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Response to questions
Economy, Healthcare, Education, Energy, and Foreign Policy
Mike Ballantine 4/11/2012
These are the responses to 15 questions posed by Americans Elect. A youtube video will be issued to respond to them as well in the very near future.
What do you think are the most important steps government can take to promote job creation? Paul Krugman and other noted economists from the PERI Institute indicate that for every $100,000 in government spending, we create 1 job. They show that spending in education creates the most jobs and spending in defense creates the fewest. I propose that we begin construction of a nationwide highspeed rail system, begin the mining of rare-earth minerals on the moon, rebuild our decrepit roads and bridges, and begin construction of 5 new ultra-modern urban centers to house the more than 100 million new Americans that will come to our nation over the next 40 years. By borrowing funds through an infrastructure bank and issuing loan guarantees for new clean-energy power plants we can create 20 million jobs over a three-year period. These jobs will not be in competition with the Chinese or Indians and will pay a real-living wage. Job creation is not only critical to getting our economy turned around, it provides the motivation for our youth to work hard and stay in school. Many pundits and political leaders believe that only the private sector can create jobs, that is, simply not true. When the privatesector fails to create the jobs America needs, then it is incumbent on the government to step-in and take the necessary steps to create jobs. I cannot accept the notion that American workers should be abandoned and forgotten because political ideologues are not willing to compromise.
How would you reform the Federal Tax System? For the past 30 years beginning with President Reagan, America has steadily cut taxes for the wealthy. This was done because some believe lower taxes boost growth and that by boosting growth, everybody wins. The truth is that the only winners have been the wealthy; whereas, the rest of America has gone in reverse. Middle-class incomes have stagnated and despite the rhetoric, income for most people continues to fall. The biggest consequence of this march to lower taxes has been an explosion in the deficit. Congress has been unable to control its addiction to spending and we need to bite the bullet and reverse this thirty-year trend. The first step we need to do is reverse the Bush Tax cuts. The second step is to eliminate all deductions and simplify the tax code. By eliminating deductions, we stop the distortion that exists in the tax code. When we make this change, we will need to reduce the tax rates and we propose 7 brackets eliminating taxes for people earning less than $20,000 and increasing the tax rate progressively up to $500,000 in income per year. To help solve the current deficit issue until our economy regains its legs, we propose a surtax on income of 10% for all earned income above $500,000 for a period of 5 years. Finally, we propose a corporate flat tax of 15% and the elimination of industry specific deductions like the oil and gas industry currently enjoy.
Do you believe corporations should be more heavily regulated, even if it means higher compliance costs? More regulation does not mean that corporations will become better citizens and less regulation does not mean that our economy will improve. With the deregulation of the banking industry, America experienced its worst economic downturn since the great depression. I believe we need to reinstate a
modern version of Glass-Steagall that encompasses the Internet, derivatives, CDOs and hedge funds. We need to eliminate the possibility that banks are too big to fail reversing the stranglehold that the financial industry has upon our economy. Additionally, we need to implement balanced regulations for the natural gas industry to protect the environment and ensure clean water for residents in the fracking zones. As we transition from a fossil fuel based economy to one based on renewables, we will need to implement appropriate regulations to encourage a speedy transition. Obviously, common sense has to enter into the discussion and all regulations should have sunset provisions to allow periodic reviews to modernize them. Where we need to reduce regulations is when they impact small businesses and I think we need to exempt family farms from most regulations and accept the occasional problem as being just a part of life. The current effort by the Federal government to shut-down family farms through regulation in favor of big agricultural concerns flies in the face of what it means to be an American.
How do you propose we reduce the national debt, and how should the national debt be considered in economic recovery plans? As things stand, the national debt is unpayable. If one were to amortize a debt of $16 trillion over 30 years at 5% interest, the payments would run in the neighborhood of $1 trillion per year. That would require us to nearly double the personal tax rates. When a business borrows money, it must pay the debt back with profits. When a government borrows money, it must pay it back with future tax revenues. If one were crazy enough to double taxes, it would severely impact our economy resulting in a serious downturn and possibly even a new great depression. While I am sympathetic with those that demand fiscal probity, we have to find another way. Instead, I propose a National Energy company to exploit the proven oil reserves in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah currently existing on public lands. We can process the oil shale in an environmentally friendly manner producing 10 million barrels a day to replace much of the oil we import. The anticipated production costs are somewhere between $45 and $47 a barrel. I propose we place a $25/barrel tax on this oil and over a 20 year period, we could reduce the national debt by 50%. Paying off the debt this way will require cooperation among environmental groups, the oil industry, and Congress but it can be done if we have the will. Given the alternative of doubling the personal income tax, I think we should consider this option.
