Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Jeff's Plan for America - 8 key steps

Dear readers:

This is my 7 point plan (with an eighth point added by Doug Heuck) to make the United States of America a better place for everyone. The comments after each element of the plan come from Doug Heuck and David Guenther. The opinions expressed here are entirely ours, but we remain convinced that if the nation followed our plan, we would all be "better off in four year."

1. Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government -- I have found that this happens best in business when you cut spending....tends to focus the mind. Every element should have a measurement of "impact to the citizen intended to benefit" as a percent of total spend. This is how charities are measured and how they avoid bureaucratic bloat.

Doug: An excellent point -- which has sent me into another chapter of cost oversight in the business and the family, which will no doubt find consternation reigning in both places.

Dave: SPENDING HAS TO BE CUT SOMEWHERE.

2. Once we have a metric for efficiency, we need to focus in on efficacy. What is it that the Department of Energy is trying to do? How about EEOC? What's up at the Treasury? How about international aid? When any part of our government cannot articulate 3 key areas of betterment of society, then there are either none or too many to matter. In his autobiography, Clarence Thomas outlines how he ran the EEOC like a focused business (and he did not even support the concept of the agency initially).

Doug: Paul O'Neill sought to make Treasury more cost-effective and effective, and he was booted. (He also spoke too plainly for the Bush Admin and told it like it was, which the admin saw as a liability) With business, having too many costs and not being effective enough means going out of business. So there's always a present threat of non-existence. That leads to a level of vigilance and concern that govt. can only hypothesize about, never really feel. And it's also conceivable that, while govt. should clearly be cost-conscious and effective, it is also in a realm that's different from biz in some respects -- such as national security and the welfare of the people. If you make big enough mistakes there -- guns or butter -- your govt. can "go out of business." and both of those threat areas require, arguably, erring on the overspending side. And with the scale of both of those portfolios -- and with employees not motivated by increased income but by public service, it's difficult to achieve the level of cost-effectiveness and efficacy that biz can achieve in its "narrower" field.

Dave: AGREE THAT EFFICIENCY MAY HAVE TO BE MEASURED DIFFERENTLY, AND MORE SUBJECTIVELY, FOR GOVERNMENT, SINCE CLEAR NUMERICAL METRICS LIKE EBITDA OR NET INCOME ARE NOT APPLICABLE OR EVEN IF THEY WERE, MEANINGFUL, SINCE GOVERNMENT HAS DIFFERENT GOALS. HOW DO YOU MEASURE GOVERNMENT (IN) EFFICIENCY (OTHER THAN SAYING, AS WITH OBSCENITY, THAT WE KNOW IT WHEN WE SEE IT)?

3. Keep taxes as low as possible. You cannot have #1 if you raise any taxes anywhere. Taking pressure off politicos and bureaucrats will not work. I even see in business that the wheat is separated from the chafe when times get tough. Lots of people thought they were doing a great job when a huge domestic economy was growing by 5% per annum. Now zero growth (or 3.3% last quarter) has exposed people for "riding the wave" rather than "being outstanding." There needs to be a very clear understanding of all taxes by our national leader -- federal, state, OSADI (Old Age, survivors and disability insurance), and yes, property. The whole cost is what citizens see! Let's quit talking just about federal income tax. As an addendum, the Wall Street Journal for 9/10/08 had an editorial which commented on the Congressional Budget Office's report on our government spending. Our spend is now 21.5% of GDP (highest since 1992). Interestingly, our debt is 3% of GDP (in line with average of past 30 years), and military spending (including Afghanistan and Iraq) is 4.5% of GDP (above Clinton's 3%, but below 1970-1990 6% average). The key quote is "the substantial increase in spending, which is on an unsustainable path is in the two years that Democrats have run Congress." The article (with its fiscal conservative bias) goes on to saw, "As they contemplate their choice for President, voters might want to consider which of the candidates is likely to be a check on Congressional appetites, rather than a facilitator."

Doug: The other side of taxes is what a govt. does with them. Some places have high-tax cultures -- Wisconsin, Minnesota -- but a history and culture of delivering excellent service. And, there is the Aristotelian idea of tax fairness -- distributive justice, seen by some as "Marxist." But fairness of the tax burden is inescapable. General Maxim: raising taxes is good and fair as long as it's raising the other guy's taxes.

