PROBLEM: RISING SEAS
As oceans rise and weather becomes more extreme, we face two choices. Like every civilization before us, we can deny the environmental changes and watch our world collapse from inaction. Or unlike any civilization before us, we can see these extreme environmental changes as an opportunity to start building a better, happier, sustainable civilization as we gracefully move to higher ground. At 400ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere today, at least thirty feet of sea-level-rise is unstoppable no matter what we do - THAT is an indisputable fact. How we deal with that fact is our choice.
Yes, the entire Lowcountry - nearly all of the 1st Congressional district of South Carolina - will be underwater at high tide before this century closes, perhaps before you, reading this, will die from old age. Yes, with a thirty foot sea-rise, most of the major historical sites of our civilization will be underwater. And yes, there is nothing we can do to stop the oceans from rising. So I suggest we make the most of this slow-moving disaster and see it as an opportunity to use all we know to build the civilization we’ve always wanted.
SOLUTION: THE FEDERAL COASTAL PROPERTY PURCHASE PROGRAM
To do that gracefully, I propose a federal Coastal Property Purchase Program (CP3) that offers a good price for the land and buildings of people living barely above sea level today. Purchased buildings are then dismantled, some historical buildings moved piece-by-piece to higher ground, but all adding the remaining empty land - lot-by-lot - to the growing national seashore, and employing thousands of people while doing so.
Here’s the catch, and the opportunity. People who choose to be bought-out will have their home sale funds placed in an escrow account usable ONLY for the purchase of other property more than one hundred feet above sea level. If you CP3 your house on Sullivans Island, you can’t buy another one anywhere near the shore.
The result? In a few decades, millions of us will have gracefully migrated from what will soon be ocean bottom, preventing the world’s largest refugee crisis, and ensuring no one gets rich off the misfortune of climate refugees.
Afraid your home on Folly Beach will be destroyed by the next hurricane? Afraid you’ll never be able to sell your Edisto beach house? Opt into the CP3 and get a fair price for your home. Your mortgage is paid off, you get some moving expenses, the rest of the dollars stay in escrow until you’re ready to buy a house in Orangeburg or Branchville, Denver or Atlanta, or anywhere else in the world more than a hundred feet above today’s high-tide line.
Every year, the number of people eligible for the program increases as the oceans continue to rise. Every year, more houses are dismantled that would have been destroyed in the next hurricane, littering our coastlines with toxic debris. Every year more coastal land goes back to nature, ready to go underwater in the coming decades. Every year more people move to newly-built cities away from rising seas to live more comfortable and fulfilling lives.
I expect a few people living less than three feet above sea level would take this deal today. I expect many thousands more will take this deal just before next year’s hurricane threatens their homes. I expect many millions more will take it a decade from now when sunny-day high-tide flooding becomes a weekly occurrence, flood insurance is no longer available, and FEMA stops paying for storm-destroyed homes in coastal flood zones.
Forty years from now, Folly and Edisto, Hilton Head and Hunting Islands may have just a few die-hards living in their off-grid houses. Town services would have ended years before as the sewage lines flooded, the drinking water went salty, and the cost of maintaining electric lines got too high. A few hardy and wealthy souls would remain, surrounded by the increasing wilderness of ever-shrinking barrier islands, unconcerned about the costs of moving should their houses become destroyed in the next hurricane, unconcerned that boats are the only way to get to and from their homes.
How could Holly Hill or Orangeburg or any of the other South Carolina towns a hundred feet above sea-level today handle the new influx of thousands, then millions of climate refugees in the coming decades?
Another component of the CP3 would provide federal funds to build the infrastructure for new cities that incorporate all we know about urban planning and sustainability to make better, more people-centric and fossil fuel-free lifestyles. Imagine hundreds of new human-scaled cities all over the country, all over the world, designed for people, not cars, all a hundred feet or more above today’s high-tide line.
New Charleston could grow in the fields north of Holly Hill, overlooking the Santee Bay that used to be Lake Marion. Nuo New York could grow in the highlands above the Palisades, Nuovo Boston in the Blue Hills of Quincy, Nuevo Miami in the cattle pastures south of Cypress Gardens. This could be a grand second phase of human civilization, an acceptance of our place on this planet and the beginning of a new epoch as we finally become good stewards of this earth.
If we get completely off fossil fuels in the next decades, we might be able to keep the oceans from rising more than a hundred feet. Maybe two hundred years from now our descendants will gradually move back to the edge of the beachless oceans fifty feet below New Charleston. Maybe five hundred years from now, new beaches will be big enough to give our descendents an idea of what our lives were like before the great floods of the 21st century, unable to comprehend how we almost destroyed the world.
PROBLEM: ANTHROPOGENIC GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE
While the consensus from the United Nations study on the problem says oceans may rise more than three feet by 2100, some reputable climate scientists are saying that height and date represent the conservative end of the spectrum of possibilities. Some consortiums of reputable climate scientists are saying the reality may be closer to ten feet of ocean rise by 2050.
The 1st congressional district of South Carolina, where we live, has an average elevation above the high-tide line of well less than ten feet. Roughly half of James, John, and Wadmalaw Islands, and the Charleston Peninsula will be underwater twice a day with a ten foot ocean rise. Most of Edisto, Kiawah, Hilton Head, Sullivan’s, Isle of Palms and McClellanville will be underwater twice a day with ten feet of ocean rise and much of the islands will be underwater even at low tide. See for yourself with this interactive map.
Those of us alive today will be last generations to experience beaches. Sand beaches take thousands of years to develop. With an ocean rise of potentially a few feet every decade for the next two centuries, generations of future humans will never experience beaches. Instead the shoreline could be a scary place filled with the floating debris of a civilization that waited too long to take action.
While rising oceans will be the most visible and intrusive part of global warming for the Lowcountry, other impacts will probably be much worse, especially if we don’t take action now. Climate change means historically fruitful growing areas could change, as we’re seeing now in the central valley of California. California’s drought, now widely accepted as a result of climate change, is making what had been America’s vegetable growing area into a desert. Climate change made eastern Syria into a desert, forcing mass migrations into Syrian cities which caused civil unrest, a protracted war, the deaths of dozens of thousands of people, and the migration of hundreds of thousands of others into Europe. Imagine what will happen when other agrarian societies can no longer grow food. Imagine what will happen if the climate changes to dry out the Lowcountry.
