For nearly 250 years the world has marveled at and been inspired by America’s grand experiment in enlightened democracy. Our success had become the gold standard in governance and serving the common good. Unfortunately, our sacred values have eroded and America has lost its way.
The Thomas Paine Society is a private non-partisan Think Tank that is dedicated to developing ‘Common Sense’ solutions to America’s challenges. Our mission is to employ a fact-based approach in identifying and promoting balanced win-win optimal solutions that will enjoy popular support.
The bad news is – as almost everyone fully realizes (86%!) – our governmental system is broken. As a result of the toxic tribalism and polarization (fostered by our self-serving duopolistic system and its ‘party over country’ focus) we have become totally dysfunctional. And it’s gotten a lot worse as the ‘purists’ and zealots have managed to control the primary contests…which all too often nominate hard-core loyalists pulling both parties toward their extreme ‘values’. Compromise and moderation have become dirty words. And in that environment nothing constructive gets done – since the focus largely becomes how to debase, denigrate and defeat the opposing party. When is the last time our elected officials have had any genuine bi-partisan and collaborative dialogue or initiatives on addressing our vital and existential issues….let alone take any effective curative actions whatsoever?
The good news is that it’s gotten so bad…that 86% of Americans are now in agreement with one thing: that our system is broken and needs to be fixed. That is a fundamental positive; without that consensus there would be little reason for hope.
Moreover, the other important good news is that our problems are solvable. And most of the solutions are fairly simple! (That, of course, is not to be confused with ‘easy’!) The fact of the matter – as is somewhat attested to by our 50-50 split in political views – is that both parties are effectively half right and half wrong. Well, this isn’t rocket science. If we ‘simply’ and objectively meld the ‘half rights’ from each party we have the makings of balanced win-win solutions. This principle is nothing new. Aristotle observed over 2300 years ago that the “answer often lies in the golden mean between the two extremes.”
Hence, the Thomas Paine Society is being guided by this wisdom, and will be seeking and advocating golden mean “common sense” solutions to the below national challenges. In a perfect world (…well, just a reasonable world) we would have a third party that could provide a voice and leadership for the balanced, moderate and centrist views that are held by a plurality of Americans. While the formation of such a non-partisan ‘country over party’ political entity would be a game-changing breakthrough, the two major parties have successfully thwarted that through a number of monopolistic tactics. Currently a number of organizations (see below) have galvanized to fight the deeply-entrenched voting and financial barriers which have doomed the viability of 3rd parties. This battle to rectify our un-democratic system is a highly worthy and essential ‘long game’ to shift these political tectonic plates. However, in the meantime there is an opportunity and need to recruit and support courageous patriots who will act as statesmen and put their country before their party …or themselves. And quite simply, during these evenly-divided times it would take only a small coalition of non-partisan independents to literally dictate the policies that are legislated by Congress. (Witness the impact of a single Senator, Joe Manchin!) Such a coalition of rare brave souls should go into the Simpson-Bowles mode and advocate fundamental comprehensive and lasting solutions to our country’s intransigent problems. The formation of this caucus is the first step. The second step is the careful crafting of win-win solutions which will enjoy popular support. While there are umpteen permutations and variations to such optimal solutions, the Thomas Paine Society would offer up the below ‘common sense’ concepts as a starting point in the discourse.
1. Exploding National Debt.
Our Debt has gone up dramatically in the the last several years and has exceeded $30 trillion! At the current trajectory it is a mathematical certainty that our country will go broke. While the baby-boomers will manage to avoid that catastrophe…the younger generations will suffer the full impact of this collapse in the coming decades. We are robbing them of a viable future…and it is outright generational theft! (And for all you God-fearing seniors you need to know that God has reserved a special place in hell for anyone that would steal from their grandkids…there is no greater evil.) The good news, again, is that there is a simple solution: we simply need to live within our means and balance our spending with our revenue. We’ve done it before and we can do it again.
- Congress should enact a binding mandate that ‘qualified’ annual budgets must be limited to a deficit of 2% of the GDP. (The last two years have averaged deficits of 13%!)
