Social Security – the Personal Option

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One of the greatest problems that we face as a country in the US, is that too many people end their working life without assets they can use for their years after work. Another issue is that many people do not benefit from overall improvements in the economy. They have no stake in the game. And a third problem is that Social Security will exhaust its trust fund within a small number of years. For the third problem, there are solutions that will push the day of reckoning for Social Security out decades longer into the future (raise the taxable base, limit further the benefits paid to workers who earn well above the median wage, small increase in the Social Security tax rate). But I’ve not seen any proposal to solve the first two problems. This post provides a potential solution for these critical issues.

First, some background. The Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index, known as the S&P 500, is an index of the largest companies by stock valuation that trade in the US. Since 1926, it has included at least 90 companies, so that its performance is nearly a century old. Since 1957, it has contained 500 stocks. If you invested money in the index in 1928, just before the Great Depression, it would have earned an average of 9.6% per year if you continued to reinvest the dividends. So over time, the investment earned at a higher rate than investing in bonds, and that covers all of the stock market declines since then. Other stock indexes exist that track US corporations, and they show similar rates of growth over time.

The proposal is this. Out of the current 12.4% of employee contribution (split evenly between employee and employer) that currently goes into the Social Security fund, allocate 2% of new employee contributions into a personal account that invests in a stock index fund of companies based in the US. All dividends from the stocks will be reinvested into the personal account. At the time when a person takes Social Security payments, this person will have the option of converting the account to an IRA rollover, or converting it to an annuity.

A simple spreadsheet model shows the potential value of this approach. For someone at the lower end of the income spectrum, a person with salary income of $30,000 per year whose salary increased by 3% per year for a 40 year working career, the personal account would be worth $220,000 assuming that the accounts earn an average 8% per year. The 8% is less than the 9.6% average of the S&P for the past 90 years. This would enable someone who retires to have a significant account that reflects the growth of the economy during their working years. If they choose to select the security of an annuity, it would be administered by the Social Security system in order to avoid additional expenses of going through an insurance provider. Using an annuity calculator, the income for a 67 year old investing $220,000 would be about $1200 per month. This would be a significant increase in the benefit available as compared to the Social Security benefit for an individual.

The Social Security benefit would need to be reduced to reflect the smaller amount of tax revenue that is allocated to the standard benefit pool. But that reduction would take into account the length of time that a person has paid into the personal account fund. Social Security uses a 35 year working career as its basis for calculating benefits. Therefore, someone who has paid into the personal account for 35 years would have a benefit reduction of 16%, since they paid 16% less into the program(2% going to personal account / 12.4 % going to Social Security originally). For those who paid into the personal account for fewer years, the benefit reduction would be approximately 0.5% per year that they paid into the personal account.

What would the effect be of this money being funneled into the stock market? It would be relatively small. In 2016, the amount of money going into the Social Security system accounts from wages was about $700 billion. The proposed personal account would be about $110 billion per year. That amount of increased demand for stocks would raise valuations somewhat, but the investment markets should be able to absorb the incremental demand for investment. This would need to be modeled by real economists, instead of armchair analysts armed with Excel spreadsheets.

Those who are wary of stock investment will point to the inherent risk of stocks. And yes, there will be times when the value of personal accounts will go down on a year over year basis. But the nature of the equity markets has tended to go up when viewed on a longer timescale, such as a person’s working career. Perhaps there could be a personal option for those who are philosophically opposed to investing in stocks, but it would be one that people would have to select, instead of being the default option.

Those of us who have had the fortune to be able to invest over a lifetime, know the benefits of our economic system. We’ve been able to build up our pile of equity. But many folks will work their entire lives and have little to nothing to show for it, except for a Social Security payment. This suggestion would allow for everyone to have a stake in the economy, and would allow for individuals to either opt for the security of annuity payments for their lifetime, or to assume control of a personal account for their own benefit, and for the benefit of their heirs. I believe it is time to think outside of the box in order to attack some of the intransigent problems that this country faces.

Back during the administration of G. W. Bush, Social Security privatization was proposed, and quickly abandoned due to the outcry from many supporters of the system. Those proposals included more diversion of accounts than this proposal, and added more complexity in terms of investment choices. This approach keeps it simple, stupid. And since it rolls out so gradually, everyone would see how well their accounts are doing over time, and should be pleased with the long-term performance of their fund. It’s been nearly 15 years since the last attempt was made to enable private accounts. It is past time to reconsider the approach, and recognize that this is a populist proposal instead of a free ride for Wall Street.

