Legalization of Assisted Suicide

In its June 27, 2015 issue, the Economist Magazine discusses assisted suicide. Here is a sensible approach that will allow relief for a narrow group of people while limited any sort of overly-enthusiastic euthanasia.

Here is a suggestion for legislation to be passed by the United States or individual U.S. states:

  1. No licensed physician can ever be required to assist a suicide.
  2. No licensed physician will be harmed or punished in any way for assisting the suicide of any person who meets the following conditions:
    1. Has a terminal illness;
    2. Has less than one year to live;
    3. Suffers from physical pain or mental anguish that is untreatable by generally accepted medical practices or for which the patient knowledgeably declines treatment;
    4. Has the mental capacity to knowledgeably decline treatment and to commit suicide.

Any modification must be approved by two-thirds of the members of each of the American Medical Association, the legislative body that original approved the law, and a referendum of all voters affected by it. The requirement for a referendum by two-thirds of the voters can never be repealed, not even by the voters themselves.

Please note that no insurance company gets a vote.

Stated this way, it is no one’s business but the patient and the physician. Every free person should be entitled to this relief.



Staunch libertarians say that the government should be altogether out of the healthcare and retirement arenas (not to mention many others); and an $18 trillion national debt gives credence to their arguments. It should be obvious that a government that has no debt and provides only national defense, a court system, and postal services is infinitely preferable to one that owes $18 trillion (and has promised another $200 trillion) and provides every service and safety net under the sun. Unfortunately most people will remain oblivious to the dangers of the bankruptcy of the federal government until the financial collapse is upon us.

Rather than try to convince people that we should abandon Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, maybe it’s better to devise a system that gets as close as possible to a free market system where supply, demand, and prices are not determined by bureaucracy and industry insiders such as insurers and drug and pharmaceutical companies. Why not mandatory IRAs and Health Savings Account (HSAs)? Such accounts would at the same time address the realistic human habit of not planning for tomorrow and should also please those who believe the government should protect people from these unfortunate human proclivities.

Employers and employees should be mandated to provide contributions into such accounts. (Eventually these contributions would replace payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare.) For low-wage employees, Uncle Sam should provide some or even all of the contribution. Actuaries would have to help decide on appropriate amounts for those contributions, but it is easier to envision a lower-cost healthcare system under this scenario than under Obamacare.

As for retirement, in case you are not aware, the lavish pension benefits of many states and cities is in the process of bankrupting them. Although under-funding is an issue, the greater issue with these plans is the over-promising of benefits, which is to be expected with defined-benefit plans coupled with the tendency of politicians to barter pension benefits for votes. Mandatory IRAs would be defined-contribution plans (like 401Ks) and would therefore eliminate the habitual mismanagement of pension funds by states and municipalities. This way, there will be no set retirement age or set benefit amount. Everyone retires when they think they can afford to. And, yes, rich people, if they so desire, get to contribute more and retire earlier. So what? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the government’s job to make the world fair.

Healthcare is a more difficult puzzle than retirement funding because it has more moving parts (and more entrenched interests). But any person is sadly mistaken if they believe that any industry runs best when nearly all of the money is either spent directly by the government or by entities created by governments. (Yes, HMOs are the Frankenstein children of immense legislation). Wouldn’t an infusion of free market do some good here?

Of course, the healthcare industry for decades has been in need of major reform. But rather than attempting to move toward a freer market where the consumers of healthcare are the ones paying for healthcare, with Obamacare we got more complexity and bureaucracy without addressing the core problem—price. Putting the money to be spent on healthcare in the hands of the populace would instead help to reduce the price of healthcare. And, again, yes, rich people will be able to pay for the latest and greatest technology and most likely get better care, but, again, so what? By striving for the impossible dream of making sure every person gets the absolute best health care available ensures that we will overspend.

Such new and improved HSAs would be used in conjunction with other changes to the healthcare system: allowing insurers to sell across state lines, insuring only catastrophic events rather than every visit to the doctor’s office, having individuals instead of their employers purchase the insurance, and making policies easy enough for individuals to understand. (A good start would be to say that the plan covers anything and everything that is not specifically excluded—and the exclusion list should be short.)

