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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Modest Proposal

To Enable the Young, Poor, and Sick to Contribute to Fixing the Budget

By Jonathan Lemuel

Everyone knows that California is facing a crisis. But the increases in fees for UC, CSU, and Community College students, the recent proposals of the Parsky Commission to shift the tax burden more onto the poor and the middle class, the legislature’s limited changes to California’s criminal justice system, and Governor Schwarzenegger’s half-hearted cuts of health services all reveal a failure of political will and imagination. Now, I do not claim to be anything other than a well-wisher to the Public Good, but I think that the cause of California’s budget problem is obvious: we have too many poor, sick, and young people roaming freely on the streets while expecting to be treated as if they possessed human dignity.

I would therefore propose that all children be sentenced to prison when they turn two years old. Such a proposal would simply speed up California’s normal process; it has become clear for at least two decades that Californians prefer to lock up young people (especially minorities) than to educate them. This proposal would simply make that policy more universal. It would eliminate the need for bureaucrats (judges, bailiffs, attorneys, perhaps even police) thus reducing the size of the State’s workforce. Given that Californians have shown themselves willing to pay more to imprison people than to send them to college it would be politically popular and therefore help unify the state. And finally, it would save the State money that would otherwise be spent building new prisons—California could simply transform schools into prisons and work with those physical plants.

The economic benefits are, therefore, clear. I realize that some might point out that it costs several times as much annually to incarcerate a person than to send them to college and thus question the economic logic of my proposal. I am not sure why this should be a concern since our State leaders have been spending money in this way for decades without complaint. But I think that their objection shows that they are not willing to “blow up the boxes” as the Governor likes to say; my proposal addresses costs nicely. First, if we sentence students to prison at the age of two then we would lessen the need for teachers and severely weaken the power of teachers unions—evil bureaucracies that everyone knows are a major cause of the budget problems and it would enable more authority to flow into the prison guards’ union. Given that the State recently cut educational and vocational programs within the prisons we would save money on useless things like books that teach our children dangerous ideas and stimulate their imaginations. And we would no longer burden hospitals or insurance companies with the distasteful task of treating the poor or uninsured since they would already be under the health system of the Department of Corrections. If we forced inmates to work on public roads and bridges we could even fix some of our infrastructural problems.

But there are moral and political benefits as well. Because while I am suggesting that all children should be sentenced to prison, I am not suggesting that they all should be committed to prison. That would be patently unfair. Instead we should allow those with sufficient money to buy their children’s freedom. If we set that price appropriately we would be able to raise sufficient funds to make the state prisons function for all of the poor, the young and the sick and have money left to protect the houses and property of those not in prisons. Since only those who could afford their children’s freedom would be sending their children to college we could easily raise the rates at UC and CSU—thereby ensuring their good bond ratings. This requirement would hurt no one since clearly only those with sufficient wealth could truly care for their children. I am convinced that this policy makes more sense than the proposal of the recent Parsky Commission to rely on an untested value-added tax to make working people bear more of the state’s tax burden. My proposal is much simpler and easier to enforce.

I have some learned friends who have proposed other possible solutions to the State’s crisis: imposing an oil extraction tax; splitting the rolls on Proposition 13 to allow homeowners to retain their protections while causing commercial property and development to pay a fairer share; some have even proposed that we institute majority rule in California! But none of these proposals make sense to me. First of all, they would all mean that we would no longer allow the Republican Party to control public policy and that seems cruel to such public servants. But, more importantly, these suggestions send the wrong message to the young, suggesting as they do that all citizens are equally worthy of support and assistance. But we know that isn’t true. After all, as Mike Genest, Governor Schwarzenegger’s finance director pointed out “Government doesn’t provide services to rich people,” it is only the others who derive benefit from the public. It is time, and my proposal would do this, that we openly acknowledge what has been implicit in our social and economic policy: the wealthy are better than the rest of us. And we should get out of their way. Otherwise we might convince ourselves that we should be treated as their equals.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! Let's write it up and put it on the 2010 ballot.

TB said...

Brilliant? What would be the logical reason to split "the rolls on Proposition 13 to allow homeowners to retain their protections"? Shouldn't everyone pay their fair share? Taxing people extra for their fault of not being born early enough strikes me as a very fair way of treating younger generations. Oh wait, I forgot, it is fairness towards younger generations that the author presumably cares about (at least as far as their education is concerned). Something does not quite click...

Anonymous said...

I agree with TB. I see a number of wealthy families in my neighborhood putting homes into trusts and using them as rental property once the senior homeowner dies. They have minimal taxes and are making money on the property as a rental by taking advantage of the prop 13 tax break. This keeps properties off the market and artificially inflates home values which make it harder for younger families to become homeowners. One could at least ask these people to pay back the prop 13 tax cut if they are making more than that in profits.

Anonymous said...

Sheesh. Some people have no sense of humor. "Brilliant" was referred to the proposal of sending every California youth to prison rather than college.

If we then want to get into the intricacies of Prop 13, yes we should first of all split the rolls. Repealing Prop 13, as much as would like to, is politically unfeasible, but we can certainly amend it to repair some of the distortions it introduced.

As to the example of the families using old home as rental properties, they are already taxed on the rental income at about 10%.

baobao said...
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