Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What Are My Policy Positions?

I spend a fair amount of time at this blog criticizing policymakers, especially the Republicans. It's easy to criticize Republicans, mostly because for the last three years, they actually don't have any policies, other than attacking anything that Barack Obama tries to do. But I just read a post by Ezra Klein at WaPo, and he, instead of attacking Mitt Romney for his gaffes, decided to attack his policy positions. Good one, Ezra.

So, I thought, since I concur, what exactly are my policy positions? Here are some of them, as clearly as I can express them. Mind you, I have no influence on public policy other than this modest blog, but all of us do well to examine and speak our beliefs clearly. So, here:
  • Taxes: I believe in raising them for all rate levels except those below the median income level. How far below is hard for me to establish, but let's say no increases for those below 200% of the poverty level. That guideline would establish that rates for a family of four making less than $46,100 should get no tax increase. All tax credits for the working poor should be maintained. This means that essentially the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire in their entirety. We might want to phase that in to prevent a shock to the economy, but the goal is to get back to the pre-Bush rates. Then, all unnecessary subsidies to oil, gas, and ethanol should be ended, as well as farm subsidies. Finally, the estate tax would be restored to pre-Bush levels, obviously, and the capital gains tax can remain at 15%, as far as I care, because that would really help middle-income retirees, especially those with only 401(k)s. The trick would be to eliminate the loopholes that allow the kind of abuse that let people like Mitt Romney to get paid in capital gains and thus avoid the earned-income rates. That could be accomplished with a Buffett Rule. I would also not be opposed to simply taxing capital gains as income, similar to interest income.
  • End our wars ASAP. We're nearly out of Iraq, and Afghanistan is winding down. Wind it down faster, even faster than Leon Panetta just announced. Also, cut off aid to Pakistan and let them know that we favor democracies like India who are our actual allies. I know, we're freaked about Pakistan having the bomb. They use one or allow one to get used, they get blown up. Let them know that through quiet, non-hysterical channels. Also, stop with the warlike talk on Iran. Negotiate, negotiate. Talk to everyone. Talk to Chavez, Castro, Kim Jong Un, anyone. Look at what's happening in Burma. Progress can be made without bombs. We can't blow EVERYBODY up. Diplomacy works.
  • If we get our revenues up and our defense spending down, use the money available for social safety-net programs. Go to a single-payer, Medicare-style program for everybody. Period. Increase payroll taxes on people and businesses up to the amount they formerly either paid or received in benefits. Use that money for expanded Medicare. Make Social Security solvent forever by raising the threshold for taxation. That's an easy fix. Also, Medicaid and the Veterans' health system should be folded into the greater Medicare system and with it the funding sources. Even the military's current health system can join Medicare.
  • Also, I'm both a Keynesian and an infrastructure freak. I lived in Japan and have been back there twice in the past decade. I know what good infrastructure looks like and how it's paid for. It can really help drive economic growth. I also believe in SUPERTRAINS like Atrios of Eschaton, and like Atrios, I believe in walkable cities. He lives in Philly, a town I visit a lot, and it's walkable with reasonably good local transit. I live in the Bay Area, where transit is pretty sucky. I chose to live in Sonoma, a small town where I can walk to shops, bars, restaurants, my gym, library, you name it. I get in my car mostly if I'm leaving town. There's a couple of exceptions, but mostly that's the way I feel about transportation. I lived in the Netherlands back in the early 70s, and I never forgot what it was like to get on a bicycle freeway to go to work, or to hop between their numerous local villages on a Saturday afternoon. Have bike, will travel was my motto. It was perfect for Tokyo. Not good for hilly towns, I suppose.
  • It's beyond controversial to believe in green energy. The entire country should not only be installing solar panels on every available rooftop, but we should also be building recharging stations as fast as we can. I myself bought a VW Jetta TDI, which gets over 50mph on the highway and up to 44mph in mixed driving. But my real strategy is to wait until I'm off warranty to convert the engine to biodiesel, which should be available at every recharging station, as well. I'm also a proponent of nuclear energy and think the Nevadans are being hysterical about Yucca Mountain. But I don't live there, so it's easy for me to say. I'm also for increased hydro-electric, wind, wave, tidal, any alternative to fossil fuel. I'm for declaring a total end to mountain-top removal. I'm not against fracking, but it's got to be better regulated. Right now I don't trust the frackers. If trust can be established, fine. I hate tar sands oil and wouldn't support anything that increases its development. We can do an end-around with green energy. What if it costs more? No problem. What we would gain in lower healthcare costs and general healthiness would go far in equalizing costs. If we jump in headfirst, I bet we'd be surprised at how far we can go with alternative sources and how far down the costs can be driven.
  • We need to establish a rational trade policy with China. We don't have to be afraid of them. If they're dumping solar panels, place punitive tariffs until they wise up. Don't worry about a trade war. They need us more than we need them, and that's ultimately true. As for the yuan, it had better be properly valued, or we get tough with them on it. How? Here I draw a blank. I don't know how we pressure a country to free its currency. Demand that it allow the market to set the rate?
  • I heard Ralph Nader on Yahoo! TV the other day making a case for how Democrats could take it to the Republicans in 2012 and win the election, even retake the House. One of his recommendations was pushing for raising the minimum wage, which he said was more than $2.00 less in inflation-adjusted dollars than it was in the late 60s. I agree -- that it would be an effective form of economic stimulus -- and that it would be good politics. So put me down as an advocate of a true living wage for all. Raising the federal minimum to over $10 won't produce any millionaires, but it might lift some out of poverty.
I could go on, as there are many more policy prescriptions of value. But this post is long as it is. I'll review and revisit this theme again soon.

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