On a Job Well Done

My readers, here we are one last time. This the end! As such, I wanted to provide a convenient summary of all the recommendations that have been made. I will group them according to whose responsibility they are; after all, rule of law and federalism are important! They dictate what branches of government must do what (and what must be left to the people), so things shall be allocated accordingly to who should bear the respective responsibility. This list could be regarded of what a “Common Sense” policy platform would entail; feel free to keep it handy and see how candidates measure up against it throughout the coming elections!

I will leave this blog up through the end of the year. Feel free to continue referencing it until then, to copy any of the writings, or to download any of the files attached. With all of this, I am ready and happy to conclude this project. I look back at what has been accomplished here with no nostalgia or melancholy but rather with a tremendous sense of pride for a job well and completely done. Farewell!


Constitutional Amendments:

  1. The enumerated powers of the Constitution should be amended to include investment in physical capital (e.g., infrastructure), knowledge capital (e.g., scientific research), and human capital (e.g., funding for pre-K education) as well as the collection and maintenance of large databases of value to the public. Investment in capital should be specifically restricted to programs that are expected to provide a benefit to all levels of society and do not have the goal of redistributing wealth from one group of citizens to another.
  2. All taxes on income, corporations, and trade should be abolished and replaced with only two types of tax: a VAT (applied also to gifts and estates) with a single rate and no exemptions as well as a set of externality taxes capped at the lesser of the cost to remedy the externality or the cost of the damage done by the externality. In the case of the externality taxes, the funds for each externality tax should be earmarked directly for either remedying the externality or compensating those affected.
  3. All regulation that prevents honest, voluntary transactions from occurring between parties in unanimous agreement and all regulation that compels an individual to do something with their property against their will (with the exception of mandates that mitigate direct harm to others from an activity in which a citizen is voluntarily engaging) should be made unconstitutional. This includes banning antitrust action and providing legal protection for commercial activities many may consider abhorrent, such as discriminating against customers based on race, religion, sexuality, etc. Such is the nature of liberty.
  4. The federal government should be required to run a balanced budget over the long term, with allowances for countercyclical policy. This should be operationalized by allowing a 1% increase in spending for every 1% that activity, as measured by gross domestic expenditure (GDE), is below the 20-year trend level of activity and conversely requiring 1% surplus for every 1% that activity exceeds trend activity. In addition to this, 1/20 of an existing surplus may be spent, and 1/20 of any existing debt must be paid down out of the allowed spending. This mathematical restriction on spending should be capable of being waived in the case of war or extreme disaster, but only with a two-thirds supermajority in both the House and the Senate.
  5. Bailouts and subsidies (including subsidized offerings such as crop insurance and deposit insurance) to private corporations should be made unconstitutional.
  6. Pre-trial settlements in cases brought by federal or state governments should be made unconstitutional.
  7. All “victimless crimes” should be made unconstitutional, including the Prohibition on drugs.
  8. The United States should immediately pass an amendment that prohibits the government from discriminating based on income or wealth.
  9. All tariffs, protectionist laws, and other restrictions on international free trade should be made unconstitutional with the exception of individually targeted sanctions against the elites of hostile or repressive regimes and the equal enforcement of domestic laws (such as laws on intellectual property or transparency).
  10. A constitutional amendment should be passed replacing the 22nd Amendment (presidential term limits) with a more general ban on running for federal office while in federal office.
  11. The responsibility of redistricting for elections should be handed over to computers that optimize districts based on contiguity, political boundaries of smaller political entities (such as counties and cities), and geometric compactness, in that order.
  12. The party primary system should be replaced with a ranked choice voting system.
  13. In the Electoral College, Electors corresponding to Senators should have their votes decided by whoever wins the State as a whole, and Electors corresponding to Representatives should have their votes decided by proportional representation.
  14. The 17th Amendment (direct election of senators) should be repealed.
  15. The House of Representatives should shift to a delegative voting method, in which any citizen can delegate their vote to any member of the House as well as revoke or change that vote delegation at any time. Votes would then be determined by the sum of all voters who had delegated their proxy to each Representative.
  16. The House of Representatives district size should be returned to approximately one Representative for every 30,000 people, as it was when the country began. These Representatives should work from their districts to minimize expenses and stay in touch with their constituents.
  17. Washington, D.C. should be granted authority over purely local matters that do not interfere with the federal government’s ability to function, as well as granted representatives in proportion to its population.
  18. Citizens should be guaranteed the right to record interactions with law enforcement at any level.
  19. A constitutional amendment should be passed mandating the Federal Reserve conduct fiscal projections and policy evaluations in accordance with GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, the same principles by which public companies are required to report their accounts). The amendment should also state that for a politician to make claims at odds with these figures (including such distortions as saying that “spending was cut x%” rather than “spending was cut x% as compared to previously planned increases”) is, at a minimum, and impeachable offense.

Acts of Congress:

  1. All welfare for individuals (including Social Security Disability) should be consolidated into a single workfare program that matches the unemployed to employers. Employers would submit requests for labor in 3-month increments and be prioritized based on their bid (which could be $0) and their hiring record from the program. Employees would be cycled to new jobs every 3 months and would be required to show up to work on time, do their assigned jobs, and not cause disruption of the workplace in order to receive benefits. Ideally, the benefit amount in the initial bill should be set to the absolute basics or as close as is politically feasible (at this blog’s previous estimate, $1700 per year), but transforming the structure is far more important than reducing the benefit. After the transition has been completed, Congress should devolve the payment amount, supporting taxes, and program management to the states to experiment with; the database of employer bids should be maintained for the states to use at their discretion.
  2. All welfare for children and families should be consolidated into a separate program that provides voluntary access to a government administered shelter that is safe, is climate-controlled, provides food/water, and has a structured sense of order (including being subject to inspection). Once the transition has been completed, this program should be devolved to the states.
  3. A firm limit should be placed on the size of the tax code and the Federal Register such that the vast majority of citizens can easily understand the portions that apply to them. Radical regulatory simplification should be undertaken to bring things down to this new limit, and a default sunset clause should be placed on all future legislation to prevent ossification going forward.
  4. The unitary VAT described in Constitutional Amendments, #2 should be set at the level which would fund what government spending is necessary after other solutions are implemented (currently estimated to be 5% or lower).
  5. In order to transition out of the current unfunded liability model of Social Security OASI, cost growth should be slowed by indexing the retirement age to life expectancy, calculating COLA based on chained CPI, and indexing contributions (actual and taxable maximum) based on chained CPI. The Treasury bonds in the Social Security Trust Funds should be sold to the private market and the proceeds invested alongside future FICA tax revenues according to a diversified, high-growth investment model along the lines of those of the world’s most successful public pension funds. Once liabilities are fully funded, the FICA tax should be eliminated and citizens permitted to make their own choices about saving for retirement.
  6. Medicare should be abolished and all Medicare FICA payments refunded to the citizens who paid them in, adjusted to current dollars. The Medicare Trust Fund should be liquidated for this purpose.
  7. Regulations should be implemented to assure property rights (including over yield from harvested flora and fauna), ensure honesty of transactions through transparency requirements, and mandate insurance for those voluntarily engaged in activities that may harm others.
  8. The minimum wage should be abolished.


