May 25th, 2016 // 6:12 am @ Oliver DeMille
Parties, Issues, and Funds
Mitt Romney was right about a number of things. One of the most important, even though it got him trouble with some voters, is that a solid 47% of the nation is against the Republican candidate for president (whoever he or she is), simply because a large group depends on government programs to financially make ends meet. In fact, the number appears to be increasing.
According to one report, “Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency.” The same article notes that “47 percent…would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all.” (“My Secret Shame,” The Atlantic, May 2016)
Indeed, in 2014 only 38 of Americans percent thought they could come up with the money for a $500 car repair. (Ibid.) In other words, the number 47 percent (who needed government help to survive in 2012) may now be closer to 62 percent.
High and Low
This is a challenging dilemma. On the one hand, those with a sense of needing more government support and programs to make ends meet are a lot more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton or even Bernie Sanders than for any Republican. As the electorate becomes more financially strapped, it tends to swing to candidates promising more government help.
On the other hand, it is the liberal (Bill Clinton/Barack Obama) and moderate (Bush I/Bush II) policies—growth of government intrusion in the economy and poorly-constructed education, health care, banking and other programs—that have brought our economy to this point. As more people vote for bigger government, the government naturally grows and the economy further stalls. It’s a self-fulfilling negative cycle.
In a truly free enterprise economy, entrepreneurship would create a lot more jobs and prosperity. It brings approximately 80% of new jobs in the United States—but the sheer mountain of red tape a business start-up now faces (based mostly on the policies of the four presidents just mentioned, and more from Obama than the others), has significantly gummed up the economy. Obamacare is making it even worse, with the most damaging (job-killing) parts of the Affordable Health Care Act still slated to go into effect in 2017.
Between 2003 and 2013 the median net worth of Americans dropped an amazing 38%. (Ibid.) And it’s still going down.
In short: Big government isn’t helping—it’s adding to the problem.
Beginnings or Endings
Remember the 2012 presidential debates where Romney suggested that Russia is a major strategic threat to the United States and Obama scoffed and lectured Mitt about not knowing what he was talking about? Three years later, guess what? Russia a major strategic threat. (See Foreign Affairs, May/June 2016: “Putin Returns to the Historical Pattern,” “The Revival of the Russian Military,” “The Quest to Restore Russia’s Rightful Place,” “Why Putin Took Crimea.”)
The same is true in economics. Bigger government, thousands of additional business- and job-stifling regulations on the books, and more red tape, don’t help the economy. They hurt it.
And a majority of Americans are now feeling the effects. Fifty-five percent of households don’t have enough savings to make it for even one month. (Op Cit., The Atlantic) If the middle twenty percent of households, the true middle class in America, lost their income right now, they could, on average, continue their current lifestyle for just six days. (Ibid.) That’s six days!
The sudden 2016 “defaults on subprime auto loans indicate that the American willingness to just keep buying…can’t lift us out of this [economic] pickle…. The general default rate for all subprime auto loans jumped from 11.3 to 12.3 percent in just a month—exactly the kind of ‘can’t pay my bills’ phenomenon that triggered the  housing collapse.” (“The Portfolio,” Esquire, May 2016)
Recently announced: Sports Authority is filing chapter 11 bankruptcy, Staples is closing 50 stores, Fairway is near default, American Apparel filed for bankruptcy, and even Walmart is closing 154 stores. (Ibid.) The list of other companies on the brink or downsizing and cutting jobs is long.
The economy is sputtering.
All this in the midst of a presidential election year. I don’t know what Donald Trump will or won’t do in the Oval Office (whether he’ll be just another politician or really lead out and reboot the economy). But one thing is very clear: If Senator Clinton is our next president, the number of Americans who require government support to make ends meet by the year 2020 probably won’t be 47 percent, or even 62 percent, anymore.
It will be a lot higher.
May 19th, 2016 // 8:19 am @ Oliver DeMille
We need to start.
