If I were president...

                A Hypothetical Presidential Platform


There's no chance I'm going to be president.  I don't want to be president.  It's likely that just a few people are ever going to read this and these ideas will remain just that.  Still, some of them seem good and appropriate to our times as I'm writing this, in early 2008, when the international image of the US is in the gutter and the political circus is in full swing.

Some of these proposals might be considered naive given the complexities of the modern world.  Still, I'm sure they can be refined and implemented properly so as not to cause massive upheaval.  The main thrust is economic, not ideological.

Some might face political obstacles.  For all I know there might be some separation of power impediment that might require a constitutional amendment to overcome, and we all know that the permanent residents of congress care more about their re-election than doing the right thing, so they're not going to give up their power voluntarily.  And then, there are all the special interests that benefit from the status quo.  Still...

If I were president, I would
  1. Prohibit government at all levels from borrowing
  2. Pay off all government debts as early as possible
  3. End foreign military interventions: wars, military bases
  4. Pass a transparency in government law similar but better than Finland's
  5. End borrowing between accounts funded by different taxes
  6. Implement Tax Choice / budgeting by directed funding
  7. Prohibit government from setting the value of / debasing the currency
  8. Put an immediate end to torture and release all non charged prisoners
  9. End corporate welfare: direct subsidies first and then all government contracting
  10. Revoke all "crimes of thought" laws
  11. Eliminate all obsolete laws and institute automatic sunset provisions
  12. End the immunity of politicians and government employees
  13. Make politicians responsible for unconstitutional laws
  14. End selective enforcement as a tool of control
  15. Repeal all "victim-less crime" laws
  16. End the war on drugs
  17. Review all laws that benefit a special interest group or industry
  18. End all tariffs (that by definition benefit certain special interests)
  19. End all censorship laws and enforcement

This list is obviously not comprehensive.  Some of the items have been discussed back and forth for decades, others have well established constituencies, yet not much happens year after year, and others still might have been discussed somewhere and not really be new.

The following applies to all levels of government.  Starting at the federal level, but continuing to state, county, municipal.  In short: all levels, no matter how small.

1 - Prohibit Government from borrowing

This is equivalent to taking away the plastic from credit card junkies. It is the first step in credit counseling.  Politicians have repeatedly proven that they are incapable of handling this responsibility.  Interest on the national debt is one of the largest items in the federal budget. Furthermore, it is essentially a transfer from everybody (mostly the poor and middle class, since they are the majority) to the very rich (the financial institutions that hold most of the wealth and public debt of the country and thus receive the interest)

This proposal is not a balanced budget amendment.  That was tried and failed miserably because politicians have never been able to keep their hands out of the cookie jar and have passed exception after exception that made that exercise all but meaningless.  Furthermore, tax revenue and expense projections can be manipulated and are not exact. The proper approach is to have a reserve.  If a rainy day fund is proper for a family, why not for government?  Financially responsible governments around the world are already doing this, and their sovereign funds are presently bailing out our irresponsible financial institutions.

Much has been written about the morality of burdening the children and grandchildren with the present generation's irresponsible financial behavior.  If an individual does this, his children are not condemned to involuntary servitude to repay his debts, why should the country be allowed to do this?  Of course, the federal government has the additional power to devalue the currency and thus diminish the debt in real terms, but this is at the cost of the wealth of the country.  See item 7 for how to prevent this sneaky attack on the pocketbook.

A side-effect of this proposal is that all government expenses are now directly correlated to tax receipts and only projects that "we the people" really want will be funded.  See section 6 for more detail.

2 - Pay off all government debt as soon as possible.

Government policy of late has been to spend like there's no tomorrow. Normally this would imply that the population (the only source of real wealth) has to produce what is spent.  But that takes effort. Like the credit card junkie, it is far easier to go crazy at the mall and not think of paying until later.  Such a downward spiral is well known to credit counselors.  The deeper it goes, the more painful it is to end.  Unless we want a totally bankrupt country, now is the time to start reducing the national debt.  The money for this can come from savings in sections 3, 9 and 16.  Most importantly it cannot come from raising taxes.  Irresponsible spending is what must be cut.

Being in debt has other consequences beyond the financial, as debt is essentially a power transfer from the borrower to the lender. "He who has the gold makes the rules".  As must be apparent to everyone that doesn't hide his head in the tube, more and more power is migrating away from the general population to the increasingly rich and powerful.

If you buy a house with someone else's money (pretty much mandatory these days for everyone but a few) you have to jump through the hoops the financial institution places in front of you.  To what extent is national policy dictated by the holders of the massive national debt?  The US is losing its independence the sneaky, hidden way.