  1. The Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) should be repealed and replaced with a set of laws that will actually bring down healthcare costs: the FDA should transition to a role of collecting data and providing transparency rather than deciding what may and may not be sold (consistent with Constitutional Amendment #3), health insurance should be allowed to be sold across state lines, medical malpractice suits should be heard by panels of doctors who actually understand what is going on, “loser pays” rules should be implemented in medical cases, all limits on who can “practice medicine” should be removed and replaced with transparency requirements (consistent with Constitutional Amendment #3), health insurance should be counted as compensation for tax purposes if our other tax policies are not adopted, the government should pass transparency requirements with regards to pricing for medical services, a centralized database of electronic medical records should be established by the federal government, and all subsidies for healthcare should be phased out.
  2. The Federal Reserve should have the “employment” component of its dual mandate eliminate, be relieved of its ability to set interest rates, and forbidden from engaging in QE. The tools that should made available to the Fed for the purpose of maintaining price stability should be seigniorage for long term changes to the money supply and a lender of last result role for solvent companies with collateral in the case of an extreme short-term liquidity squeeze.
  3. Congress should reserve full declarations of war for when there is a clear and present danger to the safety or liberty of America, and the lives of American soldiers should not be put at risk for any other reason. However, limited declarations of war to protect another country from invasion or assist an uprising against a repressive government, utilizing only air support/intelligence/logistics, should also be passed when the invaded or repressed parties are providing ground fighters and where such parties ask for our assistance, when these interventions can be done in concert with allies, and when the parties requesting assistance can be expected to advance the cause of liberty in their country.
  4. All military bases, foreign and domestic, that are not necessary to support the more limited role described in Acts of Congress #11 should be closed.
  5. The US should simplify immigration and visas by shifting to an almost entirely merit-based immigration calculation based on such things as skills, education, age, criminal records, proof of assets, and sponsorship. Limited one-off exceptions should be permitted for geopolitical or diplomatic goals, as well as for certain rare allowances for groups of refugees. Additional cultural knowledge and language requirements should be required for full citizenship. It should be made clear by Congress that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” in the 14th Amendment does not apply to the children of illegal immigrants and thus that birthright citizenship is no longer available to those individuals going forward.
  6. Once immigration reform along the lines of Acts of Congress #13 is passed, illegal immigrants should be allowed to enter the reformed, accelerated citizenship process open to all others and requiring the same qualifications, but only after 20 years of waiting and paying $50,000 in back taxes and penalties. Government assistance programs should be strictly limited to legally present individuals.
  7. Pollution, damage to economically beneficial flora/fauna, and habitat destruction should be taxed as an externality consistent with Constitutional Amendment #2. Animals designated as communal pets should be protected by laws enforced with criminal penalties.
  8. The U.S. should tax greenhouse gas emissions at ~$9.40 per tonne and use the money to fund diversified basic research that would underlie a low carbon economy, with the technology developed to be auctioned off to American companies. This program should be run efficiently, without bureaucratic barriers, foot dragging in research, excessive overhead or paper pushing, etc. such that the project is completed within a decade.
  9. All gun purchases, including those currently exempted by the “gun show loophole,” should be subject to checks against a federal database that tracks criminal history and history of mental health issues, with the latter being empowered by mandatory reporting from states and medical/psychological institutions.
  10. Arms sales should be restricted to close allies. America should stop immediately stop selling arms to countries that we could go to war with in coming decades, that act against our interests, or that might pass them on to hostile entities. All military aid to foreign nations should cease posthaste.
  11. A national voter database should be created with a fingerprint for each citizen that is linked to a fingerprint provided by each respective voter and renewed every 5-10 years. Fingerprints should then be provided for all in-person and absentee votes. Additionally, every voter should be required to pass a voting test to register. Such a test should be applied universally, objectively graded by computer, and contain a combination of questions from the citizenship test as well as questions concerning basic current politics.
  12. A federal education database should be created to administer recommended educational curricula and display the results of educational institutions vis a vis those curricula.
  13. High-quality pre-K should be funded by block grants from the federal government contingent on evidence of the quality and results of each program.
  14. Funding for higher education and subsidized student loans should be stopped immediately.
  15. All restrictions on political donations should be scrapped and replaced with transparency regulations on the subject.
  16. The Wagner Act, the sections of OSHA that ban “unsafe working conditions” or mandate how an employer must remedy “unsafe working conditions,” and all other laws that insert the government into private sector labor agreements should be repealed. Labor unions should be treated as any other mutual association of interested parties, greatly simplifying the legal code.
  17. Public sector unions should be ignored by government until they offer some value to the public interest.
  18. All criminal trials and appeals should be limited to six months from arrest or decision of the lower court. Impossible-to-know psychology should be ignored. The standard of proof for capital cases should be raised to clear forensic evidence, a pre-arrest confession, or the testimony of three totally credible unconnected witnesses. Appeals for all criminal cases should be streamlined so that all appeal concerns are bundled together and presented to the next higher court, which should be able to reject the appeal if there is not probable cause for any of the items in the appeal. Finally, jurors should never be made aware of potential sentencing in order to prevent bias.
  19. The United States should also adopt a European-style “loser pays” rule for civil cases and redirect some of the freed up resources from the civil system to the criminal system to ensure that judicial backlogs become merely an unjust aspect of the past.
  20. The law must be enforced in cases of civil disobedience, whether to enforce just laws or show unjust laws for what they are.
  21. The unconstitutional, ridiculous, and pernicious TSA should be abolished and its powers decentralized to airlines and/or airports who have a balanced incentive structure.
  22. The NSA should be allowed to collect metadata in a dragnet fashion but should not be allowed to monitor emails, phone recordings, online messages, text messages, or online history without individualized search warrants.
  23. The patent office should be stricter on usefulness, non-obviousness, and novelty standards for patents. All loopholes in patent law, such as duration extensions, should be abolished. Durations of patents should be matched to the amount of time it would be expected for the invention to be developed and discovered to be useful independently, with broad defaults for different fields and exceptions for groundbreaking innovation. Methods, new uses for commonly used items/objects, trivial improvements, and designs should be stripped of patentability. In order to stymie patent trolls, America should adopt a “loser pays” rule in the legal system and limit patent damages to actual business lost. This latter limitation should also extend to the part of the DMCA that prevents people from making modifications to their own property that they are not intending to resell.
  24. The United States should set up an infrastructure bank to identify and plan infrastructure projects that, at some point in the foreseeable future, are likely both to add more productivity than the marginal private sector use of funds and to be within budget constraints. These projects should be ranked such that the most attractive have priority, and spending on such projects should move counter to private sector aggregate demand.
  25. Scientific projects undertaken by the government should be limited to grand projects with clear goals and timelines. These projects should be of sufficiently large scale and complexity that they cannot or will not be accomplished efficiently by the private sector.
  26. The President should be granted the authority to embark on a radical streamlining of government processes and organization.
  27. If a company commits fraud, the individuals responsible, whether in the private or public sector, must face legal consequences. Regulators should be held to account for egregious failings such as the prolonged lack of action against the cheating software used by Volkswagen. Unless a very good reason is provided for such failings, those responsible should face punishment ranging from the loss of their jobs if they were merely incompetent to civil and/or criminal charges if they were complicit in fraud.
  28. The United States should unify its procurement systems, repeal the Davis Bacon Act, abolish cost plus and no bid contracts, criminalize politicians’ interfering in procurement decisions, and insource monopsonistic purchases such as those for military equipment, national infrastructure, and grand scientific projects.
  29. The United States should privatize assets that do not provide a broad benefit to the populace or would provide a similar benefit if in private hands.
  30. A law should be passed mandating that potentially prosecutable terms or terms that would materially affect customer service need to be prominently disclosed in plain language.
  31. Once the judiciary proves it can be trusted to interpret law based on respect for literal text, original intent, and precedent, in that order (see Societal Shifts #6, below), laws and regulations should be reshaped to rely on broad principles rather than an endless and inevitably incomplete set of narrow specifics.
  32. A voluntary system should be instituted into which individuals, businesses, and other financial entities can enter their debts. Periodically or in times of crisis, the system could be run to clear circular debts from the economy, freeing up collateral and reducing the role of fear or lack of information in financial decision making.
  33. Perpetrators of crimes should be made to return stolen assets to victims or their heirs, but there should not be general inheritance of property rights to stolen goods if the perpetrator has died. When an innocent person inherits stolen goods, a living victim should be able to reclaim those goods to the extent that they can prove rightful ownership of specific assets, but the innocent inheritor of stolen goods should have no obligation to provide compensation to the victim beyond exactly what was stolen.
  34. A law should be passed mandating that a truly random draft lottery with no exceptions should take place to fill any gap between those applying to serve in the military and the needs of the Department of Defense.
  35. Women should not serve in frontline combat roles or in situations that present logistical challenges to the operation of the military (e.g. mixed gender submarines). However, the draft should still apply to women for support and other noncombat positions.
  36. The United States should establish English as the national language for official purposes and as the sole language of government documents designed for domestic use.
  37. In the extreme and rare case of a monopoly that was having a stifling effect on the economy of the nation as a whole, the government should purchase the assets in question as an infrastructure investment.

Executive Actions:

  1. The President should immediately begin enforcing immigration law to the fullest of his capabilities while pushing for immigration reform along the lines of Acts of Congress #13. Unaccompanied minors should be immediately deported to prevent future humanitarian crises that put such children in danger.
  2. The President should ensure that the United States fully abides by all international treaties it has signed and stays true to public proclamations made regarding foreign affairs.
  3. While we should not leave the U.N., the President should unequivocally denounce the insane declarations that come out of the U.N. and refocus our diplomatic efforts and attention on building a League of Democracies that is committed to freedom, moral clarity, and mutual defense (likely based on the foundations of NATO).
  4. Once granted the authority discussed in Acts of Congress #34, the President should proceed to hire top consultants to conduct a thorough inquiry from the perspectives of both citizens and employees and use the findings of that inquiry to reshape government processes such that they cater to citizens as well as eliminate jobs that do not serve efficient delivery of services in a positive way.

Supreme Court Decisions:

  1. All government programs not strictly described in the enumerated powers of the Constitution or amendments thereto should be declared unconstitutional.
  2. All programs that usurp the responsibilities of states and violate the 10th Amendment (including the National Minimum Drinking Age Act) should be declared unconstitutional.
  3. The courts should limit use of the Interstate Commerce Clause to directly interstate commercial activity, limit use of the Necessary and Proper to truly enabling actions for laws justified elsewhere within the enumerated powers rather than new bits of policy, and limit the use of the Taxing and Spending Clause to only justifying taxation.
  4. The “right to privacy” and associated “constitutional rights” created by earlier activist judges (including a constitutional right to gay marriage) should be overturned.
  5. DACA and DAPA should be declared unconstitutional.
  6. All use of military force abroad without a formal declaration of war should be declared unconstitutional.
  7. Civil asset forfeiture should be declared clearly unconstitutional under the 5th
  8. The Supreme Court should repudiate the disparate impact doctrine. Affirmative action, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and all aspects of the Civil Rights Act applying to private entities should be declared unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause, as they discriminate based on race.
  9. Hate speech codes at public institutions should be declared unconstitutional under the 5th

State/Local Actions:

