For years I have proved in my weekly 2 Paragraphs 4 Liberty blogs that I do not have all of the answers. Furthermore, I ran as a candidate for Congress as a Republican in 1998, for US Senate as a Libertarian in 2004, and as the Libertarian candidate for Vice President in 2012 - and lost each time. So I now rightfully tell people that I am not a politician and I have the votes to prove it! But, as a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Costa Rica, a criminal defense attorney in the Navy JAG Corps, a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles and a trial court judge for 25 years in Orange County, California, I do care about people and have discovered many approaches that can and will make their lives better. Hence this article which makes proposals in twelve different areas. And, as always, the purpose is to encourage and promote more discussions about the issues of our day. So these are my thoughts for my fellow legal professionals, what are yours?
1. Implement a national safety net: Our country should adopt a suggestion from Dr. Milton Friedman (one of my heroes) and employ a national safety net for all of our citizens and people here legally with a Green Card. What would this look like? Using these numbers only for purposes of illustration, if people 18 or older make no money, they would receive a stipend of $20,000 per year from the federal government, probably broken down into monthly payments of $1,667. And it wouldn't matter the reason for their lack of income. They could have just lost their job, decided to go back to school, or be just plain lazy. But for every dollar they earned between $0 and $40,000, they would lose 50 cents of their stipend. Thus everyone would have an incentive to earn the extra dollar. And this program would replace all other government welfare systems in our country, except for medical care (which will be discussed in item 3 below), and for people with truly special needs. Obviously, our welfare system today is enormously intrusive, expensive, bureaucratic and laden with fraud, and it is missing the safety net's programmed incentives. This change would bring a positive outcome for everyone, except for many government bureaucrats.
2. School choice: The biggest issue facing our country today is the fact that so many of our public schools are failing our children. And that is as tragic as it is unnecessary. What is the answer? Empower parents to decide where and how their government dollars will be spent for the education of their children. And, if many communities in Milwaukee, Indiana, Florida and Arizona are any indication, the parents will choose - and receive - excellence. Among other things, that would allow schools to fire teachers who can't or won't teach, and to provide merit pay for those who teach well. Think of it this way: today public education is probably the only area in our economy where the provider dictates what the consumers will purchase. As a result, there are few incentives for public schools to get better. But here, as everywhere else, competition works! For more information, please visit www.EdChoice.org.
3. Re-introduce the free market back into our heathcare system: When I was growing up in the middle 1950s and early 1960s, the United States had the best and most affordable healthcare system in the world. But with the continuing intrusion of the government, starting in 1965 with Medicare, our healthcare system has become less effective and more expensive and bureaucratic. In fact, if you would like to have your healthcare run by the equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicles, you are well on your way. So get the government out of our healthcare system. But what about the poor? The answer to that logical question is to give people vouchers that they can use both to purchase health insurance and as co-pays based upon a sliding scale according to their income. But everyone should still pay at least a small amount of their co-payments, so they always have some "skin in the game." This approach will allow us to regain our great, responsive and reasonably-priced healthcare system.
4. Repeal our failed policy of Drug Prohibition: From all standpoints, just like with Alcohol Prohibition before it, our program of Drug Prohibition has demonstrably failed us and should be repealed! Ask any teenager what is easier for them to get today - if they want to - marijuana, ecstasy or virtually any other presently-illicit drug, on the one hand, or a six-pack of beer on the other. And they will probably tell you what they tell me. Of course there are no "solutions" to these problems, only resolutions that will reduce the harms that will always be caused by the presence of these substances in our communities. But why has the approach of Drug Prohibition so demonstrably failed? Three reasons. First, the simple law of economics tells us that if there is a demand for a product, that demand will be met. And plenty of people here and around the world will take even severe criminal justice and physical risks to "earn" hundreds of thousands of dollars in the manufacture and sale of illicit drugs. Second, there is no quality control in an illicit market. As an example, each of the deaths by fentanyl has been caused by our failed policy of Drug Prohibition! No one will knowingly put this poison into their bodies, but they do so unknowingly in the illicit drug market because of the lack of quality control. This also happened during Alcohol Prohibition, but the problem went away almost overnight when it was repealed. And third, although the Criminal Justice System was designed for, and is quite effective at, protecting us from each other, it was not designed for, and is terribly ineffective at protecting us from ourselves. So hold people accountable for what they do, but bring problem users who are only harming themselves closer to the medical professionals who can help them.