- Accordingly a rigorous process of analysis, prioritization and trade offs MUST take place regarding all cost and revenue components. In particular we need to do a VERY deep dive into the sustainability and cost/benefit of our monstrous entitlement programs – which make up over 50% of our annual budgets. We need to provide a skinnied-down ‘safety net’ – instead of creating excessive non-essential government spending that becomes a ‘hammock’.
- Limited adjustments may be permitted during recessionary periods, and bona fide infrastructure expenditures can be exempted from the ‘qualified’ budget deficit calculation.
- Failure by Congress to pass a ‘qualified’ budget will result in a suspension of their compensation. (That’s their job!)
2. Immigration Reform.
- Acknowledge and declare that immigration has been and continues to be a vital and beneficial dynamic to our country’s welfare.
- In order to remain a healthy positive benefit the immigration quotas going forward MUST be predicated upon the needs and capacity of our economy. And accordingly it must function under a sustainable and highly regulated legalization system.
- Currently we have both the need and capacity for two categories of immigrant employees: manual labor and high-tech workers. (While there may be a genuine national security concern regarding immigrants from a handful of hostile nations, in the meantime we should aggressively fulfill our needs from our countless allies throughout the world.)
- In the process of shifting to a formalized legalization program, we must at the same time address our dilemma of 11 million illegal immigrants. Given our tremendous need and desire for such manual laborers we should allow these long-time inhabitants to continue plying their trade…while we offer to put those with clean records at the front of the line to become legalized citizens through a rigid immigration process. (Yes, that means “amnesty”. While that’s an unpleasant concept to many it is clearly the optimal way to resolve this vexing issue…and one which our country has been fully complicit in creating. Bottom line, we need such workers – and their long and productive stay in America positions them as the safest and best applicants.) For those who do not desire to convert their citizenship we can resort to win-win legalized (tax-paying) guest worker and seasonal visa programs.
- In order to protect the integrity of the program (and frankly have the makings of a bi-partisan deal) we need to ‘seal’ the border in order not to have a repeat of the illegal immigration debacle. Likewise it becomes imperative that we strictly enforce punitive penalties for all companies and employers that provide employment to illegals.
- We need to eliminate ‘sanctuary cities’. There should not be a legitimate reason for such when we legalize the ‘unauthorized’.
3. Energy Policy and Climate Change.
- America needs to launch a ‘Manhattan Project’ to aggressively develop and subsidize sustainable renewable energy sources which allow us to transition away from our polluting carbon-based fuels.
- In the meantime we do need to maintain enough capacity in fossil fuels to be fully energy-independent from ANY other country!
- To help the market system prioritize ‘preferable’ fossil fuels we should enact an effective carbon tax.
4. Wealth and Income Inequality Gap.
Capitalism at its extreme can be a very harsh system that’s not optimal for the common good. Ultimately it necessitates some level of balance in order for a democracy to fully embrace it. While outright ‘redistribution’ of wealth is an undesirable extreme…so is the current absurd reality that the 3 wealthiest individuals in our country have more wealth than the bottom 50% of Americans! The below measures can help the pendulum swing back into better balance…and sustainability.
- Adopt an ’employee fairness’ doctrine that addresses both ends of the spectrum. This would involve legislating a 2-level corporate taxation policy. Any ‘good’ company that subscribes to a practice of limiting CEO pay to 25X that of their average employees would pay a discounted corporate tax of 25%, while all ‘bad’ companies who violate this threshold would pay a normal rate of 31%.
- Levy a 2-3% surtax on any personal income over $10 million and a 5% surtax on income over $50 million.
- Eliminate ‘carried-interest’ and other tax loopholes for the wealthy created by lobbyists.
- Rectify the step-up provision that eliminates capital gains in inheritances.
- Tax corporations fully on their reported/stated income to shareholders. Too many highly profitable companies are managing to pay minimal or no income taxes due to loopholes and tax breaks. (55 large profitable companies paid zero taxes or received tax rebates in 2020. Collectively their total income was over $40 Billion…and their ‘bill’ ended up being $3.5 Billion in tax rebates!!! This is no way to run a country.)
