Friday, February 20, 2004

A Not so Modest Proposal

After watching the Frontline program, “Tax Me If You Can” and reading the book, “Perfectly Legal” I am convinced that half the corporations and the people who run them are eating everyone else’s lunch through deceptive, or even illegal, practices. Their access to, and power over, government through campaign contributions, is made possible through complex tax and regulation laws that neither congress nor the administrators fully comprehend. Corporations, including major accounting, legal, and financial firms have the resources to keep one step ahead of the politicians and administrators in devising schemes to avoid paying their taxes and to keep labor costs at a subsistence level.

There are several related issues which the country supports but which politicians will not support because it will limit their access to contributions and their ability to manipulate the various sectors of society to get elected and reelected. Among them are tax code simplification, illegal immigration control, health care cost containment, and limitations on the export of jobs. This lack of support for programs the country favors is not only undemocratic, it borders on fraud when laws get enacted that allow corporate cheating.

The press is complicit in sustaining this situation. Driven by the bottom line, the press concentrates on the sensational, the sexy, and the salacious while the real problems are addressed only by a few outlets, not dependent on commercial success, like C-SPAN and PBS. Until the press sees fit to inform the public about what is going on, voters will continue to vote for candidates on the basis of their religiosity, their company or union’s recommendation, their standing in the polls, or their spin on the stump. Therefore it is imperative that grass roots pressure be applied on the press to inform the American people about the problems, and on the politicians to start acting ethically and enact programs the people support.

There is immense wealth in this country, but it’s in the hands of a few. It may be time to give every person a stipend of about $1000 a month, with cost of living adjustments. Then tax people at graduated rates on incomes above the stipend. This would take some people, who want to do their own thing on a shoestring, out of the job market and raise wages for those who stayed in. And companies would only have to pay wages above the stipend. So some people would be willing to work for little or nothing above the stipend, and fewer jobs would move offshore, since the stipend is not being paid to offshore workers.

Social security, along with the payroll deduction for it could be phased out over time when existing contributions by workers are paid out.

The tax bureaucracy could be eliminated almost entirely. No tax return would need to be submitted. Every employee could be taxed at their average rate for the previous year and employers and institutions could deduct the tax and submit it to the Treasury. Any reconciliation could be factored into the next year’s withholding. All deductions, exemptions, and tax credits would be eliminated. Instead of corporations maintaining two sets of books as they do now, one for the IRS and one for shareholders, businesses would be taxed on the net earnings in their quarterly and annual reports, eliminating the need for any tax return. All businesses would be required to publish these reports and be subject to ongoing audits by the appropriate agencies.

Government regulation of business could actually be reduced and limited to protection of the environment, worker safety, and accurate reporting . The only thing left for the politicians to manipulate the electorate would be the progressivity in tax rates. That would insure that the cliché, “class warfare” would not disappear from the lexicon.

Together with this tax program, the government should negotiate and pay for health insurance contracts with insurance companies for everyone in the country on competitive bids – no cherry picking of healthy people, no special programs for government employees, everyone in one gigantic group. Medicare and medicaid could be phased out, along with their payroll deductions. The health care system would still remain private as it is now. Pressure for cost containment would come from the bidding process and copays. Business will no longer be the custodians of health care and retirement plans.

Government should also work towards fully funding education at government controlled institutions, through the college level, as was done in the 1950’s. Outside of health insurance, education is the single largest cost to families with childen.

Believe it or not, this should not represent a big dislocation in the economy, since everyone now employed or on unemployment is making at least the stipend. Education and health care costs are being paid right now. And, gigantic savings would accrue from the elimination of all the paperwork associated with the programs that would be terminated. The only significant change would be that the tax burden would be shifted from struggling people on the bottom rungs of the ladder to corporations and the people who run them who have been robbing the rest of us for a long time.

There is one caveat. You would have to show proof of citizenship and reside in the US in good standing to receive the stipend. If you’re incarcerated, owe taxes, have outstanding warrants or unpaid infractions, the stipend would stop until arrangements are made to get back in good standing.

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