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In which I contradict myself, culturally appropriating the left: safety net vs safety hammock vs safety wet blanket

One of the distinguishing marks of an American ‘conservative’ is his allegiance to reality.   I have been pondering some very real things of late, which are driving me to issue some proposals that on their face, do not appear very ‘conservative.’  My original attempt to spell it all out ran 14 pages, including calculations, justifications, rationales, etc.  In a bid to get the idea out, I’m stripping some of that away.  However, there is more thought behind this than what is presented here.

What are the ‘realities’ that prompted these proposals?

  1. There is a definite tilt towards socialism in the US, with increasingly large numbers even willing to consider full communism. This movement is associated with increased political violence, and will continue to be as they become desperate. They will only be able to push so far before other Americans push back with equal measure.  This is the ‘cold war’ going ‘hot’, as it were.  If we could lower the temperature, that would be better.
  2. Obviously, no one cares about balancing the budget, cutting spending, etc. People like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are seriously proposing plans that nearly exceed every single dollar by ever single American. They are not fringe.  They are leading Democrat candidates for president!  Meanwhile, there is no hint that the Republicans plan on curtailing spending.  With the country tens of trillions of dollars in debt—hundreds of trillions, if you include unfunded liabilities—it has evidently been concluded that massive debt and deficit spending are meaningless.  (I believe another calculation has been made:  Republicans understand that any meaningful scaling back of spending will result in massive political violence, directed chiefly at them.)

I repeat:  the REALITY is that Republicans will do NOTHING to limit spending.

Thus, there is zero hope that America will be pulled back from the fiscal cliff.  ZERO.

The GOP won’t cut spending, and the Dems could tax every dollar (and would) and still not pay for their new proposals, let alone pay down the debt.

These two points bring me to the following conclusion:  The reality is that we’re going to go over the fiscal cliff at some point, and this can’t be stopped; however, we can possibly lower the temperature and possibly stave off open warfare.

I have focused a bit on the debt and how neither party are going to do anything about it to head off objections about whether or not we can ‘afford’ my proposals.  As if that’s been a consideration for anyone in the last hundred years!  Actually, I think my proposals would cost less, or at most be the same, but that’s not relevant.  In REALITY, only our local governments are concerned about whether or not we can afford our spending.

This being the case, I began wondering if there were a way to defuse the angst of the socialist commies while being faithful to SOME conservative principles.  If so, then we would have the advantage of actually helping people where presently they are being damaged and perhaps buy some time to deal with many of the other problems related to this.  If I could bottom line it, it would be this:

The Democrats propose programs for the poor designed to keep them poor, preserving a base of voters utterly dependent on government programs, and thus, the Democrats.  But what if we could have programs for the poor designed to lift them out of poverty?  (Crazy, right!?!) Since, evidently, we’re going to have to have programs for the ‘poor’ we may as well do it ‘right,’ and the only ones who could are those grounded in reality—conservatives.

The following proposals would be best if they were implemented alongside other reforms incentivizing charitable giving by citizens, making it easier to open and run businesses (getting rid of employment taxes, etc), revamping the education system, so as to stop churning out wannabe Che’s, and so on.  But this is a discussion starter… for conservatives and/or the GOP.  Since this threatens the Dem hold on power, they will, obviously, oppose it at every turn.

Without further ado…

Three ‘tiers’ will be established.

Tier 1.

Every American adult, rich and poor, will receive $500/mo or $6,000/yr.  Per this website,  this is only slightly more than the average impoverished person receives in government assistance already ($404).  Those programs would be replaced with this one, except the ones for the disabled, which would remain.

This money would be in an account accessed by a card which would allow that money only to be spent in designated categories:  Food, Housing, Healthcare, and Education.  Unspent funds would be heritable.

On its face, this might look like a ‘guaranteed income’ scheme.  However, the reader probably knows that no way has yet been devised to afford such plans.  But if you think that’s an objection to this plan, you need to go back to the beginning of this post and read it again!  Like Warren and Sanders, I am not at all concerned about whether or not we can actually ‘afford’ it (although we could).  And the GOP happily spends on programs it can’t afford, too.  So, that’s just not a real objection.

