What’s Wrong With The Franklin Project? – Part 3

Reading Time: 8 minutes

This is part three of a five-part series on national service. Part 1 introduced the controversy and corrected a major misconception. Part 2 looked at national service through the eyes of conservative giants, Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley, and Ronald Reagan.

So, what’s wrong with the Franklin Project?

Plenty.

The Franklin Project promotes the idea of a renewed ethos of national service in America. It’s mission:

The Franklin Project envisions a future in which a year of full-time national service—a service year—is a cultural expectation, a common opportunity, and a civic rite of passage for every young American.

I pointed out in part 1 that The Franklin Project’s mission is very similar to William F. Buckley’s vision for a national-service ethos, first introduced in his 1974 book Four Reforms and expanded in his 1990 book Gratitude.

I also pointed out that Buckley’s plan differed from Franklin Project’s in several key ways. In some ways, Buckley’s program was more ambitious, but in other ways more subdued.

Before anyone gets the idea that I wholehearted endorse the Franklin Project’s plan, I do not. But it’s possible to endorse their idea without endorsing every feature of their plan.

Suffice it to say that I do believe America needs an expectation of service. On that point, Franklin Project and I are in complete agreement. Likewise on the idea that society must find away to offer opportunities to serve that match society’s urge to serve. Finally, we agree that service strengthens and improves volunteers as much or more than the volunteer work itself improves society.

On each of those three fundamentals, I agree with both Franklin Project and William F. Buckley.

Part of my purpose in this series is to inform the discretion of two sets of people. First, those who would dismiss the idea of service because it smacks of liberal hooey. Second, those who accept blindly that the Franklin Project’s prescriptions are, on the whole, wise or effective. Parts 4 and 5 speak to the former. This post to the latter.

So, again, what’s wrong with the Franklin Project?

While the Franklin Project itself advances an idea endorse, its massive Plan of Action published in 2013 documents a wish list of bad ideas built upon many failed programs and broken promises. The plan, while ambitious in length at nearly 40 pages, is lazy in thought, as it mostly seeks to swell government programs that train new generations of bureaucrats. Finally, much of the Plan of Action, if implemented, would do the exact opposite of what the organization hopes to accomplish, just as Milton Friedman warned in 1990.

Some will say, “Bill, you’re naïve. The people who put that plan together are advancing a hidden agenda.” To be honest, I believe some are. I also believe many signers of the plan accepted the bad with the good because they believe in the vision. Regardless of motives, conservatives must point out the errors in the plan. Conservatives who agree with the vision but despise most of the details should offer an alternative. As I said in yesterday’s post, stomping our feet and yelling “no” isn’t enough, because there is a growing demand for the vision and a pent-up need for a service ethos.

Point by Point

Here are the high-level points of the Plan of Action. On the right is a simple critique of each point:

Point

Critique

• Link military and civilian service as two sides of the same coin; OK—this seems like a reasonable idea..
• Challenge all young adults (ages 18 to 28) to give a year or more of full-time service to their country; OK—this is the core idea of a new national ethos
• Establish national service corps, building on those proposed in the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, that will unite each generation in common purpose through service; NO—Edward Kennedy had very few good ideas, and his Serve America program wasn’t one of them. I agree with Gen. McChrystal that a big federal program isn’t the answer.
• Strengthen and expand the existing infrastructure of the Peace Corps, VISTA, AmeriCorps, and other national service efforts; NO—Reagan gutted VISTA because it fraught with corruption. AmeriCorps is exactly the kind bureaucrat training program that exploits young people and lobbies for more funding for more exploitation.
• Call upon the private sector, industry groups, and professional associations to take the lead in supporting and expanding national service corps within their fields; OK—the private sector should absolutely take the lead in service and everything else. Private enterprise stands to gain a lot from a new service ethos, and business leaders should invest their own money and talent and time in advancing the cause
• Partner with the growing non-profit infrastructure—in colleges, community organizations and faith- based institutions—and leverage new technologies to embed full-time national service across our society; and OK—faith groups, states, communities, and college should join with business leaders in managing projects, administering programs, and expecting service of candidates for jobs and admission
• Ask all federal departments and agencies to use civilian national service members to help accomplish their missions. NO—this exploitation of youth, a training program for bureaucrats, and a pool of (poorly) paid lobbyists for bigger government

