Will we ever learn?

The recent spread of swine flu may be a good thing. Stubborn as Americans are, sometimes it takes an epidemic for us to realize how important good habits are. Like washing your hands properly. Like covering your mouth when you cough. These things used to be polite and a marker of someone fit for going out in high society.

Maybe also it will help us remember why we have sick days. Yes, they make taking care of yourself a whole lot easier. You don’t have to be sick AND worry about how you are going to make the next rent check. And, yes, they are the right thing for a beneficent and caring boss to do. Show a little compassion for the poor wretch who normally puts up with being your employee, when they most need it.

But, it was also good social policy. If sick people didn’t feel pressured into coming to work (because they need the money, because they fear losing their job, or because the organization is so light on staff that your job responsibility it just that, your responsibility), then they might stay home when they are sick and get better sooner. And if sick people stay home when they are sick, fewer of the rest of us get sick.

Get it? Sick leave isn’t just a personal benefit, it is a social good. We all benefit when we structure the workplace to take care of one another, when we treat one another like human beings.

We all should get sick leave, regardless of how long we have worked at a particular location, regardless of how many vacation days we are allowed and have used, and regardless of whether we work for an hourly wage or annual salary.

Perhaps those bosses who make it nigh on impossible to take a day off when sick could be held responsible for their actions? Would it be possible to hold them liable for any employees who pass on their illness to other employees or customers? After all, some employer groups seem to think they control the workplace and everything that is allowed (or not allowed, in the case of union organizaing) on their property.

What you don’t know can hurt you

The devil is loose in the details. Today, there is an opinion editorial in the Wall Street Journal by Georgetown University School of Law’s constitutional expert, Randy Barnett. Professor Barnett links the tea parties that took place all over the country last week to a need to wind back federal power. In it, he suggests we should

eliminate the federal income tax, after five years, in favor of a national sales or excise tax.

It is an interesting argument, but ultimately one that might prove as muddled as the Tea Parties last week.

As with all changes to the tax code, we must identify who are the winners and who are the losers. So much of our taxation system is a coercive one – encouraging us to do certain things (for which we receive deductions and lower taxes), while punishing us for doing other things (such as extra ‘sin’ taxes on the purchase of cigarettes, alcohol, motor boats, etc.)

Then, with a national sales or excise tax we need to ask to whom this would apply. Will everyone, under all circumstances, pay the same sales tax on all items? As onerous as I find a sales tax on the essentials of life (food, water, clothes, etc.) I don’t think those will be as controversial as some others.

How about a sales or excise tax on the purchase of a house? In many countries this can add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of a place to live. The affordable housing crowd aren’t likely to endorse that.

Can you imagine a sales tax that businesses must pay on every item they purchase? Maybe on office supplies and the office furniture, but I can hear squawks about adding six percent to the cost of large machinery such as a grain harvester or a printing press. All those taxes would, of course, be passed on to the purchaser who would, then, pay a sales tax!

If you exclude businesses from paying a sales or excise tax, then I suspect we will all suddenly develop an entrepreneurial spirit and get business credit cards to use with all our purchases. Perhaps we would no longer own our own homes but rent them from some trust or corporation set up to hold the property on our behalf!

What about hospitals, our churches and other non-profits? Many don’t pay corporate taxes today (since they don’t make a profit), so this would be a direct hit to our health care system, our charities, and the many other groups that are having a particularly hard time in today’s economic climate.

Would foreign countries buying missiles, tanks and other military hardware from U.S. companies, or would we see all those companies suddenly become offshore entities (headquartered in the Bahamas, perhaps?)

And, lastly, would state and local governments be exempt from these sales and excise taxes? Or would they have to raise the income and property taxes in their state to now fund the activities of the federal government?

The more you think about it, the sillier this proposal becomes. Yes, the devil is in the details and until we know them, the better the devil we know than the devil you don’t!

(edited April 24) Our own constitutional expert, Professor Natelson, weighs in with an endorsement of Barnett, as “a staunch friend of freedom”, here.


Today, folks who are mad-as-hell and not-going-to-take-it-anymore gathered in many places around the country for tea parties. Many of the protesters were anti-Obama, conservative, or libertarians who had been rallied together by the likes of Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform; former presidential candidate Alan Keyes (who filed a lawsuit challenging Obama’s citizenship); and Thomas A. Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste. They were supposedly emulating the Revolutionary War tactic of dumping tea overboard to protest British rule. Instead of chests of tea, today many dangled tea-bags.

So, what were the teabaggers protesting about? Gregg Smith, over at Electric City weblog, suggests it was a way

for us ‘little guys’ to express our frustration with a political elite that is willing to allocate our money to protect the butts of very large, failed banks and bankers.

And that would make sense. There’s a dynamic emerging of big corporations making off with the TARP bailout money, while the local banks and small businesses get little help in a declining economy.

But, then we learn of protesters in Washington DC and elsewhere who carried American flags, and sodden signs bearing such slogans as “Socialism — Change we can’t afford,” “We will not bow to higher taxes,” and “Defend Our Constitution.”

Maybe they’re sore losers who don’t like the results of the popular election of President Obama. Remember him, the guy who ranked last year as the most liberal member of the Senate?

Or, are they against fighting two large foreign wars at one? Do they want to secede, like Texas, from the United States? Do they want great American companies like General Motors and Chrysler to file for bankruptcy, be dismantled and then sold off in small pieces? I don’t really know.

But, if it were government spending they are concerned about then they might find this graph illuminating:

Rising spending

As Skewz points out (at Salon.com), the upward trend has been there for a while.

Walk, walk, don’t tell me.

They do remember how to walk, don’t they? Because the New York Times recently reported

In 1969, 40 percent of students in the United States walked to school; in 2001, the most recent year data was collected, 13 percent did, according to the federal government’s National Household Travel Survey.

Seems that all the parents are busy lining up to drop off, or pick up, their precious little ones. Door – to – door service is parental responsibilities these days.

While there may be some benefit in having the family members share some time together, I feel that all this chauffeuring comes at a great cost to the kids. As the Wall Street Journal blog puts it, not only are they missing out on a little exercise but they are also missing out on a whole lot of independence. Each day, as they venture out under their own steam, the little ones get a bit more confident and a bit more comfortable in their world. They explore and adventure in places that they would notherwise avoid. They interact with neighbors, folks across the street, and strangers down the road. They grow into their community, with the community closely watching, of course!

Instead, today the pattern is a gated world where careful vetting is conducted before anyone is allowed into the fiercely guarded private domain. Shut the world out, lock up your daughters, and pretend everything is all right!

Sadly, while I don’t think our streets are any safer than they were decades ago our level of fear is much elevated. We’re even afraid of not knowing what it is like out there. Threat level yellow, or threat level red – there isn’t much we can do about it. So, we take charge of the little things that we can control and pretend that makes things better.

The irony is that by sheltering our precious little ones, we let ourselves off the hook for the real world out there. Just drive on by, lock the car door, and pretend you don’t have to care. Those aren’t your people, not your responsibility. Besides, they’re walking!

The Right to Bare Arms.

Sleevegate. Up in Arms. The Upper Body Stimulus Plan.

Now, this is part of the Obama plan I can support!