An absolutely mandatory change would be that once a person starts a health insurance plan, the plan can never be cancelled due to the patient’s health, thus addressing pre-Obamacare concerns over portability and pre-existing conditions. Ideally, the federal government would begin funding a HSA for every newborn baby, thereby locking in a health plan for life. (Insurers should be required to be well-capitalized, with, say, equity of 20% of assets.) Although premium payments would be allowed to increase during a person’s lifetime to appropriately match increases to income, premium amounts should be fixed for life at the outset of the plan.

Importantly, any person should be free to not get health insurance. If he or she would rather let his or her money pile up and pay for the eventual heart-attack or cancer treatment from the HSA account, so be it.

Finally, all such plans should be inheritable. For the working poor, this might be the largest asset a person has at death. (For the just plain poor, it almost certainly will be the largest asset.) Allowing these funds to be transferred to the next generation will give the next generation a solid reason to learn about and properly manage money. Needless to say, the administrators of these plans (most likely existing health insurance companies) must be held accountable that funds are spent only for healthcare.

This is just a basic outline. A lot of work would need to be done to implement such a change, although it would probably be less time and treasure than is being spent simply to understand Obamacare.


Can GDP Outpace the National Debt? It Better, or We’re In Serious Trouble

Prior to 2011, you could say that the national debt of the United States was almost as much as the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), which is a standard measure of the economic output of the U.S. economy. In 2011 that changed, though, as the national debt reached the level of GDP. Today, the national debt is $18,133 billion, which exceeds GDP of $17,421 billion by $712 billion.

If there is any good news today, it is that GDP is growing slightly faster than the national debt. The U.S. government (if you trust the honest reporting and accuracy in its numbers, which is a stretch even in the best of times) is currently on pace for an annual deficit of only $478 billion. (This compares to the unbelievable deficits racked up during the four years from 2009 to 2012, when each year’s annual deficit was in excess of $1,000 billion (or $1 trillion) and the four-year total was $5,106 billion.) With 2014 GDP growth of 3.9%, or $653 billion, the government actually is making a bit of progress in narrowing the excess of national debt over GDP.

This might not seem important. After all, Dick Cheney once said, “deficits don’t matter.” That was, of course, prior to those years of $1 trillion deficits and prior to the surpassing of GDP by the national debt.

But it is important. Simple mathematics tells us that if two things that are approximately the same size and one is growing faster than the other, the faster-growing amount will eventually become exponentially larger than the slower-growing amount. This is, of course, what happened to many of histories strongest governments as they spent themselves into or near oblivion, including ancient Rome, Spain, Great Britain, and Germany’s Weimar Republic, to name just a few.

An important mental block that I think is commonly held by most people is equating the country of America with the American government. America is not its government. So whatever patriotism you have for America (the country) is misplaced if you also attribute it to the America government. While it is possible for some of the people and businesses of America to spend and borrow themselves into oblivion, a nationwide debt oblivion can come about only at the hands of government. This is something that should be avoided.


Isn’t Four Trillion Enough? Let’s Freeze Federal Government Spending

Four trillion dollars is the approximate amount of spending President Obama wants for the federal government’s budget for the fiscal year that begins October 1, 2015. This is an incredible $11 billion per day, $457 million per hour, and $7.6 million per minute. This is a lot of money.

And while we cannot yet rule out that the Republicans will stand fast against this amount, they haven’t stood fast against the $3.6 trillion being spent during the current fiscal year. And, yes, the Republicans have raised the occasional fuss and even “shut down” the government, but in the end, the money seems always to get spent and the Republicans come out the worse for wear in being the mean, rich bastards trying to take food from the mouths of the poor and elderly.

Given that the eventual bankruptcy of the federal government should be the primary concern of any voter, isn’t it time the Republicans play for keeps? Why don’t they demand a freeze to federal spending in exchange for the approval of the next increase to the national debt limit, which is expected in late 2015? (This is a hypothetical question, of course; the reason they don’t do it is politics and their desire for reelection.)