Worse still is the prospect of climate change run wild - a worst case scenario that many climate scientists think might be inevitable in just a few years if we continue to dump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In this scenario, the warming atmosphere melts all the permafrost in the northern latitudes causing the long frozen bacteria within the soils to come alive, do their thing and output greenhouse gases. Additionally, the warming of the oceans could reach the point at which the vast reserves of frozen methane currently just sitting on the bottoms around the world, would start to melt, releasing yet more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, accelerating the process. Eventually, perhaps within a few decades, earth will rise to uncomfortably hot temperatures everywhere, too hot for most living creatures to adapt to, too hot for us to adapt our economy to, causing the collapse of civilization as we know it.
None of those scenarios are what I want to force my grandkids and their grandkids to live within.
SOLUTION: A CARBON-FREE ECONOMY
Most climate scientists ‘hope’ that if we completely eliminate any more greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere within the next decade, the worst impacts can be eliminated - i.e. no runaway climate change. At this point, and with another decade of greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere, ocean rise might stabilize out within the next couple centuries at something less than fifty feet higher than today. Yes, the Lowcountry will be gone. But if we put systems in place today, our great great grandkids might have a resilient enough society to survive and thrive.
When I started driving big-rigs around the country, I realized there is absolutely no way our current civilization can change from liquid petroleum fuels to anything else. I would burn more than a hundred gallons of diesel fuel a day driving more than six hundred miles. Multiply that by another million trucks all over America and the math simply doesn’t work out to try to make even just the big-rigs on America’s highways into electric vehicles. Electric vehicles simply push the burden of energy production further up the supply chain. Without either a massive increase in nuclear energy production (which I won’t support) or space-based orbiting solar farms providing energy twenty four hours a day, we simply can’t provide enough energy to power America’s truck fleet alone, not to mention the millions of cars on the roads.
However, there is another more efficient and simpler way to utilize solar power - photosynthesis. For the past few decades dozens of researchers have been experimenting with the conversion of solar energy into oil via photosynthesis. It turns out that some strains of algae - pond scum - are particularly efficient at producing oil. In fact, today, algae-derived oils are used in a number of cosmetic products. Efforts are underway to scale up the process to produce thousands or millions of gallons of oil everyday.
The advantage of biological sources of oil, compared to underground sources of oil (fossil fuels) is that the plants that produce the oil pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to create the oil. That’s what plants do. They breath in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen and create carbohydrates or oils while doing so. When the oil is burned as fuel, the carbon dioxide produced by the combustion process simply go back where they were a few weeks or months before - back into the atmosphere. Therefore the burning of bio-fuels are “carbon-neutral” - no net-new carbon based gases, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide or methane are ADDED to the atmosphere. The same amount of those gases simply recirculates through the process from being in the atmosphere, to being used by the algae to produce oil, to being burned and put back into the atmosphere. While using bio-fuels will not reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it will keep the amount there today from increasing.
So how do we get off fossil-fuels and onto bio-fuels?
There are only three ways the government can incent the behavior of it’s citizens or corporations. Laws or regulations making an action required or illegal, tax policies that make an action cost prohibitive or more profitable, or grants that fund actions. I suggest a combination of all three to incent the current petroleum production companies - Exxon/Mobil, BP, Sunoco, etc., to very quickly switch from pumping oil out of the ground to producing oil from non-food biological sources, like algae. See Responsible Corporations for tax policy methods that might alone provide enough incentive to petroleum company investors. Perhaps a moratorium on oil exploration would also be effective. And federal research and development grants could quickly accelerate the scaling up of bio-fuel production methods to the levels necessary and at the efficiency levels required to meet America’s needs, and soon enough those of the rest of the world.
Trillions of US dollars have steadily trickled up and out of towns and cities across America as national and global businesses have taken increasingly larger chunks of the average American's paycheck. Drive down the main drag in any town in America and notice the businesses - McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC, Pep Boys, AutoZone, Dollar General, Bed Bath and Beyond, Best Buy, Office Depot, Staples, Ross Dress for Less, Walmart, etc. While some fraction of the dollars these businesses collect are recirculated within the town as employee compensation, a larger fraction of collected dollars go back to the corporate headquarters wherever that may be to pay the substantially higher compensations at the corporate headquarters. Profits from those corporations - the accumulated trickle-up from thousands of towns across America - and corporate employee retirement dollars then reside in the global Wall Street investments that provide the best rate of returns.
Dollars that trickle-up to corporate employees and stockholders do nothing to help the communities the dollars were gathered from. This continual drain of dollars over the past thirty years or more has left most American towns and their citizens struggling to survive with fewer and fewer dollars. In an attempt to fix that problem, city and state elected officials are willing to low-ball any other city or state to lure new industries to setup in their town to provide an influx of new dollars - promising tax breaks and state investments that shortchange the entire community in an effort to get new dollars back into town.
After a lifetime of seeing a town crumble before your eyes, is it any wonder that everyone with money to spare also invests in Wall Street in the hopes of winning enough dollars to eventually retire and escape their crumbling hometowns for some place better to spend their final years?
How do we repurpose the trillions of dollars of investment currently in Wall Street back into our local communities?
How do we help grow our local businesses, encourage new businesses, instill innovation in new generations of Americans and have experimental capitalism take root all over our country?
SOLUTION:"LOCAL COMMUNITY MUTUAL FUNDS"
As an entrepreneur I know well the struggles of coming up with a business idea but not having the funding to pursue it. Or worse, gaining initial funding but then being unable to get further funding when your business has an opportunity to grow. While there are trillions of dollars flowing through the stock market, none of those dollars reach entrepreneurs and small business owners out here in the real market.
I'm proposing that we incent people to invest in the entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized businesses in their own backyards and put that money to use making their local communities healthier and more innovative. Let's create a new type of tax-free local-only investment vehicle which pools the investment of local people and distributes that pool of dollars to local start-ups, established businesses, non-profits and even individuals, in the form of equity or debt financing, or grants. Investors in the funds would be share-holders, receiving either dividends or just increasing value of those shares which could be traded locally.
While these local community mutual funds would make only wise investments which are likely to yield a financial return or at least break-even, the goals of the funds would not just include a financial return. The fund managers would seek investments which would provide good jobs, good infrastructure, good creativity, good culture, and be sustainable in the long run to the local community. While those things are of no importance to people investing in the stock market, they are all of high importance to citizens of a community. Using a model similar to online crowd funding, investments for the fund, whether equity, debt or grants, could be decided by online votes from the fund investors - the local community. It's conceivable that a local community mutual fund in Charleston alone could eventually represent billions of dollars of investment.
People saving for retirement often find their retirement funds full, but the communities they live in completely empty. Let's ensure retirement investments aren't just in dollars, but are in the health and economic sustainability of our local communities. By allowing people to annually invest into their local community mutual funds - tax deferred, like a 401k - we could quickly see a local renaissance of innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship in a new generation of people, and a rebirth of many communities ravaged by the departure of local capital investment dollars.
PROBLEM: CORPORATIONS BEHAVE BADLY
Google has within their formation documents a guiding principle to "not be evil". But now, just a few years after they formed, many people would argue that Google has been evil lately. Witness the corrupting power of big money on everyone.
How do we use the power of capitalism to solve most of the problems we face?
How do we incent corporations to take full responsibility for their employees, their communities, their waste streams, and all the economic externalities they've been ignoring?
SOLUTION: PROMOTE RESPONSIBLE CORPORATIONS
B-corps, "Benefits Corporations" were started a few years ago in an effort to force corporations to essentially "not be evil" regardless of how much money they gathered. B-corps add a sentence to their formation documents that is just a little more specific than "not be evil" - to be in business to earn a profit but to also benefit their people, benefit the community they are based in, and not damage the environment and the planet. Essentially, B-Corps are as concerned about helping their local communities as they are about earning profits. When the rubber hits the road, and profits decline, B-Corps don't lay-off their employees. When profits could be increased by moving their manufacturing to Asia, B-Corps accept the lower profits and keep all their people employed and their local economies thriving. When choosing between a manufacturing process which would result in lots of waste but would increase profits, or a less profitable but more sustainable manufacturing process, guess what B-Corps do?
B-Corps can go through a certification process which ensures they're not just talking the talk but walking it too. The highest certification rating is 200, which implies that a B-Corp is entirely sustainable in both it's supply lines, it's waste streams, and it's delivered products or services.
B-Corps are what every corporation should be. Imagine a world with nothing but corporations that ensured their supply, waste and product streams were completely sustainable - no "externalities" passed off to you and me.
Imagine what a paper company would look like as a 200 rated B-Corp. The hundreds of tons of wood chips arriving at their plant every day would be from certified sustainable forests (or other less woody pulp products?). The trucks delivering those tons of materials would also be certified as the most efficient vehicles possible. The pulp creation process would result in waste products that could be collected, reused, recycled or repurposed, not dumped into the local river to kill all marine life, or pumped into the atmosphere for everyone within twenty miles to have to suffer through the stench of their manufacturing process. Why wouldn't we want an odorless and completely sustainable paper mill that cares for it's people and it's community?
I propose we provide incentive for ALL corporations to be as responsible as B-Corps. Perhaps via a different corporate mechanism and with a different certification process. But I propose that any corporation that can certify they are 100% sustainable in every way - no leaking externalities - should pay no federal income taxes. Zero corporate taxes. Ratings lower than 100% sustainable would pay increasing levels of taxes. Ratings of zero, would pay considerably higher corporate taxes than they pay today - no loopholes.
Taxes are a dis-incentive to actions we determine are detrimental to our society, our economy, and the long-term survival of our civilization. So let's use the elimination of taxes to incent corporations to take full responsibility for their people, their communities, and the sustainability of their supply, waste and product streams.
Imagine what the shareholders of Exxon/Mobil might demand in order to increase their profits by eliminating all corporate taxes. Perhaps Exxon/Mobil would determine that switching to an algae-based oil production method - 100% sustainable and carbon-neutral - would be more profitable given the increased taxes on their continued business-as-usual. Perhaps by simply promoting B-Corps and other sustainable business models via tax policies, the most evil corporations would be incented to do the right thing for ALL of us, not just Wall Street.
PROBLEM: GREED IS DESTROYING CIVILIZATION
The research of Paul Piff, below, and others clearly shows that as a species we have a problem with the quest for and attainment of "success", however a society measures it. Among many experiments over many years, all duplicated by other researchers around the world, Piff experimented with a rigged game of Monopoly. Piff had dozens of people play the game, all fully aware the game was rigged to give a chosen player an unfair advantage of more money, more winnings, more turns, etc. Despite the fact that the one chosen player knew they had an unfair advantage, after playing just minutes, the designated winners “felt” privileged and entitled. It was evident in their body language and mannerisms and they all reported the feelings afterwards. It seems we humans are hard-wired to rationalize good-fortune not as simply good-fortune or a game rigged in our favor, but as something earned and deserved, and that is a serious problem.
I have a friend, and you probably do too, who twenty years ago swore he'd get out of the rat race and settle into a cabin on a lake as soon as he had three million dollars saved up. But when he got that three million he realized he actually needed six million, so he kept working another decade. But when he had six million in the bank, he realized he needed ten million . . . Many of us have experienced exactly the same phenomenon, I know I did it. When I was deeply involved in my career in the high-tech industry, I measured my success by my yearly salary.
The creator of the Ace Ventura movies and others, Tom Shadyac made a movie titled "I Am" to explain his personal experience with his quest for dollars - the measurement of "success" in America. In the movie, Shadyac asks how much money is too much money for one person? At what annual income level does getting paid well for a job well done become a single-minded psychotic pursuit of money just for the pursuit of money? Really, how much money does anyone actually NEED to live comfortably? And is ANY job so much more productive than any other job that someone has actually EARNED a thousand times more money than someone flipping burgers? Can someone actually do something productive, that helps society, that is worth thousands of dollars per hour of effort?
All through the history of western civilization there has been a battle between aristocracy and democracy. Today the aristocracy is a plutocracy, in their positions of power because of their wealth not their blood lines. But still, people who feel entitled, people who are privileged, tend to ruin the world. If we know that humans tend to get stupid and selfish and make decisions that hurt the rest of society and the long-term prosperity of civilization whenever they get too rich, why haven't we created legislation to keep people from getting too rich? We know alcohol and drugs can become very addictive and destroy individuals and families so we limit people's access to them. We know gambling can become an addiction for some people and destroy individuals and families so we limit it's access. We know sex can become an addiction for some people and destroy individuals so we limit it's access.
We know extreme wealth can become an addiction for some people and destroy not just individuals and families but entire civilizations, and yet we don't limit the access to extreme wealth?
Let's stop the pursuit of wealth from destroying our society and make that pursuit work for ALL of us, not just a tiny fraction of us. That's "Greed Management". Let's link the financial success of the richest Americans to the financial success of the poorest Americans. Let's get our national focus back on doing good and advancing civilization, not on being obscenely wealthy.
By simply implementing a 100% tax rate on all incomes above 100 times the minimum income, we can change American society to ensure it continues well into the future doing good and advancing civilization, and working for ALL of us.
At today's minimum wage of $7.25/hour, if someone works forty hours a week flipping burgers, they can earn $15,080 in a year. With a "maximum income" defined as one hundred times the minimum income ($15,080), the 100% tax rate would be applied to anyone's income above $1,508,000. Any annual income above that level - regardless of how it was earned - via rents, wages, dividends, interest earned, capital gains, whatever - would be taxed at 100%. i.e. no American could take home more than $1,508,000 regardless of how much money they actually earned.
What one job on the planet arguably holds more responsibility than any other? President of the United States (POTUS)? Yet the POTUS earns less than $400K a year. Throw in the sweet benefit package the POTUS gets and perhaps his total compensation is closer to $1.5M a year. If the job of POTUS pays less than $1.5M a year, is it possible to argue that any other job should pay more than that? Can anyone's effort provide more benefit to the long-term prosperity of humanity than the job of POTUS?
Raise the minimum wage to $15/hour and the maximum income level would rise to $3,120,000 per year. With an income of $19M/year, under this new rule for our economy, basketball star LeBron James would take home $3.12M/year. So would Donald Trump. And Bill Gates. Regardless of how much they had been paid or earned any other way. Think about how people and employers would react to that.
If LeBron James would be paying $16M in federal taxes every year, both he and his team would probably decide that he should be paid considerably less than that, while still taking home the same amount of income every year. We would also allow LeBron to invest perhaps an equal amount of dollars in a local community mutual fund, tax deferred. And of course he would still be able to stock away some money in IRAs and 401ks, also tax-deferred.
The end result for LeBron's team would be a considerably smaller payroll, for both their players AND their owners and managers and investors who would also be able to take home no more than $3M. Would that lead to lower ticket prices for NBA games? Would it lead to more basketball teams forming in smaller cities? Would it lead to smaller stadiums and arenas being built in more cities across America? More kids making it into the NBA? More dollars being distributed to more people to spread throughout the economy instead of in just a handful of people getting so much money they can't even spend it all? The bottom line, reducing the take-home pay of the people at the top of our economic pyramid would most likely lead to more innovation, more invention, and much more investment at lower levels of the economy, helping ALL of us via a boom in the economy.
I worked for IBM for seven years. I came into IBM as part of a $23.5M purchase of the twenty-three person innovative division of a 500 person company. Yes, I was traded to IBM. I discovered over those seven years that most large companies are most effective at innovation when they acquire small innovative companies. The slower pace in large companies, the numerous engineering approval processes, the many layers of approval for any action, all tend to dampen innovation in large companies, as I witnessed once I was inside IBM. So to continue growing revenues, large companies often buy smaller companies.
If the executives at IBM had their maximum income limited to $3M, like LeBron, would it change their business model? The current CEO Ginni Rometty, had a total on-target compensation plan of $6.6M in 2015, and $13.3M in IBM stock. With current federal tax schedules, she's probably going to take home about $3M this year, about the same as she would under a maximum income plan.
However, IBM might be incented to divest themselves of some of their divisions and spin them off as independent and hopefully more innovative and profitable companies. Stock holders may feel they can get more value out of their stock investments with smaller companies. Alternatively, many stock holders may trade out of IBM stock entirely and switch many of their dollars into local community mutual funds because of their tax-free status.
General Electric is similar to IBM in that they have grown over the past half century primarily through the acquisition of smaller, more innovative companies. Their current CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, will earn as much as $8.5M this year if he reaches his targets. He may see a big hit to his take-home pay with a maximum income plan in place. Therefore GE might also make some divestment and spin-out changes to their organization to again create more shareholder value with smaller and hopefully more innovative and profitable companies.
Whether Mr. Immelt would want to still manage such a large company as the current GE for a maximum income of only $3M, would be an interesting test in the personal motivations executives have. Are they entirely coin-operated, or are they working for some other reason? That would be a test every corporate executive, every wall street banker, hedge fund manager, professional athlete, professional investor, and entrepreneur would have to go through.
Would the current crop of those people decide to still put in the effort for only $3M a year? Or would we see a new type of executive rise through the ranks who is motivated by something other than money? Would those new executives, investors, bankers, and entrepreneurs - like many of the millennials fresh out of college who are struggling to start careers - would this new generation be more interested in living a balanced life in which the personal pursuit of great wealth is not even in the top five concerns for their lives?
Would implementing a maximum income plan make Americans a more thoughtful, less materialistic, and more future-planning people? Coupled with the other legislative actions I'm proposing, that is exactly what I'm hoping to accomplish.
PROBLEM: UNEMPLOYMENT RUINS LIVES
When I left IBM in the spring of 2007 after seven years with them, and nearly twenty years of success in other high-tech companies before IBM, I had no clue I would never be able to find as good a job again. I was 47 years old and had not pursued an MBA because my career had been going so well. I discovered later that not having an MBA kept me from even being considered for any new position at the corporate level I'd been at. And at 47 and out of the high-tech industry for more than a year, I learned later, I may as well have just quit looking. At that point I was "stale" and not a desirable hire - despite more than twenty five years of experience.
