14 Fixes For Our Messed Up Country
Everyone seems to be proposing fixes for our country lately, whether it’s amendments to repeal the First Amendment or ban gays or whatever. I have a few ideas of my own that I think will go a long ways towards restoring some sanity in government and fixing what’s wrong with our society. Some of these will require constitutional amendments, and I don’t expect the entire list to actually get enacted unless magic somehow returns to the world and we resurrect Barry Goldwater, F.A. Hayek, and George Washington all at once.
I originally drafted a list of some 23 ideas, but I figured that it would be way too long for a blog post, so I shortened it to 14, a baker’s dozen. None of these are simple or light fixes, they are not tweaking around the edges to ensure a marginally better outcome. Judging from the situation our government and economy is in, from the horrific hard place our civil liberties are wedged behind, and the unmanageable mess that is Washington, I don’t think that “moderate” or “conservative” changes will do anything. We cannot pussyfoot around the issue; we need radical alterations to how our government works if we’re going to get us out of this morass. Again, most of these may never pass, but that’s to be expected.
Certainly, if you wish to hear my entire list, let me know and I’ll write it up, but for now, here are my 14 ideas for fixing our country:
1. Establish Approval Voting
I’ve already talked about this idea at length here, so I will not bore you again. In this post, all I will say is that I believe if we are to get anything done—and I do mean anything—we need to systematically reform how people actually get into office. That’s the foundation upon which any democracy stands, and when you’re up to your eyeballs in tar, the only way to get that fixed is to drain the swamp and start at the beginning.
2. Establish Congressional term limits
Closely behind voting reform is establishing term limits for Congress. One of the major reasons why so much corporate money is invested in campaigns is that, once you get a guy there, he or she stays forever, and he or she loses sight of the original role of a legislator. With term limits, the corruption that builds up would be washed away periodically, and it take more resources and be harder to keep it up cycle after cycle. Term limits would force Congresscritters to be genuine citizen legislators again, not career politicians. In technical details, I feel that 12 years (two terms) in the Senate and eight years (four terms) in the House are sufficient, and possibly with “time out” provisions that would allow them to return after so many years after leaving office (say, 10 years for senators and seven for representatives, just to keep them out of another cycle.)
3. Sunset Provisions For Every Law
This one is really a libertarian dream: ensure that every law that is passed by Congress (with, perhaps, exceptions for tax and budget bills, and other certain categories) automatically comes with a sunset provision that expires the law after a certain number of years. I would place it at seven years myself, though you could make arguments for other numbers of years. The point of this would be to clean the detritus of old statues that continue to pile up year after year, making the government more and more unmanageable, and would also force politicians and voters to really think about the laws we enact, rather than pass them once and forget. Note that this would not lead to every law expiring after so many years; I think a large number would probably get re-passed, with or without modifications, but it would at least force us to deal with them and not ignore them, which is a good thing.
4. Reform Acts
The folks at DownsizeDC.org have three great pieces of model legislation that I think are necessary to fix Congress, by removing a great deal of confusion and ambiguity and forcing them to actually do their jobs. They are:
Write The Laws Act - I find it absolutely asinine that, despite the clear wording in Article I, Section 1, of the Constitution, that Congress has still abrogated its rule as our nation’s lawmaking body and passed it off to executive agencies. Unelected bureaucrats are not meant to create law in a democracy; this bill would get legislators back to, you know, legislating. Goodbye administrative law. Hello proper government.
One Subject at a Time Act - A lot of times, legislators vote against a bill not because of what the bill is about, but because of some completely unrelated amendment or “rider” to said bill. The Downsize folks have some great examples to peruse. This practice, unfortunately, greatly obfuscates what lawmakers are doing, and that is not transparent government. It’s also not very democratic, nor fair or clean. We should pass this to ensure transparency and good government, and also, because it’s just common sense.
Read the Bills Act - Another “duh!” bill, yet one that is absolutely necessary. There are still some people in this country who don’t know that most legislators didn’t read the PATRIOT Act before voting for such a noxious and odious piece of oppression-fueled legislation. Yet, this is their job—we pay them to go sit in a room and debate and read and study and then either pass or reject our laws, but if they can’t even be arsed to read what they’re voting on, why in god’s name are they even there?
5. Abolish the Federal Reserve
Here’s another libertarian dream—and one that I think will fix most, if not all, of the problems with our economy. The real reason we’re having so many problems is because our dollar today buys less goods and services than it did 20 years ago. This is a fact. The dollar has lost power, while prices for goods and services climb. Part of this is due to currency manipulation by the Federal Reserve, which has, as one of its mandates, price growth, or a “stable rate of increase in prices, or in other words a steady depreciation of the currency.” (AKA, inflation.) That’s right, the Fed wants prices to go up, which is absolute horror for anyone in the lower quartile of the economy. And then, of course, there is the ample evidence that the Federal Reserve is the real cause of the recent housing bubble and crash that caused the Great Recession in the first place. If we’re going to help Americans hold onto their wealth, and get a strong economy, we first need a strong currency—one that isn’t being manipulated by the government for political reasons.
