources were unfamiliar to them. While somewhat discouraged by the general lack of knowledge about history and geography, I could at least feel encouraged that they were not consuming the deeply biased reportage that one finds on Fox News and MSNBC, although they were consuming the strange blend of reportage and entertainment that one gets on the Comedy Central programs. All things considered, I think I came away from the experience somewhat less alarmed by the younger generation than many people my age—I was born in 1945. On the other hand, I did not manage to convince many of my age peers that there is no reason to be alarmed by how uninformed today’s college freshmen are. (I learned it did not help at all to remind people of how ignorant and uninformed we all were when we were eighteen and nineteen, way back in the early 1960s. I can still recall, albeit with acute embarrassment, that when I, at the age of 18, picked up Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan, I thought the story was unfolding in Africa. Perhaps I thought that because the novel is about, among other people, Sikhs, and the only Sikh I had ever met came from Uganda. It is now almost beyond belief to me that I ever could have been so abysmally ignorant of geography that I thought Pakistan might be in Africa, but I am guessing I was not alone in my generation in my general level of geographical ignorance. It is easy to forget at the age of 60 that one knew considerably less at the age of 20.)

While I am not particularly worried about the quality of information that the younger generation in particular is consuming, I continue to be alarmed at the very poor quality of information readily available to Americans of all ages. It is increasingly difficult for anyone of any age to sort information from spin, fact from prejudice, news from entertainment, and programming content from commercial advertising. American culture, not to mention the many cultures influenced by Americanism, has long been venal and consumerist. It is difficult to assess whether it is becoming more so than it was in the nineteenth century, but it certainly is not becoming less so. There has been considerable advancement in technology, but very little if any advancement in sophistication, culture or civilization. Collectively we remain imbeciles with ever smarter toys.

The second social trend that I’d like to comment upon, the one that is (or ought to be) troubling to everyone is the increasing refusal of Americans to age gracefully. Physical conditions that have always been associated with aging—lower libido and decreased fertility, slower metabolism, a general decline in the efficiency of all body parts, including all the internal and external organs—are increasingly being seen as diseases. They are given names such as Low Testosterone, Erectile Dysfunction, benign prostatic hyperplasia, and the names are abbreviated to easily pronounced phrases such as Low T, ED and BPH, and for every one of these conditions there is a raft of pharmaceutical products (most of which, as noted above, are advertised on the evening news), all of which have side effects that are arguably more serious than the “diseases" they are designed to cure, side effects that are written in print so tiny that no one over the age of 40 can read them, or spoken of so rapidly and in such soft tones that no one with any degree of hearing loss can understand them. American has produced a generation of elders that have replaced wisdom, perspective, experience and sagacity with a neurotic phobia of gray hair, white whiskers, baldness, wrinkled skin, sagging chins, baggy eyes, flaccid penises and dry vaginas.

People get old (except for those who die young). That is what happens when they stay alive for several decades. And as they get old, their bodies change. Instead of accepting and even celebrating those changes as an intrinsic part of life, American culture has chosen to revile those changes and turn them into opportunities to sell yet more unnecessary products. And then we complain that the younger generation does not respect us. Why should the young respect the elderly, when the elderly do not gracefully accept the natural occurrences of old age? As Confucius said, “If you would be respected by others, you must first respect yourself.”

We saw above what Confucius said about the course of his life. That was how old men in China saw things twenty-five centuries ago. The modern American septuagenarian says, “At 15, I was prescribed Ritalin. At 30 I was given Prozac. At 40 I began using Grecian Formula. At 50 I began Botox treatments. At 60 I required Enbril. At 70 I followed my heart’s desire with a little help from Viagra.”

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Life in the southwest quadrant

There's abundant evidence for the need of it. The old one-dimensional categories of 'right' and 'left', established for the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly of 1789, are overly simplistic for today's complex political landscape. For example, who are the 'conservatives' in today's Russia? Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing views of conservatives like Margaret Thatcher? (The Political Compass)

The designers of The Political Compass website make the case that rather than a linear political spectrum along which views, and the people who hold them, can be identified as left-wing or right-wing, what is needed is a more sophisticated tool that allows for distinguishing between managed-economy leftists such as Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (better known by his assumed name Joseph Stalin) and leftists such as Nelson Mandela and Mohandas K. Gandhi. What distinguishes these two styles of leftist, argue the authors of the website, is their differing attitudes of authoritarianism. While the Marxists who ruled the Soviet Union, China and North Korea were highly authoritarian and ran states in which individual citizens had little personal freedom, Gandhi and Mandela were communitarians of a different kind altogether who were strongly in favor of personal freedoms held in societies filled with ideological and demographic diversity. For the authoritarian leftists it is important not only to control industry, agriculture and the markets but also to control the access that citizens have to information and to impose a uniformity on thinking and opinion. For the more libertarian leftists, it is important to regulate corporations in order to protect citizens from the excesses of corporate greed but to protect the freedoms of individuals from governmental excess.

The authors of The Political Compass have devised a test, which enables visitors to the website to determine their own location on the political and social map. The horizontal axis of the map indicates one’s attitudes about how much governments should be involved in the economy and in markets; the left favors more involvement, the right less. The vertical access indicates one’s attitudes about how much governments should be involved in the personal lives of individuals. The higher one is placed on the vertical axis, the more one feels comfortable with governmental efforts to control the behavior of citizens, the more authoritarian one is; the lower on the axis one is, the more libertarian one is.