Score: 4 OK, 3 NO

In that list of goals, we see two conflicting themes woven together. The points I marked OK, while not necessarily perfect, aim at providing volunteers with opportunities to suffer for a worthy cause. Yes, suffer, just as B. T. Collins described the California Conservation Corps as Hard Work, Low Pay, Miserable Conditions.

The other thread forms a noose around the private sector. The three NOs combine to grow government while degrading volunteers in bureaucratic jobs and lobbying efforts. I will return to the problems posed by these noxious weeds in our garden of service, but first let’s point out more ugly specifics in the Franklin Project plan.

The National Service Corps

General McChrystal assured Business Insider that a big government program is the wrong approach. Apparently, the Plan’s authors failed to consult General McChrystal.

Young adults would serve full-time in national service corps. The civilian national service corps would be in areas where full-time civilian national service has been shown to make a significant difference.

A national service corps without a bloated federal bureaucracy? Impossible. Moreover, we see another disturbing trend in the Plan’s text at this point: emphasis on good done by volunteers instead of on the good done to volunteers. This is a big problem throughout the rest of the plan, as Buckley pointed out in Gratitude:

While acknowledging the good can that be done to the various beneficiaries, we reiterate that we have primarily in mind the good that is done to the volunteers themselves.

Before getting bogged down in motives, let’s move on to look at he constituent elements of this national service corps. These I will critique individually:

  • Education Corps: to mobilize youth to serve in our lowest-performing schools, while working to 
ensure that every young child receives the high-quality education they need to succeed in the 21st century;
    • If operated by the states or communities, this is probably a worthwhile goal. I do not see a role for the Department of Education, though, as the DoE has all but destroyed America’s schools, particularly poor schools
    • If this is just a lobbying team to press for every-increasing taxes, we can do without an Education Corps
    • The challenge of this corps is to give volunteers tasks challenging enough to let them grow
  • Conservation Corps: to help restore the health of America’s endangered parks and rivers and engage youth in other conservation and clean energy efforts;
    • Conservation corps in every state that wants one could offer a fantastic experience for volunteers, just as Reagan’s Ecology Corps did in California
    • The idea of “engaging youth in other conservation and clean energy efforts bothers me. Does that mean lobbying for laws to advance bad science? Does it mean rooting through my garbage for the stray aluminum can in the wrong bin? Does it mean knocking on doors telling citizens to turn some lights off? These are not activities that do good to the volunteers
  • Opportunity Corps: to support programs to empower low-income Americans and to engage youth disconnected from school and work in full-time national service;
    • This sounds like ACORN, frankly. Let’s just say “no” to the opportunity corps.
    • The powerless, low-income Americans can develop skills and self-esteem by volunteering in one of the programs that does not simply admire the virtues of poverty
  • Health and Nutrition Corps: to educate young people on the importance of good nutrition, physical activity, and preventative [sic] care, and to enhance the quality of life, address the childhood hunger problem, and lower health care costs;
    • This is school, not service
    • I see few opportunities here for good things to happen to the volunteers
    • Or do the obese kids get shoved into this program?
    • If the last, then lets take the kids with dietary and exercise issues and turn them over the likes of B. T. Collins for hard work and a five A.M. reveille.
  • Veterans Corps: to recognize, support, and utilize veterans as civic assets and leaders through civilian national service by and for veterans and to expand opportunities for civilian national service members to support veterans and military families;
    • Veterans affairs being a legitimate federal issues, I have no problems with this
    • Even the idea of providing opportunities for civilians makes sense, since the beneficiaries are veterans
    • Being a veteran myself, I assure you volunteers in this program will have opportunities to develop patients and self-esteem J
  • Professional Corps: to enable young lawyers, health care professionals, financial experts,
technology specialists, and other professionals to unleash their talents to help address public problems and help those in need; and
    • Um, no.
    • Let the people with advanced degrees work in private industry and serve as mentors
    • This is way for government to get cheap labor
    • If states, schools, churches, and communities want to run these program, I can say OK, but it’s not a federal matter
  • International Service Corps: to provide opportunities to serve to help strengthen education, health, the environment, information technology, and small business creation around the world.
    • Why not
    • But these functions should be done by and through charities, not the federal government