First, it is clear to almost everyone that the Drone Revolution has drastically changed the world—probably in ways that we can’t really undo. Whatever other functions they’ll eventually fulfill, drones are the ultimate war machine. They can be programmed to do things unimagined in earlier wars, like search out specific people from certain races, religions, viewpoints, business or educational backgrounds, etc.
They can be programmed to target a specific person. And all his/her friends. Everyone he/she loves. Those who agree with him/her on political issues. Governments can use drones on their own people, as well as in battle.
Very few people are taking this very seriously. On the one hand, it’s so potentially monstrous that we don’t like to think about it. Imagine drone technology in the hands of a Stalin, a Hitler, a Nero, Caligula or Mao, Saddam Hussein or an ISIS sympathizer in your neighborhood. If history has taught us anything, it’s that bad guys do sometimes rise to great power.
It will happen again, and drone tech combined with computing power is a recipe for disaster.
On the other hand, if we did want to stop it, what would we do? Most people believe it’s a fait accompli. No chance of turning it around. They’re probably right.
Second, the Crowdsourcing Revolution isn’t over—it’s just beginning. It has largely put the newspaper industry on the ropes, and the book industry is also now under the gun as Amazon grows. In fact, many brick and mortar malls are increasingly empty as Internet sales on many types of products and services soar. Education at all levels is facing serious competition from free online learning sources, and big swaths of the health care sector are being crowdsourced as well.
The good side of crowdsourcing makes a lot of things less expensive, easier to find, and quicker to obtain (or learn). The downside is that the large companies that control the data have algorithms that can influence us in ways we never imagined. For example, a man texts his wife to find out where a certain kind of cereal is in the pantry, and within minutes his smartphone chimes and offers him a coupon for the same cereal—from the supermarket closest to his home. Or if he texted from the office, it lists the grocery store nearest to his work.
This kind of data-mine-marketing is becoming a commonplace experience for those who use certain apps, and while it might feel a bit creepy at first, over time people get used to it—and even grow to expect it. Very Minority Report. How much governments and private organizations are using this kind of tech is unclear, but it’s growing. Add personal location tracking technology to the mix, and we really are living in a surveillance state.
Third, there’s a new buzzword floating around in economic circles: “Crowd-Based Capitalism.” The idea is that in the emerging 21st Century economy we’re evolving a whole new economic model. Not socialism. Not capitalism. Certainly not free enterprise. A new approach. As one book from MIT put it, we’re moving into a “Sharing Economy,” where “the end of employment” is being replaced with “the rise of crowd-based capitalism.”
The idea that employment as we’ve known it for the last six decades is increasingly outdated. For example, in the May 2016 issue of The Atlantic an article showed how one couple used up their entire life and retirement savings—and the entire life savings of the husband’s elderly parents—to put their two daughters through college. The idea of college training being essential is now being taken to incredible levels: The savings of two couples wiped out, just so their offspring could graduate with a degree—in an economy that doesn’t value degrees like it used to. (See “My Secret Shame,” The Atlantic, May 2016)
A truly new economy is emerging, but most people haven’t realized it yet. They’re still caught in the old—and paying for it in tragic ways.
Another example: When 2016 presidential candidate Ted Cruz said the following, “The less government, the more freedom. The fewer bureaucrats, the more prosperity. And there are bureaucrats in Washington right now who are killing jobs…”, the response was immediate. Two professors, one from Yale and the other from Berkeley, replied that the opposite is true: The bigger the government, the more freedom, and the bigger the bureaucracy, the more prosperity. (“Making America Great Again,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2016)
A lot of people actually believe them.
But reality is still reality. Crowd-based capitalism means more government, and this isn’t the path to a great economy. The thing that is actually rising to replace the 1945-2008 era of employment it is a reboot of entrepreneurship and small business ventures.