The Political Compass situates various political figures from world history on the map. Stalin and Castro occupy the northwestern quadrant, occupied by those who favor strong governmental regulation of both the economy and the behavior of individuals. The northeastern quadrant is populated by every Democratic and Republican presidential candidate since 1980, for all have been relatively laissez faire about the economy but relatively willing to manage ordinary human behavior. The differences between the politicians that Americans consider conservative and those they deem liberal are minuscule; American politicians collectively occupy a remarkably small amount of territory on the map as a whole. About this more will be said below. The southeastern quadrant is home to Ayn Rand and her followers, people convinced that government has no business regulating corporations and markets and also no business regulating such personal matters as marriage, sexuality, the use of drugs, access to abortion and other issues. The southwestern quadrant is occupied by those who favor some degree of regulation of the economy but relatively light regulation of personal behavior; this is where one finds names such as Gandhi, Mandela, and the Dalai Lama, along with such American politicians as Dennis Kucinich of the Democratic Party, and Jill Stein of the Green Party.

Looking at where nearly all the influential American politicians are clustered together, with hardly any room between the dots representing Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and very little room between them and Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill, makes it clear that in American politics most ideological differences are more imagined that real. The media do their best to make it appear as though there is an unbridged gulf between liberals and conservatives, but in fact they are all pretty much on the same page. That page is paid for by corporate special interest groups who spend billions convincing both consumers and politicians that the ideal society is one in which markets are unencumbered by regulations and people all have the same tastes and the same cravings for barely distinguishable products, most of them unnecessary.

American society is—perhaps always has been—essentially delusional. No delusion is more persistent than the conviction that Americans love freedom and have more of it than the citizens of any other country on earth and are eager to bring their beloved liberty to every region of the world. For at least a century and a half those who have controlled the wealth of the nation have tirelessly worked to convince the rest of us that there cannot be governmental regulation of agricultural and industrial production and distribution without governmental interference in the lives of people. Abridging the freedom of a corporation to pollute the environment and pay substandard wages and minimal benefits to workers is carefully presented as leading inevitably to limiting the rights of families to worship as they choose, live where they want to live, and own the weapons they need to keep criminals out of their homes. The attitude being fostered was summed up by Ronald Reagan in his often-quoted pithy mantra, “Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem” and in his more verbose (for him) claim that “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government—lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”

When it comes to limiting personal freedoms, poverty is far more effective at achieving that condition than governmental regulations. According to Jacob S. Hacker, a professor of political science at Yale University, “Most Americans (58.5%) will spend at least one year below the poverty line at some point between ages 25 and 75.” At any given time, 16% of Americans live in poverty, which is operationally defined as a condition of not being able to afford to buy goods and services commonly taken for granted by mainstream society. (Mainstream society arguably takes far too much for granted, but that is a subject for another essay). Poverty is a complex phenomenon that cannot possibly be reduced to a single cause, but there is little doubt that a significant factor in the rise in American poverty is the dramatic maldistribution of wealth in a society that has, since President Reagan’s administration, whittled away at laws and regulations designed to curb the insatiable greed and the feeble social conscience of most international corporations and the people who run them and invest in them. And yet many of the very people whose lives are pinched back by poverty are the most avid supporters of spurious claim that all governmental regulation of anything results in diminished freedom for everyone.

My score on the political compass test was -9.38 on economic matters; that is 93.8% as far to the economic left as the compass measures. On the vertical axis my score was -7.44; that is 74.4% as far to the libertarian side as the compass measures. That makes me an anti-authoritarian communist, pretty deep into the southwestern quadrant. So what would life be like if we south-westerners were to get the upper hand in this country? That may be the subject matter of future blog posts, but a quick sketch would look something like this:

  • Wages earned in exchange for labor would be taxed lightly if at all, and income gained through investments would be taxed rather heavily. Inheritance taxes would be higher than they now are, perhaps as high as 100%.
  • Education at all levels would be provided at no cost to the individual, and students would receive stipends to enable them to meet living expenses.
  • Health care would be provided to everyone at no cost to the patient, through revenues raised in taxes. Pharmaceutical companies and other health-product providers would not be allowed to realize more than a modest profit on their products. (Both these measures have been successful in keeping health costs low in the province of Qu├ębec and the Dominion of Canada).
  • Neither the federal government nor any of the states or municipalities would be empowered to pass laws concerning marriage that limit the gender or number of spouses that any one person can have. Any group of people living together for one year and deeming itself to be a marriage would receive all the rights now extended to a legally married couple. Divorce would be granted automatically to any married partners who ceased to live together and who wished their separation to be construed as a termination of their commitment to be married to one another. Marriage and divorce would both be purely de facto rather than de jure matters.
  • The criminal justice system would be oriented entirely toward reforming miscreants rather than punishing them. Sentences, therefore, would be dramatically reduced for all crimes.
  • Recreational drug use would be decriminalized, as would prostitution. Governmental agencies would be established to provide help to tobacco, drug and alcohol addicts who desired help in overcoming their addictions and to provide quality-controlled substances to those who chose to remain addicted.
  • All organized religious institutions would lose all tax exemptions and would be taxed at the same rate as all other commercial enterprises.

The utopian southwest-quadrant nation would be open to anyone who wished to live here, and those who did not wish to live here would be free to leave at any time. The institution of citizenship would for all practical purposes cease to exist. Many of the most expensive governmental agencies, such as the military, the FBI, the CIA, the TSA and the NSA would be significantly curtailed, as would such agencies as ICE. (A nation with open borders has no need of costly and wasteful immigration and customs enforcement). The elimination, or at least significant reduction, of all such agencies would reduce the amount of money the government needs to spend and thus make the tax burden on everyone less onerous.

I take the unofficial motto of my village—“Just South West of Normal”—quite seriously, although I have serious misgivings about the concept of “normal”.