Dave: AGREE ON CUTTING TAXES -- I BELIEVE THE DATA IS NOW IN THAT TAX CUTS ACTUALLY GENERATE HIGHER TAX REVENUES (REAGAN'S "VOODOO ECONOMICS"). AGREE ON ARISTOTLE AND "DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE", WOULD SIMPLY ADD THAT HE DOESN'T CALL IT "RE-DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE" FOR A REASON. NO COMPARISON WITH MARX.

4. Clearly articulate and legislate an Energy policy. Develop all petrochemicals possible that we control by 2015. Invest in all alternative fuels (solar and wind) with 25% of our total powered therein by 2015. Build 30-50 nuclear power plants by 2020. Reduce emissions by 50% by 2020 with these actions (including fuel cells in all cars, and a massive public transit initiative).

Doug: Total agreement. The reason I have favored Obama is that I believe he can be more successful in promoting a "Space program" for energy. A national initiative -- a war effort -- to both save energy and create and promote new sources.

Dave: I DON'T SEE A FACTUAL BASIS ON WHICH TO CONCLUDE THAT OBAMA COULD BE SUCCESSFUL IN THAT EFFORT. THAT BEING SAID, I TOTALLY AGREE THAT WE NEED RADICALLY NEW ENERGY POLICY NOT BASED ON PETROLEUM.

5. Define our role in the world. The isolationism of the Democratic Party is ridiculous (as it was when Republicans owned that issue). We are completely global. Our economy, our currency, our society is global. I mean, look at our demographics! Caucasians will be minority in 2042, and I say Hallelujah! We have been a bully. Yes, Jeff the Hawk says Bush has been a bully I want to be strong, but I agree with the criticism that we must "lead by the power of our example and not the example of our power." JFK was no dove, but he decided when to use force based upon a moral imperative. Every President has to not just believe that we are morally right, but actually check that we are. Bush just "knows we are" but does not check if he's right. Iraq will be won. The question is, "do we need bases and troops in Afghanistan and Iraq?" I question whether we need bases in Europe, South Korea and Japan. Clearly we don't need naval or army bases to extend our power. Hell, we didn't have any bases in the Middle East before now...didn't seem to stop us! :-) The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed piece by a former professor of mine, Fouad Ajami from JHU-SAIS. He articulates my point on definition, and to a certain degree, isoloationism. He says that since the end of WWII, there has been a "consensus over American exceptionalism and America's claims and burdens abroad." He states that Samuel Huntington articulated that America had three big conceptions in foreign policy -- "national, imperial and cosmopolitan. In the first, America remains America. In the second, America remakes the world. In the third, the world remakes America." Here the distinction is NOT that the world becomes states of the US, but rather democracy and capitalism are formed in each sovereign, but it IS the case that the rest of the world would gladly use American weakness to make it more like them. He argues that the "aloofness" of Mr. Obama is born from his background -- no military experience nor service, and an international rather than domestic upbringing. He states that "Obama offers a sharp break with the postwar consensus on American exceptionalism." As I have written to you before, I was concerned by the detached and spectator way Obama writes and speaks. Fouad goes further, "The Obama way is blig: It glides over the world without really taking it in." The risk is that "Obama proceeds from the notion of American guilt, and proposes to repair that by offering himself as a bridge." By contrast, McCain "shares the widespread attitude of the country that are not consumed with worries about America's reputation in foreign lands." I share this because at SAIS, one of my greatest teachers was Robert Tucker (Inequality of Nations) who said that "international law is ultimately governed by the executive, not the judicial branch" meaning that every nation is in it for themselves and themselves alone.

Doug: Power is an inescapable fact of the world. What is the most effective wielding of it? Machiavelli said better to be feared than loved. Perhaps at bottom, that's a necessity. But in a world of trade, the bottom line must always be just this side of being forgotten. IE, it must be accompanied by the moral compass. What is being great if not a force for good?

Dave: QUESTION OF POWER IS ALWAYS ULTIMATELY QUESTION OF HOW TO DEAL WITH THOSE BEYOND THE PALE -- THE "AXIS OF EVIL" THAT'S PRESENT IN MOST TIMES. ARMIES DON'T EXIST IN ORDER TO DEAL WITH REASONABLE PEOPLE. NARROWER ISSUE WITH MORAL COMPASS IS THEREFORE: DOES SELF-DEFENSE EVER COME INTO CONFLICT WITH BEING A FORCE FOR GOOD? THIS COULD BE SEEN AS MACRO-VERSION OF SELF-DEFENSE LAWS FOR HOMEOWNERS -- CAN'T USE DEADLY FORCE TO PROTECT PROPERTY, BUT CAN YOU USE DEADLY FORCE AT ALL? IF YES, DO YOU HAVE TO RETREAT FIRST? DO YOU HAVE TO GIVE FAIR WARNING? WHAT IF YOU'RE WRONG? ETC. I SEE "POWER OF EXAMPLE" AS WEAK INSTRUMENT AT BEST.