The new economy can go in one of two directions:
- Government reduces the amount of anti-business and job-stifling regulations, and spurs a major entrepreneurial boom. This will create a lot more jobs, opportunities, and incentives for increased global investment in the U.S. economy.
- Government keeps increasing business-stifling regulations and takes the profits from businesses (big and small) to create a “sharing economy.” This will create a much higher rate of dependency on government welfare and state programs, reduce the number of people fully employed (making enough to live in the middle or upper class), and drive investment to other nations.
How the so-called “sharing economy” differs from socialism is actually academic. Yes, on paper it has a somewhat different structure than Marxian socialism. But for the regular people it’s going to feel pretty much the same. A few wealthy and powerful elites at the top, a small middle class of managers and professionals who work mostly for the elites, and a burgeoning underclass living largely off government programs.
Two books* on this topic are: (1) The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism by Arun Sundrarajan, and (2) Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few by Robert Reich.
For the other side of the argument—why freedom and free enterprise are the real answer—see my latest book, entitled Freedom Matters.
Middle America is still experiencing a serious economic struggle. Things are getting worse, not better. As one report on the heartland put it: “On every sign, in every window, read the vague and anxious urgings…Remember the Unborn; …Don’t Text; Don’t Litter; Buy My Tomatoes (Local!); Let Us Filter Your Water; We Can Help With Your Bankruptcy. Then bigger gas stations sprawled on crossroad corners, unoccupied storefronts…another consignment store.” (“The Country Will Bring Us No Peace,” Esquire, May 2016)
As an ad for Shinola products reminds us: “There’s a funny thing that happens when you build factories in this country. It’s called jobs.” We haven’t seen very many factories built here for a long time. Crowd-based capitalism isn’t a solution.
Together, these three changes in our world are a very big deal:
- The Drone Revolution
- The Crowd-Sourcing Revolution
- The Post-Employment Economy
If you have more ideas on these important developments, share them. If not, learn more about them.
The future can be determined by a few elites who think about such things, or by all of us. The more regular people engage such important topics, the more influence we’re likely to have.
The truth is, we’ve forgotten Watergate and Kent State. (See “The Cold Open,” Esquire, May 2016) We’ve forgotten Nixon and that the 2000 presidential election was decided by the intervention of the Supreme Court. (Ibid.) We’ve forgotten a lot of things.
As one report put it: “We’ve forgotten how easily we can be lied to.” (Ibid.) If we let them, Washington and the media will just tell us what the elites want us to know—and think.
February 27th, 2016 // 7:14 am @ Oliver DeMille
The Real Outsider
“I know what you mean,” the man with the deep voice said. “But I’m seeing something totally different in this election. You’re right that the outsiders like Trump and Cruz are really getting a lot of support. I just don’t think they’re the true outsiders.”
“What do you mean?” the man with the higher voice asked. “Who else is an outsider? Do you mean Bernie Sanders, because he’s a socialist?”
“No, I wasn’t thinking of Sanders,” Deep Voice replied. “But let’s just look at this whole election from a different angle. We’re calling Trump and Cruz outsiders because Trump has never held political office and Cruz is a Tea Party guy who constantly attacks what he calls ‘the Washington Cartel,’ meaning the establishment from both parties. Right?”
“Well, I’m not sure that’s a very good criteria for being an outsider. I think the reason a lot of voters want an outsider this year is because they’re tired of the political establishment, of both parties, and of politicians who get into office and just do more of the same—like the people they replaced. They promise real change, but it doesn’t happen. In fact, a lot of the bad things just keep getting worse, election after election.
“What we need is a real outsider. Not just someone who hasn’t been in office or always attacks other politicians, but someone who is the kind of leader we really want…”
He paused, and Higher Voice asked, “But what do you mean? I’m not sure what your point is.”
Class and Leadership
“Okay,” Deep Voice responded. “I’ll get right to the point. Our politics has become a disaster. The politicians fight all the time. They are constantly attacking each other. Attack. Attack. Attack. And we’re supposed to believe that this is just the way things are.