Just as it is obvious by now to everybody, irresponsible lending has landed the housing industry in real trouble.  A by-product of this, too much easy money chasing after a fixed amount of real estate, has created a housing bubble which is already destroying a lot of wealth. Irresponsible government spending and borrowing will transform this country into a third world economy within a few years, with the inflation and debasement of the currency that always follows. United States of Zimbabwe, anyone?

3 - End foreign interventions: wars, military bases

Trillions have been wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan under fraudulent pretenses.  The national debt would be much smaller if those monies would have been put to better use.  Historically, foreign interventions have only had a temporary beneficial (to the US) effect and has resulted in hatred that is now blowing up in our faces.

A plan needs to be devised to quickly bring all American troops home.  Not only is this the proper humanitarian thing to do, it would free trillions that can be applied to diminish the national debt. Furthermore, all foreign military bases need to be closed.  This is not a plan for an isolationist country.  It is proper to be a full member of the political and economic world.  That's what embassies are for.  Maybe the global image of the US would start slowly improving.

It is not the right of any one country to police the world.  The US armed forces should have one purpose only: the defense of the US. Any foreign deployments (such as for humanitarian reasons) would occur only under UN auspices, and always have a clearly defined goal and end.

4 - Transparency in Government law

Secrecy breeds corruption, nepotism and favoritism.  In order to make government efficient and honest, all government documents are to be public by default.  Any and all documents, memos, electronic or otherwise are to be archived and made accessible on the world wide web as soon as they are created, clearly linked to the author.  This will have the effect that all government employees will be supervised by anyone with an interest in what government does.  They will be held accountable.  The result: they will make sure that their behavior is totally beyond reproach.  A side-effect of this is that only those interested in genuine public service would apply or remain.

All computer software running on all government computers will be open source and inspectable on demand, ie: downloadable on the web for inspection by anyone.  It will all have fingerprint keys (on both the executables and source) to guard against unauthorized alteration.  This is particularly important for electronic voting machines as the integrity of elections depends on it.

This is to prevent trojan horses being inserted to bypass or obscure the transparency requirements.

Fees for obtaining government documents will be illegal as this is just another way to restrict access to and dissemination of same.  In any case, when all government documents/files are available on the internet upon creation, no additional work will be required to make them public.

The government is not a secret society or competitive enterprise that needs to keep trade secrets.  Because of this,  the payroll of all levels of government will be public.  The list of employees, job descriptions, evaluations, salary, bonuses and organizational chart shall be easily accessible and search-able on the web.  All documents will be linked to the author and equally accessible.

Wouldn't this endanger government employees?  Not if government returns to being the PUBLIC servant it's meant to be.  This would be inevitable after transparency is enacted, as witch hunts, persecutions, blackmail, discrimination, kickbacks, etc... would be readily apparent and not tolerated.  If there's no reason to fear or hate government employees, why would violence be perpetrated on them?  Another advantage of transparency is that conspiracy theories wouldn't have a leg to stand on.

All funding, monetary transactions and expenses will be publicly recorded and linked to the employee that has the corresponding budgeting or spending authority.  This means, of course, that there will be no black budget items.  If Visa/MasterCard can keep straight records on billions of transactions for hundreds of millions of users, surely a similarly efficient web-accessible system can keep track of thousands of government employees and programs.

Undoubtedly, there will be an impulse to run government "off the record" without documents, but any actions derived from verbal orders or agreements will be by definition illegal and the employee(s) or politician(s) subject to civil and/or criminal prosecution (see item 12).

Finally, in a kind of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, all past government archives will be open for public viewing and analysis on the web.

For a working example of such an open government law, refer to the one that has existed in Finland for many years now.

5 - End borrowing between accounts funded by different taxes

Accounting safeguards need to be instituted so that different accounts, funded by different taxes are not fungible.  This would create a wall that would prevent politicians from playing fast and loose with our money. It is well known that if private business engaged in these kind of practices, the people involved would be in prison very quickly.  The social security trust fund is a well-known example.  No more borrowing against future revenues and similar shenanigans should be allowed. What is the logic of borrowing from your left pocket and have your right pocket pay interest?  This practice can very quickly lead to fraud. In the private sector, a similar practice: churning the account to generate commissions, is illegal since it fleeces the investor.

However, this proposal goes further.  Since politicians have proven themselves incapable of spending responsibly, it is time to let we the people have a say in where our money goes.

