Most economists agree our tax system is broken. It's a Rube Goldberg device that does nothing well and a lot of things badly. Annual compliance costs alone are in the hundreds of billions of dollars, more than the economies of many nations.
Left, right, and center agree with William E. Simon, the former Treasury secretary, who said that "the nation should have a tax system that looks like someone designed it on purpose."
So let's do something everyone agrees we need to do, and in the process, start taxing bads instead of goods: pollution instead of income. Again, a carbon tax won't solve all our problems, but it's the sine qua non of climate fixes, and a market signal and a message to China and India that the U.S. is now moving on climate, and they can follow or be left in the dust.
Agincourt: Campaign Finance Reform
Perhaps tax reform is just too big a lift. Why not go after El Jefe of all problems -- one both right and left have aspired to fix -- the problem of money in politics? As with Henry V at Agincourt, we'd need both luck and strategic brilliance to pull this off. But if we did, as Shakespeare's King Henry said: "From this day to the ending of the world, we in it shall be remembered!"
Currently, politicians can't simply make the right decision, they have to make the decision that will allow the dollars to keep flowing in. This is madness. It means soul crushing 24/7 fundraising, and limited time to actually govern. What if, after the dust settles from this election, both parties asked the question: "Were we happy spending a billion dollars each to achieve nothing?" We've certainly proved the Mutual Assured Destruction of unlimited campaign spending. Publicly financed elections create a better world, allowing our elected officials the time and freedom to actually govern, to make the right decision, not the one that protects fundraising, and allows citizens and businesses to spend their money on things they really care about, like schools and churches, food banks and medicine and children. If you fix money in politics, you start to fix climate, and health care, and energy subsidies, and key problems with our democracy. Money in politics is the great structural failure of our republic.
People on the inside of the sausage factory tell me this is crazy talk, and that campaign finance reform can never happen, because the people who benefit most from the money -- the lobbyists -- are in charge. Perhaps even tax reform and climate legislation are themselves similarly impossible propositions.
But after this awful election, and after Sandy, many of us -- citizens, parents and patriots -- have had enough. We are mobilized for a fistfight, or worse. At Agincourt, a similar point of no return, King Henry V recognized the human willingness to shed blood in a battle worthy of the fighting. Climate is one such battle. If we tackle this problem in earnest, the rewards far exceed the pain. If we do this, as Shakespeare wrote:
...gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.