6. Rollback the National Security State
If we’re serious about fixing our country, we can’t just focus on fiscal and economic issues—our civil liberties have been under assault for the past decade, and with the recent passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, it looks like they’ll be under assault for some time longer. This is no way to run a society, and no way to operate a government—especially a democracy. If we want to avoid major civil unrest in our future, we need to scale back our national security apparatus, restore the balance in favor of civil liberties, and recognize that it’s not CCTV cameras and irradiating scanners that catch terrorists, but vigilant citizens. With that in mind:
Abolish the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA - My lord, could there have been a worse policy decision in the past ten years than creating Homeland Security and the TSA (aside from invading Iraq, of course)? I mean, I thought we already had a department of homeland security, we just called it, you know, the Department of Freaking Defense. And then, specifically, there’s the “Transportation Security Administration,” which now seems solely interested in molesting people getting on airplanes. How does any of this catch terrorists or make us safer? Answer—it doesn’t, it’s all security theater to make us feel safer. Many other DHS agencies can be eliminated, as at this point, they’re all just duplicates of one another. Certain ones, particularly the Coast Guard, ICE, and the Border Patrol, can be transferred to Justice (though I think the Coast Guard should finally be put under the purview of Defense, nevermind it’s the sole military branch with law enforcement powers.) We’ve wasted hundreds of billions of dollars on this joke, with nothing to show for it, so its time to lay it to rest.
End the War on Terror - Tell me, how can you fight an abstract idea? Answer: you can’t. You cannot “fight terror,” only certain terrorist organizations. And look what we’ve done over the past ten years: Al-Qaeda has been castrated. African terrorist groups have been demoralized. We’re getting more stories of domestic, right-wing terror cells and “lone wolf” terrorists than Islamofascist bogeymen. Let’s declare victory in the War on Terror—a victory I think is completely justified—and come on home. There is never any justification for perpetual war, and a perpetual war is bound for failure.
Demilitarize our police - There is a reason why “police” and the “military” are considered to be separate concepts. Blurring them, as we have done through the DoD’s “1033 program” of selling tanks and M-16s to cops and the unnecessary emphasis on SWAT teams, has led to disastrous consequences. We now have police who don’t understand the Constitution (although that may be because politicians have set a terrible example), instead just wanting to get a chance to use their cool toys, and have begun their own “terrorist” campaigns, through no-knock warrants and intimidation of reform campaigners. This has got to stop. Police serve a valuable role in society and should be respected, but not when they violate property and civil rights willy-nilly while toting around tanks that belong in Iraq. Civil societies don’t remain civil for long in this sort of environment.
Best part of these: they all involve cutting spending, so at least some conservatives can hop on board.
7. Consolidate and eliminate federal departments and agencies
I was going to give you a huge list of agencies to zero out, but then I figured that would take up too much room and probably wouldn’t be bought by everyone (meaning: not politically feasible.) I think, though, that with all the duplication of effort by so many agencies, and to get some cost-effectiveness out of it, we can definitely consolidate dozens of departments and agencies and bureaus and commissions and disband a whole lot of others. One target are the cabinet departments of Labor, Education, and Commerce (and potentially Health and Human Services); these should all be one department, since they are so intrically linked together. (And, naturally, their budgets should be trimmed.)
As for cutting other departments and agencies, I will give a small list: in addition to DHS and the TSA, I think we can safely vape the USDA, Department of Energy, HUD, the “Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” and probably the FCC, as Ron Paul suggests. This would be a great start to getting our budget back under control, though it is by no means an end point.
8. End the War on Drugs
Another way to get our budget under control and restore civil liberties at the same time would be to end the War on Drugs, chiefly by legalizing marijuana. I don’t need to tell you that this has been a boondoggle, with billions spent each year by all levels of government, hundreds (if not thousands) killed, and yet, drug use is still strong, with about 20 million adult Americans using drugs each month. Clearly, this hasn’t worked. There would be innumerable benefits to ending the war: not only would it free up resources to use on chasing the real bad guys (murderers, rapists, arsonists, and those who talk in the theater), it would “drain the swamp” of the inner cities and sharply reduce violence. Why? First off, the glamor of the drug dealer would disappear as he would be replaced by Pfizer, so young inner city kids would stay in school and work on other, hopefully more productive paths. Second, the whole reason there’s drug violence anyways is that you can’t go to the police and say “Hey, this guy stole my weed!” You have to solve it by yourself, and when you can’t use the legal system, you use the “illegal system”—a .45 and some lead.