5. Require a Declaration of War from Congress: One of the genuine failures of Congress is that it continues to ignore the express mandate in the US Constitution that only Congress can issue a Declaration of War. If that mandate were to be followed, before our country could legally go to war Congress would have to debate, decide and vote upon who the proposed enemy is, what the threats to our country are, and what the goals of that war would be so that, once we obtained them, we could withdraw our troops. Thus, had Congress not wrongly delegated its express responsibility to the various presidents, our country would probably never have sent our fighting troops to places like Iraq, Somalia or Syria. Yes, after September 11, 2001, Congress almost certainly would have issued a Declaration of War in Afghanistan, but almost equally certainly that declaration would have been expressly limited to those responsible for the attack upon our country, which were Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda colleagues. So after about three to four months, we would probably have been able to meet our goals by finding those enemies and bringing them to justice, thus allowing our troops to withdraw - while also issuing a firm statement that if such an attack were to be repeated, we would be back! What a blessing that would have been to our country, as well as the people in those involved countries!
6. Again become energy independent: One of the extreme threats not only to our economy but to our physical safety is our return to dependence upon some pretty dangerous governments for our energy resources. We certainly can continue to pursue technology to find cleaner energy but, in the meantime, we must again become energy independent. We have the resources, but are hindered by politics. Not only that, but please consider how many resources are used to transport natural gas and oil to us from places like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Canada and Mexico - which is much more environmentally harmful in the big picture than drilling for and using our own.
7. Re-emphasie transparency and justice in our Criminal Justice System: As a judge I was in the responsibility business. But the purpose of the Criminal Justice System is not to punish people, it is to reduce crime. So the approach of these suggestions is not to coddle criminals, but is instead to address the reasons why people engage in crime in the first place. Accordingly, we must better address mental illnesses and drug addictions that result in criminal behavior. And once someone is incarcerated, in addition to rightfully holding them responsible for their actions, we simply must also help to provide them with the tools to become productive in society once they are released - which most of them eventually will be. In that regard, it is not at all an exaggeration to say that many of our nation's prisons are actually "correctional" in name only. For our own safety, as well as our public pocketbooks, that must change. In addition, while people are in our custody our national sense of morality dictates that they must be maintained at or above a minimum threshold of safety, nutrition, healthcare and educational opportunities. Among other things, that means that every correctional officer when interfacing with incarcerated people should be required to wear a functioning body camera. Everyone behaves better if they know they are being filmed.
8. Reduce government employment licensing requirements: Bureaucracies have a natural tendency to expand their fiefdoms. And, to our national misfortune, that is what we have seen with government building permits and occupational licensing programs. Why cannot an insured/bonded construction company certify that a water heater was correctly installed into a house, or a roof properly constructed? If there is a problem, the insurance company will be responsible. (Thus those companies will probably institute reasonable protections on their own without any government involvement.) And why should someone be required to have a government license to cut or braid hair, or trim trees, or perform many other similar labors? Require those workers be bonded, and then let their customers decide if they are receiving a good result for their money. In addition, many applicants are required to take expensive and time-consuming classes just to get an occupational license that often does not even help to teach them the necessary skills. And many people released from prison are virtually automatically disqualified from obtaining those licenses because of their prior convictions. Materially reduce those licensing requirements and everyone will be better off.
9. Practical immigration reform: My good friend Larry Sharpe from New York thought of this idea, which I am now adopting. We should create two "Ellis Islands" on our borders with Mexico, probably with one in Texas and the other in California. These would be run by two private companies that would be in competition with each other to serve any immigrants who desired to come to our country and pursue the American Dream. Thus, this would not be an asylum program, it would only be a program for immigrants to enter our country pursuant to our existing laws to pursue honest labor. Therefore, after they pay a small fee, the immigrants would be subjected to a background check for such things as criminal activity, medical problems and even possible terrorist activities. But if they qualified, they could be issued, for example, an Orange Card, which they could use to travel to and live and work in any state that wished to be involved in the program. But there would be no welfare entitlements for any of them, nor their families, except for schooling for their children and truly emergency medicine. In addition, once the workers found a job their employers would pay a "finders' fee" back to the companies, which would make the companies economically self-sufficient. Furthermore, soon many undocumented people here would likely approach the Ellis Island companies to be screened and thus live more normal and less fearful lives. So in this area, like in so many others, private businesses will work much more efficiently than the government - to everyone's benefit.
