Summary by James R. Martin, Ph.D., CMA
Professor Emeritus, University of South Florida
This article includes ten questions related to the most critical choices for America based on information provided by the Brookings Institution.1 The choices are very interesting and very controversial.
"...Our choices ought to bind us together rather than absolve us from responsibility for one another, because that's what having a country - a commonwealth - means. These are the things that we all own together. Nothing great ever comes from ease, and nothing good ever came from the impulse to not govern, which is currently in vogue. America didn't just happen; we created America by our choices and our civic imagination. Our willingness to think big. We forget this at our peril: America is not an act of God, it is an act of will." ...Without fear, with reliable information (rarer than you might think), and for the common good. Here presented with our partners from the Bookings Institution, are the biggest choices we face right now."
1. Should we quit fooling around about climate change?
The U.S. accounts for approximately 16 percent of the global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. CO2 is the primary driver of rising global temperatures. The U.S. has three choices as its share of CO2 declines as developing countries emissions increase. Do nothing, do a little (the current approach), or do a lot by taking the lead to reduce emissions using a carbon tax. The tax revenue could be used to reduce the federal budget, fund a long-term reduction in corporate tax rates, and save billions on the environmental and infrastructure damages avoided, all while pressuring other countries to reduce their carbon emissions.
2. Should we reward corporations for stunning acts of disloyalty?
Twelve U.S. companies have reincorporated as foreign entities since 2011 to avoid paying U.S. corporate taxes. Ten more U.S. companies are in the process of reincorporating. Lowering the corporate tax rate would stop this trend and provide incentives for U.S. companies to move trillions of dollars of assets back to the U.S. increasing tax revenue and American jobs.
3. What should we do about our crumbling bridges and roads?
There are 147,870 bridges in the U.S. that have been deemed structurally deficient or obsolete2, as well as 570,673 miles of public roads that are in poor condition. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates it will take $24 billion per year (a bare minimum) to maintain and improve U.S. roads and bridges. Raising the gas tax could provide the revenue (redistributed to the states) to fix our crumbling infrastructure. Alternatives include E-highways for zero-emission trucking with overhead electrified catenary systems, solar roads, low emission freight-transport systems, congestion pricing, etc.
4. Should we limit the number of smart people living in the U.S.?
In 2015 there were 148,000 highly skilled workers (engineers, computer programmers, and others with tech related skills) who applied for H-1B visas who did not receive them. If the U.S. wants more of them working and paying taxes, the cap on the number of H-1B visas should be raised.
5. Should marijuana be legal for everyone?
Four states (plus D.C.) allow recreational marijuana use, nineteen states allow medical marijuana use, while the other states may or may not consider the possession of marijuana for any reason to be a crime. At the federal level, there were 8.2 million marijuana convictions in federal court between 2001 and 2010 and 88 percent were simply for possession. What should be done? The choices include: continue the prohibition of marijuana at the federal, or legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana in all fifty states. Legalizing and taxing marijuana would reduce the prison population saving an estimated $13.7 billion including policing and prosecuting, and raise $6.4 billion in taxes that could be used to fund addiction and other health services.
6. Should everyone have a good lawyer?
According to the constitution everyone has the right to an attorney. Sixty to 90 percent of defenders rely on public defenders. The problem is that there are not nearly enough public defenders. It would take an additional 6,900 public defenders to handle the current case load. The current justice system is not worthy of its name.
7. Should Obamacare be repealed and replaced?
Eighteen million people have gained insurance through the Affordable Care Act since October 2013. The provision that extends coverage to children up to the age of twenty-six has allowed 2.3 million young adults to gain coverage. Fifty million Americans with preexisting conditions also have been covered. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, repealing the Affordable Care Act would increase the federal budget deficits by $137 billion between 2016 and 2025. Eliminating the provision that extends coverage to older children would result in loss of coverage to those 2.3 million young adults, and fifty million with preexisting conditions could again be denied health insurance. If the individual mandate3 is eliminated, eight to twenty-four million fewer people (mostly the young) would purchase health insurance. This would result in an increase of 10 to 27 percent in the average cost of health insurance premiums.
8. Should it be legal to buy a gun without a background check?
There are a variety of estimates, but according to the CDC there were 32,383 firearm murders or suicides in America in 2013. Sales loopholes allow individuals to sell a gun to a stranger, or buy a gun on the internet without a background check. Shouldn't the National Criminal background Check System apply to all gun purchases?
9. Should billionaires be allowed to buy elections?
The Supreme Court has ruled (by its Citizens United decision) that money equals speech. This allows billionaires to donate unlimited amounts of money to candidates through super PACs pretending that those super PACs are independent of the Presidential campaigns. The alternative is to amend the Constitution to ban unlimited spending by fat cats and corporations acknowledging that buying elections is the last thing a democracy sees before it dies.
10. Should we make America great again?
There are two flaws in this question. The first flaw is the view that America is not already great. The second flaw is the apparent underlying idea that what's great for one group of Americans is great for other groups. However, changes affect different groups in different ways. Greatness is not a matter of fate, or a given. It's a choice.
1 The Brookings Institution is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization located in Washington D.C. made up of three hundred experts and thinkers on nearly every important national and global topic. Some of their recommendations seem to be contradictory from a partisan perspective. For example, free lawyers for everyone and legalizing marijuana vs. lower corporate taxes and a gas tax. A systems thinking solution to problems is not always on the right or the left. The following is quoted from their web site. "Research at the Brookings Institution is conducted to inform the public debate, not to advance a political agenda. Brookings scholars are drawn from the United States and abroad - with experience in government and academia - and hold diverse points of view. Brookings's goal is to provide high-quality, fact-based analysis for opinion leaders, decision makers, academics, the media, and the interested public on the full range of challenges facing an increasingly interdependent world." See The Brookings Institution for more.
2 According to the American Society of Civil Engineers there were 607,380 structurally deficient bridges in the U.S. in 2013. Our infrastructure problems are not limited to bridges and roads. There are infrastructure problems in many other areas including: aviation, dams, drinking water, the national power grid, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, ports, public parks and recreation, rail, schools, solid waste, transit, and wastewater. See the ASCE reports below.
3 In the U.S., the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed in 2010 imposes a health insurance mandate to take effect in 2014. Section 5000A requires all taxpayers and their dependents to have health insurance by January 1, 2014. See the Individual Shared Responsibility Provision.
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