Tag Archives: government

Carrots and Sticks

27 May

The ongoing push to get people vaccinated in the US shows a lot of incentives, which are not working as well as they hoped. I’m not interested in the pros/cons of vaccination, but rather in how the government pushes for compliance.

Even before the epidemic, there was a growing number of “anti-vaxxers,” people who were more concerned with the side effects of the drugs (usually autism) versus the prevention of the disease. However, they were a small minority, and most people tended to ignore them, some were just more cautious about how they got vaccinated. When I used to work in hospitals, I was required to have my flu shot every year, and since I tended to get more sick almost every year, I frequently forged the paperwork to make it look like I had it.

So I sympathize with those who have questions about the vaccine. The government screwed up their COVID response from the beginning. Instead of telling people, “we need our limited supply of masks for hospitals,” they said, “masks don’t work.” Then they do work. Now the government says, “vax up for safety,” at the same time, “keep wearing masks even if you’re vaccinated.” Then “it’s okay to be maskless if you’re vaccinated.” Good job following the science, guys!

So I’ve seen highway signs, billboards, print ads, video ads, radio ads, all saying “get vaccinated.” They’ve appealed to your sense of social responsibility. They’ve appealed to getting back to normal. They’ve appealed to your health. And they’ve achieved 50% compliance throughout the US.

Some people are lauding this achievement; so many more are yelling at “why isn’t it going faster?” Looking at the CDC’s Vaccination Trends, they’re still getting just under 2 million doses per day. That’s pretty good. But it’s obvious that everyone who wanted a shot has gotten one. That’s not good enough for many authorities. My own company will not let us take off our masks in our building until we hit a higher level (currently at 37%). They’re giving people free sandwiches to get vaccinated, they’re giving them discounts, even paying them!

We’ve been beaten with the stick of mandatory masking and limited business contact for over a year. However, with all the carrots to get vaccinated, it was only last week that someone suggested to the CDC that maybe people didn’t like wearing masks. For me, that’s the big incentive. The places I go have been open for sometime, limited or not, so that’s not been an issue. If I could show a pin and it says “I don’t need to wear a mask,” then I would get it. But we get back to why the government initially told people not to wear a mask… “we don’t trust you.” People would be wearing fake pins by the end of the day. They did come up with vaccine passports, but that has privacy violation issues that would be easily shot down in most federal courts… and can also be easily faked.

So at some point, the government push to vaccinate has to either trust the people they claim to serve or stop pretending to care. But I could be too bitter about this issue–what do you think? Is the PSA marketing push making a difference? Is everyone who wanted to be vaccinated actually vaccinated? Should they give it up? Let me know in the comments below. Then if want something other than doom and gloom, check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your cheery disposition, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. You’ll be glad you did.

Death and Taxes

10 Mar

So last weekend, I finally filed my income taxes for the year. Actually, I had software do it with prompting, because the American Tax Code runs to 20k pages; even the IRS doesn’t hold itself accountable to its own advice! There’s got to be an easier way.

Of course, no one voted for this system. Like many government systems, this developed over time, often with the best of intentions (and sometimes the worst), and has been exploited. Now there’s a whole industry built up around this incomprehensible system. Our elected representatives have expanded the power of the Internal Revenue Service, because no other branch of the government is as good at distributing money or collecting it. Money for the budget has to come from somewhere (nihil ex nihilo), so the IRS has gotten really good at finding it.

Just like commandments in the Bible, most of the 20k pages of the tax code don’t apply to you. After all, you don’t run a sugar plant in Florida, or run a hazardous waste dump in New Mexico, or work for a church. You might live on a reservation, get combat pay, or have your property damaged in a forest fire… but you are not me. There are exceptions for lots of different kinds of jobs. For example, if you’re a priest, you may get a salary from your congregation, but that salary is dependent on raising X amount of dollars per month. That’s not a consistent income and a non-profit organization. So… the rules are VERY different than me.

