How to balance the budget and boost the economy without raising taxes
There are two things the American people can do to lift the recession and get more folks working. Two simple actions, both offering multiple levels of benefits, and neither will cost one more dime than we spend already.
First, we can reduce our spending on defense and security by a huge amount. Start by closing half of the more than 900 overseas military sites the Pentagon currently maintains and bring all National Guard reservists home from overseas duty right now. Continue by expanding the size of the Guard, reassigning members to improve security at our national borders and all ports of entry, then increase the Guard’s ability to respond to natural disasters here at home.
A revitalized National Guard could make improvements to federal and state infrastructure projects, increase national security and provide citizens who have military experience an opportunity to use the skills they developed while serving as soldiers. Those benefits would come without any change in current tax rates or spending levels.
It’s impossible to measure the exact amount spent on national defense every year, because it’s spread across dozens of agencies. Hundreds of millions more are directed into classified projects that never show up in any agency account books. It’s safe to say, however, that the total of all military-related spending accounts for more than half of all federal spending.
At least $100 billion could be redirected in the first year without making many changes at all. Closing half of our overseas facilities would free up at least $400 billion over the next three years. Ending all military expenses in Iraq and Afghanistan might put another $500 billion on the table.
That’s one trillion dollars right there, money we could use to provide services, create jobs or lower taxes at the federal level. Or we could pay down much of the national debt during those first three years.
Voting to close military installations overseas is something politicians will not do of their own accord, as they want to be seen as standing strong in support of national defense and generally approve all military spending requests regardless of the economic state of the country. Between the need for better security at home and our ever-shrinking national bank account, however, a global military empire is a luxury we can no longer afford.
The second simple action we can take right away would be to insist that state and federal government agencies restore the legal status of hemp as an agricultural commodity that any American farmer can grow. As a part of that action, also restore the legal status of the cannabis trade in order to tax the existing industry just as we tax the alcohol industry. Then channel all of that new tax revenue into law enforcement and public education.
Hemp production and the manufacture of hemp-based products is exactly the kind of new industry this country desperately needs. The number of jobs created in the first year would be relatively small, perhaps 50,000 nationwide. But that number would increase every year as more products are developed and marketed to consumers.
Hemp is a remarkable plant with hundreds of existing uses and an almost unlimited potential for creating new products. It could be a large, homegrown industry in every state with a climate suitable for large-scale agriculture, as hemp can thrive in a wide range of growing conditions.
Our own government has decided that citizens can’t grow hemp because of its look-alike cousin, cannabis. Yet both plants are excellent examples of government restraint on free trade, a practice that most Americans claim is restricting job growth and hurting business in every sector of the economy. Outlawing the hemp industry is exactly the kind of government interference that many Americans consider unconstitutional.
The government has granted $277 billion in farm subsidies since 1995. Tobacco growers have received $1.3 billion during that time in direct subsidies for a crop that produces a highly toxic and addictive substance. Congress justifies those kinds of agricultural supports because the industry provides jobs.
Prohibition is an expensive, foolish policy. It’s been doomed to fail from the start and it’s a practice we can no longer afford. As one example, Philadelphia law enforcement stopped jailing people last year for possession of less than 30 grams of cannabis. According to the district attorney, this approach has saved the city over $2 million in the first year with no negative effect on the residents’ quality of life.
The illegal cannabis trade is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. Restoring the legal status of cannabis could create as many as 100,000 jobs, nationwide, overnight. That number would mushroom quickly into perhaps 250,000 jobs within the first year. Tax and license fees would generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue for every state.
The end of Prohibition nearly 80 years ago altered the way alcohol producers and distributors did business, but it didn’t change their product or its impact on people. As soon as they became licensed and taxed, folks in the liquor business magically morphed from criminals into respected members of society.
We now hold public events featuring prominent winemakers; we praise their product, pay high prices for it and offer it to guests in our homes. All the while, backyard cannabis growers sit in jails nearby at public expense for engaging in a similar kind of agriculture and distribution.
Instead of giving police money from taxpayer’s pockets to combat the cannabis trade, we could be giving them cannabis tax revenues to combat violent crime, which is the primary purpose of the police force in a democracy.
Two simple things. Easily enacted, easily implemented at no added cost to taxpayers, with benefits spread across a broad spectrum of society. Unfortunately, they won’t happen unless a strong, consistent message is sent from the citizenry to our representatives.
If we are serious about shrinking the size of the government and reducing the deficit while improving the economy, we can make that happen. That’s our responsibility as citizens – because our current crop of elected representatives doesn’t have the courage to take action on their own.
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