It’s time to rethink many of the ways we have “always” done things as a country. I have previously written a few simple proposals for the educational system. Now I intend to propose even more unorthodox suggestions relating to our economy.
As Mexico now mulls legalizing marijuana cafes, and the U.S. justice department backs away from the legal battles with states, it’s time we cut our losses and throw in the towel on this one. Legalize marijuana, create some level of quality control, and tax its sale. The fight over whether or not people will use it is long since lost. If there was any doubt, it should have gone up in an *ahem* puff of smoke when President William Jefferson Clinton acknowledged his own personal use. The financial costs of law enforcement, judicial system processing and incarceration are in the hundreds of billions of dollars now. The costs in human lives are unconscionable. The BBC estimates 60,000 people killed in Mexico alone (the primary supplier of illegal marijuana to the U.S.) So much loss of life and opportunity all to keep alive a “traditional value” law that is less than 100 years old (the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was formed in 1930.) It is senseless to continue to let criminals become rich, while we spend vast fortunes fighting what is, at its core a business, and not a moral imperative. In fact, the business itself is evolving and becoming more innovative already:
Tax the churches. If the churches are going to abandon the primary responsibility of charity to the government; if the churches are going to be involved in politics; if churches are going to own business and investments and function as corporations, they should pay taxes like any other organization to support the services and infrastructure that they benefit from that are funded by taxes. The nature of charity has changed in the U.S. in the last two hundred years, and not necessarily for the better (read The Death of American Compassion by Dr. Marvin Olasky.)
Create stricter laws and better enforcement for human trafficking. Legalize and regulate prostitution. Voluntary prostitution should be an individual decision, so long as it is truly an individual decision and not one that is forced or coerced. The Federal government should not be in the business of regulating morality. The previous other attempts at it (prohibition and the war on drugs) have been colossal failures. Everyone sells some part of themselves for money. We sell our time, our mental and physical labor, and sacrifice our emotional integrity every day in order to remain employed and continue to be paid. Prostitution has always existed, and always will. Keeping it illegal only increases the likelihood of people being exploited against their wills (human trafficking) for the profits of others. Legalize, regulate the trade like any other industry, enforce regular health checks for the workers and safe work environments and tax the profits.
Help improve the ongoing funding of the Social Security program. Create a national lottery. Every U.S. can be allowed to enter, one time per person only. Every citizen already has their ticket number, in the form of their Social Security number. Only citizens should be allowed to enter, and the entry can be made each year by adding a check box to the Federal Income tax forms. The IRS can place a box to check for participation on a voluntary basis right beneath the other lottery that U.S. citizens pay to lose every four years – the Presidential elections. Limiting entries to one per person will not promote gambling, and with an entry price of one dollar, a prize could be set at say…five million dollars. The prize money would easily be collected east of the Mississippi river, and the remaining funds collected could be used to help maintain solvency in Social Security, without involuntarily raising taxes.
Make marriage a five year contract. Eliminate divorce except in cases of infidelity or abuse, and make the end of the five year commitment no fault. Marriage is the only institution that a person can make a legal commitment one time, for the rest of their lives. Those who benefit most from divorce proceedings are the lawyers who prey on people just when they are most vulnerable emotionally. Its time to bring some updates to this 3000 year old system that was created in a time and place where women had no rights, could not own property on their own, and when a man could not be sure of the patronage of “his” children, except by giving them his name. Women now have the same rights (at least legally) as men, and DNA testing allows anyone to know exactly who a baby’s parents are. Marriage as an economic institution is unrealistic any longer. It is also a fantasy that most people will still feel them same about a promise they made early in life decades later. Instead of allowing people to abandon marriage altogether, as many are now doing, allow them to make a five year commitment. With no divorces except as mentioned before, young couples will have time to feel what a commitment is, without being bound for the rest of their lives, or reaching for the escape hatch of divorce. Make the contract automatically renewable for another five years, unless either party wants out; if either does, they go their own way with an equitable split of assets, based on pre-arranged terms and life goes on. Save a fortune; starve a lawyer!
Set term limits for Congressmen and Senators. Our Founding patriots did not envision a ruling class of professional politicians working with and for corporate oligarchs. They couldn’t have, since the modern conceit of the corporation is a result of decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court in the early 19th century. Before that, a corporation was formed for a limited purpose, often one for the public good, or shared utility. Shares were sold to spread risk, and once the task was accomplished (for example, building a bridge) the corporation was dissolved.
This segues into the need for revisions to the ways corporations are run, and held liable for their actions. Once the Supreme Court decided that a corporation is an independent entity, with many of the same rights and protections and any other individual under the law, our ethics began to go totally askew. While a corporation may be a legal entity, it is clearly not a living entity. It therefore has no morals, no ethics, and no sense of obligation to anyone. Human society is founded on reciprocity. Indeed, civilization may never have come about without our inherent need to repay a favor and loyalty in kind. But corporations do not have these qualities. When brought to task for underpaying employees, or environmental devastation, or carelessly causing the injury or deaths of people, those in charge of corporations merely shrug their shoulders and intone a variation on the Nuremberg defense. Instead of saying “I was only following orders,” CEO’s intone “I’m just an employee like everyone else. If I didn’t make this decision, someone else would.”
Start with wages. Big corporations crow about their record profits and record growth, and then invariably cry poverty when their average employees ask for more money. Companies can both be successful, and take care of their people. Costco does it. Wholefoods does too. Ben and Jerry’s included in their corporate by-laws that the top-paid people in the company could only make twenty times the salary of their lowest paid people. If a CEO were truly courageous and a strong business leader, he or she would tie their success to the success of the company overall, including the employees. Happy, well paid workers buy things, which only stimulates the economy more and makes more profit for the companies. Hence Henry Ford’s oft cited quote that he paid his workers very high wages so they could afford to buy his cars.
These are just a few ideas. Many no doubt will be greeted with skepticism and rebuke. The problem at its core is that we human beings are immensely averse to change. But the time has come to move courageously and change things dramatically before they get out of hand and the forces of change sweep us up ineffably and uncontrollably.
To quote the successful capitalist and industrialist Mr. Ford again: “If I’d listed to what people told me they wanted, I’d have built a better horse and buggy.”
Here are a few suggestions from other countries for potential changes we can emulate: