by Jerome F. Winzig
For weeks now the Democratic and Republican parties and the news media have been obsessed with what John Kerry and George W. Bush, respectively, did or didn't do in Vietnam or in the National Guard over thirty years ago. Both parties pay precious little attention to the real issues where reform is needed in our time. This gives credence to Ralph Nader's assertion that a third political party is needed, but Nader's own viewpoints are silly to the point of being dangerous and he remains clueless about going beyond his personal ego to build a political organization.
This means almost no one discusses the kinds of reform that are desperately needed in America in 2004, reforms that will benefit everyone, including the poor, rather than merely paying lip service to the idea. Neither party really supports these ten reform measures:
- Reform Social Security, which now faces certain ruin. Immediately privatize and invest the annual social security revenue surpluses (rather than spending them, as we have for 19 years). Prepare to privatize and invest all future contributions to social security. Given greatly increased life expectancies, begin a phased increase in retirement ages.
- Reform Medicare, which is also headed for inevitable bankruptcy. Immediately allow retirees to enroll in private alternatives to Medicare Part A. Allow retirees to use their share of Medicare funds to purchase private health insurance. Allow workers to put their Medicare taxes into a personal retirement health savings account.
- Reform health care without the unworkable big-government solutions bandied about by both parties. Immediately make all individually purchased health insurance and out-of-pocket expenses tax deductible for everyone who has minimal catastrophic insurance coverage, even for those who do not itemize or pay taxes. Allow individuals and small businesses to band together to obtain national health insurance coverage.
- Reform the class action lawsuit arena to stem the massive transfer of wealth from stockholders and doctors to a new monied class of class-action lawyers. Impose reasonable caps on awards, rein in excessive attorney fees. Limit frivolous class-action lawsuits. Pass a national asbestos resolution that focuses on those who are truly injured rather than lawyers and those who might be injured in the future.
- Reform campaign finance by abandoning McCain-Feingold and other so-called campaign finance reforms that have failed miserably because they tried to restrain free speech. Instead, remove all limits on campaign spending. Require instead the immediate and total disclosure of all direct and indirect campaign donations, including the posting of all donors names on the Internet as soon as a donation is made or an ad is purchased.
- Reform the corporate tax code, which leads companies to allocate resources inefficiently and has contributed to many of the recent corporate scandals. Abolish the corporate income tax entirely. This will tax those who really own the corporation while removing perverse tax incentives like those for companies doing business overseas.
- Reform free trade because, in spite of political assertions that free trade is bad for Americans, many people in developing nations know how unfair our trade policies are. Work toward an international abolition of all trade tariffs, restraints on free trade, and national subsidies, especially including agricultural subsidies.
- Reform housing policy not by attempting to have the government provide "affordable housing" but by examining policies that make housing less affordable. Cap the interest exemption to mortgages less than $250,000. Limit the home equity interest exemption to housing purposes only. Abolish municipal minimum lot size requirements. Re-assess government programs that tear down existing housing stock.
- Reform farm policy by abandoning generations of expensive and wasteful farm policies that have enriched corporate farmers while failing utterly to protect family farms. Abolish all farm subsidies, target pricing, export subsidies, set-aside programs, and crop licenses (like the one making it a federal crime to grow peanuts without a federal license).
- Reform the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation before it needs a massive bailout. Immediately privatize it so insurers can charge corporations premiums that will pay for the true costs.
Besides these reforms, we need a foreign policy that consistently promotes democracy and free markets, respects human rights, and confronts oppression and tyranny. We should question a United Nations that cannot agree on stopping the genocidal policies of Sudan. We must continue to foster democracy and free enterprise in Iraq and Afghanistan and deter the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. We should be concerned about the rising tyranny and deeply flawed recent recall election in Venezuela.
We have other issues, such as illegal drugs, public education, crime in urban neighborhoods, and gay and lesbian marriage, that are deeply intractable and difficult to address via public policy alone. These issues require fundamental personal, cultural, and attitudinal changes.
We would do well this political season to pay more attention to these reform measures and to the hard issues that require each of us to make changes at home and in our communities.