The Best Economic Platform You’ll Never Get to Vote For

Today I listened to a really interesting Planet Money podcast. They convened a panel of six economists across all political spectra, from libertarian to right-leaning to left-leaning, and asked them for what changes they could all agree on. Turns out that the following six economic changes that would, they all say, substantially improve our country and make taxes more equitable for everyone. Too bad they’re so crazy that no serious candidate would touch them with a ten-foot pole.

But, listening to the podcast, I found their arguments really compelling. Here’s the six-plank platform agreed upon by all these different economists.

  1. Cut the mortgage interest deduction. The deduction is inequitable between renters and homeowners and actually distorts the housing market by giving a bigger subsidy to weathy people who buy more expensive houses. Eliminating the deduction would probably lower home prices and might even allow government to lower taxes overall.
  2. Cut employer-sponsored healthcare deduction. Health insurance isn’t taxed for employer or employee, driving “too much of a good thing” for some health insurance. Strange idea, but if health insurance is so comprehensive that it completely insulates the consumer from the price of care, it encourages consumers to use medical care they don’t need. This then drives up the cost of healthcare for everyone. And the deduction basically subsidizes excessive healthcare plans.
  3. Eliminate corporate income tax completely. Don’t punish corporations for making money and don’t take money away from them investing in their growth or paying their emploees. If you want to tax wealthy people, do so directly. But don’t stop corporations from investing in their products by taking money from them.
  4. Eliminate payroll and income tax completely. Taxing income is an easy way to raise revenue, but taxes are also used to discourage things. Do we want to discourage income? No. Same with payroll tax. We don’t want to discourage job creation, right? Replace these with some form of progressive consumption tax. (Details on that would vary depending on the political leaning of the economist.)
  5. Tax bad things. If you provide deductions, you get more of something; if you tax something, you get less of it. So, start taxing “bad things.” What are the worst things in the world right now? Raise taxes on pollution of all forms, gasoline, energy use, and carbon emissions.
  6. Legalize marijuana. Don’t waste resources on putting drug-sellers in prison; save those resources and generate a whole new thing you can tax!

Like I said, the best economic platform you’ll never get to vote for. It’s one of those “it’s so crazy it just might work” moments, because they’re really talking about a complete and total overhaul of even the way we think about taxes.

The problem is that every loophole, every subsidy, every deduction helps someone. End one, and all the beneficiaries start squawking and wailing and, more to the point, they then kick the audacious politician out of office in favor of someone who will keep the subsidy. That’s how nothing ever changes. Because what’s best for the country as a whole isn’t always best for individuals, and we vote first and foremost as individuals thinking about our individual good.

I don’t have any solutions. How do we change the way 250 million people think?

NaNoWriMo 2016? Maybe.

This may be a bit ambitious, but National Novel Writing Month is nearly upon us. I haven’t participated in quite a few years, due to various reasons starting with “B” and rhyming with “wenji,” but I’m considering participating this year.

Anyway, like I said, ambitious — because I’m thinking of setting a goal of writing 1660 words a day through the month of November. I don’t have any story ideas, and I’m not even sure that I’d be writing a cohesive story or even anything related day to day, but I’m a little interested to see if (a) I can do it; and (b) what might come out of that. Do I even still have any new ideas?

Sometimes it feels like life is an endless series of doing what I have to, punctuated by a few instances of recovery and even fewer instances of actual personal enjoyment. I haven’t built a ton of room for creative thinking into my life at this point, but we do spend most evenings watching an episode of something on Netflix. What if I took that time and did something else with it? Would I feel like I’d spent my time more productively?

I may find out, or I may just find that it doesn’t work for me to have to discipline myself to do yet one more thing.

But I just remember that I did really enjoy NaNoWriMo in the past, not because I produced anything good (definitely can’t make that claim!) but just because I accomplished something. That might be a nice thing to try for again.

Also filed under “creative” in my life, Benji now has us drawing custom dot-to-dot puzzles for him because the ones online are too easy (or way, way too hard)…. and they don’t have enough construction vehicle ones, of course. Everyone seems to make dot-to-dots of cute animals but not of construction cranes or forklifts. Why is that?

