Fight climate change
Stop subsidizing fossil fuels
The answer, alarmingly, is our federal government .
Fossil fuels in the United States are subsidized in many ways, some obvious and others hidden. First, we spend tens of billions of dollars a year directly propping up the prices of the coal and oil industries, keeping production, mining, shipping, and distribution afloat. The explicitly stated purpose of these direct subsidies is to protect jobs. Essentially, these subsidies amount to a transfer of wealth from most of the country to participants in the fossil fuel industry–production companies and their employees. While the economic well-being of our citizens is indeed a noble goal, these transfers are inefficient; we are actually hurting our nation’s economy as a whole by taxing the country at large in order to make monthly payments to a small percentage of the population, especially when that population is engaged in undesirable and inefficient activity.
Indirect subsidies are even greater. We spend trillions of dollars on our military, directing much of that force toward protecting our interests overseas (which very often means our fossil fuel interests). We say we’re “making the world safe for democracy,” but do we really mean that we’re making the world safe for the internal combustion engine?
Our states and cities spend billions building and maintaining roads, which amounts to a transfer of wealth from people who don’t rely on roads to those who do. This amounts to an enormous subsidy to automobile producers–you’ve already paid for the road, the police, the stoplights, and for half of the gasoline, so you might as well buy the car. These subsidies prevent innovation of cleaner, more efficient transportation.
Energy producers are also protected by state-sponsored monopoly power, thus distorting prices even further. More on that later.
Our health care industry spends billions to combat health issues that arise from fossil fuel usage. This money could be saved (and everyone’s healthcare costs lowered significantly) if the U.S. government would simply step aside and let new technology flourish.
Some might ask, how does the government know when a technology is becoming obsolete? How do we predict the course of innovation? The beautiful answer is: we don’t have to. As new technologies arise, they naturally replace old ones, without the need for government intervention. The crowd-sourced, market-based competitive systems already in place are much more efficient and accurate than government action. It’s just up to the government to get out of the way.
When a technology becomes obsolete, it’s time to let it go. Where would we be today if our federal government were still propping up the rotary phone?
Stop building pipelines
Stop building walls
Step 1: Completely deregulate immigration. If a peaceful individual wishes to move here, let them. What gives us the right to decide who may and may not live within our borders? Market forces are currently calling for more immigrants than we are allowing, which is creating inefficiency and hurting our economy. By limiting immigration, we are creating a permanent and unhealthy market distortion.
Step 2: Eliminate the income tax and the minimum wage. Tax- and labor law-evasion are currently major drivers of illegal employment (and therefore illegal immigration). Without these factors, immigrants would be on a much more equal footing with citizens and economic immigration pressure would decrease.
Step 3: Provide a path to citizenship for all immigrants. If you live here for ten years and renounce your foreign allegiance, you should be allowed to formally join our nation as a full citizen.
Reform our criminal justice system
This is the result of an overreaching and often tyrannical criminal justice system still stuck in “tough on crime” policies that are demonstrably ineffective or even counterproductive. A good first step would be to treat drug addiction as a health and economic disorder, rather than as a crime. Drug addiction is much less expensive to treat than to punish.
We also support disarming most domestic law enforcement. Modern, firearm-free police forces are in the best interest of the citizens they are trusted to serve, and we support efforts by states and localities to unilaterally remove guns from the streets in this way.
Foster peaceful relations
Even with the best intentions, we have failed repeatedly to protect people from their own governments. We have failed to accurately pick winners and losers in foreign conflicts, and our material support has often killed as many civilians and innocents as “enemy” combatants. From Vietnam to Afghanistan to the Middle East, we almost always cause more harm than good when we send our military to fight foreign oppression.
There are times when war may be necessary: when the United States or our military allies are truly threatened. In this case, it is up to Congress to declare war and up to the country to fully mobilize. But mobilizing our military to police foreign conflicts where the motives, outcomes, and even participants are unclear will always lead to tragedy.
So how can we reach out to the oppressed, abused, and enslaved? Sometimes, we can help by sending food and doctors (or by supporting organizations like the International Red Cross and Medicins Sans Frontieres). Sometimes, we can help by welcoming and caring for refugees of foreign conflicts. Sometimes, we can help by simply providing poor countries a path out of poverty via the free exchange of goods, services, and ideas. Affluent populations with greater access to information are more able to resist tyranny on their own, and when they do, there’s a greater chance they will be friendly to the United States than if we tried to “help” them by dropping bombs on their villages.
We can foster world peace by being peaceful ourselves, and we can foster world health and economic stability by freely trading with the world. Long-term economic growth is not caused by infrastructure or investment; it is engendered by technology and trade.
Decrease military spending
Phase out Social Security
Tax carbon, not labor
Eliminate trade barriers
All barriers to free trade hurt those who impose them.
Free our education system
Rather than construct their own schools, hire and train teachers, decide on curricula and administer standardized tests to determine the worth of students, state and local governments should simply give education dollars directly to students, allowing them to spend it on the schools of their choice. Public schools could still exist, but they would exist in free competition with private schools.