I don’t like the list of sub corps at all. Yes, I said “ok” to a few items, but the notion of a national service corps leads to all those horrible outcomes that panicked Milton Friedman.

I particularly detest the Opportunity Corps, and so should anyone who believes in service. Because, as William F. Buckley wrote:

[T]here is one decisive way to sentence national service to death, and that is to conceive of it as a fight against poverty. The diminution of poverty is properly a national objective, but to confuse it with national service is to play the sorcerer’s apprentice. Only confusion and chaos will result from tampering with the suitable formula.

And Buckley goes on to point out the impossibility of eliminating poverty:

It is regularly left to crabby conservatives to point out that poverty will almost always be defined as that condition in which, roughly, the lowest-earning quintile of Americans live, never mind reassuring historical comparisons between the material level of life led by the poor of 1990 [or 2015], and the level of life in which families judges relatively affluent by contemporary evaluations lived earlier in the century.

Bingo. About 20 years ago, I fired off an angry column about a World Health Organization report identifying the principle health issue facing America’s poor as obesity.

Obesity!

I have no doubt the WHO report is true, but until the late twentieth century, obesity was a physical-economic impossibility for America’s middle quintiles, much less its bottom. A few extra pounds were the proud symbols of wealth until the War on Poverty made Doritos and television national rights.

When it comes to the War on Poverty, our volunteers can make love instead.

At this point, there’s no need to further critique the plan’s specific goals. Instead, my advice to the Franklin Project is to go back to the drawing board, this time with a more balanced representation from conservative schools of thought. If, that is, conservatives are willing to help.

Within the flawed plan dwell a few items conservatives can support, such as the veterans corps. Turned over to state, private, or charitable organizations, many of the other concepts can serve as directional goals for a national service program. (Well, except for the food and trash police, and the poverty programs.)

The Franklin Project’s Plan of Action seems to have follow a predictable development pattern: someone points out a good idea, conservatives ignore it, liberals rush to exploit it, and we are left with what the liberals hand them. Stanley McChrystal seems to have opened up the idea of a service ethos which attracted two types: believers in service and believers in government. In the battle over the Plan of Action, believers in government won.

That does not excuse conservatives from their duty to try to influence things like The Franklin Project. Being reflexively independent and bent toward sticking with the status quo, conservatives tend to leave ideas like national service to others. When the “others” fill the void we leave with plans to grow government, we turn on, not only the plan, but the idea itself. We must resist that impulse.

A conservative lion, William Buckley, pointed out the need for an ethos of national service 41 years ago and again with renewed vigor 25 years ago. How did conservatives respond? We let the left pick up the ball and run with it.

Tomorrow in part 4, I will attempt to explain why conservatives should care about the issue of service and the consequences of stomping our feet and shouting “no.” Part 5 will propose simple first steps toward a conservative service solution.

Thanks for your patience.

Fact and Fiction of the Franklin Project–Part 1

Reading Time: 3 minutes

You know how to tell when a political camp has nothing on an opponent?

It begins making stuff up.

That “making stuff up” has become the chief form of amusement among those who oppose Eric Greitens for Governor.

The current fiction they advance has to do with an organization called The Franklin Project. The fiction advanced by a few Facebook warriors goes something like this: “The Franklin Project wants mandatory national service.”

