An Uncertain Future
We currently live in unstable times. Financially, with real debt (23 trillion), with unfunded liabilities (200+ trillion), with a budget of more than we take in through taxes.
The first question is simply can we continue down this path? Spending more than we make, gathering more debt, and convincing our debtors that we are good for it, that our economic outlook is good and that they will continue to be repaid.
The secret is, no, we can’t. But wait a minute, we are continuing down this path. What then are we doing that makes this possible? And can it last , and for how long?
While I cannot forcast the future we can layout a few of the troublesome spots that are real threats to continued safety and prosperity. And yes not all people share in that prosperity. But we will let the discussion of “everyone deserves ......” for later on because it is a thorny subject and needs its own space.
Now I am not an economist, nor have I had the honor to dialog with those who create a budget for this great country. That does not mean we cannot work through some of the issues. We deserve solutions.
To begin this exploration we will keep things as simple as possible, not because
most of us cannot grasp the complexity of the systems we are governed by but because any problem solving exercise must reduce everything to the simplest level and then make sure that one node and each succeeding node works as designed. Sooner or later the flaws or errors in the bigger more complex systems will show themselves and maybe be fixable. Of course everything is fixable you just have to identify the problem (what is not working riight), gain acceptance of the problem description and then present a solution (hopefully that works).
Of all the problems we could address lets first talk about money.
If I were to lose faith in our dollar I would convert everything I had to gold and withdraw everything from my bank. If everyone felt the same way and did the same it would be called a run on the bank(s). They would probably not have enough to cover such a run and would then close their doors. The dollar might then lose value down to the point of being worthless and the government might print lots and lots of dollars. This might require folks to buy bread with a wheel barrow full of money. Many many bad things would happen and it would take a whole book to document the catastrophic outcomes of such a disaster.
So why do we not do everything in our power to protect the value of the dollar. It used to be backed up by real reserves of pure gold. Nixon got rid of the gold standard and we moved to the concept of debt. If our government budget was beyond our tax revenue we sold treasury notes to cover our shortfall which was a promise to pay back with interest after a specified period of time. As long as everyone believed that the government would honor that the system works. And it worked so well that the dollar became the reserve currency of the world, everything was priced in dollars. The current question is “where are we now?”
More in debt. If interest rates are lower than the debt interest we can issue new debt to pay off the older debt. Everything returns to normal for a time. But we cannot issue these cyclical debt instruments forever, the real debt must be reduced.
Not happening anytime soon. 2.3 trillion and counting for restarting the economy because of the Coronavirus. Three more trillion to recharge the economy. Another 2 trillion for infrastructure repairs. And because everyone wants to reach into the Government honey pot while the gettings good, another trillion for good measure. If this sounds a bit beyond logic or even common sense we are on the same page. Where is this money coming from? The Governments ability to create, read print, empty money. And with the yearly budget never on target having excess tax revenue to pay down this debt is not likely, not possible, not even possible.
We can increase tax revenue by creating lots of jobs, increasing the product output (GDP - Gross Domestic Product), reducing spending, increasing taxes, lowering interest rates. Some of these are contradictory, meaning they fight against each other. Given the climate on the hill, no one will ever vote for the extreme measures needed to get us back to solvency.
* Lower Taxes for Business: Stimulates investment in new employees and equipment (business expansion) which generates greater tax revenue.
* Lower Taxes for individuals: more latitude in consumption, stronger GDP growth.
* Higher Taxes across the board: stifles growth over time and actually impedes GDP growth.
* Lowering Interest rates: stimulates borrowing and expands consumption and capital investment.
* Reduce Spending: improves deficit, lowers debt, but shrinks GDP
* Reduce Regulations: Frees up Administrative Overhead for product related worker contributions. But the safety of citizenry is threatened by private enterprise greed and excesses.
The primary goal is to increase GDP output, lower unemployment, keep inflation and deflation under control, keep interest rates moderately low, and grow our way out of debt. And spend less under the umbrella of a balanced budget while maintaining an affordable but increased standard of living.
Got all that? Good because the next logical question is “how did it get all screwed up? Or where do we go from here?” We have a few issues, the first is save our people, the second is restore the economy, the third is reform. Of course the Caronovirus has severely impacted all of the best laid plans of mice and men. People are dying, we hope this thing levels out but in fighting the cascading effects we are creating a new problem. Stopping the economy creates restart issues. Floating 3+2+ 3 +? trillion dollars to cover the loss of jobs and business was a great move but we still have a few weeks to go before victory is declared. And this is a global disaster, still growing with, at the moment, unforeseen consequences. Our leaders and all the people that have stepped forward to deal with the virus are doing an amazing job and deserve our deepest respect. But, and there a lot of buts, we need to speculate about the aftermath
Summary of Retirement and health Benefits:
While we may want term limits for our elected representatives. While we often believe they are focused more on maintaining their employment than the needs of the people. The reality is most are trying to serve their country but hampered by the system, pressure groups and the election process which is astronomically expensive. They are not breaking the bank as some would assume. While reform is called for, i.e. term limits and election reform, the real issue is what influences a representative of the people, and what pressures come to bear on their decisions.