6 - Implement Tax Choice / budgeting by directed funding

The accounting safeguards would separate funds, first in large categories and then, as the system is fine-tuned, into smaller self-consistent groups.  Originally, a few large groups could be: Defense, Medical care, Scientific research, Social Security,  Education, Unemployment and Welfare, Natural Resources and Environment, Transportation, Administration of Justice.  Later, large categories could be sub-divided into smaller parts.  The other side of this program, which could be called "Tax Choice" or "Directed Funding", is the tax form, where each taxpayer would have a series of boxes, one for each government spending category where he/she would enter what percentage of his/her taxes are to go.  This way, the individual taxpayer could be assured what government programs his/her taxes will fund.  Each taxpayer could select none, one or more boxes and in each the corresponding percentage of the total tax paid.  If no box is selected, the government would decide where the particular taxpayer's taxes go, otherwise, the tax paid would go only to the selected programs, in the percentages specified.

Tax Choice is applicable at all levels of government.  Not only will every individual have a say where his or her income tax goes, but each group of programs would be funded from all other revenues to the percentage level obtained from total income tax receipts.  If indirect taxes still exceed this level of funding, the money would be given back to consumers, and the taxes in question eliminated.

Would any programs disappear? Probably not, given the vast diversity of views across the country, but everybody would feel better since their money would only pay for what they support.  Tax compliance would most likely rise and it would be instantly known exactly how much support each area of spending really has.

This program would have the added advantage of taking a lot of the incentive out of lobbying, since all lobbyists could do is convince politicians to include one more box on next year's tax return, or one more project in a "Funding group", subject to taxpayer approval and the restrictions proposed in sections 9 and 17.  The special interests would then take their cases to the people and try to convince us that their projects are worthy of some of the available tax money.  The decision would ultimately rest on the individual taxpayer.

The trillion-dollar question then becomes simply: more or less income tax? The answer, no longer subject to any special interest pressure, would put the horse again in front of the cart, tax revenue dictating spending, not spending dictating taxes.

7 - Prohibit government from setting the value of / debasing the currency

The federal government has too much power over the value of the currency. Deficit spending (see 1 above) tends to devalue it, but the machinations of the federal reserve cause regular inflation, robbing people of value. It is a hidden tax and it affects negatively the value of everything. Not surprisingly, powerful interests can pressure the government to manipulate the currency to their own profit.

The obscure manipulation of money supply, interest rates, government debt (see 1) damages the financial well-being of everyone since only experts have the knowledge, energy, wealth and time to take advantage of the system, for their own gain obviously.

Manipulating the value of money allows the politicians in charge to spend by just printing money and insulate voters from the immediate consequences of the spending.  In the long term, everyone loses.

A return to the gold standard will ensure that the US$ is really a store of value not subject to the fancy of politicians.  Consumers would have a yardstick to measure their real wealth.  It is often said, to foster savings, that if one starts investing at the beginning of the work life, by retirement, thanks to compound interest, more than a million dollars would be there to take care of retirement needs.  The dirty little secret is that, thanks to the debasement of the currency foisted on us all by the politicians, that million is really worth half (or less) in real (gold) terms.

Having a gold-backed dollar would bring back direct accountability of spending.  Determining how many dollars per ounce of gold is appropriate is a discussion for another time.  Issues such as the cost of inexpensive items (that have to be paid for in currency) need to be taken into account, but it can be argued that the currency has already been devalued too much. What smallest of smallest items can be had for 1 cent?

8 - Human rights

Step 1: Put an immediate end to torture and release all prisoners that have not been charged with specific crimes.  Those that have shall have a speedy, public trial as required by the constitution.

Step 2: Review all legislation inspired by the war on terror and revoke all unconstitutional laws, particularly those relating to surveillance.

9 - End corporate welfare

o Direct subsidies

This is the most obvious and outrageous waste of taxpayer money. It is nothing more than a transfer of wealth from the average taxpayer to select richer business owners.  Historically, the government has not had a good track record of choosing good or useful projects to fund. Essentially the better connected get the money.  These funds can now be applied to reduce the debt.

One current example is the push to generate ethanol from corn, the unfortunate side-effect is that the price of food is sky-rocketing. Brazil has been doing this right for many years, using switch grass.

Proponents of subsidies have claimed that certain industries are "vital" to national security, the well-being of the economy or for the preservation of the "American way of life".  The reasons for the transfer of wealth are many but they are immaterial.  Any monies that are transfered  from the government to corporations that do not provide a product or service in exchange is a subsidy.

o Government contracting

This is the invisible side of "less government".  Everything that the government is not spending internally any longer is now being sub-contracted to private businesses.  So the size of government has not really been reduced, the money is just going somewhere else: to the government contracting special interest.  Sub-contracting also has two pernicious side-effects: usually the well connected get the money, not the most qualified, and as the businesses are separate entities, there is less transparency and possibility of supervision to make sure that the money is well spent and not wasted.

