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Friday, January 4, 2013

Finding Solutions for Economic Sustainability

This post originated on January 2nd, 2013. Unfortunately, it was accidentally deleted by, yours truly. I've since rewritten it, and share it with you once again. My apologies.

As many of you probably know, or will soon figure out I am not an economist. I'm an average girl, who looks at the world in her own unique way. I'm not a puppet of any ideology, even my own. So when I hear politicians and pundits speak about Solutions for Economic Sustainability, I immediately tune them out because I know they are beholden to their ideological beliefs, rather than interested in actual common sense solutions. This goes for both sides of the political spectrum. You can't spend your way to sustainability, and you can't unregulated your way there either. Having worked in the private sector my entire adult life, first in Banking, then Information Technology, and finally as a business manager, I have a view of these types of problems from the ground up.

Here are a few rather simplistic, but quite effective solutions, which could be implemented and help grow the economy. Sending Jobs Overseas; this should be a relatively simple fix. The best way to prevent corporations from sending jobs overseas, is to make it cost prohibitive for them to engage in the practice in the first place. Extraordinarily high tax rates on companies who send jobs overseas, or use contract workers in replace of full/part time employees to subvert labor laws. Some of you may ask, what then would stop these businesses from picking up and moving overseas? Well the answer is nothing; however, you could also impose steep tariffs on such companies who then try to do business with the United States. Remember the best way to effect a change in corporate behavior is to aim for their bottom line. These actions would also promote small business growth, as small businesses who hire locally would receive tax incentives, while companies who outsource would be penalized. Corporations should exist to serve the public interest, just as much as they serve their shareholders. Tax and Tariff laws can be used to compel them to support economic growth. This first step should increase available work within the United States, including high quality jobs. As a Second to that, I would say limit visa applications for high tech employment in the United States and give Americans priority over such positions.

Now this position will not completely eliminate the problems surrounding corporate responsibility to the public interest. Businesses will still continue to shortchange both employees and customers, in an effort to maximize profits. During the last election season I noticed how President Obama was taking a beating over the unemployment rate, as well as lackluster job growth. I found it strange how big business, who has overtly aligned itself with the Republican Party platform, was directly responsible for the lack of quality hiring, as well as the continued layoffs despite record profits. These businesses had a financial motivation to keep the economy suppressed, because it benefited them politically in supporting Republican candidates. Employers telling employees how they should vote, and threatening to fire them if President Obama was reelected, went a step further to show the politicizing of businesses, making the prospects of future election meddling by big business a frightening thought. Regulation would go a long way toward solving this particular wrinkle; However, I think it goes a step beyond that. We need a constitutional amendment, defining corporations and legal, business entities, not persons.

The next thing we can do to guide our economy toward sustainability is fix the Education System in the United States. I don't mean hodge-podge changes, state by state. I am talking about across the board standards set at the federal level, as well as full funding for academic programs. Instead of millions of dollars going to professional athletes, specifically tailored heavy taxes on professional sports could be used to help fund a National educational system. Since education has a history of being sacrificed for athletic programs, the least we could do is try to balance the equation by ensuring that teachers are paid appropriately for the work they do. The higher quality of an education we can provide to our children, the more productive those children will be when they enter the workforce and economy.

In addendum, I would also say secondary education should not be for-profit. A for-profit entity is concerned only for its bottom line, not for the quality of services provided; Additionally, for-profit education leads to a greater degree of post-graduate debt, which can become a further drag on the overall economy. Secondary Education should be affordable to all those who wish to attend. We should offer free Bachelor’s Degree tuition to those who are willing to enter into civic service. Instead of soldiers getting a GI Bill, their education should be paid for at the school of their choice. Graduate degrees should be paid for, to those veterans who decide to reenlist. Each of these potential solutions are designed to improve the ability to access further education. Right now we have fallen behind most other western nations in education, yet we still claim to be a superpower. Unfortunately, the current trend has been to further cut education, which is detrimental to our society over the long term. Helping out citizens educate themselves, provides for a more intelligent and productive workforce.

Healthcare is another area, where we fail to realize the benefits of investment. Yes, I know Obamacare changed a lot of things, but it didn't change some of the things that really needed changed. First, Healthcare should be completely non-profit. This includes mental health.  For-profit healthcare is not interested in the quality of care given to patients, or their quality of life. All for-profit cares about is profit. This seems like an antithetical position to take when you are talking about nurses, doctors, hospitals, and healthcare. If healthcare came directly out of our taxes to the government, and in return we did not have to pay a dime out of pocket, the financial burdens associated with healthcare for individuals would be gone. People would be free to use their finances to help grow the economy, rather than be crushed under a mountain of debt. If healthcare was completely paid for by the government, and completely non-profit, emphasis could be placed on cures, treatments, and preventative measures, as opposed to palliatives. Currently it is more profitable to treat a problem, than it is to cure it. With a public system, the emphasis would be on ways to reduce costs and maximize preventative care. For-profit healthcare loses money on preventative care.  I included mental health at the beginning of this, because I have seen the sorry state of our mental health system in the United States. These people need help and many could be productive members to society, if given the right treatment and level of care. These changes should also contribute a significant cost savings, as the profits will be reinvested, instead of going into a Swiss bank account.

Another issue that would promote economic sustainability is reducing prison populations, thereby reducing prison expenses. This could be done by shifting our national priorities away from the current human warehousing policies, toward a rehabilitative, structured, and managed reform and release program. Making sure people get a quality education, are taught appropriate life skills, helping newly incarcerated individuals by segregating them from hard-core felons, so as not to inadvertently train a new class of hard-core felons. Reducing prison sentences for non-violent offenses and focusing additional resources toward rehabilitative services. The amount of money saved with this new approach, will outweigh the investments needed.

I understand that many of these ideas cost money; however, if you ask most average people whether or not they would prefer to never again have to worry about medical bills, in exchange for a flat tax rate to pay for it, most people would be glad to not have those medical worries again. If you asked people whether or not they think healthcare should be for-profit and designed to drain your pocketbook, instead of non-profit and focused on actual healthcare, I think they would safely say healthcare. We all know education is important, but we place more emphasis on professional sports as a society. Professional sports are the modern day coliseum, meant to distract us from our daily lives. Using a Sports tax, to pay for quality education would mean the next big superstar will have a world class education, paid for by their future careers in professional sports. Eliminating tax loopholes on corporations that send jobs overseas, and using selective taxes, as well as tariff's will also generate revenue and promote job growth here at home; in addition, many of these ideas are designed to show significant cost savings, by removing the profit from the pockets of the wealthy and putting it back into the coffers of the taxpayers. These solutions may not be the most popular, and they may not have the political support necessary to pass; however, they are common sense solutions for making our economy sustainable.