  1. States should eventually take over the welfare programs described in Acts of Congress #1 and Acts of Congress #2. Once handed control of the payment amount in Acts of Congress #1, they should adjust to the amount required to afford the absolute basics of survival (i.e. food) for their state.
  2. States should pass appropriate laws regulating the “militia” of private gun holders, including permits to own firearms, fingerprinting of permit holders, waiting periods of a few days to buy guns, and other similar regulations that do not prevent responsible individuals from being able to arm themselves.
  3. State and local police should be demilitarized, issued body cameras, and held fully accountable in the uncommon situation that they overstep their bounds.
  4. Once the National Minimum Drinking Age Act is repealed or declared unconstitutional, states should then experiment with different drinking ages, different required ages for different kinds of alcohol, and exceptions such as allowing students to drink on university campus.
  5. States should implement high quality pre-K programs to be funded with block grants from Acts of Congress #21.
  6. States should also allow maximum experimentation with a wide variety of methods of providing primary and secondary education – private schools eligible for vouchers, private schools ineligible for vouchers, traditional public schools, all the various kinds of charters, open enrollment policies, etc. – with the absolute minimum in accreditation requirements (ideally, simply registering the federal database proposed in Acts of Congress #20). This experimentation must include a willingness to close failing public schools.
  7. As far as administering education, noncompetitive merit pay for educational value added should be implemented as a limited component of teacher compensation, along with a database of critical success factors and performance outcomes to enable teachers to improve. Merit pay for educational value added and cost efficiency should be implemented as a significant component of administrator compensation. In order to improve hiring, teachers should be given more autonomy, promoted based on merit, paid higher salaries, and shifted into portable defined contribution pension plans. Class size should be increased by shifting students from the bottom 50% of teachers to the top 50% of teachers. Schools should experiment with training programs that are more effective than the currently useless education degrees and adopt those that are shown by evidence to be successful. Benchmark comparisons should be introduced to stop grade inflation. Finally, teachers must be given the disciplinary support they need to prevent disruptive students from compromising the educational experience of everyone else.
  8. Police agencies should adopt community policing strategies and, more importantly, the community policing mindset to improve their effectiveness. Additionally, local police forces should be as transparent as possible with the media and the public without compromising their effectiveness or the safety of individuals they are charged to protect.
  9. Right to work laws should be repealed.
  10. Public sector unions should be ignored by government until they offer some value to the public interest.
  11. States should recognize marriage as a cultural institution and get out of the business of defining it, replacing the legal component of marriage with allowing a range of civil contracts and assignments that give individuals choice on how to structure legal relationships.
  12. The law must be enforced in cases of civil disobedience, whether to enforce just laws or show unjust laws for what they are. Rioters who commit crimes against the innocent (including property crimes) should suffer the full force of the law, and those who prevent police from doing so become accomplices who should also suffer the full force of the law.
  13. Mentally ill criminals should be placed in a psychiatric facility rather than incarcerated, and the criminal justice system should receive appropriate training to recognize mental illness when they come across it.
  14. State governments should allow the mentally ill and substance addicts to voluntarily use the psychiatric facilities that are already necessary for mentally ill criminals. Should any of these individuals achieve some defined minimum level of financial viability, the agencies who footed the bill should be allowed to collect the cost of the treatment or training through wage garnishments over the life of the individual.
  15. As far as community planning, local governments should set fines and prohibitions against specific objectionable physical stimuli. These should only apply if instituted in advance of project announcements, and no exceptions should be granted to existing rules.
  16. Suicide, assisted or otherwise, should be allowed to all legally capable citizens, with a cooling off period and a medical confirmation of mental competency.

Policies To Be Avoided:

  1. Responsible citizens should not be prevented from owning firearms or carrying them in public spaces (this is not to say that private entities should not be allowed to set different rules on their own property). This would include not banning semi-automatic weapons, as these would be important to the citizenry if there was ever cause to rise up against a tyrannical government.
  2. The United States should avoid getting militarily entangled in foreign conflicts unless all of the conditions in Acts of Congress #12 are met.
  3. No government entity should never regulate the content or scale of political expression, including political donations.
  4. Washington, D.C. should not be declared a state and thus should not be attributed Senators.
  5. The death penalty should not be banned.
  6. No incentives or mandates should be created to compel states, localities, or educational institutions to adhere to the federal curricula discussed in Acts of Congress #20.
  7. There should be no criminalization of homelessness or feeding the homeless, and those who are homeless, mentally ill, or substance abusers should not be forcibly confined unless they are awaiting trial for, or have been found guilty of, committing a crime against someone else.
  8. No government entity should pass rent controls, withhold permits in order to force particular development goals, or enforce zoning restrictions against anything other than direct physical stimuli that are found to be objectionable at the neighborhood level. This should not be read to include interfering with a privilege over which the supposedly aggrieved party had no ownership.
  9. While justice should be served for specific crimes committed in the past, specific blameless individuals and society in general should not be forced to pay for sins committed by those who came before them, as would be the case with racially based reparations.
  10. The government should not establish state-owned corporations and especially not state-owned monopolies.
  11. Fraud cases should not be brought against a company as a whole but rather against the individuals that perpetrated the fraud, with suitable criminal convictions pursued.

Societal Shifts:

  1. The public and policymakers must come to regard rule of law as non-negotiable regardless of what ends it serves.
  2. The primary goal for which policy should be evaluated should be long-run productivity improvements and secondarily effect on capital formation, as opposed to GDP, jobs, or other metrics that don’t address root causes of prosperity.
  3. Society must wholeheartedly reject the principles of class warfare and animosity towards the wealthy as well as the principles of racial antagonism.
  4. Citizens should strive as hard as they can to ensure that civil discourse is waged by the principles of logos rather than pathos or ethos.
  5. We must all recognize that very often the best policy response to a situation that is less than ideal is for the government to take no action whatsoever.
  6. The law should be read as literally as possible, adding nothing and ignoring nothing. The Constitution with its judicial precedent must supersede Congressional statutes with their judicial precedent, which in turn must supersede agency regulations with their judicial precedent. In the case of ambiguity, the text of the law should first be interpreted in the context of its original meaning, and, if that yields no solution, in the context of judicial precedent. Any judges who diverge from these principles are guilty of judicial activism and should not be elected, appointed, or promoted as part of the judiciary.
  7. As America looks out on a chaotic world, we should realize that the political and economic system upon which our nation was founded is superior to any alternative out there. We should follow its principles more closely and be secure that those who oppose us will eventually be undone by their clinging to flawed and destructive models of governance.
  8. Americans should recognize that jihadist Islam constitutes a very sizable minority of the religion and presents a clear and present danger. However, they should also recognize that it is not supported by the majority of Muslims and is actively opposed by a nontrivial minority, who should receive rhetorical aid and praise.
  9. As citizens, we must stand firm against the notion in our culture that certain ideas may not be expressed. This idea comes out of what are ultimately totalitarian impulses, and we must embrace the alternative of open, honest discourse in which wrongheaded views are dealt with by logic and Socratic questioning rather than emotional bludgeoning and attempts to render opposing views socially illegitimate via the tools of ethos and/or pathos.
  10. As citizens, we need to accept that no individual or group is the arbiter of what words and symbols signify and instead strive for an environment of mutual understanding where expressions are taken as they are meant, unless we have quite a solid basis to refuse such benefit of the doubt. We should then focus on the logical validity of those expressions rather than getting sidetracked by arguments over the identities of speakers or irrational emotions that arise from being exposed to opposing viewpoints.
  11. Americans should accept that not all children are academically good, excellent, special, etc. and may not be suited for university study (including potentially their own children).
  12. Americans should recognize that the abortion debate is entirely a question of when life begins and not a dispute over “women’s rights,” as no one believes there is a right to infanticide. However, Americans should also accept the humility that the question of when life begins is inherently unknowable and/or undefinable. Some thoughtful consideration should be given to the idea that life starts at sentience – the beginning of neurological electrical activity – just as we choose to define death by the cessation of neurological electrical activity.
  13. Citizens should take a firm stand against other citizens who engage in violence against innocents (e.g., rioting) and against any who justify or equivocate on such violence.
  14. Citizens should demand that politicians stop lying, tricking, and manipulating numbers when it comes to clear economic facts.
  15. Citizens should reject the notion that descendants inherit the moral guilt of their forebears.
  16. Citizens should not view death as some transcendent evil but rather an unknown outcome of logically neutral value. As such, an infinite or unlimited value should not be placed on avoiding death.
  17. We must recognize that prosperous societies are built on the principles of meritocracy, a well-designed incentive structure, sufficient restraint to avoid creating existential risks, and most importantly of all, liberty.


On What Makes a Prosperous Society

What a long way we have come and how many topics we have covered! So much has been done that there is little more to say! As this blog begins to wind down, I’d like to offer some reflections on what in general makes a society prosperous. We concluded at nearly the beginning of this project that productivity drives long term prosperity and have given a lot of specific recommendations to boost productivity, but what are the broader principles to be kept in mind?


First, society must be built on meritocracy – the ability to achieve influence (and thus to improve society) must be dependent on the skills, temperament, and choices of individuals rather than irrelevancies like family/social connections, ethnicity/other tribal indicators, age, rules designed to benefit select few insiders, seniority in a position/organization/cultural construct, certifications that have no actual value/ bearing on skills, or arbitrary notions of what is “fair.” That means not just promoting to most capable people to those positions, but also clearing room for those people by swiftly removing people not up to the job. Building a system that allows talented people to achieve as much as they can possibly accomplish is crucial; else, those achievements will not be realized and that talent will go to waste. While this applies to both the public and private sectors, policy applications of this principle would be objective assessment of educational achievement, merit-based immigration policies, as well as meritocratic hiring and firing of government employees (unsurprisingly shown to be critical to achieving more efficient procurement and the single largest factor in reducing corruption).


Second, society must create an appropriate incentive structure such that the citizens most capable of advancing society and achieving innovations are motivated to do so. This blog has advocated since the beginning that people respond to incentives and thus that incentive structures are incredibly important. Society should admire and uphold those who are successful rather than fomenting jealousy over inequality, and policy should reflect that. Some policy applications of this principle would be our solution to incentivize workfare over the dole, crafting a government that does no more than is necessary so taxes can be kept very low and people can keep as much of the fruits of their labor as possible, minimizing complexity in regulation and the tax code to lower costs and risks for those undertaking the challenge of entrepreneurship, and not deluding/distracting people by subsidizing educational pathways that don’t yield results commensurate with the time and expense required to go down them.


