Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Lesson 19 Tax Reform and Simultaneous Organization

Who is up next? I am. My name is Tax Reform. My friend healthcare already struck out. Budget, debt limit, and immigration will be up in future innings or maybe in future games. I don’t know.

No, government policy is not a baseball game. But it sure seems like one as policy deliberations and decisions flow sequentially from one month (inning) to the next. 

What other choice is there? While it seems almost crazy to mention, a better choice is to do it all at once – simultaneous instead of sequential.

We seem to be focused now on tax reform. But we are already hearing that you can’t do tax reform until you settle healthcare. Or you can’t get much accomplished with tax reform until you settle the budget or change the debt ceiling. It’s all related. Who came first, the chicken or the egg?

There must be a prize in government that is awarded to the people who make simple things impossible. People make budgets all the time. So do companies and churches and drug dealers. We plan and make budgets because this activity produces better results. Instead we could wake each morning and make a new decision. It’s Tuesday so maybe I will buy a TV. It is Wednesday so I might sell some shares of stock. It is Thursday, and I will get a job and earn some money.

Sound stupid? It should. But this is the way government works each year. The main reason that sequential budgeting does not work in government is that each policy affects many aspects of our lives. A given policy helps Nolan while is hurts Jenny. Of course, Jenny and her friends scream bloody murder. The next policy helps Jenny but not Nolan. Nolan organizes his kindergarten buddies, and they throw rotten eggs at guilty politicians. The upshot is that sequential decision making gets nowhere because EACH decision has a natural resistance.

Better would be a more simultaneous approach. Let’s take five different areas of policy and find the best solutions. Policy 1 helps one group. Policy 2 helps another group. Policy 3 might help both groups. If you decide and then announce all five policies at once, it is harder for resistance to form. For one thing, figuring out the net effects on people might not be easy when summing up all the pluses and minuses of all the policies. For another, it might be the truth that most of us benefit from the whole package, warts and all.

The above is too abstract. Think next how this might play out in the real world. Good planners begin with a statement of problems. Once the problems are known they can then think about the remedies. What are our national problems?

Low labor participation
Low capital spending 
Slow economic growth
Unequal distribution of income
High government debt
Inefficient tax system
Too little/too much government spending
Too much/too little government regulation of business
Pimples, JD, and other

We can argue about these problems and their order of importance but it seems possible that a fruitful beginning step by national policymakers would be to list these problems according to some definition of priority or importance. Ties are permissible. Just rank them, damn it.

Then they would produce a list of policies that might address one or more of those problems. Such policies would include tax reform, tax cuts, government spending changes, reforms to healthcare, immigration policies, and so on.

Assign every policy a positive or negative number as to how that policy might impact each and every problem listed. Note that a tax reform policy might help the rich more than the poor in dollar terms. A government spending policy might do the opposite. Do not try to make every policy help every problem and every person. Each policy should have an intended benefit though with side effects.

Summarize the positive and negative impacts of each policy on each problem area. The first round of this simultaneous approach will find some policymakers do not approve of the results. Go back at it and adjust each policy so that the net result of all the policies is acceptable. No set of policies will make everyone happy. This approach has a chance of finding a solution that recognizes that not every policy will make everyone happy but that the sum of all the policies generally improves things.

Every major organization works this way. The board approves a comprehensive plan whose purpose is to best meet the goals of the organization – be they marketing, finance, or human resources. They do not go from day-to-day making decisions willy-nilly. Call me a dreamer for believing that government can be thoughtful and goal focused. But that just shows how we have come to accept idiotic and failed approaches to our very important problems and goals. Or maybe, like watching a good fist fight, we revel in the blood and guts. Government policy is pure entertainment. In that case, we deserve what we get. 


  1. Dear LSD. Yep, we certainly deserve what we get. Govomit doesn't operate like private-sector orgs--in the latter non-performing, incompetents get fired. In the former they get promoted/re-elected. History says we like it that way. Maybe it's time to amend the Constitution re: term limits.

    1. Don't those same morons have to legislate term limits? They would only do it if the voters demanded it. Where are those voters? Perhaps they are on their phones.