Today is election day. The Democrats will possibly take both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994. I should be really excited about this, but I'm not. I haven't been particularly impressed with Congressional Democrats in recent years, and there don't seem to be a whole lot of smart, forward-thinking candidates this time around (though I admit that I haven't been following the races in other states very closely). So many of the candidates seem to have simplistic views on the Iraq War (I'm not happy about it either, but to just say "it was a mistake" isn't helpful), and it's becoming increasingly hard to find an openly pro-trade Democrat. Jim Webb, in my opinion, is a pretty crappy candidate, but George Allen is such an eight-cylinder douchebag that I have to vote for Webb anyway.
Still, if the Democrats take Congress, things should get marginally better (in my opinion). But there are a lot of things that I'd like to see happen that probably never will (at least not in the near future). Here is a list of those things, in no particular order:
- Get rid of the electoral college. It's undemocratic and puts fewer people in touch with the candidates.
- Publicly finance Presidential, Senate, and House campaigns. Not only is money a corrupting influence, but candidates have to spend inordinate amounts of time raising money. No, this won't do anything about 527s, but there's probably not anything that can be done about 527s.
- Tradable patent years for life-saving drugs. Patents last for 20 years, and they are extremely important to the pharmaceutical industry, because new drugs cost a lot of money to develop and virtually nothing to manufacture. This creates a problem when it comes to life-saving drugs, most notably AIDS drugs; we want them to be cheap, but companies won't rush to manufacture them if they can't make a profit. We've got tons of allergy, anit-impotence, and hair-growth drugs because there are a ton of rich people who will pay big money for those drugs. We need to make AIDS drugs (and other life-saving medicines) into moneymakers, both in the US and abroad. I'd like to see this: if you create a drug that is determined to be a life-saving drug (you'd have to decide on some body to make that determination, probably the World Health Organization), you can have your 20 patent years on SOME OTHER DRUG. So, if you invent an AIDS drug, there is no patent protection on that, but you can extend the patent on, say, Viagra (which is a cash cow) for 20 more years. This would work because there are a small number of pharmaceutical companies that manufacture a wide variety of drugs.
- Dedicate 0.7 percent of our GDP to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. It's an investment worth making in the short run for ethical reasons, and it's an investment worth making in the long-run for practical reasons (it's in our interest to help promote stability and economic growth). Let me add that I have no problem at all with withholding money from countries with bad governance; just give that much more to countries with good governance.
- Start sending signals to China that we would acquiesce to a Japanese bomb if China doesn't get serious about North Korea. It's time that everybody involved start thinking about what the consequences will be if we let North Korea's nuclear program go completely unmonitored.
- Begin nudging Israel towards military self-sufficiency. They have the technology and capacity to maintain a military vastly superior to every other one in the Middle East, so tell them to make their own planes instead of buying ours.
- Expand the NATO concept beyond Europe. There is no reason that geography should dictate the limits of this alliance now that the Cold War is over. The prospect of NATO membership encourages good governance and peaceful behavior; it seems to have had a stabilizing effect on much of Eastern Europe in the last ten years.
- Have the tax burden be shouldered more by income taxes and less by taxes on business. This sounds counterintuitive, but it would actually create an incentive for wages to be more widely distributed. Furthermore, it would reward people for work and make our businesses more competitive internationally.
- Create a federal fund that low-income communities can use to attract business investment. Currently, these communities use tax breaks to do this, but these tax breaks are usually woefully inefficient and are often something that the community can't afford. We should also expand programs that do things similar to this, such as HUD zones.
- More free trade agreements, especially with the developing world.
- Encourage the development of genetically modified crops. Fuck you, hippies; it's revolutionary technology.
- While I'm on the topic of things hippies hate: encourage nuclear power. Advances in technology have made it significantly safer, and it's presently the greenest power source that we have.
- A federal gasoline tax that keeps the price around $3.00 a gallon. I'm with you, Tom Friedman and Danny Rouhier: increased energy independence is both and environmental and a national security issue, and people won't get serious about it until they know that gas prices are going to go high and stay high. Provide subsidies for low-income people who are dependent on their cars to get to work.
- Shift more funding of public schools to the federal level; decision-making can remain at the local level. Though some people debate the effectiveness of increased spending on the quality of schools, the debate is really only about the strength of the correlation; there is no doubt that more money usually means better schools. There is a significant disparity in the per-capita GDP of the 50 states, and it shouldn't be surprising that the schools in Mississippi aren't as good as schools in Connecticut. The gap between good schools and bad schools is especially problematic because graduates of those schools usually end up competing in the same college and job markets. Shifting more funding to the federal level would promote more equal spending levels, and also likely increase overall funding levels in poorer states (because richer states wouldn't be willing to see their funding levels drop).
- Get rid of farm subsidies. They're a waste of money, they're frequently abused, they go to the wrong people, and they hurt farmers from developing countries. It's not 1933 anymore.
- Reform the Presidential caucus system (this is for the parties, not the government). Have them go in four groups, smallest states first, largest states last. This means that one state won't have an inordinate amount of influence in choosing the nominee (as Iowa and New Hampshire currently do), you won't have states competing to see who can go the earliest, you'll have a decent amount of diversity in each round (you could wedge at least one state from each region into each round), and far more people will get to vote when the race is still competitive.
- Reform affirmative action so that it grants preference based on economic status, not race.
- Abolish the death penalty. If I thought it was a deterrent, this would be a tricky issue to me, but the fact that statistics suggest that it has no deterrent effect at all makes it pretty simple.
- Means-test Social Security (actually, this might happen). Also, if we were ever to get into the kind of fiscal shape that would allow us to create private investment accounts without taking out a huge loan (and we probably never will), go ahead and create private accounts with limited investment options. One option must be to keep your Social Security just as it would have been without private accounts.
- Re-instate the estate tax at progressively increasing rates, starting at, say, $700,000, reaching 100 percent taxation at around 2 million dollars.
- More subsidies (or tax breaks – same thing) for mixed-income housing.