Unfortunately, after having experienced an ever increasing annual salary over the previous twenty five years, my expenses had grown to match that salary. My monthly expenses required more than $8,000 a month just to pay the bills. Within two years I'd burned through all my meager savings and withdrawn all of my considerable 401k in the expectation that I'd get an offer for another equally high-paying job in the next couple weeks. Then the next couple weeks. Then the next couple weeks. I finally had no cash left, not enough income to pay all the expenses, and I lost my house and everything else.
So in hindsight, I'd been fiscally irresponsible by thinking I would always have such a high income and racking up such high monthly expenses. I also quickly became "stale" so no employer wanted to hire me for any position at any company, doing anything. And my job loss only preceded the job losses of millions of other people. An economic downturn in the housing market led to a collapse of the banking system and ultimately with millions of people suddenly with so much less money to spend every month, shopkeepers had no choice but to lay-off more people for lack of business, which led to further reductions in purchases, which led to yet more lay-offs throughout the economy. That's how economic recessions and eventually depressions occur - too few people with too few dollars to trade throughout the economy leads to more people with too few dollars to spend, etc.
How do we stop unemployment from destroying the wealth and lives of Americans?
How do we make multi-generational poverty part of our history, not America's future?
How do we incent every American to be more innovative, more daring, more entrepreneurial, more creative and lead a more fulfilling life?
How do we incent every American to be fiscally responsible?
How can we ensure recently unemployed people do not become "stale", but keep up on their skills and learning, ready to be re-hired?
SOLUTION: THE AMERICAN JOBS PROGRAM
America doesn't have to be this way. Think about this. What if you knew, no matter what happened to your job, your marriage, your health, as long as you were willing and able to work, you could get a job - guaranteed - providing a living wage with full benefits doing meaningful work in your community? I know what I would have done. I would have never increased my monthly expenses above what that guaranteed job would have paid me - regardless of how much money I would have earned in any other job. And while I've always been a risk-taker, I bet lots of people, knowing they could always fall-back to that guaranteed job, would take a lot more chances with their careers, trying entrepreneurial ventures they would have never risked before for fear of losing everything. (And entrepreneurial ventures are exactly what every society needs to advance - experimentation and failure followed by more experimentation, and eventual success).
As important, people in "guaranteed" jobs would always earn a living wage - enough to hold onto their accumulated possessions and wealth. Especially if they had been fiscally responsible enough to never increase their expenses and debts beyond what the guaranteed job would pay. Twenty years from now, when guaranteed jobs are the norm, it's likely that every kid in the country would be fiscally responsible enough keep from losing it all with a risky venture.
The end result of a job guarantee program? No loss of accumulated wealth from long-term unemployment. No unemployed people going "stale" and becoming permanently unemployable. Most Americans finally becoming fiscally responsible. Many more Americans following their dreams and trying out all those crazy ideas they never would have risked before, likely leading to a renaissance of creativity and innovation in America. And maybe, just maybe, an end to multi-generational poverty in America.
I've tested the idea of a job-guarantee program against a number of real-world situations. You can read about that on a number of old blog posts.
Click here to read an excellent overview of Chartalism, the economic theory behind the job guarantee program.
PROBLEM: IGNORANCE BREEDS FEAR. FEAR BREEDS HATE.
I’ve heard it said that racism is a “family value” taught by one generation of a family to the next. The same could probably be said about all fears of “the other” - people who are not like us in either gender, skin color, culture, sexual orientation, religion, or perhaps any other distinguishing difference - racism, islamophobia, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, bigotry in all it’s forms. How can we keep kids like Dylan Roof from learning to hate people who are different than them?
SOLUTION: AMERICAN KIDS = GLOBAL CITIZENS
Mark Twain said "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness" and my personal experience tells me that is completely true. So to eliminate those traits from America, let's send every American kid on four trips during high school, two within the US, two outside of the US.
At the start of every year a lottery assigns locations across America for small groups of kids to travel to sometime that year. Every Freshman (9th grader) is assigned a week or ten days of travel to a location in America that is the opposite of where they now live. In small groups of no more than five or six. Kids in Charleston might be sent to small towns anywhere else in the country to live with a local family for their week away. While there, they may attend the local school, hang out with local kids, experience the local culture, see the local museums and historic sites, do what the locals do which is probably pretty similar but also a little different than what the locals do in Charleston. White kids would be assigned to primarily Black or Hispanic or Asian families and/or communities, and vice versa. Before going on their journeys, kids would research where they’re going, start communicating with their host families and the local kids who will be there when they arrive, learn the local cultures and languages. When they return they would write reports and make presentations about everything they learned and present them to their classmates. All across America, 9th graders would be meeting other Americans who are nothing like them, returning home and talking about what they discovered.
Sophomore year (10th grade) the lottery would send small groups of no more than six kids along with an adult chaperone or two to the major cities of America. Kids from Bluffton, Edisto, Moncks Corner, all over the 1st district, would travel to New York, or Denver, or Chicago, or a dozen other large cities to attend museums, see the local sites, try the local foods, go to a local show, attend a local festival, play frisbee in a local park, do everything tourists to that city would do plus meet with local kids their age who aren’t out traveling at the same time. As in 9th grade, kids would research their assigned city before going and connect with local kids who will be there during their week away. Again, all across America, 10th graders would be meeting other Americans and experiencing the best that big American cities have to offer, then returning home and talking about what they discovered with their classmates who had been to other cities across America. A big part of high school becomes a focus on the outside world, becoming a citizen first of America, then of the entire globe.
Junior year (11th grade) the lottery would send small groups of kids along with a chaperone or two to the major cities of the world - Paris, Hong Kong, London, Shanghai, Cairo, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Toronto, Rome, etc., to have them spend a week or ten days experiencing all that city has to experience. As in the previous years, returning kids must share their experience with their classmates and must have prepared for the trip by researching where they were going, learning the local culture, history and some of the language, and then reporting on their trip upon their return.
Senior year (12th grade) the lottery would choose locations in the developing world countries in Asia, the Americas and Africa. Kids would again research their destinations, communicate with people who will host them before they arrive, learn some local language, and perhaps take on a project to help their hosts while they are there. American kids should see the desperate situations most of the people around the world live in.