$500/mo doesn’t seem like much.  Having survived on that amount myself, I know full well, however, that you CAN survive on that amount.  However, Tier 1 is only meant to be a safety net.  Not a safety hammock.  And certainly not a safety wet blanket.

Note:  this money comes with NO STRINGS ATTACHED.  As such, there is no excuse left for anyone to still go hungry.  (Those with disabilities are still able to get additional funds).

Now here comes a twist.

Associated with this program, every year each recipient of these funds who earn less than, say, $50,000 receives a letter detailing precisely which of their fellow Americans subsidized the money they have received.

Everyone is harping on the rich all the time, when they should be thanking them.  There is a widespread hatred for the ‘rich.’  The ‘rich’ being the people who pay—literally—97% of all the taxes.  [see] It is high time we give credit where credit is due.  The names of the taxpayers will be obscured for privacy purposes, but the recipients will be able to see, for the first time ever, that real people being ‘generous’ with THEIR OWN MONEY, are the ones helping them to survive.  (As opposed to liberals, who are generous with other people’s money.) Perhaps there could be a way, via an intermediary program, for recipients of the funds to send letters of thanks to the ‘donors.’

The purpose of this ‘twist’ is to introduce a human dimension, and do something to strengthen our ties between our fellow humans.  Moreover, we will be thanking the people actually responsible for their sharing, and not the government, which does not ‘share,’ but rather distributes.

It could be argued that there is no real correspondence between the taxes from the rich and the money received in Tier 1.  Again, start over from the beginning.  Warren has proposed a 52 TRILLION dollar plan for just ONE agenda item.  The GOP happily spends more than a trillion dollars each year than we actually have.  If we must have figments of fantasy embedded in our national life, at least we can have one that strengthens our social fabric rather than weakens it.

Tier 2.

This is going to ruffle some feathers of conservatives, but in Tier 2… regardless of actual income level… any adult that has a job which amounts to, on average, 30 hours a week, receives AN ADDITIONAL $6,000 a year.

Many of our anti-poverty programs are counter-productive and create a decision-making dynamic which penalizes effort and advancement.  This is true of taxation in general, and for that matter every government program that has ever existed and ever will.

When people stand to lose existing financing when they reach a certain threshold, unless that they expect to really blow past that threshold, they will be tempted to remain with their existing financing, perpetually.

Consider:  You are ‘making’ $500/mo for doing NOTHING.  If you went out and got a job which earned you $510/mo, and you lost the original $500, you would wonder why you are working so hard for what you were previously getting for doing NOTHING.  Why work at all?

We need to create the opposite incentive.

Thus, for those able-body Americans who strive to improve themselves, we toss them ANOTHER $6,000 a year, subject to the same limitations as in Tier 1.  As in Tier 1, recipients get a nice letter detailing all the rich people that made it possible.

Tier 2 also comes with other features.

First of all, in households with 2 adults, if at least one of them is working 30 hours a week (or they work 30 hours a week between the two of them), they BOTH get the additional $6,000.

There used to be a word for such an arrangement… “marriage.”

The money is starting to add up at this point.  With $24,000 (2 adults) to spend on essentials plus income from work, it will be the rare individual or ‘family’ that won’t have annual income exceeding $40,000/yr, which is the low end of middle class.  Even the gender studies graduate should be able to survive on this!

However, there is one big difference with Tier 2.

The additional $6,000 is not provided only by other taxpayers.  Oh, no.  This additional $6,000 is funded BY THE PERSON’S OWN TAXES.  (And is heritable.)

I happen to know about how much one pays in taxes on an income of about $50,000/yr.  Between income taxes, sales taxes, real estate taxes, gas taxes, taxes on taxes, taxed taxes, and so on, it comes out to about $10,000/yr.

The IRS’s tax bracket for income is 12% up to $78,000 (for 2019), which means that on an income of $50,000/yr, there would be about $5,000 in income taxes all by itself, so there is no particular reason why the bulk of the Tier 2 funds could not be paid by the individual himself (the difference, if any, made up by generous rich people).  But, behold, a conservative principle:  people are being permitted to spend THEIR OWN MONEY.  I know, right.  God forbid.

Let me take a moment to deal with an objection.  Won’t the diversion of these taxes mean some other things go unfunded?  Dude, you aren’t paying attention.  Start over from the beginning.  With 1.5 trillion in additional debt each year, there already isn’t a real relationship between taxes received and government spending.  The idea that there is is just a fiction designed to keep us from becoming Venezuela.