An existing sector: the defense industry in the clearest example of this. The airlines don't pay Boeing for the development of a larger/faster/more fuel efficient airplane, they buy the finished product.  Why should the Federal government pay inflated development costs for a jet fighter, cost overruns and $1000 toilet seats and wrenches?

The health care industry is fast going in that direction.  If people can't afford health care, where is the inflated cost going to come from? the taxpayer of course.  Another transfer of wealth from the government to the insurance and medical industries.

Since there would be no government contracting money to be had, lobbying would become less important.  See also the special interest legislation proposal to further render lobbying irrelevant.

So how could the government acquire what it needs? By buying it in the open market of course.  Any product that has been independently developed and funded could be purchased, like individuals and businesses do. What about items that don't exist yet?  Well, the government has a good track record with, for instance, national laboratories, when there is a clear mission.  Any product development required can be done in-house, with the supervision and checks that apply to all government operations. In order to attract the necessary talent, wages paid by government will have to match what industry pays in the sector in question.  This would still be cheaper in the long run as the taxpayer wouldn't be paying for corporate profit and excessive higher-up compensation packages, not to mention the abuse and fraud that is all too common.

The culture of government work would have to change and be more efficient, but with salaries that match the private sector and meaningful incentives and good management, there's no reason a government department cannot be as well run as a private business.

10 - Revoke all "crimes of thought" laws

Since human beings cannot read the thoughts of others, action is the only objective way to measure crime.  Anything else is a slippery slope that ends in total dictatorship and thought control.

Additionally, laws that criminalize thought are wasteful: they provide opportunity for endless diatribe and abuse.  History and literature are full of examples of criminalized thought being used to settle scores having nothing to do with crime.

Eliminating these laws can also be a bargain, as resources and people would not be wasted in enforcement and could be redirected to more useful purposes.

11 - Eliminate all obsolete laws and institute automatic sunset provisions

A comprehensive review of all laws should be undertaken and all obsolete laws eliminated.  All new laws should, automatically, have a term limit.  This duration would be the minimum necessary to correct the problem that the law is trying to address.  Thus the prerequisite for new laws are:
  1. What is the problem that this law would solve?
  2. What is the minimum time that it would take for the law to achieve this objective?
  3. Would this law actually solve the problem or just push it underground?
  4. What unintended side-effects would this law have?
Only after those questions have been answered satisfactorily, would the new law be passed.

There are so many laws that it is impossible to be a law-abiding citizen even if one tries.  Not only can this be used as a tool of oppression (via selective enforcement), but it is unfair to expect everybody to be a lawyer with expertise in all areas of law, which is what would be required to know exactly what not to do, and thus not be a victim of selective enforcement.  And even if one knew everything that is illegal, it is probably impossible to live without breaking some obscure law, as many are contradictory.

It can be argued that modern society is too complex for too few laws, but I wonder what this society would be like if it applied the principle of the Inuit tradition:  Once a year, the chosen leader recites all the laws. Those that he can't remember are automatically voided and well... forgotten.

Luckily, we still have presidential elections, so those with vested interests in the status quo couldn't appoint an idiot-savant that had memorized the federal register.

12 - End the immunity of politicians and government employees

If, in the enforcement of illegal/unconstitutional laws, a government employee causes harm or hardship (real or financial), not only will the government be liable, but also the individual government employee.

This will redress the balance of power, which is now so vastly in the government's favor.  The defense of the bureaucrats would be actually quite simple, as all the evidence will be public and easily accessible (see #4 above).

Furthermore, because of the degree of transparency achieved thanks to item 4, it is highly unlikely that any law or situation would come to that.

13 - Make politicians responsible for unconstitutional or illegal laws

A politician that proposes a law that is eventually declared unconstitutional should be prosecuted for breach of the oath of office. After all, don't all politicians swear to uphold the constitution?  The egregious cases (and there have been many proposed throughout the years) of clearly (to the casual observer) unconstitutional behavior or abuse of power should not be tolerated.

This would have at least two beneficial consequences:
  1. taxpayer money would not be spent on dubious laws and enforcement,
  2. individuals and non-government organizations would not need to spend the millions and years fighting clearly bad laws.
If legislating badly had consequences, there would be less of it.  It has become clear that the only bad consequence that currently exists, being voted out of office, does not have the necessary deterrent effect.