Maybe reality will prove otherwise, but it seems that the Republicans stand a better chance of winning public support in saying, “We are spending enough. We will vote for an increase in the debt ceiling, but only if federal spending is frozen at current levels and will be increased only until we experience, say, ten years of budget surpluses.” That is, real surpluses—counting all defense spending, all “special” war expenditures, and all other off-statement items. Oh, and they can’t count social security remits as revenue. Or invent any more funky (that is, dishonest) accounting to get around the rule.

This demand would throw the ball into the Democrats court. If they refuse to freeze spending, the debt ceiling therefore not increased, and the government “shuts down”, then who will appear to be unreasonable? Wouldn’t the Democrats seem unreasonable not to agree to something as simple and sensible as freezing spending in place?

For a government that is so obviously headed down the path of fiscal insolvency, wouldn’t it appear insane to object to something as reasonable as a spending freeze? No cuts, no starving children, no old people choosing between medicine and cat food.

And then the real debate over long term solutions to the U.S. governments spending addiction can begin.


Drop the Corporate Income Tax; Create a Corporate Revenue Tax

April 14, 2014


Caterpillar is the latest company to be grandly chastised by recognizing profits in offshore companies rather than to recognize them in the United States, thereby reducing its income tax burden. (Let’s ignore the fact that management owes a duty to shareholders to maximize net profit and therefore implicitly to minimize its tax burden.) Even if you are in favor of free markets and against excessive taxation, this may nonetheless rub you the wrong way. Alas, unintended consequences are inseparable from any large government undertaking such as administering an income tax. 


But wouldn’t it be more simple and fair if corporations paid a tax calculated on top-line revenue rather than net profit? No deductions, no depreciation schedules, no loopholes, no political favors; and therefore, no preparation of enormous corporate tax returns. Imagine the savings in effort and expense that is currently spent in “managing down” corporate tax liabilities.


To estimate the amount of revenue to be raised by this method, let’s use a corporate revenue tax of 2% to be levied on all companies, regardless of size of other characteristics. We can’t arrive at our annual tax revenue by simply multiplying this 2.0% by annual GDP, which is currently approximately $17 trillion (, because GDP only captures “final goods”. If we adjust to include “intermediate goods” of approximately $17 trillion that go into creating final goods, this yields “gross output” of, say, $34 trillion. (This intermediate goods figure is from Forbes magazine here:


Thus, our 2% revenue tax on the economy’s gross revenue yields tax revenue to Uncle Sam of approximately $680 billion. This compares to FY2013 corporate income tax revenue of $274 billion. ( If this is too much revenue from corporations, then we can make the tax rate 1% instead of 2% or something in between.  


The change to a revenue tax should be accomplished with an amendment to the constitution, as should a permanent change in personal income tax calculations and spending and borrowing limits on the federal government. It should be clear to everyone by now that politicians cannot be trusted with a budget. An iron clad method for taxing, spending, and borrowing must be implemented to avoid future economic disasters. (Of course, we should not expect anything to save us from our current inevitable fate of a total financial wipeout and the de facto bankruptcy of our current government. Alas, these are forgone conclusions.) 


As for revenues generated overseas, let corporations pay no revenue tax on those amounts. Those are monies made by selling things to foreigners; why not encourage this behavior? For items sold in the U.S. by offshore subsidiaries of domestic corporations, they must pay the revenue tax, as should foreign companies that import to the U.S.—unless they are currently paying an import tariff greater than this revenue tax.  


As for tracking this information, we have the benefit of computers (and, no, not the same programmers who devised the Obamacare system). The IRS already requires that most companies report electronically on 1099 forms the amount of goods they sell to customers. And then financial statements can be prepared for investors and lenders to companies rather than for Uncle Sam. 


While entirely eliminating any corporate tax, income or otherwise, might be the best free-market solution, this is politically impossible given today’s wealth envy. Dangling a doubling in government revenue that can be obtained by taxing “greedy corporate pigs” might even allow Occupiers to support such a proposal. And eliminating loopholes and favoritism will eliminate the corporate welfare that results from the current Byzantine tax policy.

Grab your pitchfork! We're going to Washington!!