What role should the federal government play in the healthcare industry? Is healthcare a right? According to the Kaiser Foundation, the government already pays over 63% of healthcare costs. We have approximately 50 million out of 155 million working adults currently uninsured. With the number of working adults currently stagnant and the population continuing to grow, the burden of healthcare falls on a smaller number of workers. Further, as the burden grows heavier so do the premiums paid by private companies. These expenses directly impact the competitiveness of American companies and hamper their ability to market American products overseas. We can solve these problems by doing two things: first, we extend Medicare to all Americans; second, we stop paying for it through payroll
deductions and we pay for it with a national sales tax of 10%. This way, everybody benefits and everybody pays. Once we move to a single payer program, we can begin to attack the inflated costs by comparing procedures performed in the United States to procedures performed in other countries and begin to rationalize costs. Continuing to apply short-term fixes to an out of control system is much like a mechanic using duct tape and bailing wire. Whereas, many decry the potential for slower service, our nation has become a two-class system, those with healthcare and those without. The Affordable Healthcare Act is neither affordable nor does it solve the cost problems, we need to move toward a system that provides affordable healthcare to all Americans not just the privileged few with high-paying jobs.
What do you think is driving the rapid growth of health care costs, and how would you slow it down? Would you support putting some kind of cap on what the government spends on Medicare? The problem with ever increasing health care costs stems from the fact that the one paying the bill is not the one consuming the service. A second critical point is that many people are not paying for healthcare so the cost to cover them is born by an increasingly shrinking pool. When people lack health insurance, they push-off seeking care until it is too late and this drives costs higher. The ill-thought attempt to force people to buy insurance is one way to combat this problem; however, that only considers the revenue side of the issue. Instead, the cost side is the biggest problem facing us. If one compares healthcare costs to other countries, one finds America spends three to four times as much per person. Obviously, we have structural problem and while some claim that we have the best healthcare in the world, we are only ranked number 10. We need to compare procedure by procedure to what is being done in Canada, the UK and France with what we do in America and then demand doctors and hospitals justify their expenses. Cutting the duplicative costs and excess testing will dramatically lower costs and avoid the need to impose spending caps on Medicare. A second way to reduce costs is to eliminate the for-profit insurance companies that add an administrative burden to the system raising costs for everyone.
Should the government require that all citizens have healthcare insurance? If so, what is your thought about a premium support model similar to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program? In short, no I do not think the government should require all citizens to have healthcare insurance. I believe that violates an individual’s constitutional rights and doing so takes away the individual’s ability to negotiate what is best for the individual. Instead, I think all citizens should be enrolled in basic Medicare with the option to purchase additional insurance to provide specialized requirements. Right now, I do not have health insurance because my pre-existing conditions make it unaffordable. If I were to purchase healthcare insurance at my age, it would take my entire paycheck and it still would not be enough. The current system we have makes no common sense. Until we attack the cost side of healthcare and provide sufficient revenues, premium support models are just more subsidies that our nation cannot afford. I reiterate, we need to extend Medicare to all Americans and pay for it with a
National Sales tax of 10%, and rationalize the cost of delivery. In my experience, the KISS rule is appropriate for our current situation, keep it simple stupid because the more complex the system, the higher the final costs.