The powerful lobby groups who represent major entities throughout the US place enormous pressure on the decision process. How many representatives actually read the Bills they are called on to cast a vote Yea or Nay for. Because each elected official needs to get reelected, and because their are no boundaries on how much a candidate can spend on his or her election, each of them need sponsors with money to enter the fray and get reelected. Millions are spent to get a $174,000 job. That alone should raise an eyebrow or two and at least cause one to question the System.
The web site the “Story of stuff” has done a great job describing the unending cycle of consumerism that we are imbedded in. Brian Swimme has spoken often about our Industrial Age and where we need to be in the future. Specifically our perspective that allows us to view everything and everyone as something or someone that we can use and discard. Large Corporations do not want us to break the cycle. In fact everyone is scared to death to break the cycle, our government, our economic leaders, and all producers of goods.
The issue though is not whether we buy or do not buy, the issue is how we change the process so that all products, all waste generated by the process, all trash from discarded objects and containers, and all uses of our natural resources are revisited. It is not sufficient to fix a segment of the system. The amount of toxins and chemicals that we are disbursing to the air and water, the impact to our health and the health of the Eco-System we live in is beyond calculation. The damage we are inflicting on ourselves and all future generations approaches catastrophic proportions.
All those who are parading the labels and judgements before us so that we can be persuaded to affirm Capitalism or Socialism are committing a grievous error. Neither our world nor we as a people can afford these arguments that completely fail to identify the reality of our problem and offer solutions for our continued survival.
First and foremost two things need to be addressed. Election reform. Lobby groups. Why? The decision process needs to be fixed.
The machinery of the election process cost so much that you have to bargain away almost all of the great changes you had planned on implementing. Some people have been in office so long they have mastered the process of staying and collecting influence but lost the primary premise of Service to their Country and Service to the people they represent.
House and Senate reform
So to begin with, the House of Representatives and the Senate must have term Limits or, no more than 12 years in office. The retirement package can be adjusted to account for this turnover. Term limits covers a multitude of sins
* Leaders of the various committees would be replaced at least every twelve or less years. This prevents the gathering and holding on to power.
* The current roles that Seniority plays would over time be replaced by "who is the most competent to exercise their management skills in such and such a position".
* To vote on a Bill you must sign off that you have read and understood the Bill.
* No major Bill that affects the Nation can have Attachments or addendums that are specifically State centered, or unrelated to the major bill.
* As part of entering Office each representative will not only swear to uphold the Constitution but also to ensure a balanced budget.
* When you enter a Bill that provides for State only assistance (Bridges, Roads, Flood Control,...) the source of revenue to pay for it must be identified.
All contestants for a given elected position will be given a fixed amount of money and guaranteed air time for airing their message. All contenders must have at least one debate discussing the issues facing their constituents. Under no circumstances will any contender or currently elected official be allowed to accept money from any other entity. The lobby Groups will have to invent another legal way to influence the decision process.
* No contestant or contender for elected office will be allowed to spend their own money on their election beyond a certain amount, i.e. $25,000?.
* All States must adhere to the same voting process. The party in power cannot redistrict to consolidate the voting public in their favor. The vote process must be similar but have the same checks and balances as every other state.
For the moment lets just list the areas where reform might have the greatest impact:
*Tax Reform - flat tax, no loopholes, a balanced budget.
* Health Reform - Bring the bio-technology back to the US, hospital billing transparency, insurance (nationwide, no preconditions, limits), doctors billing transparency, ....
*Farm Subsidies and Agriculture Reform - soil conditioning, water preservation, free markets unhampered by tariffs.
*Election Reform - one standard for all parties, No private financing, rules for debates and advertising (lying and falsification)
* Lobby Groups must be transparent to the General Public. No money, Services, or Favors must exchange hands. you are automatically suspended if you allow an exchange to take place (money, jobs, travel, housing, biased bills, entertainment).
* Social Security Reform - Dipping into the coffers and replacing the dip with an IOU is forbidden. Everyone must participate in the system or opt out (no SS benefits ever).
* Specialty taxes like the gas tax must be accounted for...roads, bridges, ?
* Retirement Plans Reform - the retirement nest egg cannot be part of a bankruptcy, nor can any entity withdraw from the Nest Egg more than a proportional payout of their retirement plan.
* All Social Security and Retirement income will be assessed a SS tax of 7.5%. This is because an imbalance of older people to younger people (contributions to SS) cannot be maintained by only the young.
* Have grants and government sponsorship of research focused on the key areas of innovation that will correct or assist in the management of the whole eco system, new energy, trash disposal, hazardous waste disposal, soil rebuilding, water management/purification.. etc etc.