10. Take politics out of establishing voting districts: Today virtually all of our voting districts are created by the political party that happens to be in power at the turn of each decade. So, of course, when a new party comes into power it changes the voting districts back to ones that will increase their chances of being politically successful. So here's an idea: let's transfer the power to designate those districts to a neutral commission, probably made up of retired judges or similarly neutral people. Then the voting districts not only would be more fair and representative, they would also not so often be thrown into turmoil.
11. Require term limits for Congress and the Supreme Court: Government becomes less representative and more autocratic when the officials obtain more authority and power based upon their length of time in office. And that is what we have seen with Congress. So let's impose term limits upon all members of the House of Representatives, such that no one could serve for more than five consecutive two-year terms. Then after their fifth term they could either run for a different position, or sit out one session and then be able to run anew. Thus, if the voters would like to elect some veteran candidates back into the same office, that could be done - but without those members carrying over their seniority benefits. The same program should be instituted for Senators only to serve two consecutive six-year terms. Similarly, justices of the US Supreme Court should be limited to, for example, a term of fifteen years. This would eliminate several current problems of some justices "hanging on" in their positions even though they may be developing physical or mental impairments. Why is this a problem? Because if they were to retire their replacement would be appointed by a president who may differ from the justice politically or philosophically. So they hang on. In addition, it would also have the beneficial effect of discouraging presidents from nominating candidates who are still in their 40s - because no one in their 40s has generated enough experience and wisdom to be on our nation's highest court. Instead the appointments would more likely go to candidates who are in their mid 50s. Why do presidents nominate the younger people? Because then their "legacy" can go on for 40 or so years, long after they have left office. Both of these developments would take constitutional amendments, but it would be worth the effort. (And if that were to be done, maybe we could also amend the Constitution to place the number of Supreme Court justices to nine!)
12. Ranked Choice voting: There is a system called "Ranked-Choice" voting, also known as "Instant Run-Off" voting, that has many positive features. It has been used effectively for presidential elections in New Zealand, for the House of Representatives in Australia, and for various public offices in India and Ireland. In fact, it was also used in the June 22, 2021 primary elections for local candidates in New York City, and in the voting for the Academy Awards for Best Picture. So what is it? All voters may choose to vote by ranking their order of preference for one or more of the candidates running in single-seat elections that have more than two people on the ballot. Then the votes are tallied, but only by counting each voter's first choice. After this tally if any candidate receives a majority of first place votes, he or she is elected. However, if no one receives a majority, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is dropped and the results are re-tabulated. But, importantly enough, if a voter's first-place candidate was dropped from the race then that voter's second-most preferred candidate would be counted in the second tabulation. And this process would continue until a candidate has received a majority of votes to become the winner. What are the benefits of this system? All voters are entitled to vote for the candidate whom they believe is the best without worrying about the "wasted vote" syndrome. That means that if voters really prefer a particular candidate, but are fearful that a candidate who is really not desired might profit by them not voting for that candidate's closest rival, those voters will almost always cast their votes for the "lesser of two evils" so that the most "evil" candidate will not be elected. Not only does Ranked-Choice voting do away with that conundrum, it also means that the eventual winner will have the actual support of a majority of the voters. In addition, this system also encourages greater voter participation because many voters would tend not to be so turned off by negative campaigning. Obviously third parties favor this procedure because many times their candidates are considered by many to be the most qualified, but the voters are afraid that if they support them they will be "wasting their vote." What do you think?
So these are my suggestions for a Materially Better America. Many of these proposals will probably be resisted by some present officeholders because the changes will take power away from them and give it back to "We the People." Thomas Jefferson was once quoted as saying that our country will need a bloody revolution every generation to keep the vested interests at bay. Fortunately our Constitution, both through its System of Checks and Balances as well as its ability to be amended, provides for the revolution not to be bloody. But how long has it been since we have brought about any fundamental changes? Maybe when the Republicans took over from the Whigs in the early 1860s? Well, these proposed changes may not all be revolutions, but they certainly will produce positive changes for all of us, except for many people presently in power. Please discuss them with your friends and help us bring them to reality!