Third, now that we have a system wherein talented people are able and motivated to go do awesome things, we need to make sure we don’t damage that system or, worse, do something that will lead to its destruction. This requires the wisdom of restraint so that we can objectively consider all the consequences of any given action or change to the system. Most importantly, it means avoiding certain situations that have historically shown themselves to be existential risks to societies. These risks include class warfare (discussed here and here and here), racial/ethnic conflict, fiscal collapse (most commonly caused by the people voting themselves the Treasury or by imperialistic overreach of military activities), monetary collapse, strangulation of the economy by complexity, and erosion of rule of law. All of these things can bring down a country and have examples of when they have done so. However, even if they don’t result in the destruction of a nation, they will almost certainly create a large drag on society and an impediment to building further prosperity.


Finally, let us note that there is an intrinsic value to liberty, which brings us back to the core premise of this blog. There is inherent value in being able to make choices, even when those choices are unwise or ill regarded by society. After all, what is the point of wealth but the ability to increase the choices that one has available? If one was never asked to pay for anything, wouldn’t money be irrelevant? And thus when certain choices are completely prohibited even if they don’t harm others, isn’t that the equivalent of a cost imposed on everyone, regardless of whether they would avail themselves of that choice? In the same line of thought, what does it really mean to “own” something if one can’t do what one wants with one’s own property? And can one really said to “own” something if they can be forced to do something with it based on what others feel would be best for “everyone” rather than what you desire for your own property? Part of living in a truly free society is having the ability to take actions for oneself and with one’s property that are foolish or selfish, not because of the decisions themselves but rather because of the value of having the right to make the choice in the first place.
Common Sense Principle: Prosperous societies are built on the principles of meritocracy, a well-designed incentive structure, sufficient restraint to avoid creating existential risks, and most importantly of all, liberty.


I will be making one more post next week to summarize all we have discussed over the past two years plus. I hope you have enjoyed the journey!

On a Truly Lean Government

A while back we took a look at a more or less painless way to cut the deficit and leave the government with a surplus – without tax increases or cuts to government services. However, what would happen if all of the recommendations that have been made in this blog were followed and the government was cut to only what is truly necessary? What would be left if we adopted all of the previous Common Sense Solutions? How would that help us achieve our fiscal policy goals, and how would it affect the tax rate under our new tax code once the debt was paid off (assuming revenue neutral tax changes only before debt repayment)? [Fair warning: this is by far the longest post I have ever written because there is no way to go through the whole budget quickly. The budget is a monstrosity, and I went through each line item. If you are so inclined, feel free to skim the details on cost cutting.]


Let us examine the 2016 government budget. This is the reference point used throughout this entire post. As of the time of this writing, the federal government is spending $3.95T and taking in $3.34T in revenue. $0.24T of spending is on interest, leaving $3.71T of primary spending. There is an outstanding $19.43T (which includes debt held by the Fed, Social Security Trust Fund, Medicare Trust Fund, etc.) of government debt, and an additional $8.24T of debt issued by agencies or government sponsored entities that is expected to be paid out of their own revenues but are guaranteed or semi-guaranteed by the government (like mortgage-backed securities issued by Fannie Mae). We will assume that this $8.24T is indeed paid off, though the thought of generating some fiscal cushion is more attractive when one considers the prospect that such repayment may not occur.


Now that we have our collective ducks in a row, let’s look at what would happen with all of the changes. There will be two kinds of effects that have a direct impact:

  1. Spending changes – This is the basic bread and butter of what we are discussing: increases or decreases to federal outlays (mostly decreases). This will be abbreviated as FLS (Federal Level Spending).
  2. Capital changes at the federal level – Certain proposals have included either asset sales or required one-time capital expenditures. These will adjust the total debt, which will have a proportionate effect on Interest when we take that into account. This will be abbreviated as CE (Capital Effects).


Now, let’s dive in to the nitty gritty! [consider skimming now]


Off Budget Items: We previously discussed privatizing saleable assets that aren’t providing an appropriate benefit to the citizenry. We estimated that this would have a positive CE of $1.8T. Separately, there is a large amount of government bonds held by the Federal Reserve. Because the Federal Reserve would no longer be trying to micromanage interest rates, these would serve no purpose. Since having the Treasury owe the Federal Reserve is meaningless, these bonds could simply be nullified (they’ve already been effectively monetized because they were purchased with printed money). This would have a further positive CE of $2.46T for a total positive CE of $4.26T in this category.


Pensions: This is Social Security Disability and Social Security OASI (addressed in detail here and here and here). The $156B of Social Security Disability would entirely eliminated (replaced with our welfare solution), while the OASI remainder would be moved off into a separate investment account as described previously. This account would transform into a fully funded defined contribution scheme by 2061, and probably sooner assuming we also get Social Security improper payments (fraud and errors) under control as discussed previously. The revenue to achieve this fully funded status would be based on growth from investment returns and continued contributions rather than on government subsidy for the program. The debt in the Social Security Trust Fund would be liquidated, so that would no longer be debt owed by the government to the government but debt owed by the government to whoever purchased it. This would have no CE effect. However, stopping spending on these items would have an FLS benefit of $996B.


Health Care: As discussed here, the $595B spent each year on Medicare would be scrapped and the people who had paid in would have all their money returned at a negative CE effect of $4.87T after liquidating the Medicare Trust Fund. Public health services would continue, as they provide a broad benefit to society in accord with the prescribed role of government, as would health R&D (though it would be channeled into a few grand projects rather than inefficient grant-award-process-bureaucracy). Welfare payments under Healthcare (primarily Medicaid) would cease, as described previously, saving another $489B per year. Thus, we have a total of $4.87T in CE costs and $1.084T in FLS benefits.


Education: Pre-primary through secondary education currently costs $42B per year. The only programs that would remain here would be the newly instituted universal pre-K and a federal database of curriculum and results. High quality pre-K like that in the successful Oklahoma program costs $7,700 per child, and there are about 12M children aged 3-5. That’s ~$92B per year. The database could be run on essentially the same budget as Khan Academy, which has an operating budget of ~$19M. Thus, our total is looking to be about $50B higher here. However, the $39B spent on tertiary education would be scrapped, as would $30B spent on “Training and employment,” “Other labor services,” and “Social services” (again replaced with our welfare solution). The research budget under the department of education would remain but be reallocated just as the health R&D funds. Thus, our total FLS effect is a benefit of $19B per year.


Defense: Absolutely nothing would be cut from the $180B paid for veterans’ benefits. However, the $47B in foreign aid would be scrapped entirely. Much of it is for untoward purposes or to distasteful regimes, and what remains is not something that broadly benefits Americans who pay taxes (though that is certainly not to say that private charity to the poorest parts of the world should not be encouraged; most have it much worse off than even the poorest Americans). The remaining $605B of defense spending can be grouped into three segments: weapons system procurement, foreign base operations, and domestic bases/central operations. About $178B is on weapons systems, which procurement reform could probably cut by at least 25% (based on previous estimates), leading to ~$45B of cuts. About $156B is spent on ~800 foreign bases of highly questionable and potentially negative value (170 of which have golf courses). Since bases in only 13 countries are important enough to have a troop presence of over 1,000 (which we can use as a proxy for being truly strategically important), we could and should close the vast majority of these bases. Using the rough size groupings here, we could guesstimate ~300 bases have <10 personnel (let’s assume 5 each), ~430 have between 10 and 1000 (let’s assume 200 average). Assuming costs are roughly proportional to personnel and knowing there are ~200,000 U.S. military personnel stationed abroad, that’s $68B per year from closing unnecessary foreign bases. That leaves $271B spent on domestic bases and central operations. Applying organizational efficiency and procurement reforms here would cut this and the remaining $88B spent on foreign bases by another 25%, saving another $90B per year for total defense FLS savings of $250B per year (perhaps a conservative estimate if procurement reform, organizational efficiency, and base closure could go further).


Welfare: $377B is spent on welfare. Welfare would be entirely replaced by two programs: one for adults and one for children. We already came to the conclusion that the workfare program for adults would cover only basic physiological needs such as food and water. One person only needs ~$1700 worth of food a year for a generous 3,000 calorie diet, and water falls from the sky. Thus, the program for adults would have a very low cost per person and would only make sense for people who had no income to speak of. The latest BLS data puts these people (“unemployed” + “marginally attached” + “discouraged”) at ~11.5M. With these numbers, only $19.7B would be spent on the adult program (including administration costs of ~$130M, equal to the operating expenses for monster.com). Now, let’s talk about homeless children. There are about 1.6M families in the current main welfare program for families (TANF). The average family has 2.5 people (perhaps representing that one parent may or may not be present). That’s about $5,000 worth of food based on our earlier numbers. A one bedroom apartment outside the city center comes up to ~$890/month ($10,680 per year), with water, electricity, and garbage adding $150/month ($1800 per year). So total cost to house a family is ~$17,500 per year, which comes up to $28B for the family portion of the program. Thus, welfare could total ~$48B per year, resulting in $329B per year in FLS benefits. [Side note: ideally even this $48B would be moved off the federal budget to the states, but that’s a separate issue].


Protection: This is $38B per year spent on police and prisons. 46.6% of the prison population is there for drugs, and 9.2% is there for immigration. Applying our earlier Common Sense Solutions on drugs (here and here) and immigration (here and here) would make drug crime an oxymoron and drastically cut immigration enforcement expenditures (say by at least 50%). This would be ~50% (46.6% + 4.6%) in cuts for these services. Thus, this $38B per year could be cut in half, giving us $19B per year in FLS savings.