9. Pass a Balanced Budget Amendment
I was going to suggest “Pass Randy Barnett’s Bill of Federalism,” but I think that would be just too much for the country to get through (even though I really really really like his “Rescission Amendment,”) so I will settle for a strong Balanced Budget Amendment that requires the budget to be balanced each year, with a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress to override, and then only in the cases of genuine war or national emergency (though good luck defining those properly). Everyone has to balance a budget, why can’t Uncle Sam? Didn’t he take Accounting 101?
10. Bring all the Troops Home
I’m not just talking about Afghanistan or Iraq, though those are certainly at the top of my list. I mean from everywhere. From Japan, from Korea, from Diego Garcia, from Europe—why the hell are we in Europe? Seriously, what great threat have Europeans faced in the past 20 years that requires thousands of our doughboys to be assigned there? That they won’t get enough cream in their cannolis, or the kielbasas will be too small? Good grief, US military forces in Europe practically subsidize the European welfare state that so many liberals (and the OECD) are trying to get us to emulate. Pull them out. Pull them out from everywhere. The United States is not the world’s policeman. We will not suffer harm by restoring our principles; in fact, we’re harmed because we mess around in other people’s affairs, and naturally, they resent that. And maybe, after we close down all overseas bases, we can cut defense spending by about 50%, restoring some sanity to the Pentagon. Our men and women in uniform deserve better.
11. Entitlement Reform
We’re looking at over $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities from our entitlement programs, as Michael Tanner from Cato notes. If you think our debt problems today are bad, just twenty years down the line, we will truly be facing insolvency—and we won’t be able to kick the can any more. Furthermore, it would monstrously unfair to pass all the credit card debt to the next generation, who don’t even have jobs or opportunities to generate the income to pay it off. We can start by following the Ryan Plan and turning Medicaid into a block grant program, and then implementing opt-outs for those under 50 for Social Security, as well as introducing means-testing and gradually raising the retirement age. Frankly, the time to do this was back in the 80s under Reagan, but, as usual, the Republicans punted when given the chance and now we have to act quickly to save what we have. It’s not going to be pretty, but it’s going to be necessary.
12. End Corporate Welfare
No more bailouts. No more subsidies. No more barriers to entry. The role of government is not to distort the market and reward some firms while punishing others. This, more than anything, has led to the monstrous growth in government over the past century, even more than FDR’s New Deal. Crony capitalism is phony capitalism—it’s time to make that a rallying cry for the republic.
13. End public sector collective bargaining
The left will decry this as being massively unfair, but I think it’s just the opposite: it’s massively unfair that public unions, who by being citizens elect their own bosses, have such negotiating powers. You can’t collectively bargain with the government. This was said not only by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but even by former AFL-CIO president George Meany. (Besides, they should not be bargaining with politicians—they should be bargaining directly with taxpayers, who pay their wages.) Public sector unions are bankrupting our country at the state and local level, and if we don’t get them under control, there won’t be any services—everything will go into paying for their pensions. As a corollary to this, a national Right to Work law would greatly help in boosting employment, but I think that ultimately, this step would have to happen on the state level, not the federal one. States that perform this step will see their balance sheets grow healthier; those that don’t will see them further decay. Citizens, meanwhile, will vote with their feet.
14. Reaffirm the importance of civil society and a culture of independence and autonomy
This is probably the most difficult step, yet, as expected, it is also probably the most important. There is no law you can pass to get this step “enacted,” no legislation to move it forward. There is, in fact, nothing the government can do, which is sort of the point. The only way this step can happen is if we, as Americans, realize what we’re doing to each other and take steps to stop it.
We have to recognize, first and foremost, that mature adults do not going around telling people what to do in their lives (except to their children and other dependents, obviously). We have to recognize that mature adults, even if they do not agree with or like someone else’s lifestyle, they respect and tolerate it. If they wish to change someone’s behavior, they do not do so with force—that only works with children, and even then only in limited circumstances—but with reason and advice.
It starts by working through churches, through voluntary associations such as Rotary International, and other groups, and not through the government. Alas, I have no roadmap, no guidelines to follow, but if you ever need an idea of what it would entail, you should read Chapter 7 of David Boaz’s Libertarianism: A Primer, where he shows how mutual aid societies—such as the Elks, Rotary, and others—worked as a civil healthcare system before FDR (and quite effectively, too!) and how excessive government control lead to atomization and a disregard for basic norms of behavior.
Basically, I’m saying we need to “grow up” as a society. We need to stop acting like five year olds when it comes to politics and our neighbors. We need to stop thinking that because a book written hundreds of years ago says so that we can denigrate another simple because he or she has a different sexual orientation, or that it’s totally cool to point a gun at someone and say they can’t eat certain kinds of hamburgers because they have a certain kind of fat in them. This is not the schoolyard, where big bullies beat up on scrawny nerds. This is the adult world, and as such, we need to act like adults.
Then, and only then, we will restore sanity to our government and fix our country.