The Beat Goes On

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And the beat goes on.

The beat goes on.

Drums keep pounding rhythm to the brain.

 

For those of you who remember Sonny and Cher’s signature song, I hope I’ve put an earworm into your brain that you will find hard to eradicate. For those who aren’t familiar, go ahead and google. It fits in today’s world.

The beat keeps going on. The beat of intolerance and ignorance emanating from the Trump administration echoes across the American landscape. The stench of nativism permeates from the Republicans, a stench that has defiled both political parties over their existence. In the United States, we’ve had two foundational sins. The first was slavery, and the remnants of that sin still roil the social fabric of this country. The second was nativism, and the tenets of that sin have changed over the decades and centuries. Still, both of these original sins taint our political landscape to this day, and still divide this nation.

Slavery formed the basis for the Southern agricultural economy of this nation for its founding phase. When slavery was forcibly ejected from this nation, a large region of this nation held an underclass in its midst. This underclass was impossible to miss since it was defined by color. But even though the constitution was changed to enable former slaves to claim freedom, the attitude that defined a black life as being worthy of 3/5 of a white life still resonated throughout society. So legislation that demeaned blacks came into existence, and stayed in place until the civil rights awakening of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Since that time, blacks have seen significant progress in terms of racial and economic equality. Still, there is a large fraction of the black population that has not shared in the growth of this nation’s economy during the last 50 years. The response of the Trump administration to any discussion about economic and social grievances from this minority? Denunciation of NFL players for taking a knee in support of the current civil rights movement. Denunciation of the homelands of many blacks as being, well, you know the word. And taking personal credit for the slow, steady improvement in employment metrics that are merely continuing the improvements since the Great Recession.

Although it may be impossible to define a causal relationship, it seems apparent that the racist undercurrent inside of the US has been unleashed by the rhetoric emanating from the Trump administration. The naked hatred espoused by the Charlottesville neo-Nazi demonstrators was only haltingly denounced by the President, and the equivocation given by claiming that there was equal guilt on both sides removed much of the effect of the denunciation. One only needs to look at on-line forums to see an explosion of racially charged animus that has been unleashed in the current political environment.

Nativism is the second principle espoused by the MAGATS (Make America Great Again Trump Supporters). Upon taking the reins of power, nearly the first act of this administration was to submit an ill-conceived, and ultimately unconstitutional travel ban. Aimed ostensibly at preventing terror, it reflected the deepest fears of the Trump administration about “The Others”. The mindset of Donald Trump is that the outside world is scary, and “they” are out to get us. We must protect our vital national security by forcible repatriation of all who do not meet the letter of the law as being ‘Muricans! In order to accomplish this repatriation, this administration is willing to implement a “Papers Please!” environment like that demonstrated in January 2018 in Florida. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents boarded a Greyhound bus and required everyone to show their papers, in order to demonstrate a legal right to be in this nation. Scenes reminiscent of totalitarian states of the past where the right of transit was allowed solely at the discretion of the government are returning to a bus near you, courtesy of your friendly ICE agents.

The Trump administration is willing to go to the mat in order to fulfill its bizarre quest to pretend to halt foot traffic across the US-Mexican border by constructing a massive, wasteful wall. Would that a physical barrier could prevent the vast majority of illegal immigration. Alas, that dream of stopping all illegal immigrants by a physical barrier should be relegated as part of the opioid crisis as yet another pipe dream. Instead, estimates are that 2/3 of all illegal aliens who enter the US each year, do so by first coming into this country legally, then overstay their allowed time within the country and establish residence here illegally. Yet the simplistic Trump administration insists upon the wrong solution for the problem by a monomaniacal pursuit of “A Great Big Beautiful Wall.” A wall that would be an environmental catastrophe, would cost an excessive amount of money, and when all is said and done, would not stop the problem of illegal immigration into the US. That sounds like it is about par for the course for the Trump administration.