“But they shouldn’t be this way. We shouldn’t want leaders who are all about attacking people all the time. We vote them into office, and they just keep attacking each other in Washington. That’s not leadership. Not really. If they attacked a lot and then got really important things done, and made a lot of things better, that would be one thing. But that’s not what happens. They attack, and attack, and attack—and that’s pretty much all they get done.
“We need a president who gets the right things done, and who also doesn’t go around attacking people. We need the kind of leader we can look up to, someone who can bring people together in this nation. We’re so divided. So angrily divided. We need a real leader to get the nation back on track.”
Higher Voice replied: “That’s too idealistic…”
“Reagan did it,” Deep Voice interrupted. “He wasn’t the Attacker in Chief. He fought for what he wanted, but he did it with class. Not with name calling. Not with personal attacks. He stayed above that kind of junk. He was too good for it. He fought back, yes. But never by stooping to name-calling and personal vendettas. And that allowed him to lead the nation in big ways, and do big things like bring an end to the Cold War. We need a classy president who is also tough and confident.
“And a truly classy president would be a true outsider, very different from the attacking years of Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Just look at the 2008 election. We watched Obama and Hillary attack each other mercilessly in the campaign and debates, and we should have realized right then what kind of president Obama would be.
“We need a real change. And I don’t think that means making our politics even more focused on attacks. It means electing someone who isn’t an attacker. A fighter, yes. But classy, like a true leader.”
Higher Voice sighed loudly. “That’s so far from the current election that I don’t know what you’re proposing. What do you want to happen?”
To Act or To Attack
“First,” Deep Voice said, “let’s divide the candidates into those who attack and those who refuse to get down in the muck and act like jerks. Hillary, Trump, Cruz and Rubio are often on the attack—in the debates, in interviews, in their campaign rallies and speeches. They attack a lot. Regardless of how you feel about their politics, or their reasons for such attacks, they are consistently attacking, attacking, attacking. So put them in the jerk category, at least for this discussion.
“Second, the three candidates who usually aren’t on the attack are Bernie Sanders, John Kasich, and Ben Carson. So if we want a classy president, one whose focus is always on building people instead of tearing them down, it has to be one of them. I really dislike Sanders’ politics, so throw him out of the mix. He’s a socialist, and proud of it, and his proposals would drastically hurt the nation.
“So, third, we’re left with Kasich and Carson. Both are classy. And both go out of their way not to attack other people. They focus on building people up. They really do.
“And before you roll your eyes, really think about what I’m saying. If we want our politics to be built on people acting like jerks and fighting each other—and not really improving our nation—we should keep electing people who attack, attack, attack.
“But if we want real change, the kind that we can truly be proud of, we need to change the way our top leader acts. We need class. Depth. Virtue. We need a Washington, a Lincoln, a real leader. Tough, yes. But focused on building others, not attacking them.
“You can call this idealistic if you want, but what I’m saying is true! If we don’t have a true leader, a classy, uplifting Reaganesque example that we can tell our kids to emulate, we haven’t put our best leader in the Oval Office. Imagine telling your 12 year old son: ‘Be like Donald Trump’ or ‘attack people like Ted Cruz—as long as you win, it’s okay.’ Or even: ‘If you get behind, like Marco Rubio, find out everything bad you can about the other person and loudly tell everyone.’
“Ridiculous. We need a real president. And both Carson and Kasich are the kind of men you can tell your children to emulate. To be proud of. To follow—even into battle and death if necessary to defend our nation. To admire.
“We’ve become so used to something less that the highest character in our leaders that we seem ready to accept mediocrity in character and behavior and simply shrug it off. We need to do better than that!”
The Question of Class
Higher Voice interrupted: “I just don’t think Carson has enough experience in doing the kinds of things a president has to do.”
