In a polarized America, can we thoughtfully consider, or will we rush to demonize, middle solutions? We will only know that by presenting what we think are feasible proposals and measuring the reaction. Here is my year-end collection of a few of those suggestions.
Gun control. Different parts of the state and the country have different situations regarding guns. Families in agricultural countries, far from the local sheriff’s office, need to protect themselves. For city dwellers, however, the public carrying of a firearm may present a greater risk of harm. So refer to the rules set by counties and cities rather than statewide approaches.
The minimum salary. When the government increases the minimum wage, some workers lose their jobs. Employers automate. Suppose we don’t force employers to pay the highest wage, but instead use the general tax base to increase the wages of low-wage workers? These workers would earn as much more than if the minimum wage were increased, and less would be made redundant. Low-income workers need a helping hand: it’s hardly possible for a family to live on minimum wage. Expand the income tax credit instead of increasing the minimum wage.
Climate change. Both natural and human causes explain the warming of temperatures. The costs of eliminating human causes increase astronomically as we approach the last cc of carbon dioxide or methane. There is nothing wrong with cost benefit analysis. Avoid setting goals at zero and include remediation as well as prevention in our thinking. Strengthening reservoirs around our coasts, for example, could be much more cost effective than the enormous cost of preventing a millimeter sea level rise.
Individual taxes. The “fair share” that any group must pay should have some basis other than our desire to take their wealth from them. If we were to make the rich pay the same percentage of taxes that they have on the wealth of our country, or that they receive from total earned income, their taxes would actually be lower than they pay today in California. . We don’t need to breed class hostility to justify taxation, just the awareness that taxes are necessary to help those who cannot help themselves, and we should collect this income from the least damaging way for economic growth.
Society taxes. Businesses don’t pay taxes – consumers, employees, or shareholders do. If we tax shareholders, it will result in less investment. Sometimes in our business cycle we are inundated with money for investment, so such a policy does little harm. At other times, we need to encourage investment and discourage consumption, so the tax should fall on consumers. The correct answer depends on our economic situation.
COVID-19: Important as vaccines are, therapies for those who contract COVID-19 are also needed, to minimize the number of people occupying scarce hospital beds. The original “Operation Warp Speed” brought us vaccines remarkably quickly. President Biden should follow President Trump’s approach of massive seed funding to develop and distribute therapeutic drugs.
Criminality. Yes, there are “root causes”, but we must ensure swift arrest, conviction and punishment. The certainty of incarceration matters more than the length of the imprisonment. We can contract with other states and private prisons to house criminals cheaply. Setting a dollar value below which we will not prosecute criminals is a mistake: it invites theft up to that limit. Making depressant drugs available to addicts in a government-controlled environment reduces crime, overdose deaths and the spread of disease.
Foreign police. We have adversaries. We also have limits. Identify America’s allies and let the world know that we will stand up for them, but don’t try to build and defend democracies everywhere. Avoid civil wars. Open our markets on the basis of reciprocity. Trade is a great alternative to war.
What these proposals have in common is not that they are all perfect, but that they do not fit perfectly into the Orthodox menu of either polar position. The center has a lot to offer, if we can be heard.
Tom Campbell is Professor of Law and Professor of Economics at Chapman University. He served as California’s chief financial officer, state senator, and congressman for five terms. He quit the Republican Party in 2016 and is in the process of forming a new party in California, the Common Sense Party.