To the best of my research, the assertion is simply false. The Franklin Project does not promote mandatory service.

Up to now, we can excuse some people. The Franklin Project is not, after all, a household name. We can assume that many simply repeat what they hear others say. (We are all susceptible to believing hearsay that fits our worldview. Our minds, being lazy, tell us that the hearsay seems so plausible there’s no point wasting time looking it up.)

Also, we can blame General Stanley McChrystal for some of the confusion. McChrystal helped launch the Franklin Project. When asked in an interview if we should bring back the draft, McChrystal answered with an inelegant “yes.” He went on to explain the draft he envisions is not a military draft but a national service draft.

McChrystal has since come off the draft idea, and the Franklin Project has never promoted it.

Instead, the Franklin Project advances national service almost precisely the way William F. Buckley proposed in his 1990 book Gratitude.

First, here’s the Franklin Project’s vision:

The Franklin Project envisions a future in which a year of full-time national service—a service year—is a cultural expectation, a common opportunity, and a civic rite of passage for every young American.

Here’s Buckley’s:

Materialistic democracy beckons every man to make himself a king; republican citizenry incites every man to be a knight. National service, like gravity, is something we could accustom ourselves to, and grow to love.

Buckley wrote an essay called Gratitude which he turned into a short book.  Among Buckley’s gems:

It is entirely possible to live out an entire life without experiencing the civic protections that can become so contingently vital to us at vital moments. Even if we never need the help of the courts, or of the policeman, or of the Bill of Rights, that they are there for us in the event of need distinguishes our society from most others. To alert us to their presence, however dormant in our own lives, tends to ensure their survival. And tends also to encourage a citizenry alert to the privileges the individual might one day need or enjoy. This enjoyment, this answering of needs, can make us proud of our country—and put us in debt.

The debt to which Buckley refers is not monetary, but moral. He postulates that we all owe something in return for the freedoms and prosperity and safeguards we enjoy. To whom do we owe this debt?

The dead being beyond our reach, our debt can only be expressed to one another; but our gratitude is also a form of obeisance—yes, to the dead.

Buckley’s most detailed description of the program he envisioned:

The objective should be to enroll, by the turn of the century, more than 80 percent of Americans born in 1973 or later. . . . Yes, there needs to be a National Service Franchise Administration. Its primary function should be to gather information for use by the states and indeed by individuals seeking (for instance) a locality that sustains an NSFA program most congenial to their inclination. . . . But the NSFA, observing its mandate, should also recommend appropriate legislation to Congress, legislation having primarily to do with federal sanctions. No federal money would be used to finance national service; federal money would be made available only to absorb administrative costs run up by the [ NSFA ] . . . . A vital function of the Administration would be to establish how long a participant would need to work in order to qualify for his certificate of service. The states decide what are the accrediting activities and which should be given precedence. But only a single agency can reasonably decide what the total contribution, measured in time served, ought to be. The idea of one year’s service appeals.

Reasonable conservatives can disagree on whether Buckley’s idea for a national program was valid without inventing bogeymen. Since the Franklin Project stops short even of Buckley’s modest proposal, there’s no need to invent mandates that don’t exist.

To help inform, I plan, this week, a poor imitation of Buckley’s noble initiative. This week’s blogs will focus on national service.

I will attempt to outline the debate on the right, the dangers posed by the left, and the need for conservatives to involve themselves in the crafting of the national ethos rather than abandoning the debate and leaving it to the collectivists, as we have abandoned California.

Thanks. Have a great week.

Video: Ronald Reagan Wants the Transportation Empowerment Act

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Want to fix Missouri’s roads and cut taxes at the same time? Well, two American conservative icons showed us the way almost 50 years ago.

The Establishment likes to attack grassroots conservatives by claiming Reagan would have opposed the Tea Party. They’re wrong, of course, and the Transportation Empowerment Act tells us why.