Why aren’t our K-12 schools preparing graduates to compete in the global economy, and what would you do as president to lift their performance? Our graduates cannot compete in the global economy because they are not willing to work for $3/day. That being said, the performance in our inner-city schools is scandalous and needs to be repaired. Some believe charter schools are the answer but their performance is only marginally better than public schools. The problem stems from the culture of poverty in our inner-cities. In many instances toddlers are left in front of the TV or alone with other children and lack the interpersonal communication between adults and children. For children coming from middle and upper-income classes, they experience 3 to 4 times as much interpersonal communication preparing them for the literacy requirements of school. Unfortunately, this handicap is impossible to repair later in life and no amount of spending can build the neural network in the brain after a child reaches a certain age. We need to provide enhanced day-care for all toddlers that provides the necessary auditory feedback to develop literacy in our children so that once they enter school full-time, they can perform as well as their peers from middle and upper-income classes. As President, I would push legislation to expand the head-start program to incorporate ideas to solve this problem by employing seniors and other care-givers to talk to our infants and toddlers. I also propose eliminating the NCLB Act and moving towards a local-based curriculum model that considers the cultural issues of each community as well as the standards needed to enter higher-education.
Why do you think college costs keep rising? Are students getting their money’s worth, and what would you do to slow down cost growth? A primary issue driving costs is that there is no relationship between the cost of education and the eventual salary that a graduate will derive. Colleges and universities offer a plethora of programs to attract more students necessitating the employment of greater numbers of staff. Instead, I propose that college-aid be determined by the average salary earned by graduates instead of the costs of the university. Doing this would force universities to rationalize programs and price them more competitively. When faced with the question whether students are getting their money’s worth, the answer has to be unequivocally, no. On one side of the issue are those that claim that for-profit schools provide the opportunities to minorities that have been left out of the system. The problem is that we are burdening our students with an unpayable debt load just at the time in their life when they need to begin accumulating assets. Solving the problems in our public schools would go a long way to solving the problems in higher education. A solution for one cannot be successful without a solution for the other.
Further, unless we create jobs for our graduates, what will be the point of higher education. We cannot solve the education problem without solving the job creation issue first.
What would you do to improve the workforce development and job training opportunities for US workers? Workforce development begins in first-grade, not after high school. Other nations put more emphasis on vocational and technical development in secondary schools. I propose that we return to a model where students are taught in high school through work-placement and apprenticeship programs the skills they will need for future employment. To provide immediate relief to inner-cities, I propose that we provide scholarships for two-year programs that provide the training and education necessary to enter the workforce along with the investment to create the companies that will employ these workers. Without a vigorous job creation program, all the training in the world is useless if there are no jobs. This requires a public-private partnership to create new factories and industries in blighted communities like Detroit instead of abandoning them to the vagaries of the market. This means we will need to negotiate fair-trade policies with our partners instead of continuing unsustainable free-trade policies that destroy our communities. By providing tax credits and wage subsidies, we can encourage local employers to hire apprentices for a two-year period providing them with skills they will need to be successful.
Is US energy independence a feasible goal and, if so, how would you achieve it? How would you reduce our reliance on foreign oil? In the business world, the lowest cost producer gets all the business. Hence, the middle-east with some of the lowest cost oil enjoys the lion share of the oil market. However, the US has over 1.5 trillion proven reserves locked in oil shale and we can develop it. One acre in Colorado can provide 2.5 million barrels of oil according to a Rand study performed in 2005. By moving more of our energy production to renewables, we can limit the growth of oil consumption. By building a high-speed railway network over 10 years, we can avoid the need to expand our airports. These two measures help limit the need to produce greater quantities of oil. Over a period of 5 years, I propose that we direct a National Oil company to develop the oil shale basins in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah producing 10 million barrels of oil a day. At this production rate, there is enough oil to last 150 years and it would offset the majority of our oil imports. Given the acceleration of technological change, we should be able to find renewable replacements for many of our transportation needs including coal gasification, hydrogen power, and conversion to electric vehicles. Only a national oil company can take on a project of this magnitude and prevent the local environment from being ravaged by profit-oriented companies. Other nations have national oil companies, it’s time we developed our resources for the benefit of Americans instead of a few well-heeled Wall Street executives.