Ever since we had to change the constitution to allow it in 1913, people have been trying to find a way around paying it. In America, the oldest profession has been smuggling–getting around paying import taxes. We wrote “no income tax” into the constitution because of that. But that couldn’t last forever. Even then, government’s siren song of “we need to spend more money” requires you to get it from someone else. Even for the first fifty years, people were tweaking their taxes to get around the law; payroll withholding started in WWII to get the money before you could lie about it. The first major use of computers by the federal government was in 1960 to figure out who was trying to screw the system.

Now that’s an exaggeration. There was an automated system to count the census starting in 1890, and the first computers were used to hack enemy codes during WWII, but it IS the oldest software system still in use today.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You could institute the flat tax, as they do in Estonia, which makes it much easier to calculate your income tax, pay LESS, actually get MORE money to the government than a graduated income tax, and stimulates your economy. Or you could just do a national sales tax and repeal the income tax. Things would cost more, but you’d have more money to spend, and you wouldn’t be taxes on things you don’t buy. So rich people would naturally pay more in taxes, but fairly, because they buy more than poor people.

But if you’re saying, “what about my refund?!” (sigh) It’s a “refund,” you get money back from the government you already paid. I paid over $8000 in taxes this year and only got $300 back… and half of that went to paying someone to file my taxes. But because I don’t actually write a check for that eight grand, it’s doesn’t exist in most people’s mind. “Whoo! Free money!” (groan) However, if you really like your refund, there’s a fair tax proposal which still allows for it, simplifies the tax code to a hundred pages, and still gives a check to those under a certain income.

However, because voters hate drastic change (Americans will vote for a dead incumbent for public office), and there’s a whole industry and the IRS which depends on the current system, it ain’t changing any time soon. Can we get enough “give-a-damn” to change it? Is there another way to fix our tax system? Have you got a better way to cheat your taxes? Let me know in the comments below!

Then, after you’ve written that, why not pick up one of my books! Or if you had to write a giant check to the government and can’t afford $1.99, download one of my free stories. You’ll be glad you did. 😉

What Are You Willing to Accept?

3 Mar

Customer service and government services usually do not go together. When I was discussing this with a friend, I gave Arizona’s Motor Vehicle Division as the exception. He said “That’s because Arizonans don’t put up with as much bull.”

This is not an argument for everyone to move to Arizona (God, please don’t!), but for me, an interesting experiment in American democracy. Most of the time, the only daily interactions you have with the government is the police, which is why they take most of the flack. However, take the next level of regular interaction; the Department of Motor Vehicles. No one likes going to get your license because it’s such a pain in the butt to do.

You stand in line–a lot–to reach a very cranky woman who usually tells you that you forgot one form. They’re cranky because they have to tell everyone this same instruction fifteen times a day. They’re ALLOWED to be cranky to the public because they can not be fired for being cranky. When I’ve lived in Ohio, I would always choose the most distant and remote office, because they had less staff, less traffic, and since they don’t see as many people, better service. In Arizona, this is not the case. Even in busiest centers, the staff are friendly, understanding, and get you through the lines faster. Why? Because along the way, they linked the staff’s bonuses to their survey results. They have incentive to be nicer.

So if you have no incentive, you have always use negative reinforcement. My friend was telling me going to a DMV in Maryland, and had to go three times because he kept missing one item. On the third time, the clerk informed him, “Oh, you’re late on getting this in, so you’ll be charged a penalty.” And his face went red with anger and he said calmly to the clerk, “This is where you shut up and get your supervisor. Now.” Even a “civil servant” wants to avoid an angry customer; magically, the supervisor fixed everything, waved the penalty, and he got his form complete. But his point was that that in Maryland, people are willing to wait until the third time; in Arizona, it’s the first time.

This also transitions to the rest of government. Arizona is a purple state (neither party has an overwhelming majority); people have no problem voting the other party in to punish a uncaring, unlistening legislature. Politics is retail. I actually wrote my state legislators on a Friday and got a response the next day (not a form letter)! It may be effective, it may not, but at least there’s a response.