Nonetheless, consider some numbers:

According to the source I already gave:

  • In 2016, 140.9 million taxpayers reported earning $10.2 trillion in adjusted gross income and paid $1.4 trillion in individual income taxes.
  • The share of reported income earned by the top 1 percent of taxpayers fell slightly to 19.7 percent in 2016. Their share of federal individual income taxes fell slightly, to 37.3 percent.
  • In 2016, the top 50 percent of all taxpayers paid 97 percent of all individual income taxes, while the bottom 50 percent paid the remaining 3 percent.
  • The top 1 percent paid a greater share of individual income taxes (37.3 percent) than the bottom 90 percent combined (30.5 percent).
  • The top 1 percent of taxpayers paid a 26.9 percent individual income tax rate, which is more than seven times higher than taxpayers in the bottom 50 percent (3.7 percent).

In other words, the top 1 percent of all taxpayers provide a full third of the tax revenue, and the top 50 percent paid 97% of all the revenue—with the top 1 percent paying the lion’s share even of that.  Those who make $50,000 a year are within the group making up the piddly 3%.     Let’s just be honest, here.  The amount that these lower middle-class individuals contribute to the tax burden is really very low.  The $6,000 in taxes ‘diverted’ adds comparatively little to the national ‘income.’

While this amount doesn’t amount to a hill of beans when it comes to offsetting the massive expenditures of the Federal government, this $6,000 a year matters quite a bit to someone hovering around the poverty line.

Since we are trying to culturally appropriate poverty programs from the Democrats and stave off a shooting civil war, this seems to me to be a ‘price’ worth ‘paying.’

Another objection might be that this is all well and good for the Feds, but what about state and local municipalities?  I submit that the Federal Reserve’s magic pen will be able to handle that without a problem.  They are already inventing tens of billions of dollars A MONTH, right now, AS WE SPEAK.  What is ‘money’ between friends?  Er, between government agencies?

Tier 2 summary:  by incentivizing self-improvement and dignifying people with the right to spend their own money, we should begin seeing people rise out of poverty who have been there for decades, and using their own funds for job education, etc, and possibly even become wealthy.  (At this point, presumably, they would also stop voting Democrat.)

The law of unintended consequences would surely raise its head here.  But I promised not to try to answer every objection.

It is on to Tier 3.

Tier 3.

At a certain threshold, adults enter into a third category.  Perhaps this would be $78,000 which is presently where the IRS takes an additional cut.  Legislators would have to determine this, but I’ll use this figure for illustration purposes.

When an adult or family unit reaches this threshold, they would KEEP GETTING the money from stage 1 and stage 2.

Don’t fret, conservative.  That money is THEIR OWN DAMN MONEY anyway.

I would submit that at this point, it’s just not feasible to think these people are living in poverty.  If you can’t live off of $78,000, even as a family of six or eight or ten, the problem is not the income.  I say this as the head of a family of six, one of whom is permanently disabled, who lived on a single income below the poverty line for more than a decade.  So don’t tell me otherwise.  Just don’t.

At this threshold, the excess of their ‘taxes’ beyond the $12,000 now starts going into the big buckets that taxes are already going into.   Ie, if they would have been taxed (via all taxation avenues) at $15,000 on the year, $12,000 goes back into their own account but the remaining $3,000 gets sent to all the governments out there; first to the locality, then the state, and finally the Feds.

But with a difference.

From here on out, taxpayers can choose to allocate where their funds are spent, especially on the Federal level.  If they want all of their taxes going to national defense, they can do that.  If they don’t want a dime to go to Planned Parenthood, they can so choose.  If they want to send it all to the EPA, they can.  Do they want to fund the Green New Deal?  Let them. If they want to spread it around, ok.  They can even, if they want, become one of the individuals allocating money to subsidizing Tier 1 accounts.  They may feel grateful for the generosity of the rich people who helped them out, and now that they are moving up, wish to ‘pay it back/forward.’

Let me explain the value of this proposal through the lens of objections that might be raised.