Transportation: Of this $92B, ~$5B is the TSA, which we have already decided must go. The remainder is mostly infrastructure investment and transport regulations. The infrastructure investment should be kept up but spent more efficiently, while the regulation portion should be able to achieve significant savings by reforming administrative practices (and potentially even more by transferring to a liability and transparency model rather than the command and control that is practiced, but that’s not going to be quantified here). Based on our previous estimates of 25% excess in costs, that’s $22B in addition to scrapping the TSA for a total of $27B in FLS benefits.


General Government: There is ~$2.7B in salaries and expense reimbursement for congressmen and their staffs, including $100M for “Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper of the Senate.” This is ridiculous. All 535 senators and congressmen should be able to get by on less than $400K-$500K per person (including travel and assuming no need for excessive staffers due to the fact that laws would be simpler again). That would save $2.5B. About $12B is spent on tax collection and enforcement, which would be almost eliminated by switching to a simpler tax system (let’s assume $10B in savings). $27B is spent on courts, which would again be cut in half as much “crime” was decriminalized and much of the legal process was simplified, yielding another $13.5B in savings. That gives $16B FLS savings here.


Other Spending: Here we have quite the hodgepodge. NASA would stay. $20B in “Farm income stabilization” would be scrapped. $8B of regulation for “Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting” would be scrapped (this category excludes research and protecting biodiversity, which would both stay, as described here and here, respectively). $1B in subsidies for fossil fuels and $2B in subsidies for renewable energy would go. $1B in “energy regulation” could almost all go, in accord with our previous solutions on regulation (here and here and here), as only a supervisory staff to ensure liability compliance would remain. $1B of subsidy to USPS would go. $17B for agencies enforcing assorted commercial regulations would go. $8B spent on regulating and ameliorating pollution would be reduced based on more efficient management and then fully transferred to the polluting offenders in the form of externality taxes. $6B in various farm conservation programs would go. $9B in “community development” and similar programs would go. This is a total of $53B in FLS savings.

[time to stop skimming]


For those of you who were skimming, we have the following savings by category:

Pensions – $996B

Healthcare – $1084B

Education – $19B

Defense – $250B

Welfare – $329B

Protection – $19B

Transportation – $27B

General Government – $16B

Other Spending – $53B


That’s a total of $2.79T of spending cuts out of primary spending of $3.71T, which is a bit more than 75%. This would leave ~$0.92T of spending and $3.34T in revenue. However, we also need to remember that we hived off Social Security FICA taxes to their own account and abolished Medicare, including the tax component. Thus, there is 34% of revenue ($1.14T) that we cannot count on. That reduces revenue to $2.2T but still leaves us with a healthy surplus of $1.28T.


Common Sense Solution: The federal government should cut its primary spending by approximately 75%, effective as soon as possible.


What effect would this have? Keep in mind there would be upfront costs of $610B leftover from paying back everyone who paid into Medicare, which would put the starting debt at $20.02T. Even with the pessimistic assumption of 2% growth in both costs and revenues (say the supply side effects of deregulation and the drag resulting from decline in the generally over-hyped “stimulus effect” of government spending balance out), and assuming that interest costs decline proportionally as the debt is paid down, the U.S. federal government would completely pay off the debt in 15 years (including having unfunded liabilities under control and on track to be eliminated by 2061 or sooner).


After 15 years, taxes could fall to match revenues to costs. Assuming the ratio stays constant and a VAT was levied on all goods and services, Americans would only need to pay $0.92T/$16.77T (the denominator being current U.S. GDP) =5.3% VAT (perhaps reduced to an even 5% if transfer of estate was treated as subject to VAT as well). This would be in place of all income taxes, corporate taxes, etc. The radical reduction in taxation would almost certainly lead to increased economic activity, potentially allowing the 5% VAT rate to be driven even lower.


As for other taxes, with benefits fully funded by 2061 or sooner, it would be feasible to transfer off of mandatory contributions and allow people to make their own decisions on how much they wanted to save for retirement and when. The only other taxes that would remain would be externality taxes paid by polluters to clean up their messes.

Common Sense Solution: Once the debt is paid off and unfunded liabilities funded, the U.S. should limit its tax code to direct externality taxes as well as a VAT of no more than 5% on all commercial transactions and estate inheritances.



On Monopolies

One interesting topic to be considered is what to be done about commercial monopolies or oligopolies. There is consensus between both right and left that these situations are bad: the left dislikes big business in general, and conservatives rightfully note a lot of the benefit of free enterprise comes from competition. As such, both tend to support legal action against monopolies, generally in the form of regulation with all the associated complexity (see regulation of electricity markets, see second link here) or antitrust action, such as threatening to break up a company or blocking mergers. However, such actions are against our earlier Common Sense Solutions on deregulation and property rights. So, should an exception be made here?


For the sake of a total perspective, let us consider for a moment some arguments in defense of laissez-faire as regards monopolies and oligopolies.  First, let us note that monopolies are not always and everywhere a negative to society. Examples in American history like International Harvester and even Standard Oil show how monopolies could be preferable to a fragmented alternative, due to the benefits of economies of scale, standardization of processes/products, and greater investment into means of production and commercial activity. Furthermore, even if a specific product space is totally dominated, monopolies must compete against substitutes (e.g. Uber is a substitute for a taxicab, driving can be a substitute for flying, etc.) as well as the ever present “no buy option” (consumers always have the choice not to purchase a given product or service). Because of the “no buy” option, it is not possible for a monopoly to do harm to consumers in absolute terms merely by offering shoddy products or high prices. Relatively, it may be better for consumers if there are more competitors, but that begs the moral question of what is the appropriate role of government. Is the purpose of government to ensure the best possible consumer experience or is such interference in the market dynamics of the private sector an inappropriate infringement on liberty and/or a step down the path of class warfare? From the perspective of liberty, there is no justification for such heavy handed interventions as breaking up companies, barring mergers, and regulating transactions that are honest and voluntary.


However, it is clear that more often than not monopolies tend to lead to less than optimal results for the economy as a whole. As such, it would make sense to examine alternative policies to the current approaches described above. Here are some policy ideas to minimize the formation and/or negative effect of monopolies:

  1. Don’t create monopolies – Some of the most glaring cases of monopolies having a subpar effect on the economy as a whole are government-run monopolies (e.g., PDVSA in Venezuela, Petrobras in Brazil, China’s state owned enterprises), former government-run monopolies that were privatized (e.g., many monopolies in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism), or companies given special advantages by the government (e.g., railroads in the U.S. near the end of the 19th century). Not doing these things would drastically reduce the occurrence of monopolies.
  2. Lower barriers to entry – As we have previously discussed, complexity and heavy regulation disproportionately hurt small businesses, preventing entrepreneurs and disruptive innovators from competing with monopolies or oligopolies. In some cases, such barriers to entry even include explicit prohibitions on competitors, such as America’s ban on foreign airlines competing in the domestic market. Without government protections, barriers of complexity, or creation of such entities listed above in #1, monopolies rarely form and almost never manage to sustain themselves.
  3. Direct infrastructure investment – In certain cases, the investment required to start a competitor is simply too large for private entities to enter the market easily to compete with monopolies. While that does leave a large incentive for a disruptive innovator to break the current business model, sometimes it can take some time (i.e., decades) for the necessary technology to come along. These cases with very high costs of entry are similar, if not overlapping, with large investments in infrastructure. In these rare cases, if a monopoly is stifling the entire economy (e.g., imagine if the highway system in America were privately owned by a single large company that charged tolls at every exit), the government can simply purchase the necessary assets as an infrastructure investment and provide it to the citizenry. A purchase rewards the company for what they have built and would be a voluntary transaction.

Common Sense Solution: Because monopolies and oligopolies are generally not good for the economy as a whole, the government should pursue policies to prevent them, but only when these supplement or do not infringe on commercial liberty or property rights. Such methods would include not creating state-owned monopolies, not providing special assistance to firms, lowering the complexity of regulation, and not banning competitors. In the extreme case of a monopoly that was having a stifling effect on the economy of the nation as a whole, the government should purchase the assets as an infrastructure investment.


As a side note, it should be pointed out that the outrage over monopolies does not extend to labor unions, despite the fact that they often have strict control over their domain, control essential areas of the economy (like the provision of government services), and experience direct legal protection of their monopolies through the Wagner Act. There is no clear reason why this particular service should be treated so differently from any other. Just something to think on…


On the Wisdom of Doing Nothing

One option that is always available in any policy scenario is the option to do nothing. This option is frequently ignored or downplayed by individuals who see a problem and feel the absolute NEED to do something (anything!). As with all areas in life, emotional fixation in policy can lead to negative results. This is, in essence, decision making by pathos rather than by logos. Let’s examine why this is unadvisable.


When someone feels an urgent compulsion to “fix” something, they tend to do a poor job of assessing unintended consequences. The mind’s attempts to minimize cognitive dissonance cause people to trivialize known downsides (e.g., the effect of amnesty for children on the incentive structure of people sending children on dangerous journeys), delude themselves as to the probability of known risks coming to pass (e.g., assuming that sentiments of class warfare designed to achieve more wealth redistribution will not lead to chaos, despite significant psychological and historical evidence otherwise), and completely ignore the potential for unforeseen negative consequences (e.g., banning proprietary trading’s unforeseen effect on liquidity of bond markets).