In 1967, shortly after Ronald Reagan became governor of California, William F. Buckley Jr. asked Governor Reagan if was even possible to be an effective governor.

“What’s meant by that,” Buckley went on:

Are we now so dependent on the federal government that the individual state is left without the scope to make its own crucial decisions? Isn’t the individual state in the matter of taxation required to make do with what amounts to the leftovers?

Reagan’s reply told the whole story:

The TEA would keep gasoline taxes in the state where they’re generated. So all the taxes you pay at the pump here in Missouri would stay in Missouri for the Missouri governor and legislature to allocate.

The Transportation Empowerment Act

Here’s how it works according to the bill’s architect, Congressman Tom Graves:

How it Works

  • Transfers almost all authority over federal highway and transit programs to the states over a five-year period.
  • Lowers the federal gas tax to 3.7 cents from 18.4 cents over the same time period.
  • During the five-year phase out, states will receive block grants that come with vastly fewer federal strings attached.

What It Does

  • Immediately reduces the bureaucratic burden involved in the construction of critical transportation projects.
  • Results in a faster administrative response to the transportation problems Americans face, such as traffic, commuting, and access.
  • Gives states greater flexibility in their tax structure.
  • Connects where people want to work with where they want to live.
  • Opens opportunities to develop new mass-transit solutions, innovate environmental protections, and improve the financing of projects.
  • Creates jobs and grows the economy.

Where Do Missouri’s Republicans Stand on TEA?

So far, the only Missouri member of Congress to sign onto the TEA Bill is Rep. Billy Long (HA-78%). That means we need to work on Ann Wagner (HA-63%), Jason Smith (HA-74%), Vicky Hartzler (HA-64%), and Sam Graves (HA-65%). (Leutkemeyer[HA-57%] is a lost cause, so I won’t ask anyone to waste their time.)

Heritage Action has key voted the Transportation Empowerment Act, meaning that all members of Congress will be judged by their performance on the bill. Because Establishment Republicans love Washington power, how our delegation handles the TEA Bill will tell us a lot about their commitment to Reagan-Buckley conservatism.

Call or visit Rep. Ann Wagner’s Ballwin office and ask her to co-sponsor HR-3486, the Transportation Empowerment Act.

Ballwin District Office

301 Sovereign Court
Suite 201
BallwinMO 63011

hours: M-F 9-5:00pm

Phone: (636) 779-5449

“People want to spend less time in traffic and more time enjoying life. Our bill does away with the Washington middleman and streamlines the highway program, allowing more projects to be completed at a lower cost. This approach paves the way for commuters to move more easily between home and work, freeing up important family time and cutting out hours of frustration behind the wheel.” – Congressman Tom Graves

Sound a lot like Reagan, doesn’t it?

What Would Buckley Do?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I wanted to be William F. Buckley Jr. All I lacked was his intellect, education, and unique experiences.

Well, I didn’t want to be him. I wanted to be the next one.

Every day, I wrote a 750-word piece. Poorly. I believed that practice would improve my writing.

It didn’t.

One day, I realized, as long as I tried to be the next William F. Buckley, I was destined for frustration and failure. The same would have applied had I chosen to be the next Wayne Gretzky or the next George Carlin.

In the pantheon of great political writers, a William F. Buckley comes along precisely one time. The “next one” will be as different from Buckley as Gretzky was from Howe or Daniel Tosh is from Carlin.

And I won’t be the next one. No one will.

I didn’t know at the time, but trying to be something inhibits progress toward that goal. The writer who wants to be the next anyone mires himself in the bog of his present ineptness.

Success comes from practice, but from an instructive practice. It comes from a desire to improve. Improvement comes from a desire to learn. To learn, one must take risks and make mistakes. And he must be humble enough to recognize his mistakes. Or to accept as instructive the criticism of others. (See, I can still channel Buckley for a sentence or two.)

All of that humility stuff goes against my nature.