My hope is that by expanding the teen years of American kids beyond their neighborhoods to include first the entire country and then the rest of the world, we will create new generations of Americans more open to unfamiliar cultures, peoples and thoughts and less fearful of “the other”. My hope is that in an environment in which every kid in high school is constantly talking about where they’re going and where they’ve been, who they’ve met and who’ve they’ve become friends with all over the world, a kid like Dylan Roof would never be insulated enough to hate anyone different from himself. My hope is that a kid like Dylan Roof would instead reject the fear and hate taught in his family and never be able to do what he did.
Secondarily, my hope is that with nearly eight million American kids traveling all over the world every year, those kids become our best ambassadors for America, befriending other kids all over the planet. Perhaps a lot of those kids who today see their best option in life as being a suicide bomber would think twice about that limited future. Perhaps our American Kids = Global Citizens program would become an exchange program for students from all over the world. Perhaps we can reduce the number of extremists around the world when the next generations realize American kids are little different than they are.
PROBLEM: MILLIONS OF AMERICANS ARE STRUGGLING TO SURVIVE ON STARVATION WAGES
Wealth inequality is the elephant in the room that many of us are ignoring. Please take the six and a half minutes to watch this video, then read the "solution" I propose below.
SOLUTION: PROVIDE A LIVING WAGE TO EVERYONE WHO WORKS ANY JOB.
After my fall from the heights of the American economic ladder, I’ve lived as so many of my fellow Americans do - paycheck to paycheck with nothing in savings. When I was driving trucks across America, some low mileage weeks meant that by the next Wednesday I had just a few dollars to last until payday on Friday. I learned that always having a spare jar of peanut butter in reserve is a very good thing.
Nobody working forty hours a week should be living off just peanut butter a few days a month. None of us flipping burgers, or pushing broom, or taking care of our children or seniors, or digging ditches, or doing ANY job in America should be concerned about where our next meal will come from. None of us should be concerned about how we will pay the electric bill, whether we will have enough to pay rent at the end of the month, what kind of trouble our kids got into since we last saw them, worry about getting fired if the bus is running late today, or any of the thousand other fears people struggling to survive on starvation wages face everyday.
Life is about much more than just paying bills and dying. When President Roosevelt created the minimum wage in the 1930s, his intent was exactly that - to provide a wage that people could live comfortably on no matter what the job they were doing. Somehow we’ve forgotten that goal over the past forty years. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation, it would today be above $20/hour. Perhaps more importantly, trillions of dollars would now be in the bank accounts of the three quintiles of Americans (from the video above) who now have no "wealth" or very close to it.
The most common argument I hear from all ends of the political spectrum regarding raising the minimum wage is “if we raise wages, then prices will go up”. The reality shows that simply is not true, even if that’s what the billionaires want you to think.
I just read Warren Buffett’s letter to the shareholders of the company he heads - Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett is one of the wealthiest people on the planet but admired for his humility and the simple life he lives. His letter is an interesting read, if you like the language of money and/or want to get some insight into the minds of the investor-class of Americans. Here’s the link to the annual report. http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/2015ar/linksannual15.html
One statement in particular caught my attention, in bold below, after you get a feel for Warren Buffett’s sense of humor.
"Woody Allen once explained that the advantage of being bi-sexual is that it doubles your chance of finding a date on Saturday night. In like manner – well, not exactly like manner – our appetite for either operating businesses or passive investments doubles our chances of finding sensible uses for Berkshire’s endless gusher of cash. Beyond that, having a huge portfolio of marketable securities gives us a stockpile of funds that can be tapped when an elephant-sized acquisition is offered to us."
Despite all the public complaining by the Republican Party about the Obama administration, the investor-class of Americans (the one percent from the video above) are having the best years of their lives, the best years in American history. A continuation of the current economic policies into another eight years is exactly what most wealthy people want, (which is why Warren Buffett has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president and why a Trump presidency scares the hell out of the elites of the Republican Party who despite their objections to the contrary are only working for the 1%).
But here’s my point. If the investor-class is experiencing an “endless gusher of cash”, do you really think that by simply doubling their minimum wage employee compensation expenses, probably one of the lowest expenses they have, they would risk raising prices and lose customers? Wouldn’t it be less risky to put up with a slightly smaller “cash gusher” for awhile until market conditions re-stabilized at a new level of profitability? Especially if the entire business world is experiencing the same increase in employee compensation costs at the same time.
My experience in making business decisions tells me that’s exactly what would happen. Prices will not increase to match an increase in the minimum wage. Instead, corporate profits will slightly decrease for awhile until the market adjusted. No good corporate manager messes with a winning formula unless necessary, and no manager ever wants to adjust two variables at one time. Better to wait and see what happens with an increased minimum wage before making any changes to the formula for the “gusher of cash”. In fact there’s a very good argument that with more customers with more money to spend, (the previous poor who with a living wage would suddenly have some disposable income), competition among businesses and an increase in sales volume might lead to lower prices for many products and an increase in hiring.
It IS quite possible that the owners of some labor-intensive, marginally profitable businesses that rely on starvation wages to realize those minimal profits, will choose to close down rather than accept lower profits. But businesses shut down everyday all over America because profits don’t match expectations. That is just how business works. Other, better run competitive businesses which are able to realize a higher profit with a higher labor cost will most likely snatch up the already trained employees of the failed business. That too is how business works. The net result would be no net loss in jobs and perhaps even, as noted above, an increase in overall business as more previously poor people now have more money to spend requiring businesses to hire new people to service all the new customers. That’s how economies grow, from the bottom up. Trickle down economics is a myth.
PROBLEM: AMERICA HAS THE HIGHEST GUN DEATH RATE IN THE DEVELOPED WORLD
Below, a friend of mine describes a tragic event that occurs across America every day but happened here in Charleston in January.
"I just got some very f-d up news....
Me and a friend just started a GED program. We got two young boys as the two first people in the program.
Both were looking to leave the streets and use this program to start a better life. In fact they had a job offer on the table pending them passing their GED exam
Yesterday one of them got into an altercation and instead of fighting or shooting, he took the high road and walked away. And as he walked away he was shot by a coward. He died.
We lost one of our cubs over some BULLSHIT!
Rip Lamonte Simmons
Please help keep my friend lifted in this situation. He was very close to the young man. Anybody who has info on This murder please contact police. This young brother was going to be somebody."