People fixated on stopping suffering are blinded to the value of suffering. The truth of the world is that suffering provides people opportunities to learn from tough situations; personally, I’m grateful for a lot of the pain I’ve experienced in my life (though certainly not all) because some of those experiences forged me into who I am today. To better understand this, let us take a slight detour. Those who devoutly believe in intervention to prevent suffering often accuse those who do not of “blaming” the individuals who the former are trying to “help.” Let it be posited that perhaps this is not accurate. Perhaps some advocates of non-intervention understand that every individual is doing what they feel to be right, proper, or justified in the moment they do it, by whatever lights they have at the time, however dim those lights may be. On the other hand, people can make small choices throughout their lives on whether or not to brighten those lights, whether to examine their insecurities and fears, and whether to build their willpower like a muscle. Thus, in the moment, there is no “blame” for any given state of existence, but there is a recognition of an indirect responsibility that results from myriad small physical and psychological choices that have a huge cumulative effect. This process of self-improvement is by nature difficult and unpleasant most of the time; suffering provides an impetus to fight those demons both through reminding us to be vigilant when it may otherwise be easier to not pay attention and also by motivating us to make the hard calls (e.g., suffering can incentivize someone to choose hope by making despair and inaction no longer a tenable option or force someone to take up an unpleasant job they would otherwise shun as beneath them). However, in these cases, making the hard call is better for the person in question in the long run, in all the material, psychological, and spiritual senses. Even when growth cannot overcome the material difficulties of a given scenario (e.g. someone who didn’t save sufficient resources to provide for end of life care they desire), such situations serve as examples to others. This prevents those who see such examples from making the same mistakes by ensuring that the incentive structure of society is transparent and by making clear the consequences for particular choices. All of this is not to argue that suffering is always “good”; I personally have a decided preference to minimize it for myself and others. Rather, the conclusion to be drawn is that there is value where one does not always expect it, and this should temper the NEED to alleviate suffering as soon as possible. Furthermore, this is certainly not an argument that suffering should be permitted when it is the result of manifest injustice, but rather that it should not be sufficient cause to perpetrate injustice “in the name of the greater good.”


Continuing down this line of thought, it should be noted that many if not most interventions to prevent suffering have costs in Liberty. Any right ascribed to individuals in society creates a responsibility for others in that society. This is a known downside that tends to be downplayed (see above) by advocates of immediate action for any situation they deem unacceptable. However, we should all realize that different citizens have different values from us and that we do not have the right to compel them to act on our values. For example, the majority of government-forced redistribution is a means to mandate that other citizens expend their resources on something that one group of individuals has an emotional need to see despite the fact that those other citizens value that goal less or not at all (as evidenced by the fact that they aren’t donating to it when given the free choice). Even if a majority of citizens endorses such a plan, it is unjust to compel other citizens to give up their property for goals they do not share rather than having the group that does feel emotionally compelled use their own resources to take action to achieve their goals (see our earlier discussions on compulsion/property rights and on the role of government.)


Finally, let us ask a simple question: Even if we assume that action MUST be urgently taken to solve a problem, why are such calls so frequently made of the government? At one level, there are some individuals who want something accomplished but are unwilling to dedicate the time, effort, or money that would be required to fix the problem when it is easier to compel others to do so. However, there is another layer that applies to more noble individuals who nonetheless subscribe to the same folly of feeling that society must do something, ANYTHING. As noted in the introduction of this post, this is an emotionally driven “need,” and emotional fixation requires certainty. Many people have convinced themselves that the government can provide that certainty despite a long history of failed government programs clearly showing otherwise.

Common Sense Principle: Very often the best policy response to a situation that is less than ideal is for the government to take no action whatsoever.


Taking into account this Common Sense Principle makes one aspect of the Constitution seem much wiser than previously thought: gridlock is designed into our Constitution. Despite frustration with gridlock, it serves a very real beneficial purpose. There come times when there are deep divisions among the polity and a narrow gap of numerical support for each side; allowing a narrow majority to completely shift the law on a deeply felt issue is generally not ideal. Thus, per our Common Sense Principle above, no change to the status quo can be the best option so long as one does not feel an emotional compulsion to act hastily. This is why the Framers of our Constitution put in opportunities for new legislation to be blocked in the House, in the Senate, or through presidential veto. The bicameral system of House and Senate was designed to ensure broader societal consensus in two different ways:

  1. The system was designed to require legislation to have the support of both the majority of the citizenry (via the House) and the majority of state cultures (via the Senate). This is quite important. In a situation where 50.1% of the people can do whatever they want, a significant coalition of state cultures can be steamrolled by a minority of more populous states. This can result in loss of national unity, deep partisan polarization that can grow into outright hatred, and potentially even partition (a quick survey of the historical examples of partition shows that this is not an advisable outcome). One way to mitigate friction between different state cultures without curtailing the will of the majority is to adopt a federalist structure and devolve as much decision making as possible to state and local levels, as advocated previously.
  2. The need for bicameral approval from both the House and the Senate was also designed to ensure consensus was achieved between both the breadth of the entire citizenry (via the House) as well as the subset of citizenry who could keep cool heads and remain well-informed (via the Senate, who at the time were elected by the state legislatures, introducing an additional buffer between voters and the Senate). That way it was not possible for new legislation to get passed based solely on the wishes of the elite or solely on the wishes of a “mob” worked up by some demagogue (the drawbacks of not accounting for the dangers of rule by the “mob” can easily be seen in the failure of direct democracy, especially in California). However, the Seventeenth Amendment removed this second aspect of requiring broader consensus, opening the door to greater populism. This brings us to another Common Sense Solution:

Common Sense Solution: As previously recommended, the Seventeenth Amendment should be repealed.

On English as a National Language

We’ve covered a lot of ground so far on this blog, but today we are going to discuss a more peripheral topic. Today we will ask three related questions. Should we have a national language? If so, should we have one or many? Finally, which one or ones should they be?


There are a lot of benefits of national language, some larger than others. The most obvious is the ability to avoid translation costs, but this is minimal in the greater context. Far greater is the facilitation of the spread of ideas and creation of social connections among people who can more easily understand each other. This allows the more effective generation of innovation and the growth of “reverse entropy” in the form of organizations and networks that ultimately produce wealth as we know it. For a far greater and wonderfully fascinating analysis of “reverse entropy” from the base physics to the product level to the sociological and macroeconomic effects, check out “Why Information Grows” by Cesar Hidalgo.


If we decide to go with a national modicum of communication, should we choose one language, like France or go with multiple languages (South Africa has 11, for example)? If every citizen could be counted on to learn all the national languages, then there would be universal communication; however, perusing a list of officially multilingual countries shows that this generally doesn’t occur. As such, using a set of national languages foregoes the benefits of easier spread of ideas and building of social capital almost as much as having no national language at all.


This brings us to the final, if by now somewhat obvious, question of which language to use. English may be linguistically screwed up but it has obvious advantages:

  1. First, there is the question of what people currently speak because there are fairly high transition costs to learning a new language. English is currently spoken by the vast majority of the population. Over 95.3% of the population speaks English exclusively, “very well,” or “well”.
  2. Second, one must consider how the economic competitiveness of a country is affected by the language(s) spoken by its citizens. In particular, are citizens proficient in the international lingua franca of the day when it comes to trade and finance? On this aspect, English is unquestionably the current and rising language of global business.

Luckily, English meets both of our criteria. If it didn’t, we might be in a conundrum and have to go back to the question of multiple languages. Fortunately, the choice is made easy for us.


Common Sense Solution: The United States should establish English as the national language for official purposes and as the sole language of government documents designed for internal use.


Let us be clear what this does not mean. It does not mean forcing people to learn English through any kind of legal action, as that would violate notions of liberty. Rather, it is not encouraging linguistic fragmentation within the population by officially facilitating the inability to speak the primary language. Additionally, establishing a national language most certainly does not mean discouraging the learning of foreign languages. For the same reasons of social bridging and enhancing network connections between people, increasing the number of languages a person can communicate in (and thus the number of people they can communicate with) is obviously beneficial, especially given that the global population doesn’t universally speak English or any other single language. However, only a minority fraction of Americans can have a conversation in another language, so this is a skillset that it definitely behooves us to improve.


On the Draft

One thing I’ve been asked about several times is my thoughts on reinstating the draft (if this seems strange to some people, the logic presented will be discussed below). It’s taken me a surprisingly long time to mull this over before I came to a conclusion that I found suitably addressed all the arguments put to me and all the concerns that were arising from within. Let us now examine arguments for and against the draft:


  1. Social engineering – The most common argument that has been presented to me is premised on the idea that a universal draft would give the government the opportunity to shift the values of the citizenry. From one side of the political spectrum, it has been suggested that a compulsory national service would increase de facto racial integration via increased exposure to other cultures within America; from the other political side, it has been argued that military training would increase discipline and reduce entitlement.
  2. Effect on public appetite for war – Both sides of the political spectrum agree that a draft with broad public eligibility would reduce the inclination of people to go to war, lest their children be called on to do the fighting. A retired Marine I spoke to described these people who support war as long as they don’t bear any personal risk as “chicken hawks.”
  3. Cost – An immediate thought in all these discussions was how much such a plan would cost, because it would be of little avail to bolster our military prowess only to endanger our nation’s viability by racking up a large debt. The last census and extrapolated estimates show somewhere between 2 million and 2.5 million males of each year of age from 18 to 25. The average pay of an E2 (someone just out of training) is $18,612. A universal draft of one year of service each would thus come to ~2.25M * 18,612 = $41B per year. However, this does not include all costs. Once you consider various allowances, bonuses (e.g. enlistment bonus), and healthcare costs, only about 1 in 3 dollars spent on personnel costs is basic pay. Now the cost of a universal draft has gone up to ~$120B per year. When you consider the VA spends almost as much as Department of Defense personnel costs, we are getting to almost $240B per year. That’s about half the projected deficit for 2016. A universal draft would be very expensive.