Someone might say:  our system requires that our legislatures make decisions which require the participation of all who are represented, whether they like it or not.  The same type of argument is lodged against the idea that governors or the president can have ‘line item’ vetoes.  Setting aside the possibility that this is defensible, at least in principle, in practice it has proven time and time again to be toxic.  The idea that a person elected with, say, 50.01% of the vote, can impose their will on the others who voted differently, is only sustainable if the sorts of things permitted to be imposed are extremely limited.

If, on the other hand, a person with 50.01% voter support can (for example) decide how many children you should have, where you can live, what you will eat, what you can’t eat, whether you can use a straw, drink a large drink, pay for the birth control of others, wear underwear, etc, etc, then you have a situation where you stand to positively infuriate nearly one half of the population.  Voting out that person in a similarly slim majority will infuriate the other half.  Well, you can only infuriate people so long before they look at that old slogan, “ballots not bullets”, and decide that ‘ballots’ are not having the desired effect.

Now, the truly appropriate way out of this mess is to scale back the government significantly and radically limit the kinds of things legislators can legislate on.  People are far less likely to be outraged over being forced to pay an additional 1% for road construction (for example) than they are if forced to pay for abortions (for example).  The former has the advantage of at least legitimately being a matter of public interest.  The latter is a gross infringement on personal morality.  Multiply such repugnant invasions endlessly, and given enough time, you will get what you would expect.

But now we have another reality check.

Scaling back the government and its spending is not going to happen, is it?  Not even the GOP is willing to scale back the government.  Even when it controls all three branches.  As I’m writing this, Trump is poised to sign the latest trillion dollar spending bill.  (Not that Trump ever campaigned on ‘limited government’ principles.)

It isn’t going to happen, but that doesn’t mean we can’t turn down the heat.  By allowing people to allocate their taxes to programs they actually support, and not being forced to be complicit in ones they deem grotesque, we can make taxation/government spending less of a battleground.

To be sure, this would be, at bottom, a mere fiction.  Probably, the number of people choosing to fund the military rather than the EPA will be offset just as much by people choosing to fund the EPA rather than the military, so that the whole thing is a wash.  And even if there was something which the people did not choose to adequately fund, it’s not like lack of actual money has prevented money from being spent, has it?  If the EPA is short 100 million, the Federal Reserve can just wave tap on its magical keyboard and viola! fully funded.

Nonetheless, this fiction, while defusing the tension between citizens, will perhaps increase the pressure on politicians.  For, if it is the case that certain programs are frequently unsupported by the citizens and yet receive funds anyway, and/or, people sense that THEIR money is being squandered, they may finally provide the political support for finally getting control of our country’s finances, which clearly does not currently exist.

LOL

Well, it is fun to think about.

At any rate, I do think defusing the heat between citizens is worth engaging in the fiction.

Conclusion.

I have said repeatedly that the money involved is heritable, and for good reason.  We want to encourage responsible saving as well and if the money is just lost if it isn’t spent, that’s going to create other bad habits we don’t want to encourage.

I have also said that this applies to every American adult.  Yes, even the likes of Bill Gates.  The reason I did this is because as soon as you set a threshold, you create decision making dynamics that tilt you towards wanting to cross the threshold at all.  We can avoid that completely simply by not having a threshold.  And what is $12,000/yr to Bill Gates?  And, its still his own money, and its still a mere pittance when compared to the vast expenditures of the government.

It should go without saying that this is just a sketch, and as a sketch, exact numbers and thresholds, and other important details would need to be worked out.  I maintain that the only really important consideration on those numbers are which ones will encourage rather than discourage the goals we want, with considerations of ‘affordability’ a pure distraction, for reasons already given.

It can also be submitted that these proposals represent a repudiation of my own ‘constitutional libertarian conservative’ views.  Yes and no.

Again, the reason why I have the views I have is because I care about the real world.  The political left going off the rails is very much a real fact about the real world.  Where it ends, nobody knows for sure right now, but it doesn’t look pretty.  Doing what we can to defuse them, while being as true to my ‘constitutional libertarian conservative’ views as I can, seems appropriate and necessary, and entirely consistent with my views, especially when we consider the left’s growing propensity to embrace violence.