“Maybe he doesn’t. Or maybe he does. His understanding of freedom principles is deep, like Cruz or Rand Paul, and he might surprise you. But let’s say you’re right, just for the sake of argument. That still leaves Kasich…
He paused. Then he spoke a bit more quietly, and I noticed people leaning forward to hear. “John Kasich is everything you would want a president to be in terms of character. He’s classy to the core. He’s a man of principle and morals. And he never attacks others to tear them down or try to get himself ahead. Not ever. When others attack him, he answers their charges, clarifies the truth, and then turns to the policies our nation needs. Like Carson.
“Kasich doesn’t do what Trump, Hillary, Cruz and Rubio frequently do in the same situations—start counter-attacking whoever attacked them. When the media tries to get him to attack, he refuses. He consistently calls us to our better angels, as Madison put it.
“Kasich is classy like Reagan. He’s above petty name-calling and attacks like Reagan. He focuses on building people. Pretty much always. Yet his history proves that when it’s time to fight—against real enemies, like terrorists—he doesn’t shrink or back down. He is deeply principled. Again, like Reagan.
“But here’s the real kicker. Kasich is actually the most experienced leader out of everyone running for president. He was the architect of balancing the U.S. budget in the 1990s. He led it, and he planned out the details. He knows how to balance our national budget! He’s already done it once. Nobody else can say that. Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich took credit for negotiating it, but John Kasich ran the numbers and developed the plan.
“He also balanced the budget of Ohio as governor. He started out with a major deficit, and turned it around very quickly. And made it last. Nobody else in the race has ever done that—with a state, or with the United States. Only Kasich has done it. Twice!
“He also served on committees that oversaw military and international affairs, and has more national defense experience than anyone else running for president, including Hillary Clinton. And beyond all this, he’s a true conservative, and has been for decades. He also worked many years in private business as a leader—he’s not just some lifetime politician.”
America The Great, Again
Higher Voice asked: “Why hasn’t he caught on with the voters?”
“I’m not sure,” Deep Voice replied. “Part of it is probably that he’s not loud and constantly attacking people. Part of it is probably that a lot of voters don’t really know much about him. I’m not sure. He did do well in New Hampshire, and the race is far from over.”
He paused. Then kept talking: “Kasich has class. He has dignity. He is the kind of person we can look up to and tell our kids to look up to—and mean it. He’s tough. He’s a proven leader. But he’s really, really nice. And, again, he’s the only person in the race who has ever balanced a major government budget, and he’s done it at both the state and the national levels. That’s huge!
“I’ve really given this a lot of thought and research. Go back and read Kasich’s speeches. He’s the kind of man who would tell Mr. Gorbachev (or Putin) to ‘Tear down this wall!’ He’s the real deal.
“Conservatives need to step back, take a deep breath, and give Kasich another look. If we want the kind of America that truly is great again, we need the right kind of leadership. And that means the right kind of leader! A true leader, one who isn’t just going to get the job done but who’ll get it done with class, dignity, and an infectious smile.”
I left the restaurant mentally kicking myself. In all my reading and watching of the election, over many months, I hadn’t done what I always tell others to do—really go study the records, writings, and speeches of all the candidates. Really get to know them. At least, I hadn’t done this with Kasich. I’m remedying that.
February 19th, 2016 // 4:30 pm @ Oliver DeMille
A Big Picture Look at the World in Twenty Years
For more than a century America has enjoyed the luxury of strong allies in Europe. When problems came, as they always do, many European and North American nations relied on each other for strength, leadership, even rescue.
This was certainly the case in World Wars I and II and the Cold War from the 1960s thru the 1990s. Nobody alive today remembers a time when America was alone in the world.
Yet such a world is rapidly emerging. The main reason for this dangerous development is the massive and truly tragic decline of Europe. Most people don’t realize this is occurring, or just how significant it is.