I admit, a few years ago I dismissed violence like this as “just gang-bangers killing each other” and didn’t see it as a problem for the rest of us in America. Like so many people who have economically insulated themselves from unpleasant parts of our society, a few years ago I didn’t see this as a tragedy because it was too far away from me. But over the past couple years, I’ve come to know the parents, brothers and sisters, children, and now tutors of people killed by senseless gun violence and I recognize any needless death as a failure of our society. A failure I want to fix.
Gun violence is a complicated problem. Some people might say it’s a family problem - “I raise my kids right so they don’t get into trouble like that.” But it really does take a village to raise a kid and I think we ALL have a responsibility to raise ALL the kids in our village right so they don’t get into trouble like that. But try as we might, some kids will have what it takes to kill another kid for little more reason than just an insult. And handguns make the hot rush of testosterone driven rage so much easier to cause permanent damage. Now, in the case of Lamonte Simmons, one kid who was working to turn his life around is dead and at least one more kid will spend his life in prison, probably wishing he’d never gotten that gun. This is a tragedy.
SOLUTION: SENSIBLE GUN LAWS
In 2015 I helped form the non-profit organization “Gun Sense SC” (now called "Arm in Arm SC") which is educating South Carolinians on the efficacy of universal and comprehensive background checks on ALL gun purchases. Background checks, when implemented with no leaks in the purchase process, have been proven by their implementation in a number of states around the country, to reduce gun deaths by half. That is the goal Gun Sense SC has adopted - reduce gun deaths in SC by half - from more than 600 to closer to 300 every year. Given the evidence from other states, this is doable in South Carolina.
As an engineer and economist, I couldn’t help but dig down into the mechanics of how background checks work so effectively. I discovered background checks are simply the first step America could take toward reducing gun deaths to a tiny fraction of what they are today. But, like so many solutions to complex problems, the process is a bit too complicated to easily understand. I’ve been struggling over the past few months to reduce what we must do, down to the simplest possible terms. So here it is.
What is boils down to is, we must not support the “bad guys”. The goal of gun purchase background checks is to identify “bad guys” - people who have proven they are not safe and/or sane enough to handle the deadly force that guns enable. Universal and comprehensive background checks will keep the bad guys from purchasing guns from any unsuspecting “good guys” - the people who have proven they ARE safe and sane enough to carry guns. The only way a bad guy could then buy a gun is from another bad guy - someone who is willing to go to prison for selling that gun. That’s called the black market for guns. Our goal is to shut the black market off from getting any new guns, then drain the black market of most of their existing guns. Like in any market, scarcity increases prices. Reduce the number of illegal guns and the result will be an increase in the price of the guns available for sale on the black market. We want to make guns too expensive for most bad guys to purchase. We want the same five hundred dollar handgun sold by a gun shop to a “good guy”, to cost ten or twenty thousand dollars when sold by the black market to an identified “bad guy”.
Universal and comprehensive background checks are the first step toward that goal. But no action occurs without causing a reaction. If bad guys can’t afford guns on the black market, they’ll simply steal guns from the good guys who own guns. With a ready supply of more than 300 million guns sitting in drawers and cabinets in the homes of good guys, it’s easy pickins. We could see a crime wave of gun thefts like nothing that has ever been seen, flooding the black market with a new supply of cheap guns. The only way to stop that theft from happening is to require the good guys to keep their guns in gun safes, like so many countries around the world now require. If you don’t want to keep your gun in a gun safe, you’re helping the bad guys by making it easy for them to get guns, and you should probably be penalized for helping them. Don’t help the bad guys. Get a gun safe and keep your guns off the black market and out of the hands of the bad guys.
The final step in the process of reducing gun deaths in America is to institute a nationwide gun buy-back program. If you want to keep your guns, go ahead. But with an offer for just a hundred dollar grocery coupon, Los Angeles had thousands of guns turned in. It’s conceivable that if enough of us felt safe enough with the implementation of universal and comprehensive gun purchase background checks, and enough of us felt safe enough knowing gun safes will keep guns from being stolen and used by the bad guys, it’s quite possible that millions of us would sell our unused guns in a buy-back program.
Since so many "bad guys" aren't really "bad", but are troubled boys just trying to earn a living anyway they can (and for some people at the edges of society that happens to be illegally), I suspect a lot of bad guys will trade in their unused guns also. (Especially if they have an option like the American Jobs Program, have the kind of education the American Kids = Global Citizens program would provide, are offered local investment to start their own businesses that the Local Community Mutual Funds would make available, and have the kind of inspiration that the Search for Planet "B" would provide.)
With millions fewer guns finding their way to the black market, the price of the remaining guns would increase even further putting them out of reach of even more people who shouldn't have guns.
When handguns are too expensive for most bad guys to purchase, it’s very likely the poor kid who shot and killed Lamonte Simmons would have punched him in the face instead. Let's not help the bad guys. Let’s keep tragedies like this from happening. Let’s give everyone a chance to be somebody. When in Congress I will support all sensible gun legislation that allows the good guys to keep guns, but identifies and keeps guns out of the hands of the bad guys.
1. CIVILIZATION IS VULNERABLE TO COMPLETE DESTRUCTION
The podcast “Radiolab” did a program that dramatized the latest scientific thinking about exactly how the dinosaurs were killed by the asteroid that hit the Yucatan so many millions of years ago. The story we’ve all heard - a giant dust cloud covered the earth killing all the plants which starved all the dinoasaurs - apparently is inaccurate. The latest thinking is that within a couple of hours of that asteroid hitting the earth, the entire sky all over the planet was filled with falling thousand degree temperature liquid rock, baking the surface of the earth at more than 500 degrees for a few hours as it came down. When it was over, everything that wasn’t underground or underwater was dead. Everything was dead. Everything. Here’s the link if you want to listen to it. Engrossing but frightening. http://www.radiolab.org/story/dinopocalypse/
From the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab website http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/sl9/back2.html
"NASA knows of no asteroid or comet currently on a collision course with Earth, so the probability of a major collision is quite small. In fact, as best as we can tell, no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years. To be able to better calculate the statistics, astronomers need to detect as many of the near-Earth objects as possible. It's likely that we could identify a threatening near-Earth object large enough to potentially cause catastrophic changes in the Earth's environment, and most astronomers believe that a systematic approach to studying asteroids and comets that pass close to the Earth makes good sense."
