Ten Things That Should Be Laws

1. The government should buy more drugs. No, seriously.

This one is going to take some explaining; which I?ll do more in subsequent posts. In short, though, US law provides for a number of so-called free market mechanisms affecting the pharmaceutical supply. These include the orphan drug designation (which lets profiteers like Martin Shkreli jack prices), Medicare Part D, and medicaid reimbursement for generic drugs.

My idea: trash all of these plans, and instead let people buy drugs from the Department of Veterans? Affairs. The VA is already the largest single purchaser of pharma in the U.S. They are so good at negotiating rates other government agencies, such as the Defense Department, Bureau of Prisons, and Bureau of Indian Affairs have the VA buy their drugs for them. So let the VA buy for everyone else too.

2. Let everyone who wants to come into the U.S. in, and let them STAY.

First off, let me make clear what I?m advocating. Open borders, where anyone, from anywhere, can, in exchange for providing ID, a customs/smuggling/invasive species check of their belongings, and maybe a health check, they get in. Once in, a separate but similarly simple process to get a green card. Following a suitable period of residency, say, 5?10 years, citizenship (if they want it).

I?ve been struggling to think of a bad thing that would actually happen as a result of this. The biggest concerns would be that a flood of immigrants might cause downward pressure on wages and upward pressure on housing prices.

The good things: increased tax base, decreased costs for border enforcement, take away a labor market from drug smugglers. Oh, and it?s the right thing to do. Open borders would help people who need it, and do so in that most conservative of ways, by helping people help themselves.

3. Make every criminal defendant use the public defender system.

Right now criminal justice defendants face, in essence, two different systems. Rich defendants get out on bail; hire expensive, skilled counsel; and frequently are acquitted or lightly punished. Poor defendants can?t get bail, have overworked, underpaid public defenders, and often plead guilty to crimes they didn?t commit in order to get out of jail. Therefore, a poor defendant and a rich defendant, charged with the exact same crime, face far different outcomes that have nothing to do with their guilt or innocence. Since the wealthy are more likely to get away with crimes, they have less incentive not to commit them in the first place. Our system is very unfair.

Let?s level the playing field by outlawing private counsel and requiring all criminal defendants to be represented by public defenders. This, more than any one thing, will equalize treatment under our criminal system. For one thing, wealthy people will lobby for more funding and resources for public defenders, including hiring more of them. This is a model for public institutions generally ? if they are used by/benefit everybody, they are politically more durable and better for everybody.

4. Make all debts dischargeable in bankruptcy.

There should be no exceptions, or at least much fewer exceptions, to our bankruptcy laws. Student loans and mortgages on primary residences should be subject to modification or discharge in bankruptcy, with the borrower in many circumstances keeping the house. This isn?t a giveaway or for free. Anyone who?s declared bankruptcy can tell you how much it screws with your life. If you can, it?s usually easier just to pay your debts. But, allowing discharge of these debts keeps people from being trapped by them forever, and prevents damage to one?s neighbors as foreclosed houses can lead to lower valuations and neighborhood blight.

5. The rent is too damn high. Build up, build dense.

Allowing builders to build larger apartment buildings and smaller homes in more areas will increase supply of those buildings and lower housing prices, while encouraging more and better mass transit and use less carbon. Urban sprawl costs the U.S. over a trillion dollars annually. No, that isn?t a misprint. Time to fix this.

6. Every state, territory, and district under U.S. control should be represented by voting members of the House and Senate; and be able to cast votes for the Presidency.

Washington DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and many other places are currently subject to American laws with less than full and equal rights to make those laws. This is antidemocratic and unconscionable. If this means making these places states, so be it.

7. All children in public school should get free hot breakfast and lunch.

Giving only some children these benefits incurs costs differentiating between eligible and ineligible children. Moreover, it creates a distinction, a stigma between children who get free lunches and those who don?t. In addition, parents whose children don?t qualify for free lunch would benefit too, because they wouldn?t have to remember to send their children with money or lunches made at home.

8. Disclosure, disclosure, disclosure. Let?s have more data available to the public, on a variety of topics.

Once upon a time, companies had to disclose how much they polluted overall and by facility. Let?s do that again. While we are at it, let?s include carbon emissions as well. Other things to disclose, in no particular order: all government support companies receive, whether in the form of contracts, subsidies, price supports, or tax breaks. Make them disclose this in absolute amounts and percentage of revenue and profit. (Oh, this should apply to privately held companies as well as public ones. I know this will force private companies to disclose their revenue and profit. I?m OK with this. Fuck ?em). The goal here isn?t to outlaw these practices. Rather, it?s to encourage public pressure on these companies to change.

9. No company can be bailed out by the federal government, either directly or indirectly, without first going through bankruptcy. Period.

During the 2008?2009 financial crisis, large banks accepted billions of dollars of aid to fix a mess they created. Many would have failed without this aid. In other words, these banks were bankrupt. However, thanks to the largesse of the U.S. government, they didn?t have to declare bankruptcy. This protected not only their customers and depositors, but their shareholders, and worst of all, their management, at the expense of everyone else. The banks were able to continue as they had before, still too big to fail, still run by the same people who created the crisis in the first place.

The managers and shareholders of the big banks did not pay a price for their mistakes. They should have, not so much because it would have helped in the current crisis, but it might have helped in preventing the next crisis. If you wipe out the shareholders and managers, they will be more cautious the next time. Hopefully.

10. Make local government pensions the responsibility of their states.

Right now too many states operate as holding companies vis a vis the local governments within them. They collect revenue in the form of state income and/or sales taxes, and they don?t necessarily return all of that money to the citizens who live there or their local governments. Moreover, states can and do change how much money they contribute over time, so cities making decisions about the next fifty years of pension obligations can?t be sure how much money they are going to receive from their state governments. If the states reduce what they contribute, the cities can, and are, screwed.

So stop this. Make the states responsible directly, and have them stop trashing their own metro areas.

I?ve got more, but since it?s the end of the year I?ll hold myself to just these ten. Feel free to let me know what you think below. Thanks!

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