A few pundits warn that this may be Europe’s last century as a great power—as leadership shifts from the Atlantic powers (Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the United States, Canada, etc.) to the Pacific Rim nations (China, Russia, India, North America). This shift is inherently problematic—the U.S. and Canada are trading European allies (nearly always friendly) for more belligerent and totalitarian foes in Moscow and Beijing.
Huge difference. And this will undoubtedly bring even greater difficulties whenever problems arise and help is needed. Russia and China each see themself as the top emerging superpower. India is a close third.
In times of trouble, where will America turn for support?
The truth is even worse than the pundits let on, however. The idea that this is Europe’s last great power century is overly optimistic. If current trends continue, no nation in Western Europe is likely to act as a major power after 2030. Certainly not beyond 2050, and possibly not even after 2020.
This will catalyze a tectonic shift in global affairs, and the ramifications of the change are already beginning.
But what exactly is happening in Europe to bring about such rapid decline? The answer is a warning to Americans, if we will heed it.
Terrorism has taken root in Europe. European nations are quickly becoming like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen or other Near Eastern and North African states in terms of an underground but steady terrorist presence. This will only deepen and grow, unless something drastic occurs.
The influx of refugees last year, this year, and likely for the next few years ahead will only exacerbate the incidence and proximity of terrorism. Certainly not all, or even most, of the refugees are terrorists. But a few are. That’s a major problem. The whole point of terrorism is that a very few can drastically impact the many.
3) Population Decline
Birthrates are rapidly changing the European electorate. Birthrates for traditional Europeans are down—in some cases negative—while birthrates for immigrants living in Europe are high. Democratic institutions are quickly changing as a result.
Debt is skyrocketing in the poor European nations, roughly two-thirds of the continent. The pattern of Greece is spreading.
5) Societal Decline
A general lack of innovation has settled over the continent. This is reinforced by a widespread and growing belief in high levels of government regulation in nearly every sector of society. Financial capital is moving elsewhere, increasing unemployment and further convincing voters to elect big-regulation candidates.
6) Leadership Gap
As a result of the fifth problem above, Europe is experiencing an era of lackluster leadership. Private sector leaders of all types are increasingly powerless in a big-government environment, and those in government were elected to regulate rather than lead. The bureaucracies are swelling (along with the costs), but strategic national thinking has become rare. This further fuels debt problems.
All of this was avoidable at one point, but we have long since passed the likelihood of any kind of serious turnaround. It now appears to be a downward spiral.
A New Path
Again, the United States and Canada aren’t far behind Europe in this pattern. Perhaps a decade, if the U.S. stays on its current path. Two decades at the most. But we still have time to reverse course.
Will we? The answer is very much in doubt.
In any case, Russia and China are attempting a major rise just as Europe is losing much of its vitality and strength. This puts North America in a tight spot.
If the U.S. needs strong, committed allies ten or twenty years from now, we may be out of luck.
Perhaps it is time for an entirely new strategic approach toward Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and the rest of Latin America. This may be source of future allies. It is certainly time—past time—for a serious return to the principles of freedom and free enterprise, along with a renewed adherence to the U.S. Constitution, in the United States.
At this point, the U.S. is charting a European-style course to join Britain, France, Germany, and Italy in their decline. President Obama has been an open proponent of a more Europeanized governance.
It goes without saying that this is a bad choice. Likewise, following the Chinese or Russian strategy is also the wrong approach.
It is time for America to chart its own direction, one based on a major refocus on freedom, free enterprise, and Constitutional values, as mentioned. Any other direction—any other direction —is a sure path to our decline.
Interested in Oliver’s works on freedom, forms and how to mend society?
Check these out:
- 1913: The Year We Failed America…And How to Recover Her for Good
- We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident: 12 Natural Laws of Freedom, Progress and Success
- Freedom Matters: The Connection Between Career, Business and Freedom
- The U. S. Constitution and the 196 Indispensable Principles of Freedom: Writing Constitutions in the 21st Century
- The Freedom Bundle
December 8th, 2015 // 7:51 am @ Oliver DeMille
Need to Know
This is going to be a bit wonky. Comparing tax plans of various candidates isn’t something most people do just for fun. But it’s important because a candidate’s tax plan says a lot about how the person is picturing himself/herself in the White House, and how he/she approaches fiscal and economic issues.