I would very much prefer to re-orient everything to free markets, private organizations, etc, etc.  But does my reader really think… I mean, REALLY think that any of that is going to happen?  My assessment is that it is only going to happen (if it happens at all) AFTER we go off the fiscal cliff (if we ever do).  This being the case, and in light of the radical beliefs and behavior of an increasingly large share of the American population, it seems to me that even just perceived as a ‘stop gap’ measure, implementing programs which will actually accomplish the things that Democrats SAY they are interested in doing, but with Republicans getting the credit, and increasing the share of people enjoying the benefits of financial security, perhaps, just maybe, we can hold things off long enough to get our ducks in a row.

You must understand:  we’ve lost.  Conservativism has lost.  Libertarianism has lost.  The Republicans have lost.  That is the REALITY.  Après Donald, le déluge.  All that is left to do is to survive long enough so that after everything has come to a head, perhaps we can make a wiser start.  In the meantime, perhaps, such as with proposals like this, at least be able to mitigate against some of the more dire of the possible eventualities.

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8 comments

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    • Mark on December 31, 2019 at 8:57 pm

    Tony, a well thought out article. Unfortunately, I think you may be too late. When history looks back I think the first shots have been fired, most just don’t realize it yet. I hope I’m wrong. I hope we can walk it back.

    • Anthony on December 31, 2019 at 10:26 pm
      Author

    Thanks for the comment, Mark. I feel about the same. This could just be wishful thinking on my part, but after its all through, at least no one can say I didn’t try. If enough conservative-types think there may be something to this proposal I’ll draw it up more officially and present it to relevant individuals who might be able to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

  1. Overall, a very interesting proposal. Where it fails, prima facie, is in not taking into account the cost of living in particular places. You might be able to live on $500/month in some parts of the country, but not in Seattle (or LA, or the Bay Area, or NY, …). For that reason, as a (legal) immigrant I would have long since fled the Seattle area (and for that matter the state of WA due to its policies), but my wife has family and roots here. Though even she is frustrated enough by the challenges to at least talk about moving.

    But your ideas are a good start, and maybe without the governments’ fingers in every pie CoL would begin to even out.

    • Anthony on January 12, 2020 at 12:34 am
      Author

    I would have to believe that the powers that be would figure out something on the cost of living angle. The challenge with the Tier 1 level to begin with is to find an amount that reasonably ensures that any moderately responsible and capable person who does not want to starve to death will have the means to not starve to death, without at the same time making it so comfortable that people would feel content to stay in Tier 1 until they die–the perpetual Welfare State.

    On this basis, I think it could be argued that in the main, the “moderately reasonable, responsible, and capable person” would make the smart choice and move, on their own, to a place where the costs are more reasonable. But then, there are a thousand reasons why even the MRRCP would have trouble pulling that off. You mention one, even in your own case–family and roots.

    The ‘smart people’ might find a way to bridge the difference between various costs of living, but nonetheless, compensating too much for variances in cost of living could, and would, lend itself to facilitating safety hammocks, rather than safety nets.

    This is the challenge which presents itself to all statist proposals, which mine of course is. It is just not possible to deal with every unintended consequence and come up with a solution to every unique conundrum that arises in human experience. The most invasive and sweeping programs are never up to the task. The smartest individuals… I mean, the REALLY smartest individuals (you know the ones) always leave a trail of loose ends. I would think this one would be no different. But to make them happy, and stave off a possible hot civil war, I think its worth letting them try. 🙂

    Thanks for the comment.

    • Timaahy on January 21, 2020 at 11:40 pm

    “Note: this money comes with NO STRINGS ATTACHED. ”

    “This money would be in an account accessed by a card which would allow that money only to be spent in designated categories.”

    Hmmm….

    • Anthony on January 22, 2020 at 10:44 am
      Author

    By that, I mean there would be no drug testing, required job training, required job seeking, etc.

    • Timaahy on January 27, 2020 at 10:24 pm

    “One of the distinguishing marks of an American ‘conservative’ is his allegiance to reality.”

    You really gotta stop this mate. Well, I mean you’re a strong independent man so you can do what you like, but this whole notion that conservatives are the sole custodians of reality, while liberals are mentally deficient wackjobs, is not only untrue, but counter-productive.

    • Anthony on January 28, 2020 at 9:09 am
      Author

    Counter-productive in what sense? You think I’m interested in persuading you? Not at all.

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