The more unresponsive government is to its people, the angrier people get. Thankfully, I live in a country where (with exceptions) you can yell at your officials without getting beaten up. That’s not the case in many places; I’m always fascinated by the Central African Republic, where since the fall of Emperor Bokassa I (1979) has always had a government and a rebel faction, and they flip-flop positions every five years. In their case, the only choice is to pick up a gun. Unless you reconcile with the defeated and include them in the government (such as Liberia), you’re bound to repeat the same cycle.

That’s the real fear–there’s a lot of push in America on both sides to exclude the other. At a certain point, Americans won’t put up with it. I think that level is higher than most people believe. But how much are willing to accept? What do you think? Have you yelled at a DMV worker? Let me know in the comments below!

Are rights inalienable?

7 Dec

There is a common fallacy that what exists today has always existed. Thomas Jefferson wrote down that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” were inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence. But he didn’t have to write them down if they were obvious… and they certainly are not.

TJ was a product of his time. The deist ideals that there is and has always been a common morality is very much a modern concept. We often quote the Code of Hammurabi as the first modern law code, but within that script, there are various levels of punishment depending on how well connected you were. Nobles got punished with fines; peasants with dismemberment or death. Only when the Bible created their own law code was the same punishment given to everybody… and they were dealing with a time in which there were no jails and enforcement was limited to the priests and your cousins enacting blood vengeance.

I find it interesting that Jefferson was paraphrasing Montesquieu in the DoI, but in M’s case, it was “life, liberty, and property.” Land has always been one of the great assurances of wealth. Even in the Bible, they ensured that even if you (or your father) sold your birthright, you had the chance every 50 years to get it back. There was a chance to redeem your ability to progress in life. This was a rather unusual concept three thousand years ago; in Egypt, the Pharaoh owned everything. You may have been free, but the land you worked on belonged to the chief.

Even in Medieval Europe, everything was contractual. You worked your land, and in exchange for protection (usually against Vikings) you gave a percentage of everything you grew to the lord. However, over the centuries, your plot of land wasn’t enough to raise a family on or improve your status in life. So there was the commons–a plot of land available to everyone to graze your sheep or goats. Of course, when the lords realized, “Hey, we can make money off these commons if we sell them,” that killed a lot of peasants’ livelihoods and they had to flee to the cities for work. Hence the industrial revolution and all the joys we experience today.

Imagine that only two hundred years ago, over half of all Americans worked for themselves… either as farmers or small business owners. According to the Small Business Administration, only 30 million of all jobs are through a small business–one in ten–and that includes people who work for them. Rights of employees have expanded since then, but we certainly don’t have the same experience or freedoms that comes from controlling your own business. There’s even the term “wage slavery” that we attach to this. Sure, we’d love to leave our job, but the pay is so good, we’re afraid to leave. This is also called the “golden handcuffs.”

So why don’t we risk everything and start our own business? You can–there are opportunities out there. But you have to be willing to risk; that is often too painful for those of us (myself included) that have to provide for our families. So our rights are limited–assured by law, but limited by our circumstances.

So what’s the solution? Some people want the government to take charge of these systems, ensuring our rights as citizens, and making sure that we can afford to raise our families on a “minimum wage.” To quote TJ’s ally, James Madison, “if men were angels, governments would not be necessary.” Governments are made of people, who are always trying to get more than they are allotted, so they will inevitably, they will steal the money that is allotted for someone else.

Which is why I’m a “minarchist,” which is the idea that the least amount of government is the best. Is it perfect? No. But I’m more worried about government overreach than I am about an oppressive corporation. I can change jobs, I can’t change governments as easily. That’s why I love federalism–if you don’t like what Illinois is doing, you can move to Arizona, where the rules are different. If you want that level of government, then you can vote for it. What I fear is that as the rural/urban divide is growing larger, there won’t be anywhere in the US you can escape from the government’s reach. The more regulations, the less rights, and the less justice.

Sorry for getting into political philosophy today, but I wanted to think about some of things that go through my brain. What do you think? Is a higher level of government necessary to defend your right? Why? Let me know in the comments below!

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