Dot to Dot Truck Cab

Dot to Dot Forklift

Dot to Dot Truck & Trailer

Dot to Dot Construction Crane

Anyway, our dot-to-dots are all over 100 dots and fairly challenging for our fine-motor-challenged child. We’re practicing holding our crayons the right way while pressing firmly, and it’s going… well, slowly.

“Practice makes progress” — my new motto, I think.

Bits and Pieces

It’s been almost a month since I posted last. Sorry about that! We’re still alive and kicking, don’t worry. We’ve had a busy month, with getting back into the swing of school and building our new school-year routine. Let’s see, what have we been doing?

Well, for some reason, going to pumpkin patches has become like going to see Santa at Christmas. This year we had the opportunity to go three different places — but we passed on one. The first place was really just our CSA, which grows pumpkins as part of our farm share. That was pretty fun, as Benji discovered the joys of riding in a wheelbarrow for the first time.
CSA Pumpkins

Then we could’ve gone with our church to a pumpkin patch, but passed, because that same week Benji’s preschool went to one (at least one parent/guardian required to attend). It was very wet, the beginning of several days of serious rain. Benji spent almost the entire time whining about being hungry (I should’ve given him snack on the way there) and wanting to go home. The only real break was during the hay maze, which he LOVED. Unfortunately, leaving that just meant one more thing to whine about.
Pumpkin Patch: Hay Maze

Pumpkin Patch: Hay Maze Slide

Pumpkin Patch: Tractor Wagon Ride to Pumpkins

Pumpkin Patch Glare

Pumpkin Patch Creamsicle

So that was pumpkins. We also have lots of delicious winter squashes to eat from our CSA, and I’m looking forward to some homemade pumpkin pie, and some mashed squash, and mmmmm, my favorite, spaghetti squash with sausage.

Speaking of pie, we made another apple pie that turned out DELICIOUS. Mine ended up looking a bit like a snail, but fortunately tasted like pie still.
Apple Pie Snail

Now time for an awkward segue… The pumpkins ended up on our front steps, but generally the yard–front and back–has really gotten neglected this year. We’ve done a minimal amount to keep it from being a total disaster, but we haven’t made it any nicer. Well, about six weeks ago, Benji noticed our across-the-street neighbors Howard and Sue spreading mulch and generally beautifying their yard. They are retired and keep their yard not only spotless but gorgeous year-round. Benji said he wanted to make our yard pretty, too.

Well, Ian went to Canada for a short business trip, so we decided to go for it and surprise him when he got home.
We did it for Daddy.
Benji helped me spread the mulch a bit; I also mowed (my first time with an electric lawn mower, and I managed to not run over the cord!) and even fixed our broken gate latch, with Howard’s help (our drill bit wasn’t long enough).

Feeling virtuous and accomplished, we retired in glory…. and none too soon, as it appears the rain may have started for good for the winter, putting paid to any more yard activity other than raking.

Now, in increasingly random news, some other things:

1. Legos have vaulted from “meh” to a top toy, much to our delight. Benji reads the directions himself, with a little help, and places the majority of the pieces himself as well.
Ice planet Legos!

2. “Spooky” things are fun right now too. He turns his trains into ghosts by having Ian cover them with paper; and he turned himself into a spooky laundry ghost.
Spooky Laundry Ghost

3. School has letter-themed show-and-tell every week. Last week was “F,” and Benji proudly came running with this to share:
"F" Show & Tell: "Phone"
Oops, gotta work on actual spelling.

4. Walking to Benji’s speech therapy, we looked for pretty leafs. This one was still attached, but we brought a whole pile home… which has now joined all the other leafs that blew off the trees in our latest windstorm.
Pretty Autumnal Leaf

A Society of Grace

I’ve been thinking about social safety nets–in case you’re new to this terminology, that means government programs like food stamps, Obamacare/ACA, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security–and the idea of personal responsibility–making choices that let you live in health and comfort. In political discourse, those two are often presented as opposites: Either you have a system of government that encourages personal responsibility, or your government provides social safety nets.