The case of state or lower level laws that conflict with federal law is even clearer.  Is it too much to ask that state, county and local politicians and bureaucrats do their homework before passing illegal laws?  Laws should apply to politicians and bureaucrats too.  If federal laws are too numerous or confusing for the lower levels of government, how can the average citizen be expected to be law abiding when government officials can't or won't, especially since they are the professionals of the law?  See item 11 about simplification of existing law.

14 - End selective enforcement as a tool of control

There is supposed to be equality under the law in the US.  Selective enforcement makes a mockery of it.  Selective enforcement is nothing more than the tactic of the gangster or school bully to set an example and keep everyone else in line.  It is control by fear.

Supporters of the status quo might say that there is insufficient police power to arrest all criminals.  I say that bad laws make too many people criminals.  Too many laws in combination with selective enforcement is the dictator's weapon of choice for absolute control. Item 11 above proposes a way to eliminate laws.  A national dialog needs to occur to revoke laws that make most of us criminals. After all what is the point of a law that if applied evenly would depopulate the country?  Could it be that the prison-industrial complex had a hand in it?  Or is it that the purpose of such law is to raise money?

15 - Repeal all "victim-less crime" laws

An even better, more far-reaching proposal is to repeal all "crimes" that don't have a victim.  A victim-less crime is a contradiction in terms.  If there is no victim, how can there be a crime?  No, I don't accept "crimes against god" or "crimes against nature".  The government is "by the people" "for the people".  And that's where its authority ends.  Historically, "victim-less crime" laws have had one and only one goal: to control behavior, and that is incompatible with a free country.  Freeing the resources currently allocated to such waste of time would make a big dent in the national debt.

16 - End the war on (some) drugs

This is an opportunity to save big time at all government levels. The US has one of the highest prison populations on the planet.  Most are there because of drug-related "crimes".  All inmates convicted of non-violent drug offenses should be pardoned and released.  Not only would this open up prison space for violent criminals that are being released early due to lack of space, it would solve other social inequities caused by the war on drugs.  Of course the prison-industrial complex would have a lot to lose here.  Imagine if all the money going to them were spent on treatment.  No more drug problem.  Keeping an inmate in prison is extremely expensive. Everybody has heard the arguments over and over and there's been plenty written about this subject, so here I stop.

17 - Review all laws that benefit a special interest group or industry

A comprehensive review of all laws, no matter how obscure, should be undertaken with the following question in mind: Who benefits from it?  If it is found that only a specific industry or special interest benefits, the law in question should, a priori, be determined a prime candidate for repeal, after proper public discussion.  All laws should be on the web and searchable, with links to the special interests they favor.

18 - End all tariffs (that by definition benefit certain special interests)

Tariffs have one universal consequence, they make a certain product (the target of the tariff) more expensive for everyone.  They also benefit a domestic industry or manufacturer.  In combination with the elimination of subsidies (see item 9), this proposal would make for a fairer marketplace and lower prices for most consumers.  It is not the purpose of this article to discuss the merits, or lack thereof, of globalization, which is happening whether we like it or not.

19 -  End all censorship laws and enforcement

The answer to bad speech is more speech, not less.  In any open society freedom of expression is paramount, thus, past decisions of the supreme court notwithstanding, there should be no restriction on speech, political, personal, commercial or otherwise.  There are already plenty of laws to handle fraud, defamation, and other consequences or certain types of speech.  Particularly outdated are the laws that apply to certain words in broadcast radio and TV. Technology has made these laws obsolete.  Rating systems in combination with parental control devices can take care of "protecting the children" which has often been used as the excuse to restrict all kinds of behavior, not only speech.

As an interim step, a "truth in censorship act" would require that all multi-media streams that have been cut, blanked out, silenced or otherwise modified from the way the creator intended have a written notice (for movies for example) a few seconds before the cut that explains that at the beep, a scene of x minutes or seconds has been eliminated and what the contents of that scene was.  I'd venture to say that if viewers knew exactly what they were being denied, they would revolt.


If you think that these ideas have merit, spread the word.  The country and the economy have been so mismanaged of late that the situation can only improve, but it won't happen with the same old ideas pushed by the entrenched special interests.

I'd be grateful for corrections of inaccuracies, references and additions.  Ideas and comments can be sent to: eclectic @ freeshell.org

Copyright © 2008, 2009, The Eclectic One.  All rights reserved.  To reprint in for-profit/for pay publications, contact the above address.