    However, it should be noted that there are fiscal costs to having an all-volunteer army as well. In times of war, the need for soldiers spikes, leading to very large recruitment and retention bonuses, and the total numbers here reflect the costs of an “expeditionary war,” rather than the much higher costs that would be entailed by an existential war such as World War II.

  4. Military effectiveness – Most service members I’ve spoken to on the subject see significant benefits in an all-volunteer army. Morale is unquestionably higher because everyone wants to be there. Furthermore, as war advances technologically, emphasis will be placed more and more on specialized capabilities (which can’t be developed in the short amount of time draftees would be in the military) and the flexibility that comes from a lean fighting force. However, as one Marine pointed out to me, there will unfortunately always be times when large numbers of people are needed for difficult and dirty situations (though he didn’t use exactly those words).

This is all very complicated stuff to balance. However, as this blog has often done in the past, complicated problems can often be simplified by examining the question in the context of maximizing liberty. On one hand, mandating by law that someone spend a year of their life or more in any particular way is a huge burden on that person’s liberty. On the other, military action is necessary to safeguard society’s freedom from external threats at some point in almost any nation’s history. In an all-volunteer military, that burden will inevitably fall on those most willing to sacrifice for the liberty of all. This is a patently unjust situation.


Let’s consider a few facts though. First, the need for soldiers is not constant. The requirements of the Department of Defense (DoD) decrease in times of peace and spike in times of war. Second, there is a certain number of people that, for various reasons ranging from economic need to a family legacy of service to many more, will sign up for the military regardless of the need for soldiers to defend the liberty of the nation. This allows us to parse our conundrum. Logically, there are only two situations. In the first, the number of people who want to serve in the military regardless exceeds the requirements of the DoD. Forcing people who were disinclined to be in the military to spend time doing so when there is no need for the national defense would in this case be quite an infringement of liberty. Instead, the DoD can act as an exclusive employer and choose the most qualified individuals to build a lean and sophisticated fighting structure for the wars of the 21st century and beyond. In the second, the DoD requires more people than would otherwise sign up. In this situation, a draft would infringe on the liberty of those drafted, but only in order to preserve the liberty of the entire nation. Thus, this remains the option that maximizes freedom. Furthermore, if the law states that a draft shall only be implemented in these circumstances, the burden of preserving liberty will fall evenly across society rather than on those most willing to sacrifice for the greater good.


Now, let’s see how this affects our earlier concerns. Military effectiveness is maximized because the DoD would be able to build the lean, sophisticated force it needed as a base while also being able to ensure a sufficient number of soldiers when required. Cost would be minimized because no large excess of soldiers would be kept on the salary rolls when they weren’t needed, and a draft would ensure that retention and recruitment bonuses wouldn’t spike during times of war. Assuming that the draft lottery was truly random with no exemptions for those with money or political connections or any other reason, every citizen would know that voting for war, or the unauthorized use of force that passes for war nowadays despite being unconstitutional, would potentially put every individual in the draft cohort at risk of being drafted. As long as this was enforced truly randomly, it would likely temper the desire of the populace to use force a great deal, increasing the likelihood that nation would follow the doctrine of war articulated previously in this blog. Finally, using a draft to instill some set of particular values, regardless of what those are, at the cost of net infringement of liberty must immediately be rejected by a free society. Thus, we have a solution:

Common Sense Solution: A law should be passed mandating that a truly random draft lottery with no exceptions should take place to fill any gap between those applying to serve in the military and the needs of the Department of Defense.


Note that I have been careful to use the term “draft cohort.” This has been to avoid discussions of who would be included, except that there should be no special exceptions for the wealthy or well-connected. While the age range probably won’t generate much controversy, the question of drafting women will likely come up for at least some readers. Let us consider that.


There is an instinctive aversion in many people to mandating that women serve in combat roles (as opposed to support functions such as medical, supply chain, etc.). There is good reason for this. Extensive experimentation has shown that women are less capable of completing the tasks required in combat environments. There is good reason to believe that adding differing psychologies of the sexes and sexual tension into units would have a deleterious effect on comraderie and cohesion, which could only be exposed in the most crucial and dire situations. Logistically, certain environments have further restrictions. For example, a submarine must sometimes stay underwater for six months at a time. Disrupting this can have implications for the entire intelligence planning and nuclear deterrent of the nation. What if a women gets pregnant at the start of the voyage or discovers she is pregnant early on? The sub can be forced to surface prematurely. Obviously, the military forbids the series of events necessary to create this dilemma, but when has telling people they can’t have sex ever been effective, much less 100% effective?


Given all these reasons, there is strong doubt that women should serve in combat roles at all, much less be drafted into them. However, resistance to the recent edicts mandating that women can serve in all combat roles have faced heavy political pressure to yield based on the notion of “fairness.” Because the very survival of the nation can be at risk, we must weigh the potential weakening of our nation’s bulwark against loss of all liberty from external causes against the political ideologies of a particular subset. The conclusion should be obvious. This situation is not the same as resistance to racial integration (to which it is often compared by advocates of full sexual integration); there are real physical and psychometric differences at play. While physical effectiveness could be somewhat circumvented by ensuring that women had to pass identical strenuous physical tests and other exercises with the same minimum qualifications as men, not everything can be predicted by a test (i.e. injury rates in the link above), and it is generally bad to legislate for exceptions. Furthermore, the psychometric and logistical quandaries remain. None of these quandaries apply to noncombat positions; because the skills and talents of America’s women may very much be needed there in time of war, the draft should extend to them for those positions only.

Common Sense Solution: Women should not serve in frontline combat roles or in situations that present logistical challenges to the operation of the military (e.g. mixed gender submarines). However, the draft should still apply to women for support and other noncombat positions.

On Suicide and Death

Today we will discuss what many people regard as a grim topic and hopefully render it not so bleak. Let us consider policy regarding suicide and assisted suicide. Normally, this is in the context of terminal or chronic illness (frequently extraordinarily painful illness at that). The primary arguments surround whether there is more “dignity” in being able to end one’s life early, the amount of pain (physical or psychological) the sufferer feels, and/or whether allowing a doctor to administer lethal doses of painkillers violates the “sanctity of life.”. Frankly, I’d argue that these arguments all miss the point.


There is a very strong argument that suicide should be a fundamental human right. If we don’t own our own lives, then would that not make us slaves? Under this viewpoint, regardless of whether the choice to commit suicide is right or wrong, people should be allowed to make that choice for themselves. Isn’t that what living in a free society means? This is consistent to our earlier Common Sense Solution on victimless crimes. To argue that suicide is not a victimless crime because there is a negative effect on the economy is to say that we owe society our productivity, which again is no different than saying we are born into slavery. By contrast, being able to say that we own our lives is fundamentally empowering.


This is not to say there should not be some guardrails, as there are in Oregon’s assisted suicide law (though this law is too restrictive if suicide is viewed as a fundamental right). Because death is irrevocable, a set of reasonable guardrails would include a waiting period of 15 days or so to ensure that the desire was sincere and not fleeting. It’s reasonable as well to ensure that the decision is being made by someone in their right mind. This would not include depression or mental anguish that was the root cause of the desire to commit suicide, but society does not grant unrestricted liberty to people who think they are Napoleon Bonaparte, for good reason. In that same vein, children do not have full legal rights, which would extend to suicide as well. In extreme cases (say an extremely painful terminal illness and with the agreement of parents and doctors), there could be cause for an exception to this last guardrail.

Common Sense Solution: Suicide, assisted or otherwise, should be allowed to all legally capable citizens, with a cooling off period and a medical confirmation of mental competency.


Above, we noted that having the ability to commit suicide is fundamentally empowering, but on further examination, it is even more empowering than we might initially think. To understand this requires us to take a detour to a very philosophical question: what is death and how bad is it? Despite many people making claims to the contrary, no one really knows what happens after we die. Some people assert there is Heaven and Hell, though people who believe that almost universally believe that they are going to Heaven. On the other hand, perhaps we are reincarnated, either as another person, as an animal, or as some ascendant being. Of course, maybe we just cease to exist, in which case there is no one around to pass any judgment on death whatsoever. Looking at all these theories, the net expected value of death to the individual is certainly not negative. Considering the tremendous uncertainty, the most reasonable assumption is that the expected value of death to the individual is neutral. Implicitly, anyone who has chosen not to commit suicide has made the decision their life situation is better than death. If death is logically neutral, the conclusion is that everyone alive who is capable of choosing otherwise has a life situation of positive value. People may be deluded to think that their life is full of suffering but logic shows the balance must be positive. Thinking through this allows each one of us to see what we have to be grateful for and how much it really means. It also allows us to see that no one is “disadvantaged” in the absolute sense; there are only varying amounts of positive advantages.

Common Sense Principle: Death is not to be viewed as some transcendent evil but rather an unknown outcome of logically neutral value. Considering that, those of us who have chosen to not commit suicide should consciously recognize the value in our lives and feel gratitude for what we have.


Looking at things in a new light of gratitude rather than fear also reveals some implications for healthcare policy. One argument often made here by those who support vast amounts of expenditure (if not unlimited expenditure) to keep people alive is that life has some boundless value that exceeds any amount of money. If death is not an infinite evil, this premise does not hold. Money represents a fraction of someone’s life as well, namely the time that was spent to earn it. Thus, if we discard the overpowering fear of death, we can assess the value of life to the individual as whatever value they are willing to pay. This doesn’t mean that people should be totally indifferent to the deaths of others; people provide us with emotional connections in the case of friends and family as well as whatever economic value they bring to society through their labor and crystallized imagination. However, it does mean that death should not get some special billing of unlimited value when examining policy.

