On the Issues: Economics, Politics and Happiness

On the Issues: Economics, Politics and Happiness

After picking the three topics I wanted to talk about in this article series — abortion, international humanitarian crises and the economy — I noticed that I had mirrored those three values articulated in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In keeping with that theme, I’m going to take a look at the American economy in a way that’s a bit more skewed toward the human aspect of it rather than just doing number crunching.

To be honest, I didn’t even want to write about the economy. The reason it made my top three issues isn’t because it’s that important to me, but because it is to others. I tend to be a bit more laissez-faire; we may have created a bigger mess than usual, but cycles are natural in our economy, and government spending isn’t helping us overcome the ongoing “recession.” While I was less skeptical about President Bush giving money back to individual Americans, because it basically amounts to a tax break, the federal bailout of banks and other large companies such as General Motors was a bad idea. For the economy, it was ineffective and a waste of money; ideologically, it was another move toward socialism.

Of course, America is already fairly socialist. Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and SSI planted us firmly in a mixed economy long before TARP and the individual mandate caused this generation to sound the death knell of pure capitalism in America. The main problem with this is, quite frankly, that I trust myself far more than I trust the government with my money. I’m not really libertarian, but I’m not a complete centrist, either. I want the federal government to have less money and fewer programs to spend it on, within reason.

I say “within reason” as a manner of opposing legislation such as the Balanced Budget Amendment. Mandating a balanced budget is a nice idea; the era of outspending our national income needs to come to an end. But this amendment is shortsighted: a balanced budget is nice during a time of peace, but war requires a serious increase in government spending. It’s perfectly normal to run at a deficit during a war, and that option should still be open. Besides, if we keep a balanced budget when we’re at peace, we can more easily take on the extra load when we need to spend for war.

Other changes could be a great boon to the country, though. The tax code, in particular, is an issue that desperately needs to be addressed. To have 17,000 pages of laws and loopholes is ridiculous, and it’s not getting money to the government. I appreciate the light brought to this issue by Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax proposal, but the value-added tax component of that plan is at least as invidious as our current tax code (here’s a hint: Soviet Russia used it). Instead, I’m a proponent of a flat tax. It’s pretty simple: the government takes a fixed percentage of the individual’s gross income, and it leaves everything else alone. This system, used by post-Soviet Estonia, is neither progressive nor regressive, and it doesn’t have any loopholes (so everyone can quit whining about Romney’s 13 percent tax and the far more ridiculous example of General Electric’s tax-free 2010). It doesn’t allow tax breaks for charitable giving, which is somewhat of a drawback, but it gives the government a clear income (say, a straight 20 percent) without needing to spend large amounts on collection and litigation.

In an ideal model, for me at least, charitable giving is important. I’m of the opinion that the government shouldn’t be responsible for welfare, but that the church should be. I’d like to specifically call out Christianity; Christians have a clear mandate to care for the poor, and we Christians have failed miserably. If one wants to talk separation of church and state, the church ought to get the state to step off of its territory and take over a responsibility that it has largely neglected. That’s not to say that churches don’t do things to help the poor; a few of the churches in Amherst are involved in running a local homeless shelter, for example. It’s on the macro scale where the church has failed; the whole church, Catholic and Protestant, needs to unite and take on its massive duties.

Some of these duties deal with things that the federal government hasn’t really touched, like the black market economy. The United States black market deals with an estimated $620 billion dollars annually, with income sources ranging from movie piracy to drug trafficking. In addition to that figure, human trafficking and sex slavery is endemic in the U.S., with tens of thousands of women being kidnapped or smuggled into America and forced into manual labor or prostitution. A few churches and religious organizations have attempted to fight against some of these practices, but without the power of the global church, they’re not gaining much ground.

The U.S. government has also attempted to combat these issues in various ways, usually with small legal gestures toward a better world, but it needs to do more. That extra money gained by denying super rich Americans the ability to evade a flat tax could be put to this use, rather than that of welfare, since I’m being idealistic for the moment. In addition, we Americans need to secure our southern border in some meaningful way to help stymie the drug trade (but that’s an issue for a different article).
None of these things are cure-alls for the economy; but I don’t really believe that there is a cure-all. I don’t believe that there should be a cure-all, because then the government is the one fixing the problem, and there are better things to put our faith in than the government.

I suppose that’s the best way to end a series dealing with issues for potential presidential candidates, a warning not to put our faith in them or their parties. Certain candidates could be better for the country, yes, but it’s likely that none of them will make a fundamental difference in our country. Is Obamacare bad? Yes. Is it fundamental? No. It’s the same story for the myriad of other talking points for every candidate except perhaps Ron Paul.

The government will limp along, just like it always has. It can’t ensure our happiness; as we’ve seen, it can’t even ensure that we have a steadily growing economy. But happiness has little to do with money, even though Americans are free to pursue happiness down that road. If you expect a politician to fix your country or repair your economy, or make you happier with life, you’re looking for a savior in the wrong place.

If you want to be happy and help the economy, give your money to someone who needs it (it’s like a mini Bush aid package). Just don’t hope too much in the government, and, for Heaven’s sake, don’t listen to the pundits. Neither the world nor the country will end in 2012, no matter who we elect.