I tend toward opportunities to prove my skills, not to improve them. I seek the judgment of people who, I know, will skip the flaws and praise the (scant) successes. Like mom and dad. I gravitate toward activities I do objectively well. And I tend to satisfy myself with mere competence; reaching excellence takes too much work.

With Buckley’s birthday approaching (November 24) and the events of the day, I was pleased to see so many Buckley references in my Twitter timeline today. No human being so influenced America’s right thinking. No human being so elegantly bridged the chasm between high-brow intellectualism and bare-knuckle political brawling. And no person earned more of my admiration. After all, I wanted to be him.

Of all his accomplishments, Buckley’s role in founding Young Americans for Freedom might be his greatest achievement. With the present mess in Washington and Obamacare’s sword dangling precariously above our national head, we’d all do well to review the Sharon Statement, the organization’s founding manifesto, released from Buckley’s home in Sharon, Connecticut, on September 11, 1960:

IN THIS TIME of moral and political crisis, it is the responsibility of the youth of America to affirm certain eternal truths.

WE, as young conservatives, believe:

THAT foremost among the transcendent values is the individual’s use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force;

THAT liberty is indivisible, and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom;

THAT the purpose of government is to protect those freedoms through the preservation of internal order, the provision of national defense, and the administration of justice;

THAT when government ventures beyond these rightful functions, it accumulates power, which tends to diminish order and liberty;

THAT the Constitution of the United States is the best arrangement yet devised for empowering government to fulfill its proper role, while restraining it from the concentration and abuse of power;

THAT the genius of the Constitution – the division of powers – is summed up in the clause that reserves primacy to the several states, or to the people in those spheres not specifically delegated to the Federal government;

THAT the market economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand, is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government, and that it is at the same time the most productive supplier of human needs;

THAT when government interferes with the work of the market economy, it tends to reduce the moral and physical strength of the nation, that when it takes from one to bestow on another, it diminishes the incentive of the first, the integrity of the second, and the moral autonomy of both;

THAT we will be free only so long as the national sovereignty of the United States is secure; that history shows periods of freedom are rare, and can exist only when free citizens concertedly defend their rights against all enemies…

THAT the forces of international Communism are, at present, the greatest single threat to these liberties;

THAT the United States should stress victory over, rather than coexistence with this menace; and

THAT American foreign policy must be judged by this criterion: does it serve the just interests of the United States?

I feel a great temptation to expound on each paragraph, but I’ll home in on one.

THAT when government interferes with the work of the market economy, it tends to reduce the moral and physical strength of the nation, that when it takes from one to bestow on another, it diminishes the incentive of the first, the integrity of the second, and the moral autonomy of both.

And there lies the “eternal truth” that Obamacare hopes to frustrate and corrupt.

Obamacare is, in its conception, incubation, and emergence, an abomination. An affront to freedom, to the individual, and to the moral philosophy of natural rights. America cannot exist without deference to natural rights, making Obamacare an existential threat to our nation.

By that measure, those who support Obamacare are, unarguably, anti-American. Their hearts might be in the right place, but their bodies are on the wrong continent.

So, John Boehner said a lot when he said on ABC’s This Week:

“I and my members decided the threat of Obamacare and what was happening was so important that it was time for us to take a stand. And we took a stand.”

The stand Boehner and his colleagues took was to stand athwart the dismantling of the American Experiment, yelling, “STOP!”

With Obamacare, Barack Obama seeks to undermine and destroy the moral autonomy of every American. That’s a big ambition, on par with Khrushchev’s promise that the Soviet monster “will bury you.” Obama’s dream of a Soviet America fulfill’s Tocqueville’s warning:

the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

Put aside your petty grievences against Speaker Boehner and his leadership team. This is a war for America’s existence against the most formidable foe we’ve ever faced. Obama is more ruthless than Hitler, more crafty than Tojo, more brutal than Stalin, and more arrogant than King George.