Oh, no, I used a golf term. That will distract our illustrious leader by causing him to lose his intense focus on the problems of this country, while he goes out to one of his innumerable golf properties for a few hours of heavy governmental work. Wait, I’ve got it. The solution to the border issue. What if we construct a 2000 mile stretch of Trump golf properties strung out along the border with Mexico? We could engage the support of our President in maintaining surveillance as he patrols the length of the border, engaging in continual golf, preventing the incursion of those nasty people through well-placed administration of a 2-iron alongside the side of the head. Yeah, that would be the ticket, wouldn’t it?

The beat goes on.

 

The Party of Pragmatism

fractured flag

Clauses and adjectives fly back and forth in attempts to spear opponents. Verbs are parried and thrust, aiming for the weak spot in the logical armor of the arguments of the opposite opinion. Nowhere is there an attempt to gain understanding across the chasm of ideologies. And thus we continue this bifurcation of the political spectrum, with the extremes of the right and left pulling apart the middle who does not have a voice in the cacophony of political discourse.

The silent majority of the US does not identify either as a progressive socialist liberal nor as a libertarian follower of Ayn Rand. In early 2016, before the craziness of the latest election cycle played out, fully 42% of the US voting age population identified as independent. Only 29% were self-identified Democrats, and 26% were Republicans. Obviously, the ideologies of both parties are being rejected by a plurality of the population. Neither party appeals to a broad swatch of the voting-age citizens of the US. Yet it is the ideologies of the extremes that are driving the legislative agenda of government. And it is the fear of being primaried by a fanatic of one’s own party who paints an incumbent as being insufficiently ideologically pure that keeps pushing the parties further and further towards the extremes.

This skewing of the discourse towards the extremes is what is poisoning the well of civic dialogue. Of course you cannot ever dare to forge a compromise with the evil bastards of the opposition. If you do, you will be pilloried as a RINO or a cuck or some other derogatory term. We must maintain ideological purity at all costs! Who cares if the country falls down all around us, at least we kept ourselves pure.

Thus we get legislation that doesn’t address real problems, but is enacted through parliamentary tricks simply because it can be done. The mental gymnastics that were used in unsuccessful attempts to repeal health care, and the similar gymnastics that were used to ram a Trojan horse tax bill through using reconciliation in the Senate laid bare the legislative charade for all to see. This time it was the Republicans who used the tools to pass legislation that is deeply unpopular with the voters of this nation. A few years ago it was the Democrats who were unsuccessful in getting Republican participation in creating the Affordable Care Act, thus forever relegating that legislation to become a perennial target for repeal. It really doesn’t matter what the actual legislation is. The fact is that it has become impossible to work in a bipartisan fashion, because the power structure in both political parties has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

As this trend towards political extremism lurches forward, the side effects are becoming more and more toxic. The Republican party entered this year with majorities in both houses of Congress, and a (nominally) Republican President. Yet due to the constant pull towards the right, they were unsuccessful in passing any sort of repeal of the Affordable Care Act. What passed the House with its fermented tea influence was too extreme for the Senate to take up. What came out of the Senate still found enough disfavor with the shriveled moderate wing of the party, and the result was a series of embarrassing failures. All because the power in the Republican party did not accept the possibility of developing a truly bipartisan piece of legislation by working with Democrats.

The only success that Republicans had legislatively in 2017 came when they finally acknowledged the necessity to kiss the ring of their potentate, and accept a tax reform proposal whose only reform was to cut corporate rates, and sprinkle a little paycheck dust on the working class, while bestowing outsized largesse upon the donor class who keep greasing the gears of politics. The display of toadying that accompanied the celebration at the White House after passage was outside of my experience. The sound of sucking up heard on the White House steps rivaled only the sound of jobs being sucked down to Mexico after the NAFTA treaty (according to Ross Perot).

So what is it that the middle of the nation would like to see? What is it that those of us who are not party activists want from our elected officials going into the future? I can only speak for myself, but I can enumerate several items that I think would truly move this country forward again, instead of subjecting ourselves to bashing our heads repeatedly into concrete blocks like we’re doing now.