* Corporate Reform - Global management of resources and waste disposal. No Corporation can move their manufacturing outside of the US without maintaining the strict requirements of Global Resource Management and Waste Management. Strong penalties will follow such practices (including personal penalties against the Management team running the Corporation, severe penalties).
The issue is no longer between ideologies like Capitalism vs Socialism or any other ism. The issue is Global Management and the Checks and balances in place to protect us from the damages done by any group, person, corporation or government. Democracy works when we are all honorable men and women. Capitalism works when one group (a small minority) does not dominate and suppress another.
The excesses of Corporations and individuals cannot be legislated, but they can be investigated and prosecuted. Corporate executives can have their resources frozen and under extreme conditions removed. Any entity that requires and accepts support from the public coffers to resurrect their business will at a minimum suspend their income, options, and perks until the money is returned to the public coffers with interest.
No sane person wants the government to be any more involved in their life than is absolutely necessary. Our forefathers understood this. But we are now approaching a Global requirement for Global Management. When a Corporation within the US can abuse the resources and people of another Country then Capitalism has let us down. When Corporations have a higher GDP than most of the smaller countries of the world, their power and influence must have checks and balances.
Some Countries and Corporations consume resources without regard for the future health and safety of our total Eco-system. For example having one group manage their fishing practices to maintain the health of the species being fished while another group disregards such practices and depletes the genetic pool (extinction) is no longer acceptable - not to us or to future generations.
Stripping the Amazon rain forest will change the entire ECO System of a vast area possibly the entire south, central and north american land mass. This is a current and escalating world wide issue.
It would be great, even wonderful, if our country took the lead in sponsoring a Global Management Team whose mission was to identify and propose solutions for those severe problems that will affect and do affect the integrity of the entire food chain and all human rights. This International Team would also suggest ways to form other management teams to handle the problems of finite resources, pollution, fresh water, climate change, deforestation, Soil management, water management, energy and corporate and government excesses of power.
It has been said over and over again that we are now in a Global economy. One part of the world now has a direct impact on many other parts of the world. We can no longer afford self preservation as the primary objective of any religion, nation state or peoples. We must revise our vision to include Global Management. Not only do all peoples of the world deserve quality of life and their own right to personal freedom to pursue their dreams, so does our Eco-System. I am absolutely certain that the integrity of the planet and all life on it is now in our hands. We can continue as we are or we can Globally join up to handle the issues facing us all, our very survival.
Back to “how did we get into this mess”
While it does no good to point fingers or assign blame it is worthwhile to acknowledge the problem areas and when appropriate offer potential solutions. In addition there are boundaries that must be negotiated. For example how do we halt the insane practice of whaling (extermination) without the use of deadly force, or stop the use of plastics that breakdown into micro particles and invade the food chain (is it too late), or continue to poison the marine eco system with the mercury from coal without shutting down the entire coal industry. How do we address fishing methods that destroy two thirds more fish than are kept for food. Look that one up.
We got into this mess by not thinking through the impacts of our decisions.
We got into this mess by allowing government and private interests to overpower our sense of caution when we were considering short term benefits vs long term impacts (destructive even at first glance).
We got into this mess because we failed to heed the warnings of our founding fathers:
* A government that gives you everything you want is capable of taking everything you have.
* Checks and Balances are built into the system to thwart the accunulation of power by any one branch or entity.
* The trust in currency is predicated on the ability to pay back debt
* When half of the population expects free stuff, it is delivered at the expense of the other half.
* There is a limit to how long an elected official is to remain in office or how many terms are allowed. This honors the intent of the checks and balances concept in the constitution.
Things that get in the way
Pollution in the form of ground chemicals, plastics, trash, agricultural runoff, mercury from coal, fracking, airborne chemicals, fresh water depletion
The world is experiencing a natural pandemic, a health threat, a little ole virus.
At some point in the future another super bug could (will) materialize.
Radioactive waste (brine from fracking and used for deicing roads), nuclear plants, weapons development and disposal.
Dictatorships that suppress freedom through prison, killing, intimidation, government control over everything.
Food for a growing population, water, agriculture, pollution, pesticides, herbicides, nutrients
Self Interest in extreme preventing honest evaluation of Global Management and
Global problem solving
Species Extinction and the redirection of the evolutionary process
The entire discussion of climate change
Governments and political leadership
How do we assign blame or who is responsible
Not a good idea because in a certain sense we all are. Let’s face it the Coronavirus has proven that if we work together, get connected so we are all on the same page, our ability to solve problems is seriously magnified. When we try to jockey for political advantage things don’t workout so well. This year and last provide enough examples that illustrate the positive and negative side of each approach.
What we need going forward is very very simple. Team ... Work. We each can reject attempts by those who would try to one up others on the same team. We will have a lot of work to do when thing settle down and this virus runs out of gas. Getting all hyper about fault finding is the least productive thing we will do. Getting our heads together will set the stage and atmosphere for moving forward to deal with the aftermath and our next serious step ,,, Reform.