Archive for August 14th, 2008
In my last blog, I failed to mention what has been taking up a good chunk of my time lately. That would be Politics. The election in November is shaping up to be historic in so many ways that I’ve stopped counting.
I have very strong opinions on many issues at the moment. However, most issues lately are quite divisive and I have no interest in blogging my opinion on these divisive issues. Even if I did, I can’t imagine that anyone would read my blog and subsequently changed their opinion on a topic like abortion, gay marriage, or gun rights.1
What I’ve really been focusing on in politics lately are so-called “divisive topics” that aren’t remotely divisive. I keep reading and hearing from various media outlets about supposed debate over topics that an overwhelming majority of people actually agree. Maybe I’m oversimplifying things, but I don’t really see how certain topics are debatable.
For instance, years ago I remember seeing a politician say during a debate that he was “against child abuse.” That would imply that some candidates are pro-child abuse! While the logic in that argument is obviously flawed, no one in the debate brought up that point. I keep seeing so-called divisive issues where the logic on one side is deeply flawed, yet few people try and make that point. So I have decided to pick five current political topics and show how they are not really divisive.
1. Campaign Finance Reform
Debate about this issue has been raging for a while, and I don’t really understand why. To put it simply, I think that 99% of people would agree that enough money can buy a politician’s vote on just about any issue. And I think that roughly the same amount of people would agree that buying a vote is wrong and that we should work to minimize that affect. That in a nutshell is campaign finance reform, limiting the effect of money on politicians.
Should individuals be allowed to give money to a politician’s campaign? Of course. That is the essence of free speech, supporting candidates that share your beliefs. Should individuals be allowed to give unlimited amounts of money? Of course not. Giving money to a candidate at some point becomes buying political influence. Campaign finance reform is figuring out where to draw the line between supporting a candidate and buying political influence. While people may debate on where to draw the line, I don’t see how anyone would object to the need to draw a line.
2. Estate Taxes
This had been a hot political topic this decade, and I don’t understand why. Opponents love to refer to this as the death tax, but it’s no different than any other tax. When money above a certain amount is given as a gift by one individual to another, tax is collected. Otherwise, all payments between individuals would be referred to as “gifts” and no one would ever pay any taxes when money is exchanged. Estate taxes then should be viewed as another form of a gift tax, one where the individual giving the gift is deceased. No one argues about the merits of the gift tax and the estate tax should be no different.
Furthermore, under current law enacted by the Bush administration the estate carries a much larger exemption than the gift tax. In 2008, the first $2 million of an estate is exempted from taxes. In 2009, the $3.5 million is exempted from taxes and in 2010 the estate tax is repealed.2 Sensibly, the estate tax law sunsets in 2011, and the exemption amount returns to $1 million permanently.
So even after the Bush act sunsets, an individual’s estate will be able to bequeath up to a $1 million dollars tax free after death. Any money over that amount will be taxed at 55%. Who would possibly be that upset by this? Only the top 1% of income bracket will ever have to worry about this, that’s about it. Why should the other 99% of the county care? We shouldn’t.
3. Universal Health Care
The idea behind universal health care is simple; every citizen in America should have access to the same quality health care. I don’t really see what there is to argue against the idea that all sick people should be able to go to the hospital. The debate against universal health care always seems to revert to the same arguments against “socializing medicine.” Opponents argue that the free market should dictate health care coverage, not the government. This argument is ridiculous.
Adopting universal health care in America would designate medical services as public good instead of a private good. Simply put, private goods and services use profit as a motive and public goods and services do not. Americans have decided that many services, like fire police protection, roads, schools, and police protection, should not use profit as a motive to make decisions. This allows all Americans to enjoy a determined base level of these services, and allows those who desire a higher level of service to pay more for private services.
For example, every child in America has access to schooling, and rich people can choose to pay more to send their children to better schools. Every citizen has access to police service, and rich people can choose to hire private security for extra protections. This should be the same for health care. Every citizen should be able to go to a doctor, and rich people could then choose to spend more on private medical services. I don’t see this as debatable, and neither does any other industrialized nation in the world besides America.
4. Windfall Profit Taxes
A windfall profit tax was put in place back in the 1970s by the Carter Administration. It was an inventive way to recover some of the profit made from the huge jump in gas prices in that decade. The oil companies were making record profits at the expense of American citizens, and this tax was used to help level the playing field. The money collected from the tax was used to help fund needed infrastructure improvement. Eventually, gas prices fell and the windfall profit tax has repealed by the Regan Administration.
Thirty years later, oil companies are again making record profits at the expense of Americans. Exxon-Mobil posted the highest quarterly profits ever recorded in each of the past five quarters. Record high gas prices have led to an unprecedented amount of profit for oil companies. If the windfall profit tax was brought back now, it could be used to force oil companies to invest some of this record profit back into America. For example, the money raised from this tax could be used to fund the construction of renewable energy infrastructure. I see absolutely no debate on this issue. The only people I could possibly see arguing against additional taxes on the wealthiest industry in our history would be people making money from these oil companies.
5. Offshore Drilling
This issue seems to be particularly divisive at the moment for some strange reason. Right now, a majority of Americans actually support increased offshore drilling in America. The phrase that keeps getting repeated is “drill here, drill now.” This is extremely misleading, and has no real bearing on the issue at hand. The actual debate is whether Congress should lift a 1981 federal ban on offshore drilling. I understand that Americans are upset about high gas prices and support the idea of drilling for more oil in America. However, this is not what is actually being debated. Lifting this ban will have no effect on gas prices for two reasons.
First, oil companies can already drill offshore and are already do so. Lifting this ban would simple let them drill in more places. Location has not kept oil companies from more drilling offshore; it’s been the cost involved. Oil companies have had the opportunity to set up additional offshore drilling for decades, but it is much more expensive than traditional, land based drilling. Seeing as there are already millions of miles of ocean where drilling is currently allowed but is not taking place, adding more area to this will not have any negligible affect. It may have a tremendous negative affect on wildlife in our oceans, but no effect on gas prices. Why risk it?
Perhaps the biggest reason that lifting the ban will have no affect on gas prices is very simple; American oil companies are private and not public. The popular opinion seems to be that drilling for American oil will lower American gas prices. The problem with this idea is that there no such thing as American oil. We don’t have a national oil company like Russia or Columbia, so we don’t have national oil. If Exxon-Mobil drills for oil in America, it’s Exxon-Mobil’s oil. They can sell it to whoever they wish. Oil companies are private entities, and will sell their product to the highest bidder. Even if lifting the offshore drilling ban was to increase oil production, we would have to compete with the rest of the world for it.
I think that these five issues are basically rich people problems vs. poor people problems. Like privatizing social security or school vouchers, these issues are things that rich people tend to complain about. The only people against campaign finance reform, universal health care, and estate taxes are usually the wealthy. Lifting the offshore drilling ban and against windfall profit taxes should only be supported by oil companies and the people that make money from oil. These issues have been creatively packaged to hide the fact that they almost exclusively benefit the rich, but strip away the rhetoric and that’s all that is left. At a time when the gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to grow, it amazes me that issues designed to narrow that gap can be considered divisive.
1 There are roughly 18 bazillion other websites devoted to this if you are interested.
2 Attention rich old dudes! Plan your death for 2010 and pass the savings on to you heirs!