Reader gljunket reminded me that I had promised to start a conversation about Mark Satin's 12-point proposal for a creative-centrist platform. I'm not really a policy expert - far from it, as a matter of fact, but I guess I brought this on myself. So without any further adieu...
1. Balanced budget amendment. I don't really have much to say about this -- it's a natural part of any sane platform. What it would take to move it through Congress, where spending bills conjure crazed lust like the scent of freshly smoked chorizo, is another matter entirely.
2. Flat tax. I agree with Satin that our tax code is too complicated. However, as another Mark points out here, there is a logical leap from saying "our tax code is too complicated" to saying "we need a flat tax."
Those with greater incomes have a greater ability to pay. Satin acknowledges this somewhat by including a large personal exemption of $20,000 for individuals and $40,000 for a family of four. As an individual who makes about $20,000, this is undeniably attractive to me. However, I would be remiss in not pointing out that our balanced budget amendment, above, would require that the government makes enough money to cover its ass, and that many of the last 10 platform proposals require significant funding. It is not at all clear to me that Satin's tax proposal would cover the needs of the federal government, even assuming a massive reduction in pork. If not, his flat tax could turn out to be seriously regressive, especially if it were expanded to include a sales tax (like the so-called "fairtax").
I could potentially be persuaded of a flat tax for work income, given the significant personal exemption above. However, I'd be incredibly leery of applying this principle to investment income for anything other than retirement accounts. As the more sane Democrats are arguing nowadays, we should value work over wealth.
3. Patient capital. Pass.
4. Require cleaner cars. I'd add that we should significantly up our R&amp;amp;D investment for alternative fuels, especially biofuels (although watch the agriculture subsidies rocket if that ever takes off). And we should probably expand the use of nuclear energy as well. The old-school lefty in me isn't wild about that last one, but hey, France did it.
5. Minimum retirement income of $15,000/year. I'm not sure what to make of this one yet, honestly. There's probably a whole separate post or two about it in my head, hopefully to be published sometime in the future. For now, I'll say that I'm very wary of benefits that get expressed in dollar amounts without being tied to any other criteria.
6. Universal health care via private insurance. Not an awful choice, and certainly better than the status quo. You can read more about Satin's thinking here.
That said, I'd have to qualify this as the least radical of his radical-middle proposals. It just doesn't seem very inspired; I'm not sure why, exactly. Perhaps because, like HillaryCare, it's a rather incestuous private-public alternative to single-payer health care; private in name only, or PINO for short.
Why is this? Because the level of federal subsidation involved would be considerable. As we all know, health insurance is not cheap; divorced from the group rates achievable by employers, it is even more expensive. Much more expensive than auto insurance, which Satin compares it to. My guess is that the majority of taxpayers would have trouble paying for mandatory health insurance without some kind of subsidy. What results is an indirect subsidy to the health insurance providers; given what we know about subsidies, we can only expect it to increase over time.
7. Education reform via utopian fantasy. Okay, I shouldn't be so snarky. Actually, Satin and Miller are completely right on this topic; for all the promotion and criticism of NCLB, the need for competent, empowered teachers has much more to do with solving our educational system's woes. However, is the "grand bargain" Miller describes politically possible? My guess is that it's definitely NOT possible given the status quo; the Democrats would alienate a huge fragment of their base, and the Republicans have staked out a very different terrain with regard to education.
8. Universal parental counseling and preschool. Took me by surprise. Seems like a good idea, but a little touchy-feelie.
9. A nest egg from birth for poor children. I find this and the next one to be the most intriguing of Satin's proposals. There are some problems with it -- for instance, the determination of who's eligible seems rather arbitrary. For instance, what if a poor kid's parents strike it rich five years later? Or worse, what if a non-eligible family has a crisis and becomes poor after the child is born? What protection is there if the market goes splat? But these don't seem like insurmountable challenges to me, and the expenditure is really pretty modest.
10. A national service draft. Not the most popular of Satin's proposals, if you look at the numbers -- but if done right, I think this would sell. Calls to service always resonate with people; I'd say one of the mistakes the current administration has made, actually, is not to call people to service more than it has. I remember when, about a year after 9/11, Bush gave a big speech about the importance of service, calling on every citizen to volunteer for 2 years. It was one of his more impressive speeches, and yet it was quickly forgotten, because there was no follow up.
Satin's proposal might help military recruitment; it would definitely help national guard and peace corps/americorps recruitment. It would help create a culture of service, which in a society that values competition and greed as much as ours seems wise to me. I'm in favor.
11. A whopping increase in foreign aid. I know amba's itching to give Satin a smackdown on this one. The basic problem with foreign aid is that so much of it ends up getting diverted away from the people who actually need it -- and so often goes to line a dictator's pockets. I don't know enough about Sachs' proposals to really say if he's right or not, but that would definitely be my major concern here.
12. Opening the agricultural and textile markets. I'm strongly in favor of this. However, it's relationship to #11 - which might very well act like a subsidy to third world farmers and weavers - needs to be considered. I know it's hard to be a family farmer in the third world; it ain't easy in the first world. If we remove our subsidies here and give them to farmers in other countries, I wouldn't blame our farmers for becoming seriously pissed off.