While we now have an underfunded program that watches for big rocks that might hit us and do the same thing again, we have no way to do anything about it when we find one. Remember that movie “Armageddon” with Bruce Willis and a cast of equally colorful characters that destroyed an asteroid headed for earth? That was a movie. Today, as a civilization, we have nothing that can even get us to the moon much less chase down an asteroid and plant a nuclear bomb on it. (Yes, I’d volunteer to stay behind and push the trigger.)
I worked for a number of years for IBM in what is called the “data protection” industry. We had products that created digital data duplicates and automatically distributed them to numerous disbursed locations in case anything happened to the primary data location. Generally the discipline is called “backup” and we’re all ‘supposed’ to do it for all our data, but few of us do. Big corporations, banks, federal government agencies all perform backups religiously because they know their business, their dollars, and people’s lives are depending on that data, That experience of working with IBM got me thinking about backups for just about everything in my life - plan “B”s.
So what’s our backup plan for human civilization? What’s our plan-B? What do we do when some astronomer discovers a mile long chunk of rock heading right for us? Today, we got nuthin.
2. WE NEED TO END ENDLESS WAR
To a carpenter, every problem looks like a hammer could fix it. To the country with the strongest military the world has ever seen, every problem seems to cry out for a military solution. I'll make the argument that if we ever want to see an increase in peace on planet earth we'll have to dial down our aggressive stance toward everyone else. Every bad boy we kill with a drone only creates a dozen new bad boys who hate Americans.
Today we pay the highest technology companies ever created, employing thousands of brilliant people, to make machines that kill humans in new and more efficient ways. We’re now spending six hundred billion dollars on defense every year. Fortunately, some in the military think that’s more than they need. But Lockheed and Boeing, Grumman and Raytheon, and all the other prime military contractors and the congress people who represent them will not allow the US defense budget to decrease, and with good reason. Here in the 1st congressional district of SC, a large portion of our population earns a living off the US defense budget. If the US defense budget were cut just a little bit, many areas of America, and perhaps all of us in the Lowcountry would experience a crippling economic recession.
So if we want to promote peace rather than war, how could we shrink but repurpose the defense industry to peaceful means that can help all of humanity?
3. DO WE JUST GO TO WORK, PAY BILLS, THEN DIE?
I often have conversations with young people fresh out of college, with thousands of dollars worth of debt and not very good job prospects. The common refrain is, "is this what life is all about, just going to work, paying bills, maybe making some kids, and then you die?" Everyone seems to be longing for something more. Why are we here? What is the purpose of civilization? If we are the Universe looking back on itself, what are we supposed to do? If God created us, is this all he had in mind?
ONE SOLUTION: SEARCH FOR PLANET “B”.
GETTING INTO SPACE WILL ELIMINATE THE RISK OF THE COMPLETE DESTRUCTION OF CIVILIZATION
It's time we started colonizing other planets. No more “space exploration”, we need to start “space colonization”. We need to build rotating space stations able to float at the Lagrange points between the Moon and the Earth. We need to get a colony on the Moon and another on Mars. We need to expand our civilization to Mars and raise the first human Martians. We must build more colonies first in the Asteroid Belt and then on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. We must start an economy between all those colonies and more even further out. We need to get people working on advanced space propulsion systems so we can reach our neighboring stars in a less than a human lifetime. Most importantly we must develop and test whatever technology is necessary for us to identify and nudge out of the way any earth threatening rocks in space. We're one asteroid away from the complete destruction of 50,000 years of human advancement. Let's have a backup plan so if the earth is again destroyed, all that we’ve lived for, all that we’ve created can live on in our colonies. Let's find Planet "B".
Naysayers might recite NASA's statements that "no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years" and consider a return to space a high-priced boondoggle. But if we don't start now, when should we? If it takes us a hundred years to develop a robust enough planetary defense system to nudge an asteroid into another orbit, and one shows up 99 years from now, will it seem like a boondoggle then? The week the news comes out that we're all about to be destroyed, will this seem silly or will people wonder why their grandparents didn't have the foresight to plan for such an event? As I discovered in the data protection business, no one considers "backup" necessary until after they've lost their data. We can't afford to lose everything civilization has brought us to. We can't afford to get the timing wrong on this.
If this sounds like fantasy to you, consider this recently introduced plan to send hundreds of tiny space ships off to our nearest neighboring star Alpha Centauri, backed by Stephen Hawking, among other leading scientists.
If you think NASA already knows all that is to be known about our solar system, watch this fascinating explanation about what is called "Planet 9", one of the possible explanations for what we're learning about the outer fringes of our solar system and why big rocks seem to get hurtled toward the sun every few million years.
GETTING INTO SPACE WILL REPURPOSE SEGMENTS OF THE DEFENSE INDUSTRY TO PEACEFUL ENDS WITHOUT CAUSING A RECESSION.
Let’s start offering Space Colonization contracts to the prime military contractors while simultaneously downsizing the defense budget to the size the generals think is most appropriate. If we’re careful we can keep the overall total number of federal dollars going out for space and defense about the same, putting no one out of work, causing no economic damage. And as needed, we increase the space colonization budget to handle whatever we need to handle.
GETTING INTO SPACE WILL GIVE ALL OF HUMANITY A COMMON PURPOSE FOR THE CONTINUATION OF CIVILIZATION - EXPLORATION BEYOND OUR HOME.
I see this as the next step in our civilization, and a required one that we’ve put off for too long. Besides the obvious benefit of enabling our civilization to exist if the earth is destroyed, a massive effort to colonize other worlds will focus the energies of people all over the world on a single mission - the survival of humanity and the advancement of civilization. A focused mission, a reason we’re all working together, has been sorely missing from America and I think is something that might help ALL of us to feel like we’re part of the solution rather than just living, paying bills and dying. Everyone in every reach of the economy will be able to trace how they are personally contributing toward the advancement of mankind by doing their part. My hope is that this mission of exploring beyond the earth helps us ALL to live more fulfilling lives and stops many of the petty disagreements that have kept humanity warring among ourselves for so long.