This is vital knowledge for voters. Next to how the next president will deal with national security, knowing how he’ll approach finances is the most important thing voters can know.
The top proposals can be separated into three main categories: Little Changes, Big Changes, and Major Changes.
Bush promotes at least two very good ideas in his tax plan:
- Repeal Obamacare and replace it with an expanded Health Insurance Account and insurance market where policy rates stop skyrocketing, and policies are portable across state lines (further decreasing rates over time).
- Provide tax credits to people without employer-provided insurance coverage.
Bush’s plan cuts taxes from the current top rate of 39.6% down to a top rate of 28%, and a corporate rate of 20%. This is a little change, an improvement. But consider the other plans below.
Rubio released a plan that is similar to the Bush plan in many ways, including repealing and replacing Obamacare (like nearly all the other plans), with the top tax rate cut from 39.6% down to 35%, and the corporate rate down to 25%. Rubio promotes a number of cuts to government programs and closed tax loopholes, with an overall cut of around $11.6 trillion of taxes over time.
Rubio’s rates are higher than Bush’s, but he actually makes a bigger total cut to taxes because he provides fewer loopholes. Rubio’s plan gives a huge boost to low income families, as does Cruz, and also Trump (Trump proposes a zero tax rate for couples making up to $50,000.)
Paul, as you might expect, proposes a 14.5% flat tax for everyone. The idea is to expand the tax base, while lowering all rates in ways that will stimulate business, jobs, and more capital flowing into the United States. This model also stimulates increased freedom and entrepreneurship by simplifying the tax code and collections process. Paul also wants to significantly reduce the size and cost of government.
Carson provides another alternative for significant change, promoting a 15% flat tax (he wanted 10%, but decided that 15% was needed). This is similar to Paul’s proposed tax rate, but it is unclear what Carson would cut in order to balance the budget. Carson doesn’t want to outline a full plan right now, preferring to wait until elected and negotiate the costs of government down in real time. This leaves his specifics a bit hazy, but his principles on taxation are clear: lower taxes, and reduce the size of government.
Cruz proposes a 10% flat tax for individuals income, and a 16% tax business flat rate, which will most likely be a VAT (value-added tax), meaning that businesses will pass it on. This will drastically improve business investment, jobs, and economic stimulus in the U.S. economy—but it also increases consumer prices across the board. Of course, like the other plans, Cruz includes repealing Obamacare, cutting certain loopholes, and aggressively scaling back the size of the U.S. government. The Cruz plan has been criticized because it gives a major tax break to upper income families, but it is second only to Rubio’s plan in giving tax relief to the bottom 10% of households.
Trump released a plan that includes:
- A simplification of the tax code (from seven tax rates to three, and all of them at lower rates). Compared to the flat tax, this plan ensures that high income businesses and people will pay at higher rates than the working class—but pay less than they would in other advanced nations (and less than they were under President Obama). This incentivizes major money flow to the U.S. economy, businesses, and jobs.
- A significant reduction of taxes for most Americans. For example, Trump’s plan provides a zero tax rate for a person making up to $25,000 a year (or $50,000 per year for a couple). It brings the highest earner rate of 39.6% down to 25% for a person earning over $150,000 ($300,000 for a married couple), and brings similar cut for households earning between $50,000 and $300,000 a year. This is an immediate raise and economic boost for most American workers, families, and businesses.
- An elimination of the estate tax and the marriage penalty, providing a huge financial benefit to families and small businesses.
- A reduction of corporate tax rates (from 35% down to 15%) to below those of China and other major economic competitors. This is long overdue, and like the Paul, Carson, or Cruz plans, would bring a lot of businesses (and jobs) to the U.S., and boost the American economy.