The Modern Paradox of Human Compassion

There are, of course, many theories explaining how humans obtained the upper hand in the never ending battle of evolution. Certainly a key component in human (and pre-human) success had to be teamwork, which later, as more complex human emotions developed, manifested as compassion. Where in the evolutionary cycle actual emotional compassion occurred is not relevant to this discussion; regardless, it is hard to imagine the success of the human race without people caring for one another. (Much archeological evidence of compassion exists, such as when the fossilized bones of an obviously crippled “cave person” provide evidence that this person was cared for by members of its family or tribe.) Whether working together to hunt, gather, protect or survive, no doubt group effort and its emotional counterpart, compassion, has existed for a long time—most likely in abundance.

Fast forward to today. If our emotional makeup is different from our early human ancestors, it is probably not by much. We are very much hard wired to feel compassion for other humans. Of course individual exceptions exist—even without the extreme examples of sociopaths and psychopaths—and much wartime cruelty evidences the wide range of human emotion and behavior; but by any account, the modern human world abounds in great and plentiful compassion.

But here’s the rub. As humankind has built successful societies, societies have centralized themselves into large and strong governments. And more recently, for example in the united states (lower case intended) since Roosevelt’s New Deal, government has increasingly been called upon as the primary vehicle for the eradication of suffering. This would be well and good if there were limits on what the U.S. government could do; or rather, if there were limits that were respected and followed. Without limits, the government can tax as much, spend as much, and borrow as much as it sees fit. Rarely are overtaxing, overspending or overborrowing good, but all appear completely justified to many people, even over many decades, as long as they are done in the name of compassion.

So here we are, rounding the turn with speed at $17 trillion in national debt. (See for the latest frightening view.) This should concern you. If it does not, consider that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is approximately the same size (at just north of $16 trillion) as the national debt (which is closing in on $18 trillion) and that one of them is growing at 2% and the other at 4%. (I’m sure you know which is growing faster.) Despite observations that the economy is in recovery and tax revenues are up handsomely, it is hard even for the most optimistic to conjure up a scenario where these percentages flip, that is, where the growth in GDP is larger than the growth in the national debt. (This is likely not even remotely possible given the abandon with which congress continues to spend.) So, if the national debt continues to grow faster than GDP, it is an inevitable conclusion that there will be a point at which the income of the government (or the country) is unable to repay the national debt. Whether by default or inflation (which is the usual path of governments), things get ugly. Really ugly.

If none of this concerns you, please check Wikipedia for “Weimer Republic” or “hyperinflation”. (If this is news to you, before you start reading, please sit in a comfortable chair and get a cold cloth ready for your forehead.)

The intention here is not to sound the alarm bell (which you have no doubt heard before), but to identify the cause of what seems to be a decades long societal rush toward the bankruptcy of the government.

After pondering this for the last twenty years, it is apparent that the heart of the matter (no pun intended) is human compassion. This at least creates the willingness (or desire) to spend; the other half of the equation is that the wealth and prosperity of the country provides the ability to spend. “Of course we can afford it. We’re the wealthiest country on earth. How could you be so uncaring?”

Yes, prosperity sows the seeds of its own demise.

So, in summary, we are not destined for the fiscal cliff because politicians are entirely evil. (Yes, they are evil, but not entirely. Not all of them.) Or because Obama (or anyone else) wants national bankruptcy so he can institute the long dreamed-for socialistic utopia. Or because democrats are completely stupid. (Yes, their calculators appear to be broken, but they are not stupid people.)

No. The problem, rather, is that most people want to turn their compassion into a government program. And why not? If your cause, your passion, might be solved by throwing the weight and financial muscle of the united states government, why wouldn’t you want that?

So, in the end, we are compassionate people. And, like all things human (and despite that most people would deny it), our emotions call the shots and our intellect merely justifies. That is why we need limits on government spending.

It might take a long time (or, for that matter, it might take a frighteningly short time), but there might be a time in the future where we return to manifesting compassion on an individual level. That is, by donating time and individual involvement (and, yes, money—to charities that prove they can operate honestly and efficiently) to make better the lives of the truly needy and temporarily downtrodden. This seems infinitely preferable to a government that is driven by special interest groups and that spends its way into oblivion. Doesn’t it?

So, the paradox is that while human compassion likely played an indispensable role in the success of humanity to date, it today appears to be the primary force on our drive toward financial ruin.