What steps will you take to make this nation’s growing energy demand more sustainable? The first step is that I will push legislation to create an infrastructure bank to finance new renewable based power generation. This will provide the financial incentive to invest in alternative energy. The second step is that we will finance and construct two goal-gasification facilities to provide work for coal miners displaced by the closing of aging coal-powered generators. The third step is to begin the infrastructure development necessary to exploit the oil-shale in Colorado. To do this, we must build a water pipeline to supply process water, a nuclear energy plant to provide the power to process the shale, and a water-treatment plant to clean the process water before releasing it back into the Colorado River. Finally, we will provide tax incentives to support the construction of 1 million electric cars each year. By exploiting our national resources like geothermal, wave, and solar energy over a twenty-year period, I believe we can replace all of our coal-powered generators and reduce our demand for fossil fuels by 50%. Building high-speed rail, converting much of our transportation to electric cars and changing the way we work will do more to make energy demand sustainable than new regulations. With the introduction of virtual reality into the workplace, the number of regular commuters should drop substantially. Designing our workplaces and schools around this technology would cut oil consumption in half. America currently uses three times as much oil per capita as other nations, we can reduce this through changing our work habits.
How important is reducing carbon emissions, and how would you go about it? In addition to renewable fuels, do you believe natural gas and nuclear energy should play a larger role in America’s energy mix? One of the big problems with reducing carbon emissions is the tendency for the emissions production to move offshore. Simple regulation is not enough, we need to actually make substantive efforts here at home. As carbon accumulates in our atmosphere, it accumulates in the ocean causing acidification, killing fish and coral reefs. Unless we can reduce and reverse the accumulation of carbon in our atmosphere, we will find destroy most of our marine life. To combat carbon accumulation, we need to begin reforesting much of our nation and other nations. Certainly, through the employment of renewables we can slow down carbon accumulation but unless we engage in carbon removal from our atmosphere, it will continue to accumulate. Using natural gas is better than burning coal but it still produces carbon and is not a renewable energy source. We need to invest in more solar and geothermal energy sources to replace our need for fossil fuels. Moving to electric vehicles in our urban centers would also help reduce the production of carbon. Nuclear energy has the advantage of producing energy without producing carbon but the tradeoff is the production of a waste product that we cannot handle. We need nuclear energy but it is not the solution. Solar energy costs continue to fall and within the next decade will become competitive with
other energy sources. There are proposals to convert our roadways into solar power generators, construct large solar farms in the deserts, and even solar arrays in space.
What circumstances justify US military intervention? Do you think America should continue to play a leading role in world affairs, or lay down some of those responsibilities? When a nation attacks or is on the verge of attacking the United States or its possessions, then I believe military intervention is justified. Otherwise, America should play a supportive role but not an active role in supporting regional groups to resolve disputes. Our history of intervention is plagued with missteps, poor planning, and frankly bad execution. America can play a leading role in world affairs through diplomacy without the constant demand to intervene militarily every time another dictator starts doing something stupid. Currently, we are spending $660 billion a year on defense to prepare to fight an unknown enemy in an unknown place for an unknown reason. That is an absurd amount of money for effectively marginal increase in security. We need to cut our defense budget in half and limit spending to 2% of GDP unless Congress declares war, implements a war tax, and the nation is committed to the intervention. Whereas, no one wants to see the innocent suffer or be massacred, our moral obligation is just as important to the people of Los Angeles as it is to the people of some far away land. I propose that we close 90% of our foreign bases and keep open only the bases that we need to provide humanitarian aid.
Is America’s enormous trade deficit with China a problem? How would you boost US exports and encourage China and other countries to buy more from us? The current trade deficit with China is caused by a misguided policy of blindly implementing free-trade knowing that free-trade only flows in one direction. China’s refusal to revalue its currency and allow the dollar to float is causing the entire global economy to be distorted and preventing our manufacturers from competing on a level-playing field. As the primary global reserve currency, America becomes the buyer of last resort for developing countries intent on acquiring hard currency to finance development. It is ludicrous to think that other countries will buy more from us when the global pie is fixed and everyone is trying to export their way out of financial difficulties. Instead, we need to renegotiate the WTO treaties to include minimum wage issues, carbon emissions issues, work safety, and pollution regulation. Further, we need to put an import tax of 40% on all Chinese imports until they renegotiate the treaty or abandon our participation in the WTO in 2015. The simplest way to boost exports is to create a new export market, the Moon. I would invest in our space industry providing a lunar base to support private mining concessions and development. Without the 50,000 factories that have closed over the past decade, America lacks the manufacturing capability to boost exports. We need a new industry to drive our export growth and I believe a vigorous space program will do that.