Public schools currently benefit from state-sponsored monopoly status–in fact, they are the single largest and most destructive monopoly in the nation. If parents want to send their children to a cost-free school, they have no choice but to send them to the facility assigned by their local or state governments. This historically has led to major imbalances in funding and success levels of public schools, since typically they are funded in large part by property taxes. Poorer families, raising children in poorer areas, are forced to send their children to poorer schools. This unfair reality has led to a powerful and, for many, inescapable cycle of poverty dating back generations.
By freeing families to send their children to any nearby school, public or private, we empower them to break these chains of multigenerational segregation and empower students to seek out educations that will allow them to achieve their full potentials.
It is well known that schoolteachers (particularly public schoolteachers) have one of the most difficult and undercompensated jobs in the United States. Why must this be so? In other industries, dissatisfied employees are free to leave, seeking employment from a competitor who is willing to treat them as they deserve. In the public school monopoly, however, teachers are trapped, unable to meaningfully negotiate. A truly free education system would reward hard-working and talented teachers with the better jobs they deserve.
Some object that such public-private partnerships enrich private corporations at the expense of taxpayers. It is also true that food stamps enrich farms as a secondary effect; does this make them a bad idea? Consider a private school that is able to cut costs while still providing a high-enough quality education that students wish to attend it in droves. Other schools will be incentivized to open competing facilities in the same area, utilizing the same innovative and successful methods. These new businesses, just like in any other healthy industry, help keep profits in check. Perhaps the new schools will cut costs just slightly less, providing a marginally better experience for the students (or better salaries for the teachers). In a truly free market, profits of corporations tend to fall to zero as new competition emerges. And who are the winners in such a system? It’s not the corporations; it’s teachers and students. The winners are communities who previously had to fight in court or in city council meetings or at bake sales to try to glean enough dollars from society to provide decent educations for their children.
It has been argued that a free education system would harm existing schools, the thinking perhaps being that “our schools are struggling; we need to save them. Funneling students elsewhere would be taking dollars away from the failing schools that desperately need the funding.” However, we must remember that the purpose of the education system is not to support schools (which are, after all, just buildings), but rather to support students and teachers. In other words, a school is wherever teachers and students come together to teach and learn. If a student leaves a school to find a better education elsewhere, or if a teacher leaves a school for a better job elsewhere, then both are better off, and society is better off as a result.
Unlocking our education system–removing the bars we’ve placed around the growth of our children–is the single greatest step we as a nation can take toward righting the social injustices that for generations have divided our society.
Protect civil rights
Unravel racism at its roots
If we really wish for our children and grandchildren to inherit a country free of racial prejudice, we need to attack racism at its source: the false ideology that humans can be categorized by their skin colors. This change must begin at home, by refusing to use racial monikers in our speech and literature. On a policy level, we oppose any legislation or application of law that attempts to identify individuals by skin color or ethnicity; we support removing such questions from federal census documents and all governmental documents, including admissions applications to public institutions.
Brilliant features of the Netherlands health care system, adopted in 2006 and still evolving, include: a very minimal direct role for government, keeping politicians and bureaucrats far away from direct decision making and leaving patients and doctors in control of patient outcomes; subsidies for consumers who cannot afford the (relatively low) premiums; a pool of competing private insurers, allowing patients to remain fully price-sensitive at the margin; age- and disability-neutrality; and individual (as opposed to group) accounts, unlinking health insurance from career decisions and compensation packages.
In addition to adopting the Dutch system, we should also focus on removing burdensome regulation and red tape inflating costs in the healthcare industry. Good first steps would be expanded roles for nurses and nurse-practitioners, elimination of “certificate of need” requirements for opening new facilities, and freeing providers to practice across state lines.
In essence, our health care system should operate in the same way as our school system: funded by taxes but provided by private entities–not governed by quotas, beaurocracy, and committees but motivated by quality of service, efficiency, and successful outcomes.
Convert to a ranked-choice voting system
Lower the voting age
Supply a universal basic income to every citizen
Stop promoting urban sprawl and big-box retailers
To begin with, highly effective lobbying or even corruption are, unfortunately, often the tools of choice of mega-retailers trying to force their way into small economies.
In other cases, politicians are too eager to win popularity contests by “creating jobs” (even though jobs are actually being downgraded or outright destroyed). Other times, politicians truly believe that they are doing the right thing, but ignorance of economic theory leads them to make wrong decisions.
To be fair, even highly-trained economists would be hard-pressed to try to plan the course of a local economy by picking which businesses should build where–any economist worth her salt would hopefully scorn the task, knowing that allowing the market to run its course naturally is the better way.
Other, less obvious forms of government subsidies also have major benefits for mega-retailers and urban sprawl in general. These come in the forms of health care and transfer payments for their underpaid workers, increased police and emergency services presence in the vicinity, waiver of environmental regulations (allowing retailers to build enormous building lots and parking lots without paying for the ensuing environmental damage), and subsidies at every stage of interstate goods transportation.
Retail space over the past five decades has expanded at an unbelievable pace, far outstripping retail spending. This is because mega-retailers use space very inefficiently; for every square foot of retail space, independent businesses serve more customers and employ more people. But the problem is even bigger than that: mega-retailers use up many times the footprint of their buildings for parking lots and dedicated roadways; pavement runoff is now the single largest source of water pollution in the United States. Meanwhile, cities run together, eating up green space as they continue to zone large swaths of their entry corridors for large commercial expansion. They actively court big-box retail development, always to the detriment of their own localities.