- Assess a 1% annual tax on billionaires. (Over the last several years America’s 25 richest billionaires have a ‘true tax rate’ [based upon realized and unrealized gains or their wealth growth] of only 3.4%…and then these unrealized gains never get taxed due to the above ‘step-up provision’.)
5. Racial Equity and Justice.
- We need to reform judicial and penal policies to eliminate any inherent discriminatory practices.
- We should teach a version of CRT which simply and only recounts history …and an understanding of our current racial situation. It is not mutually exclusive to both identify the ways in which America is THE greatest country in the history of the world AND still identify mistakes and flaws in our past that warrant attention and remediation…as we aspire toward a more perfect union.
- Given our systemically inferior inner-city schools we need to create a nationwide charter school network in our metropolitan areas which will allow every desirous inner-city student to get an equally high quality education vis-à-vis ‘white’ suburban schools. There are presently a number of operative charter school models that are experiencing profoundly favorable outcomes – and their formulas are both replicable and scalable. Providing this high quality of education for millions of black students throughout our country would cost only a fraction of 1% of our annual budget! This is the only identifiable way to begin to rectify our entrenched predicament of de facto black inferiority. (Realistically speaking – if ANY group receives an inferior education…that will manifest itself in a number of suboptimal consequences throughout their lives, ergo ‘inferior’.) When, in fact, there is a certifiable solution to this problem (that we created!) and we opt not to employ it…then that is effectively systemic racism. Shame on us.
- And, to complete the equation, we should offer free or greatly discounted college scholarships to needy black applicants. Likewise we should have affordable programs to provide access to technical/trade schools and community colleges. Lastly, we should incentivize employers to provide paid internships for aspiring blacks.
- Bottom line: we broke it; we need to fix it. We need to give these innocent kids a fighting chance to get out of the hellhole that we helped create.
6. National Security Measures.
- Fix the grid.
- Assure that all vital supplies lines can be provided through domestic producers – at whatever incentives, subsidies and costs may be necessary.
- In order to remain competitive and secure we need an equal focus and obsession on the R&D of vital scientific fields: semi-conductors, artificial intelligence, medical technology, space exploration, cyber warfare capability, etc. Other countries which are hostile to us aggressively (and wisely) subsidize such research and development…and we are compelled to do likewise.
Suggested resources to inform and stimulate one’s thinking.
Michael Douglas, Unbreaking America. If you do nothing, nothing is going to change. Your voice matters.
Majority in U.S. Say a Third Party Is Needed. A majority of Americans, 57%, say there is a need for a third, major political party, while 38% of Americans believe the current two party system does an adequate job of representing the people. These views have been consistent since 2013.
The Least We Can Do. Self-absorbed, self-indulged, and self-loathing, the Baby Boom generation at last has the chance to step out of the so-called Greatest Generation’s historical shadow. Boomers may not have the opportunity to save the world, as their predecessors did, but they can still redeem themselves by saving the American economy from the fiscal mess that they, and their fathers and mothers, are leaving behind.
Survey: Most Americans believe government broken. Americans overwhelmingly believe that the government is broken, according to a national poll. But the CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey also indicates that the public overwhelmingly holds out hope that what’s broken can be fixed.
You Paid Taxes. These Corporations Didn’t. About twice as many of the largest U.S. companies reported they didn’t owe taxes in 2018 compared with previous years, a partial result of the 2017 Trump tax law, according to a report.
The Three Richest American Hold More Wealth Than The Bottom 50% Of The Country. That was the gist of a recent report published by the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C.
The 20% Solution. A Republican is trying to inject some budget sanity into Congress. Will it take? This “20% Solution” proposed by a former Congreeman is an example of a budget-balancing strategy.
Unbreaking America: Solving the Corruption Crisis. The government is ours. We pay for it. So it needs to work for us.
Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin
The Centrist Manifesto, Charles Wheelan
Timeless Wisdom, Gary Fenchuk
Think Again, Adam Grant
1984, George Orwell
Non-partisan Political Organizations:
• Unite America
• The Bulwark
• No Labels
• Issue One
• Renew America Movement
Below are some advertisements that summarize the concerns of many Americans. You can download these by clicking on the image.