- A one-time, low-rate repatriation plan that encourages companies to bring their trillions of dollars held in foreign banks back to the U.S. economy (and keep these funds here long term). Again, this will spur a major jobs and investment increase in our economy.
- Overall tax cuts of close to $12 trillion over time. (By comparison, the Bush and Cruz plans each cut approximately $3.7 trillion over time.)
- Trump’s plan gives by far the biggest tax relief to the middle class (while Rubio helps the bottom 10% the most, and Cruz’s plan is best for the very top earners).
Fiorina takes an even stronger approach to changing tax policy than Trump, Cruz, Carson, or Paul. She proposes a 3-page tax plan, and an overhaul of the way the government budgets, not just what rates of taxes are applied. Under her plan, every government agency and program would start at a budget of $0, and would be required to make the case for how good their programs are, how well they work, and how much money they need to keep flourishing—or improve.
Based on an outline of all such government programs, the administration would decide to keep or cut any agency or other government program, and to fund it only to the extent that it is worth the cost—when compared with all other government operations and the real needs of the nation.
Once such a budget is outlined, the tax needs and rates would be determined. This would very quickly balance the budget, Fiorina proposes, and immediately cut or downsize government programs that aren’t needed or simply aren’t working.
Whatever candidate(s) you like, or don’t like, this quick overview can help us get a sense for what kind of fiscal leader the candidate might be.
Note that all of them, even the Bush plan, are significantly better than the Clinton or Sanders plans (which raise taxes and add numerous government programs). At least the leading Republican candidates seek tax reductions and the downsizing of Washington–some more than others.
Regardless of who replaces Barack Obama in the White House, some of the key points in the Trump, Cruz, and Fiorina tax plans are downright excellent. The United States needs them, and the sooner, the better. Ideas from the Bush, Rubio, Paul, and Carson plans also have merit. Some of the plans from other candidates have important policy ideas as well (research, for example, the balanced budget plan by John Kasich).
Whoever we elect in 2016 should promote the best parts of these plans and help rekindle our struggling economy.
But this brings us to a significant roadblock. No matter what tax and budget plan the next president wants to follow, the White House will have to get it through Congress. On the one hand, Congress is accustomed to budgeting a certain way and is often resistant to major new ways of doing things—regardless of what candidates promised during their campaign. On the other hand, the right kind of executive leadership could certainly make a difference in getting Congress to act.
Consider Fiorina’s proposal to give the president power to move money around to different agencies and programs—taking from those that aren’t working or aren’t really needed, and giving those funds to programs that are very effective and highly important. In many ways, this is an excellent idea.
But it has one major flaw: every time a new party enters the White House, the president could just shift a ton of money from, say, the military to environmental programs, etc.
This is a significant downgrade of the Constitutional format. On the other hand, if we combine Fiorina’s zero-budgeting program where each agency starts from zero and the president proposes major cuts, and then Congress does its own zero-based budgeting, it’s a real winner. We need this. But we need it in the Constitutional way (which seems to be what Fiorina is proposing, after all).
Ultimately, none of these plans are going to sail through Congress unscathed. Nor should they. The Constitution works, when we follow it. Checks and balances are a good thing. (Note that other plans beyond taxes, like Trump’s promise to deport all illegal aliens, would undoubtedly face serious blocks in the courts.)
But the candidates’ tax plans do give us some excellent ideas on how to slow and stop Washington’s overreach. The next president should study them and adopt a number of things contained in these plans—the best of each.
Correction, 12/12/15: A previous version of this article stated that Ted Cruz’s tax plan included a 16% sales tax. This language has been clarified to read: “… a 16% tax business flat rate, which will most likely be a VAT (value-added tax), meaning that businesses will pass it on.” Thanks to the couple of readers who questioned this detail so I could revise for accuracy.