I’d like to see a real effort made to put the Social Security system on sound actuarial footing. A part of that would come from raising the earnings subjected to Social Security. A part might come from a small increase in the tax withholdings (say from 6.2% to 6.5%, increased by no more than 0.05% per year.) A part should come from examining the Social Security Disability system, since it has become a de facto welfare system that is rife with corruption ( See eastern Kentucky), and is the epitome of a debilitating system for those whose ambition in life is to draw a check. But I’d also like to see a new option added to Social Security, one where a fraction of a person’s withholdings would go toward purchasing an equity-based product, with the aim that eventually when a person retired, they would have an equity share in the nation’s economy that could either be converted into an annuity (Social Security Plus) or turned over to the control of the retiree. What would be better than to have equity ownership and the virtues of capitalism shared across the entire nation, instead of just the investor class. By the way, such a combination plan (partial privatization coupled with tax increases) just might find bipartisan favor, if someone had the guts to propose this.

I’d like to see a real effort made to increase the portion of the gross domestic product that is applied to maintain and improve our infrastructure. I’d like it to be set up for at least a 5 year period so that the private companies who will be doing the work will gain the confidence to invest in equipment and labor and training to ensure that we don’t get in a boom and bust cycle, which is a very inefficient way to spend money. The money for this infrastructure work should be local, state and Federally based, but the majority should be Federal funds. Perhaps an imaginative program could be made where local and state governments borrow excess Social Security funds and pay back at a lower rate than the bond market, but pay Social Security more than Treasury rates. And the money would be put to work, instead of sitting in a lockbox doing nothing (we should have done this 15 years ago).

I’d like a real attempt made to control medical costs. If someone were to design the most inefficient medical system possible, you may not top the one we’ve cobbled together. We apply costs to the companies providing benefits, hobbling their competitiveness, while begrudgingly providing one step up from charity care with Medicaid. Meanwhile, a relatively efficient Medicare system goes on but doesn’t ever become a model for expansion. I’d like to see medical coverage decoupled from employer provision, and a basic medical provision be made through the government. Insurance providers should serve as they do in Medicare, by providing supplemental coverage. They seem to do right well at that, given the volume of ads aimed at convincing seniors of their benefits. If you freed companies from paying and administering medical benefits, you really could unleash the competitiveness of the private sector. And someone needs to really look at the pharmaceutical industry since their costs keep growing exponentially in our current system.

I’d like to see a real effort made to reform the safety net. Not with the goal of eliminating it willy-nilly, but in making it more efficient with less administrative overhead, and making it family-friendly instead of placing barriers in the way of encouraging families and marriage. You want people to be encouraged to work, instead of causing them to avoid working to avoid losing some of their benefits. What we have now does not work well.

I’d like to see public school education valued instead of becoming the punching bag for every dissatisfied interest group in the nation. I’d like to see academic achievement placed on an equal standing with athletic achievement, and I’d like to see the culture shift towards making it cool to be smart. Something to yearn for instead of being the target of bullying.

I’d like to see a real review of our military and its mission and its financial needs. Some of the revisions sought by the President may be valuable and worthwhile, but his methods of bullying our allies while supporting the strongmen of the world is the wrong way to go. But do we really need military bases in so many places, supporting who knows what missions? The first time years ago I heard that we had an Africa Command I wondered who authorized this, and what is it doing? And while we’re at it, I believe diplomacy is more valuable than military might, so I’d like this evisceration of the diplomatic function to cease immediately.

Now, I know that this list (and it’s only a partial list) will be assailed as being agin’ the Constitution. So be it. My interpretation of the Constitution under the general welfare clause allows for functions to be undertaken without being specifically enumerated within a clause of the document. The world is a far different place than it was 230 years ago when the Constitution was written. If we are going to exist with our neighbors and our adversaries without going to armed conflict, then we need to adapt to the realities of the world today. We cannot afford to be ideological purists like we could when we were building this nation in the 1800’s. And besides, it seems like ideological purity caused our greatest internal conflict back about 1861. No, instead of a Tea Party reverting to original principles that won’t work in today’s world, we need a Pragmatic Party, working to deal with real problems in a way that allows for them to be solved while still allowing for regional and state differences in approaches. Who’s with me?

The Party of Pragmatism

fractured flag

Clauses and adjectives fly back and forth in attempts to spear opponents. Verbs are parried and thrust, aiming for the weak spot in the logical armor of the arguments of the opposite opinion. Nowhere is there an attempt to gain understanding across the chasm of ideologies. And thus we continue this bifurcation of the political spectrum, with the extremes of the right and left pulling apart the middle who does not have a voice in the cacophony of political discourse.