Common Sense Principle: When evaluating policy, and especially healthcare policy, an infinite value should not be placed on avoiding death. Rather, remaining life should be valued based on the finite benefits to society and in the same context of incentive structures as all other policy.

On Representation for Washington, D.C.

Little known to many Americans, the citizens of Washington, D.C. get quite a raw deal when it comes to self-representation. Congress can pass any law it wants that applies only to D.C., even if such laws directly contradict laws passed by the city council of D.C., executive actions of the mayor of D.C., or even decisions by D.C. judges. Furthermore, while they are obligated to pay federal taxes and follow federal rules, they have almost no say in the decisions regarding those taxes and rules (“taxation without representation”). Any changes to the legal standing of D.C. would require constitutional amendment, as D.C.’s legal status is explicitly described in the enumerated powers of the Constitution. Along such lines, an amendment was ratified in 1961 to grant D.C. votes in the Electoral College.


First, it should seem obvious that, bar potential violations of fundamental rights, in no city should citizens have completely local matters micromanaged by a group of people who are not chosen exclusively by them, much less a group of people whom they have essentially zero role in selecting. In fact, the Founders never intended for this to be the case: they expected that Congress would devolve power for decisions that did not affect the running of the federal government. As Congress has abused its power by not relinquishing such control, basic principles of self-government would counsel that the decision authority on purely local matters be forced by constitutional amendment. This would exclude matters that could impede the functioning the federal government, such as planning rules for federally owned land or attempts to lever unique property taxes on federal buildings.


Second, let us examine the House of Representatives. The purpose of the House of Representatives is to provide as direct representation as possible for the citizens of the nation. Ostensibly, the citizens of Washington, D.C. fall into the category of American citizens and deserve representation. In the beginning, there was a valid reason why D.C. had no representative: the population of D.C. in 1800 was an order of magnitude below the populations of the least populous states. However, this is no longer the case. Today, the population of D.C. exceeds the population of two states that have one representative each. Based on the purpose of the House of Representatives and population trends, it’s past time that D.C. start getting representation in the House.


Finally, let us examine Senate representation. Each state is supposed to represent a distinct culture within the Union, and thus the purpose of the Senate is to provide equal representation to each state. However, there is a key provision there: equal. Washington, D.C. could never be an equal state among other states. The territory of the capital of the nation has special influence; after all, it is the home of the President and the Vice President. Furthermore, when it comes to determining national policy, the residents of D.C. have fairly unique social capital that is not shared with the residents of other states. Inevitably, residents of D.C. are far more likely to have friends/family who are wonks working in the thinks tanks that develop policy, political staffers who put forth memos of approval or disapproval on policy, and/or people working in the organizations that funnel money to politicians, or at least far more likely to know people who do have such social capital. Thus, if it was additionally given the full privileges of statehood, it would have more influence than any of the other states. This is one reason why the capital was split off into its own territory rather than being located in one of the existing states. As such, there is good reason for D.C. not to be considered a full state (as many other territories are not considered full states). However, it should be noted that D.C. DOES have some representation in the Senate already: the Vice President, a resident of D.C. by necessity, casts the deciding vote in the case of a tie. Except in cases where there is an odd number of abstentions AND the outcome is decided by one vote, this is mathematically equivalent to having one Senator. This balance seems appropriate given the additional social capital influence of D.C. on national policy.


Common Sense Solution: A constitutional amendment should be passed granting Washington, D.C. authority over purely local matters that do not interfere with the federal government’s ability to function, as well as granting Washington, D.C. representatives in proportion to its population. However, Washington, D.C. should not be declared a state and thus should not be attributed Senators.

On Inherited Debts

A while ago I had an extended conversation concerning reparations for past injustices committed against a given race. That conversation was precipitated by an article from Ta-Nehisi Coates, a reasonably thoughtful man who I almost always disagree with because of his initial premises. A similar and perhaps stronger case for reparations can be made for what happened to the American Indians. Injustice should never pay, so there is an obvious case for the transfer of stolen assets when the perpetrator of a crime is alive (a transfer which might as well go to the heirs if the original victim is dead). However, these two examples involve perpetrators that are mostly or entirely dead; thus, the relevant question here is how much moral and property debt is inherited by the children, grandchildren, etc. of those who commit sins against others and society.


First, let us address moral debt: it is well established in our society (and rightfully so) that children do not inherit the guilt of their parents. For example, jail times are not served based on the crimes of one’s parents. No one is obligated to pay restitution because that individual’s grandfather committed rape or burned down a house. This will be quite relevant later.

Common Sense Principle: Descendants do not inherit the moral guilt of their forebears.


Now, let us move on to property debt. There must be a boundary to the inheritance of property debts; this is clear when the alternative is considered. If property debts are inherited through generations, there is a nearly unlimited scope for claims of victimhood. The number of ancestors doubles with every generation you look back, creating an exponentially growing scope by which one can search for moral wrongs. Every ethnic group has some wrong done to them by some other group somewhere in history. Therefore, without a boundary on the inheritance of property debts, the justice system devolves into tribalistic conflict. History shows us that the result of that is never good and can be an existential threat to a society. Fortunately, there is potential for a clear moral cutoff: if one makes the reasonable presumption that inheritance is an undeserved gift, it follows that the heirs of a victim do not necessarily have the right of to reclaim property from someone who never did any wrong. Such property debts where no one who was involved in the original crime is still alive thus get buried in the sands of time, allowing society to function smoothly going forward.

Common Sense Principle: Property rights to stolen goods should not be inherited lest society be consumed by a nearly infinite sum of unresolved conflicts.


Let us consider the most difficult case: what if the victim is alive, the original perpetrator is dead, and what was stolen was bequeathed to someone with no complicity or awareness of the crime? Continuing with the premise that inheritance is an undeserved gift as well as the idea that the societal justification for inheritance is respecting the property rights of the deceased to do as they wish with their property (generally a good way to run society), it logically follows that the inheritor has no right to stolen property. A thief cannot convey good title (just as the law puts the burden of caveat emptor on the purchaser of stolen goods). The victim, however, does have a property rights claim to what was taken from them. However, circumstance and practicality must be taken into account. Let us consider several examples:

  1. Luke’s father steals an important ring, a family heirloom, from Charles. Shortly after the funeral, Luke approaches Charles with proof of the crime and demands the ring back. Based on what we have so far, Charles should get the ring.
  2. Luke’s father steals $100,000 from Charles. He takes it to Vegas to gamble and loses it all. Charles approaches Luke demanding recompense. Luke owes Charles nothing because of our earlier Common Sense Principle that Luke does not inherit the guilt of his father.
  3. The scenario is the same as #1, except this time we presume that Luke threw the ring into the ocean before Charles approached him (perhaps he hated his father for other unrelated reasons and saw it as an act of rebellion. Practicality dictates that the ring cannot be returned to Charles, but Luke does not have any obligation to make restitution out of his own assets because of our earlier Common Sense Principle that Luke does not inherit the guilt of his father and because he did not know he was disposing of someone else’s asset.
  4. Luke’s father steals $100,000 from Charles and leaves it to Luke. Luke, having no knowledge of the source of the money, invests it and loses half of it. Charles approaches Luke demanding $100,000. What should be done? Drawing from the three previous examples, Charles should get the $50,000 that remains per scenario #1, Luke does not owe Charles anything out of his remaining assets per scenario #2, and the $50,000 lost is as lost as the ring in scenario #3. To the extent assets are comingled, determination of which dollars were stolen can be determined on a LIFO basis (last in, first out in accounting parlance).

Common Sense Principle: When an innocent person inherits stolen goods, a living victim should be able to reclaim those goods to the extent that they can prove rightful ownership of specific assets, but the innocent inheritor of stolen goods should have no obligation to provide compensation to the victim beyond exactly what was stolen.


This brings us back to reparations. As Mr. Coates and others have documented admirably, grave injustices have been committed throughout the history of the U.S. against different groups. No one reasonable is advocating these be forgotten; to do so would be foolish denial of reality. So the sins of the past should be recognized. Because many crimes were committed with impunity under a system that consistently violated rule of law, cold cases from the past should be followed through with when plaintiffs come forward. Stolen property should be returned when living victims can prove a specific claim, and perpetrators from crimes past should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. However, despite all this, innocents should not be made to pay what they have earned themselves. If a minority of those on whom the burden of general taxation would fall were blameless, that would already be an unacceptable infringement of their rights; in reality the situation is worse because most of today’s citizens either weren’t alive or were too young to be complicit. In fact, with the use of debt, the burden could rest on those who aren’t even alive now. Finally, in a nation of immigrants, many don’t even have forefathers that were involved.


The only context in which reparations make sense is the inheritance of moral guilt or the unlimited inheritance of property debts. The former is obviously unjust (back to the example of children not serving jail time for their parents’ crimes), and the latter leads to endless tribalistic conflict. The principle of inherited debt must be repudiated, and along with it the case for general reparations.

Common Sense Principle: While justice should be served for specific crimes committed in the past, specific blameless individuals and society in general should not be forced to pay for sins committed by those who came before them.


This is not to say that it would be wrong to engage in charity for those who have been the subject of such injustices (many people are alive today who suffered under Jim Crow, for example). Just as people often help victims of natural disasters, many may wish to help the victims of ghosts past. However, who has ever heard calls for voluntary reparations through the private sector or announcements of personal donations? All rallying for reparations has been for forceful redistribution of what is predominantly someone else’s money. The fact that urging for reparations is always made in the context of blame (especially blame against innocents) reveals a great deal about the motivations and moral groundwork of those engaged in such advocacy.