So, What Now?

The title of this post echoes the title of a post by Victor Davis Hanson. I don’t agree entirely with Hanson’s diagnosis of America’s economic woes and prescription for curing them, but he points in the right general direction. If I were king, this is what I would do to put the U.S. back on the track to long-term economic health:

  • Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid (and the expansions known as Obamacare) would be phased out. By the time today’s youngest workers are ready for retirement, those programs would no longer exist. The ability of individuals to enjoy comfortable, healthy retirement years would depend on their assiduous prudence, financially and physically. (I am not a stranger’s keeper, and vice versa.) Private financial institutions and insurers would be allowed to compete across State lines for the savings and premiums of newly empowered individuals. States and municipalities would maintain any “safety net” for the truly needy (including those who cannot afford the care associated with serious illnesses and disabilities). Profligate grants of aid, leading to higher State and local taxes, would be  punished at the ballot box and by emigration to locales where income and property are not targets of opportunity for demagogic politicians.
  • All other activities of the federal government that are not authorized by the Constitution would be phased out within ten years. That is to say, all “independent” agencies (especially including the Federal Reserve) would be abolished, along with every department but Defense, Justice, State, and Treasury. Any legitimate functions of the other departments and agencies would be folded into the four that remain, and those four would be thoroughly cleansed of illegitimate functions.
  • The preceding actions would negate most regulatory authority. That which remains would revert to Congress, which would no longer be able to delegate law-making to the executive branch, and which would have to make law strictly within the four corners of the Constitution. Specific targets for termination: regulation of resource extraction, “anti-discrimination” programs that in fact discriminate in favor of certain classes of individuals, environmental regulation (except for truly major environmental threats, and only then as authorized by an amendment to the Constitution), anything having to do with “global warming.” the Food and Drug Administration, and federal involvement in occupational licensing.
  • The streamlining of the federal government would be accompanied by a sale of all assets not required for the execution of constitutional functions. Thus would land and buildings become available for private use, personal and commercial.
  • The federal budget would be in balance — at a much lower level — within a decade. A tough balanced-budget amendment would keep it there. Such an amendment would cap federal spending at 10 percent of GDP, with a minimum of 6 percent of GDP going to defense. There would be an exception for a war (or wars) authorized by Congress, if the combat deployment of more than one-fourth of the personnel of the U.S. armed forces. Then, federal spending could exceed 10 percent of GDP, but only to the extent of the additional costs of the authorized war (or wars). Federal revenues would have to match spending in every 10-year period, plus or minus 1 percent of GDP.

These actions would tell Americans — individuals and businesspersons — two important things. First, they are at long last free in their “pursuit of Happiness.” Second, because they are free, they do not have to worry about government changing the “rules of the game” capriciously or swooping in to take away what they’ve earned.

Only with such freedom and certainty can Americans, once again, confidently strive to make better lives for themselves and, in so doing, help their compatriots to make better lives.

This — not speeches, laws, regulations, taxes, spending, debt-ceiling compromises, etc. — is the stuff of a brighter future, a future that fulfills the promise of the Declaration of Independence.