The silent majority of the US does not identify either as a progressive socialist liberal nor as a libertarian follower of Ayn Rand. In early 2016, before the craziness of the latest election cycle played out, fully 42% of the US voting age population identified as independent. Only 29% were self-identified Democrats, and 26% were Republicans. Obviously, the ideologies of both parties are being rejected by a plurality of the population. Neither party appeals to a broad swatch of the voting-age citizens of the US. Yet it is the ideologies of the extremes that are driving the legislative agenda of government. And it is the fear of being primaried by a fanatic of one’s own party who paints an incumbent as being insufficiently ideologically pure that keeps pushing the parties further and further towards the extremes.

This skewing of the discourse towards the extremes is what is poisoning the well of civic dialogue. Of course you cannot ever dare to forge a compromise with the evil bastards of the opposition. If you do, you will be pilloried as a RINO or a cuck or some other derogatory term. We must maintain ideological purity at all costs! Who cares if the country falls down all around us, at least we kept ourselves pure.

Thus we get legislation that doesn’t address real problems, but is enacted through parliamentary tricks simply because it can be done. The mental gymnastics that were used in unsuccessful attempts to repeal health care, and the similar gymnastics that were used to ram a Trojan horse tax bill through using reconciliation in the Senate laid bare the legislative charade for all to see. This time it was the Republicans who used the tools to pass legislation that is deeply unpopular with the voters of this nation. A few years ago it was the Democrats who were unsuccessful in getting Republican participation in creating the Affordable Care Act, thus forever relegating that legislation to become a perennial target for repeal. It really doesn’t matter what the actual legislation is. The fact is that it has become impossible to work in a bipartisan fashion, because the power structure in both political parties has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

As this trend towards political extremism lurches forward, the side effects are becoming more and more toxic. The Republican party entered this year with majorities in both houses of Congress, and a (nominally) Republican President. Yet due to the constant pull towards the right, they were unsuccessful in passing any sort of repeal of the Affordable Care Act. What passed the House with its fermented tea influence was too extreme for the Senate to take up. What came out of the Senate still found enough disfavor with the shriveled moderate wing of the party, and the result was a series of embarrassing failures. All because the power in the Republican party did not accept the possibility of developing a truly bipartisan piece of legislation by working with Democrats.

The only success that Republicans had legislatively in 2017 came when they finally acknowledged the necessity to kiss the ring of their potentate, and accept a tax reform proposal whose only reform was to cut corporate rates, and sprinkle a little paycheck dust on the working class, while bestowing outsized largesse upon the donor class who keep greasing the gears of politics. The display of toadying that accompanied the celebration at the White House after passage was outside of my experience. The sound of sucking up heard on the White House steps rivaled only the sound of jobs being sucked down to Mexico after the NAFTA treaty (according to Ross Perot).

So what is it that the middle of the nation would like to see? What is it that those of us who are not party activists want from our elected officials going into the future? I can only speak for myself, but I can enumerate several items that I think would truly move this country forward again, instead of subjecting ourselves to bashing our heads repeatedly into concrete blocks like we’re doing now.

I’d like to see a real effort made to put the Social Security system on sound actuarial footing. A part of that would come from raising the earnings subjected to Social Security. A part might come from a small increase in the tax withholdings (say from 6.2% to 6.5%, increased by no more than 0.05% per year.) A part should come from examining the Social Security Disability system, since it has become a de facto welfare system that is rife with corruption ( see eastern Kentucky), and is the epitome of a debilitating system for those whose ambition in life is to draw a check. But I’d also like to see a new option added to Social Security, one where a fraction of a person’s withholdings would go toward purchasing an equity-based product, with the aim that eventually when a person retired, they would have an equity share in the nation’s economy that could either be converted into an annuity (Social Security Plus) or turned over to the control of the retiree. What would be better than to have equity ownership and the virtues of capitalism shared across the entire nation, instead of just the investor class. By the way, such a combination plan (partial privatization coupled with tax increases) just might find bipartisan favor, if someone had the guts to propose this.