6. Healthcare should not be nationalized, but it is almost there unofficially. The insurance and pharmaceutical sectors are like an official bureaucracy. There are no free market dynamics at work anymore, and that's why it costs so much. Serious reform needed here. The metric is not "how many are covered," but rather health of our people and the cost of the system. Doug: Have mixed feelings here. Doubt government's ability to deliver without fouling things up. On the other hand, there likely would be big savings in making the current system less complicated.

Dave: AGREE THAT SOMETHING RADICAL SHOULD HAPPEN, BUT ALSO DON'T TRUST GOVERNMENT TO DO IT. THORNY ISSUE. ONLY CONCEPTUAL BASIS I CAN SEE IS SOMEHOW ALIGNING RECIPIENT OF SERVICES WITH PAYER, SO THAT PARTIES WILL BE INCENTIVIZED TO KEEP COSTS DOWN. MAKE HEALTH CARE COSTS A TAX CREDIT?

7. Immigration. This is another issue where the Republican Party is whacked. Republicans are pro-free enterprise (or were). You lose a major support for NOT raising minimum wage, and NOT guaranteeing employment, and NOT accepting that opportunity doesn't exist for the poor, WHEN you try and "shut down the borders." The Catholic Church is very supportive of treating illegal immigrants ethically. Me too, but I'd go further -- deregulate the immigration process. Yes, we need to guard against terrorists, but trust me; the Mexicans STREAMING daily across the borders want to build up this great land of ours. They want to live in peace. They want to prosper. They want to love this land. They come because it IS better than anywhere else they could go. Doug: Immigrants are and have always been a major strength and also a lightning rod among the "already arriveds." Closing borders is like tightening a tourniquet -- blood doesn't flow to and from the heart. Attempting to cut off immigrants is attempting to change the fundamental nature of the country and make it a different country. E pluribus unum to we've reached a satisfied old empire status -- "We're about the present and the past, not the future."

Dave: I'M IN FAVOR OF ALLOWING IMMIGRATION, FOR THE SAME REASONS, PROVIDED THAT (I) THAT DOESN'T MEAN PEOPLE SIMPLY STREAMING ACROSS BORDERS IN THE DARK, AND (II) IMMIGRANTS INTO THE U.S. STILL ACCEPT, AS IMMIGRANTS INTO THE U.S. HAVE HISTORICALLY, THAT THEY ARE COMING HERE TO BECOME AMERICANS. NO PROBLEM IF IT TAKES A GENERATION, EVEN TWO, BUT THEY SHOULD NOT EXPECT TO ESTABLISH PERMANENT FOREIGN ENCLAVES WITHIN AN ALIEN AMERICAN CULTURE.

8. Environment (added by Doug) Important to me. All should be done in context of being environmentally responsible. Both here and as a lead example for the world.

Dave: AGREE ON IMPORTANCE OF ENVIRONMENT, THOUGH I'M NOT CONVINCED AS TO EFFICACY OF EXAMPLE. PROBLEM I SEE, FROM MY PLANNING COMMISSION PERSPECTIVE, IS THAT PRESERVATION INITIATIVES (PRESUMABLY WHETHER LAND, ENERGY OR OTHER) OFTEN CONFLICT WITH CONSTITUTIONAL PROPERTY RIGHTS. INDIVIDUAL AND COMMUNITY RIGHTS (MANIFESTED IN E.G. ZONING) NEED TO BE BALANCED. FROM A PLANNING COMMISSION PERSPECTIVE, IT ALSO SEEMS TO ME THAT THE PEOPLE MOST HELL-BENT ON DEVELOPMENT ARE JUST AS OFTEN DEMOCRATS AS REPUBLICANS. NOT SURE HOW TO RESOLVE THESE ISSUES, OR IF BROAD CONCEPTUAL RESOLUTION IS POSSIBLE.

Jeff: I would argue that here the "example" would be in the form of innovation in development. I believe that the analogy would be that the Chinese did not install copper land lines for telephony, they jumped to wireless. In the same way, there needs to be advancement in industrial and agricultural development globally that avoids some of the wanton distruction and foolish mistakes of our own past.

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