This menace, this threat, to America is not a foreign enemy risen in a distant land from which the Americans escaped; Obama is a monster raised among us. Obama threatens to fulfill Khrushchev’s other famous boast:

We cannot expect Americans to jump from capitalism to Communism, but we can assist their elected leaders in giving Americans small doses of socialism until they suddenly awake to find they have Communism.

In this present battle, we have no enemies who fight that monster hunkered down at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And in this battle, for now, John Boehner is our Patton.

At the risk of putting words in his mouth, Buckley would agree.

Our Tax Code: The Fustercluck From Which Everything Rancid Crawls

Reading Time: 4 minutes

William F. Buckley proposed a simple tax reform in 1973. The language barrier that separates people like Buckley from that odd species we call Congress prevented his thoughts from finding fertile soil.  And in the 40 years between, the tax code has become only murkier and more dangerous.

4-Reforms

“Our tax laws were,” Buckley wrote in Four Reforms: A Guide for the Seventies, “designed historically to raise revenue for the operations of government.”  He continues:

Along the way the operations of government inflated in purpose and ambition, evolving from modest Jeffersonian instruments for effecting the safety of the state into the gargantuan instruments of the social perfectionists.

He points out that attempts to cure a social ill through tax code always and everywhere exacerbates the ill and sprouts new seedlings of destruction. For example, the ill-fated luxury tax of the 1990s, which intended to punish conspicuous consumers who spent their hard-earned dollars on boats, planes, and furs, ended up destroying several American industries and displacing tens of thousands of not-so-wealthy workers. The rich, meanwhile, could import luxury items from Latin America, Asia, and Europe, often cheaper than their American equivalent even before the luxury tax took effect.

Here’s a little history of how we got here, and a reiteration of Buckley’s modest proposal of 1973.

At the height Roosevelt’s New Deal, only about 3 million Americans paid any income tax at all. But World War II changed all that. To feed the war machine, Congress broadened the tax base to about 42 million Americans, most of whom viewed their new tax burden as a) worthwhile, b) reasonable, and c) temporary. Most Americans had one or more family members fighting in Europe or the Pacific, and paying a portion of their income to fund the war effort was something of an honor. At the time, there was but a single tax rate paid by all Americans, married or single.

When the war ended, some states created “community property” laws which stated that wives were entitled to half the husband’s income. This led to a change in the tax law which allowed men to deduct alimony payments, which led couples to divorce for the tax advantage, which created scandals as more couples lived openly in sin.

So Congress amended the law again to allow married couples to pay separate taxes which tended to drop them a few rungs on the tax ladder, reducing their overall tax rate.  This caused overall government revenue to drop about the time General Marshall’s plan to rebuild Europe needed funding.

In 1951 then created the unmarried head-of-household allowing single working parents to pay taxes at a lower rate, as if they had a spouse who didn’t work. This perturbed the single taxpayers who wrote the Congressmen (they were almost all men then). 

As Buckley points out, at this point it should have become clear to anyone that “to favor somebody is almost necessarily to discriminate against somebody else.”

The single taxpayer complaints led to more reforms in 1969. Now, single taxpayers could not pay more than 20 percent more than a married taxpayer in the same bracket.  (Confused yet?)  Now, dual-income households in which both husband and wife worked were furious that they were paying more taxes than single people in the same tax bracket. Congress responded, but now couples with children complained that they were paying the same amount as childless couples, discouraging family creation and giving the childless unfair economic advantage.

And on we go, until in the latest fiscal cliff tax cut/increase/pork festival, NASCAR owner get special tax advantage to compensate for their inability to turn right.

So the tax code is now heavier than health man can bench press, the IRS cannot explain what you should pay, and businesses spend as much on tax avoidance as they do on research and development.

It’s time to stop the madness.

While some believe the way to drum up broad support for change is to propose radical elimination of the income tax altogether, scientific investigations of political change reveal that people prefer incremental and evolutionary changes to revolutionary changes.  Therefore, I won’t endorse the Fair Tax, even though I like it better than what Buckley proposed.

