Our country is heading down a dark path, and it’s got me thinking about what I think government is really for. Here’s my vision for a beautiful society. It is very simple, with only five primary emphases.
Thing 1: Ensuring Universal Human Rights.
This includes a lot of the stuff described in the constitution, but goes farther. Everything from freedom of speech and press to six months maternity and paternity leave. Also included here would be public safety and just, rehabilitative prisons. I suppose this would also have to include our military, which would be dramatically scaled back.
Thing 2: Universal Health Care.
The health insurance system is sucking the life out of our society. People should not be getting rich off the misfortune of others, and people should not go bankrupt for getting sick. It’s time to eliminate the health insurance industry and give everyone health and dental care, kind of like a Medicare for all. There would be a strong emphasis on preventative care, and certain extravagant procedures would likely be excluded. People would talk about advanced directives. There is an endless amount to write about this, so I’m not going to try to write it all.
Thing 3: Universal Education.
This guarantees quality education from 6 months (when full-time maternity and paternity leave ends, and maybe start as something like 12 hours a week of child care) to 20 years. This could include vocational school or university, after which young adults would have one year mandatory service (see Thing 5) before continuing with graduate education or work. The future of our society depends on how we educate ourselves. Again, endless amount to write, so I’m not going to get into it all. It’s a necessity.
Thing 4: Universal Basic Income.
This is probably the most controversial piece here, and could be phased in last. With the increase in automation, it is time for us to separate our “work” from our wellbeing. This is not an argument against automation — I believe automation frees us from work that is often unfulfilling in the first place. But we must recognize how that will affect employment, and recognize that a human being does not need to be employed to create value in the world, or to be valued by society (in fact, only about 48% of Americans have full or part time employment at any given time).
So: Universal Basic Income (UBI) would be something like $15,000 per year, given directly to every adult citizen, no strings attached. It’s not enough to thrive on, but it is enough to get by. This, combined with Universal Health Care, would allow us to eliminate vast swaths of bureaucracy, including Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, SNAP, CHIP, and most other services that work to keep people out of extreme destitution. It would dramatically change our perception of work, however, I believe it would raise the quality of goods and services and allow people to find work they enjoy.
Thing 5: Support for Communities, Locally and Nationally
The biggest new piece of this would be a mandatory year of service (either locally, nationally, or internationally for an approved organization), however it would also include things like support for arts, culture, national parks, highways, science, broadband, and basically everything else infrastructure-related.
How to pay for it?
Taxes. Specifically, primarily through Pigovian Taxes, which are taxes designed to take into account the externalities (costs to society) associated with production or consumption.
First of all, these taxes would be eliminated (or greatly reduced):
Payroll Tax (we WANT employers to hire people, why tax them for it?)
Corporate Tax (we WANT companies to succeed, why tax them for it?)
Income Tax* (we WANT people to work to make money, why tax them for it?)
*The income tax is extremely useful, as it’s what we’ve already got in place. It would be fine to keep it for a while, and make it highly progressive.
Instead, these taxes would be emphasized:
Carbon Tax (climate change is going to cost us a fortune, we don’t want people to use carbon)
Consumption Tax (like VAT in Europe, kind of like sales tax, because consuming goods has a cost to society)
Financial Transactions Tax (we want to discourage high frequency trading)
Capital Gains Tax (we don’t want people to gamble lots of money in the stock exchange)
Sin Taxes on tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, soda, unhealthy food, excessively large vehicles, etc (these things all cost our society, and people should pay more for them)
Holding Property Unused for Investment Tax (we don’t want people to speculate on real estate and keep it out of use)
Luxury/Estate/Wealth Tax (people with vast amounts of money deserve to give more back to the society that facilitated their success, and income inequality has been shown to decrease happiness)
Basically, tax things for a reason. Here’s a good Planet Money episode that talks about a number of those, along with subsidies we should get rid of (I’m pretty much down to get rid of all subsidies, actually. UBI should take care of the rest).
That’s pretty much it. It’s fun to think about how our society would adjust to a system like this, and I think it would go a long way toward healing the divisions in our country today.