But, as I said, I’ve been thinking about this. Black-and-white views that say either them or us simplifies issues that simply aren’t simple. So to speak. Here are some things I’ve thought about this, in no specific order.

Many people who extol personal responsibility and hard work tend to despise social safety nets. They see these programs as encouraging lazy, shiftless bums to mooch off the system–and who pays for them to sit on their couches and watch TV all day? All of US hardworking folks, that’s who! Now, if this was a book or if I was a journalist, I’d have done research on the actual demographics of people relying on these different services, and I’d have some nice hard data to make some good firm statements.

I’m not, and I haven’t, so I’m not even going to get into whether that stereotype is accurate or not. Instead, I’ve been wondering is: What kind of nation do we want to be? Because how we answer that question fundamentally addresses what kind of society we choose to build.

Do we want to be the kind of society where we let people make mistakes and give them second, third, fourth, or even more chances, acknowledging that people can fail and often need help? (And I don’t want to suggest that all people relying on social safety nets have made mistakes or are weak failures. Many will be there through no fault of their own. Or maybe that’s just my liberal bias speaking, eh?)

Or will we instead insist that people who make mistakes, or who need help, must help themselves or die trying? If you have the misfortune to be born in the wrong place, to the wrong parents, do you deserve to suffer? If you are lucky in birth but unlucky in life, is there no grace?

Because okay, let’s say some people are gaming the system. Does that mean we shouldn’t help the other people who really need it? Jesus didn’t demand that we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps; the whole concept of grace tells us that we can never be good enough, and that’s why Jesus came in the first place. Because people are people, and can’t be perfect. He came to pick up the slack. To hold us up when we stumble. To be there time and again, after every failure.

As Christians, we believe that Jesus preached the importance of caring for the “widows and orphans” — those worse-off than ourselves. I’ve heard it said that we should therefore support private enterprises engaged in this work. I don’t disagree; my family gives money to some such. But there are so many people who need so much help that no private organization, or even plethora of organizations across the country or the world, could reach everyone.

The government’s job is to keep track of people and take care of them. They can reach people who need help, and they have the resources to make a difference. You may not like the government; maybe you think it’s too big and needs to be smaller. Pass some of that responsibility on to local governments or NGOs. Streamline that bloated monster, get rid of all the waste. Okay to that, too. But we have to live with the system in place right now, and our system is one where the government is responsible for helping people.

Again, I come back to the idea of second chances, grace, and helping those less fortunate.

It’s easy to insist on people taking care of themselves, right up until something happens to you. Then you’re glad that net is down there after all.

When you’re 85 years old and have minimal retirement savings, what would you do without Social Security? When you’ve made bad life choices, are unemployed, and need a liver transplant, where will you find insurance coverage but through the ACA? When you’re a hardworking farmer who’s struggling to make ends meet competing against ginormous agri-business and you get some bad weather, those farm subsidies are lifesavers. When you’re a single mom working two jobs trying to support your three elementary-aged kids, where will you turn? What NGO can ensure you’re fed, clothed, housed and taken care of while you try to make ends meet?

Financial disasters happen, health disasters happen, and while I certainly advocate people preparing (I do work for a financial advisor; our business is planning for this kind of stuff), we need to acknowledge that sometimes things happen far beyond an individual’s ability to prepare.

Sure, it’s easy to insist on personal responsibility, but when crap happens that is beyond our ability to plan and control, then what?

As a people, I think it’s up to those of us who have some to assist those who have none. No, we don’t have an ideal system. But the one we have helps millions of people in need. We need to stop thinking about the programs and how much they hurt us, and start thinking about the people, and how much they are hurting.

Art Milestone

Why am I posting a picture of what you know most be one of zillions of Benji’s art projects? Well, first, you’d be right if you guessed that we get rather snowed under with art. However, this one stands out for a few reasons:

  1. Benji instigated it entirely himself. Normally, I have to set aside time and cajole him into scribbling randomly for like 5 minutes, after which he wants to go back to playing trains. This time, he pulled out most of the supplies himself and started on his own, only bringing me in when adult help was required.
  2. The ideas were almost entirely his own. The design is entirely his-a solar system, not surprisingly-and I merely made suggestions for what materials to use (I supplied all the different tapes and the glitter glue). Previously, I’ve always told him what our project will be. This time the creativity came from himself.
  3. He wanted to use art to represent something, and figured out a way to do it using the materials at hand. And stuck with it with good focus the entire time, no getting distracted.

I’m not sure if this is because of his new preschool, which has an art center area that’s kind of a new concept to him; or if playing with Legos has anything to do with the increasing creativity; or if watching big-boy Colin build Legos creatively (and Benji’s preschool peers, for that matter, but he really admires and respects Colin); or if we’re just passing some kind of milestone. But whatever the case, this art project represents a moment I want to remember.

Silly Cat Riddle Song, and Other Stuff

Listening to our Pandora station for kids, we heard this song:

Thank you, Pandora, for possibly the silliest song we’ve heard in a long time. Love it!

Benji got his first cold, right on time, three days after his first full day of school; it was massively rainy so I converted my big, outside ride into a short trainer ride; and clearly we were meant to spend all of yesterday playing Legos, building Legos, and sorting Legos. Benji is getting pretty good at building with the small-size Legos.

And then I spent about four hours (!!) in the evening making two apple pies for church. I hope they taste OK.

The End of a Marathon Summer

We started summer in the middle of May. This week, five months later, we finished it. It truly has been a marathon summer, and we’ve had so much fun and Benji grew up in so many ways — but it also validated my firm belief that I will never, ever home school my child. We would drive each other nuts in the first year (or less). So, we started at ORCS this year, and will probably go there for a couple years.

In any case, I’m also happy for Benji to start school because he needs that time with other kids. He can read surprisingly well and can count past 100, but although he likes playing with people and is friendly, he doesn’t know what to do with other kids as much. Also, I like that his large- and small-motor skills get stretched at school, as he tries to copy what his peers do.

And I get some time off during the day. Not as much time as I might like; his school this year is only 9:00 to 11:30, whereas last year it went until 12:45. It does feel a bit like I drop him off and then immediately turn around to pick him up. Thank goodness we picked a school only 8 minutes away by bicycle!

Oh, and it’s about 1/4 mile from the new house Benji’s extra-special friend Will just moved into! I’m hoping we can parlay this into lots of after-school lunches with our friends this year.

So, here Benji is giving me a “smile” on his first day.
Benji's First Day at ORCS

That very first day, they only did class for an hour, and parents stayed in the classroom with the kids. Benji and I both liked this; it let him explore the room and familiarize himself with it and the teachers, but with the safety of a parent around. I liked getting to see the room and the kinds of things he might do there.

Circle Time on Parent Day

Circle Time on Parent Day 2

Circle Time on Parent Day 3

Benji’s class this year has only 13 kids, compared to something like 27 kids at Bucky Beaver last year. I think this will be nicer, letting Benji do the coveted activities like weather and calendar more than a couple times a year.

Benji Cooking a Recipe

Benji and Mrs. M play letters

On Wednesday and Thursday, the first couple days on his own, Benji seemed really anxious about going. He expressed great concern in wanting to know where I was in the house all the time, and tended to react with tears and whining to everything. He tossed his yogurt on the carpet on Wednesday because the yogurt was “too wet.” I attribute it to the transition; adapting to change hits hard sometimes.

Even so, he got substantial time in the Cry Zone while I cleaned up the yogurt. GRR. Now I’m thinking I foresee cleaning in our near future.

ANYWAY, I, meanwhile, had a perfectly easy transition! Except that I have to adjust to bike commuting with him Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; but this was a perfectly gorgeous week, weather-wise, and made it easy for me to want to go out again (even with tired legs). I got a good bit of work done while Benji was at school, and then when I picked him up, he super enthusiastically described what they’d gotten to do in class.

Compared to the extremely structured Bucky Beaver, I think this Pre-K program is a lot more laid-back and Montessori-style, with centers for the kids to explore different things. I like this idea in theory, but I hope the teachers encourage him to not just play trains for the entire 2.5 hours.

OK, that’s probably enough on school. I’m just kind of meandering, anyway. But here’s to a great school year with lots of learning, fun, and growth!