His proposal?  A simple flat rate of 15% that applies to all income. No exemptions, no deductions, no brackets.

The flat tax should appeal to Warren Buffett and his ilk, because he and his secretary would pay the same damn rate for a change.  The formula, which I’ve blogged about many times, is stupidly simply: what did you make? Multiply by .15. Send it in. 

True, this would be a tax increase for many people. Sorry. We have a $16 trillion+ national debt to pay down.  When some future president phones into Dave Ramsey to yell “We’re Debt Free!” we can look at reducing the rate.

The biggest social problem this proposal creates is the displacement of thousands of tax workers at H&R Block, Intuit, and the IRS.

I think we can deal with that, though.

It’s Time To End War On Weed

Reading Time: 3 minutes

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for conservatives to divorce themselves from superstitions they’ve embraced since the Progressive Movement of the 1920s and join the pantheon of reasonable people, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

I hold these truths to be totally friggin’ obvious, that all drugs are not created equal, that we’ve wasted billions of dollars and millions of lives pursuing a demented “zero tolerance” temperance goal that was Never Going To Happen, that the losses we’ve endured trying stamp out weed have cost American society more than they’ve gained, that among these losses are lives, money, and opportunity. That whenever a policy becomes so destructive of the ends of living free and prospering that even the Dean of American Conservative Intellectualism screams “LEGALIZE IT,” only an idiot would hold propaganda images from Refer Madness as an excuse to support our current marijuana prohibition. That if tomorrow the laws of the federal government and the 48 states still prohibiting possession of a milligram of marijuana were erased and forgotten, the world would go on, America would remain the lone Super Power (with other gaining) and the largest economy in the history of mankind, dogs would continue to chase cats, Angelina Jolie would still be hot, and Rachel Maddow would remain an idiot. To prove this, let Facts about this War On Drugs be submitted to a candid world:

  • It costs about $56 billion a year
  • It squanders tax revenue from the drugs targeted of about $42 billion (if taxed like alcohol and tobacco)
  • It costs governments $98 billion dollars a year in net money—a fine down payment on our umpteen-quadrillion dollar national debt
  • It screws up the lives of about 680,000 Americans per year whose only crime was possession of marijuana with no intent to distribute
  • It fails to reduce the number of people who try weed, as the usage rate in the USA is identical to usage in Holland where it’s legal
  • It rewards organized crime, street gangs, and international drug cartels by creating a black market with inflated prices
  • It takes police away from serious crimes like rape, murder, assault, and terrorism
  • It has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance. (Sorry. That’s such an awesome sentence I had to steal it from TJ.)

Seriously, here’s what Buckley said about conservatives and weed in 2004:

Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great. The laws aren’t exactly indefensible, because practically nothing is, and the thunderers who tell us to stay the course can always find one man or woman who, having taken marijuana, moved on to severe mental disorder. But that argument, to quote myself, is on the order of saying that every rapist began by masturbating. General rules based on individual victims are unwise. And although there is a perfectly respectable case against using marijuana, the penalties imposed on those who reject that case, or who give way to weakness of resolution, are very difficult to defend. If all our laws were paradigmatic, imagine what we would do to anyone caught lighting a cigarette, or drinking a beer. Or — exulting in life in the paradigm — committing adultery. Send them all to Guantanamo? [emphasis added for emphasis]

So, grow up, conservatives, or be ready to lose a lot of tourism money to Colorado and Washington. Pot isn’t a super-addictive poison that gives people super-human strength to kill cops and rape nuns. It’s not H, and it’s not Angel Dust. It’s pot. Unless you’re afraid of people driving too slow and staying out of bar fights, settle down. If pot were legalized, Hostess would still be in business and likely challenging Apple for the highest market cap in history.

If conservatives want to be seen as serious about the real threats to freedom, we better let go of the bogeyman we’ve carried over from the Coolidge administration.

If you do nothing else in 2013, Legalize It.