Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ways to Reduce the Deficit and Debt

            The United States budget deficit and national debt problems remain a highly popular political issue, and while some economists, namely Paul Krugman (, assert that it is not as life-and-death as news outlets and politicians will have citizens to believe, it still garners much discussion.  With the 2013 budget deficit estimated at about nine-hundred billion dollars and the national debt hovering at about sixteen trillion dollars, there are numerous ways to address the problems.  Here are simply a few.

            First, as I have mentioned before, taxes should be raised on the mega-wealthy and on capital gains.  The mega-wealthy earn numerous times more than they did in the 1960s and yet pay taxes at half the rate.  According to Forbes, Richard Templeton, the chief executive officer for Texas Instruments, made over $15.4 million in 2011—placing him 100th in CEO salary rankings.  That list only includes CEOs, ignoring other individuals who make millions a year, such as professional athletes, film-related occupations (actors, actresses, directors, distributors), and securities-related occupations (namely, hedge fund managers).  Adjusted for inflation, all these individuals would pay income taxes at a rate of 91%.  This would result in Templeton paying about $13.6 million in taxes, leaving him with more than enough to live on.  But the tax rate does not necessarily have to be increased all the way to 91%.  Even if the rate is bumped up to 75%, substantial amounts would be generated from this rate.  Templeton would pay $11.5 million, still a great deal more than the $6 million he will pay under current rates.
            Another possibility is entitlement reform.  This would obviously come in various forms, from eliminating waste, reducing unneeded bureaucracy, and preventing abuse of the system.  Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote a column in December explaining how in some low-income areas, families remove their children from literacy classes in order to ensure they continue to receive Social Security checks for intellectual disabilities.  This is unacceptable and must be stopped.  This is only one example of a system rife with abuse.  My sister, who works at a Sheetz location in Northeast Ohio, told me a story of an individual who tried to purchase a pack of cigarettes with food stamps.  When she informed him that food stamps do not cover cigarettes, the individual remarked along the lines of, “Man, I gotta pay for this in cash?” and proceeded to pull out a wad of hundred-dollar bills.  Unacceptable.
            Another entitlement reform possibility which I have conceptualized is a sliding-scale for when one is eligible for Social Security retirement payments and Medicare insurance.  The current Social Security retirement age for citizens born after 1959 is 67 and Medicare eligibility begins at 65.  A commonly proposed money-saving move is to raise both these ages to reduce the number of individuals who receive payments, due to the rising life expectancy of Americans.  This would prove disastrous due to the oversimplification of examining life expectancy statistics.  For example, while it is true that overall the life expectancy of Americans has increased since 1990, the life expectancy for white women lacking a high school diploma has in fact decreased five years since 1990, with similarly undereducated white men have lost three years of life expectancy.  Due to this trend, a simple increase in the eligibility ages would yank away the services from those who need them the most.
            The sliding-scale would be formulated in a similar manner as the income tax brackets are, although taking more factors into account.  Level of education would of course be considered, as would income, worth, and prior medical history.  This would allow those citizens who need Social Security and Medicare the most to enter the programs early while keeping those who do not need them out until they do need the services.
            The last suggestion is likely to cause the most eyebrow-raising amongst readers.  It begins benignly enough, involving a cut in military spending.  This comes in the form of cancelling oft-delayed programs, cutting back the size of the branches by calling for fewer soldiers, war planes, and naval vessels.  The point where it gets controversial is the advocation for selling off old military equipment to other nations. 
            With a general Great-Power peace blanketing the world, the target audience is not large, but it does exist.  Israel is a likely consumer, due to its rather small navy.  With only three submarines, the United States could surely sell Israel some of its older models and still maintain a healthy advantage over the rest of the world.  But Israel is not the one of America’s allies who could be a landing point for old, decommissioned naval vessels. 
            South Korea and Japan are both located near two nations which are often considered geopolitical adversaries of the United States:  North Korea and China.  If the United States wants to contain the influence of China in the Pacific region and prevent North Korea from attempting to invade South Korea, it is in America’s interests to bolster the strength of its two primary Pacific allies.  While both South Korea and Japan have significant navies, they both lack a key vessel type, which the United States has in spades.  That vessel is aircraft carriers. 
            There are twenty active aircraft carriers in the world today.  The flag of the United States flies above ten of those carries; other than Italy, no other nation has more than one.  Additionally, three more American carriers are under construction while two are currently in reserve.  When the two in reserve are both fully decommissioned they will taken apart or turned into museums, or something else which I am just not aware of.  Instead of turning these ships into floating antiques, why not sell them to South Korea and Japan, one apiece?  Not only would this save the United States from having to spend the money on scraping the ships, it would also bring money in via the sale and bolster the American alliance in the Pacific.  While nobody wants a war with China, should it come, the United States would certainly benefit from having two nearby allies with aircraft carriers.
            Obviously there are more ways to reduce the deficit and debt than those that I have outlined above, but they are steps which I believe should be taken.  Feel free to comment and refute my ideas and suggest more.  A dialogue more complex than “No tax increases” versus “No spending cuts” is a must if any substantial progress is to occur.  

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