I’d like to see a real effort made to increase the portion of the gross domestic product that is applied to maintain and improve our infrastructure. I’d like it to be set up for at least a 5 year period so that the private companies who will be doing the work will gain the confidence to invest in equipment and labor and training to ensure that we don’t get in a boom and bust cycle, which is a very inefficient way to spend money. The money for this infrastructure work should be local, state and Federally based, but the majority should be Federal funds. Perhaps an imaginative program could be made where local and state governments borrow excess Social Security funds and pay back at a lower rate than the bond market, but pay Social Security more than Treasury rates. And the money would be put to work, instead of sitting in a lockbox doing nothing (we should have done this 15 years ago).

I’d like a real attempt made to control medical costs. If someone were to design the most inefficient medical system possible, you may not top the one we’ve cobbled together. We apply costs to the companies providing benefits, hobbling their competitiveness, while begrudgingly providing one step up from charity care with Medicaid. Meanwhile, a relatively efficient Medicare system goes on but doesn’t ever become a model for expansion. I’d like to see medical coverage decoupled from employer provision, and a basic medical provision be made through the government. Insurance providers should serve as they do in Medicare, by providing supplemental coverage. They seem to do right well at that, given the volume of ads aimed at convincing seniors of their benefits. If you freed companies from paying and administering medical benefits, you really could unleash the competitiveness of the private sector. And someone needs to really look at the pharmaceutical industry since their costs keep growing exponentially in our current system.

I’d like to see a real effort made to reform the safety net. Not with the goal of eliminating it willy-nilly, but in making it more efficient with less administrative overhead, and making it family-friendly instead of placing barriers in the way of encouraging families and marriage. You want people to be encouraged to work, instead of causing them to avoid working to avoid losing some of their benefits. What we have now does not work well.

I’d like to see public school education valued instead of becoming the punching bag for every dissatisfied interest group in the nation. I’d like to see academic achievement placed on an equal standing with athletic achievement, and I’d like to see the culture shift towards making it cool to be smart. Something to yearn for instead of being the target of bullying.

I’d like to see a real review of our military and its mission and its financial needs. Some of the revisions sought by the President may be valuable and worthwhile, but his methods of bullying our allies while supporting the strongmen of the world is the wrong way to go. But do we really need military bases in so many places, supporting who knows what missions? The first time years ago I heard that we had an Africa Command I wondered who authorized this, and what is it doing? And while we’re at it, I believe diplomacy is more valuable than military might, so I’d like this evisceration of the diplomatic function to cease immediately.

Now, I know that this list (and it’s only a partial list) will be assailed as being agin’ the Constitution. So be it. My interpretation of the Constitution under the general welfare clause allows for functions to be undertaken without being specifically enumerated within a clause of the document. The world is a far different place than it was 230 years ago when the Constitution was written. If we are going to exist with our neighbors and our adversaries without going to armed conflict, then we need to adapt to the realities of the world today. We cannot afford to be ideological purists like we could when we were building this nation in the 1800’s. And besides, it seems like ideological purity caused our greatest internal conflict back about 1861. No, instead of a Tea Party reverting to original principles that won’t work in today’s world, we need a Pragmatic Party, working to deal with real problems in a way that allows for them to be solved while still allowing for regional and state differences in approaches. Who’s with me?

Confused, not Dazed

Trump's world

I’m confused. I always thought sincerity and empathy were two highly-valued traits in our leadership. I thought that honesty, devotion to duty, personal sacrifice for our country, and having a shared love of country was honorable and desirable. But then I encounter the brave new world of politics in the post-reality environment we now find ourselves in, and I wonder how we have migrated so far off of the tracks.

I’m confused. I thought overt racism and tiki-torch marches in favor of white nationalism was a relic of the past in this and in other countries. I believed that we were evolving into becoming one human race, instead of fragmenting ourselves into artificial divides based upon minor genetic differences. Now I see moral equivalence declared between liberal protestors, and the followers of Richard Spencer. I see the white race proclaimed as being the savior of the human race, since obviously no other race has ever made any contribution to civilization.

I’m confused. I thought our culture had long gotten past the point where women had validated their worth to society, past the point where they were viewed as merely eye candy and were subject to being considered as the property of their alpha males. I thought that women in our country had earned the right to govern their own reproductive processes without governmental coercion. But now I see misogyny celebrated, declared to be “not politically correct” and exclaimed with adulation, while at the same time women’s rights to control their own body are dying the death of a thousand legislative cuts at the hands of males who ask their mistresses to get an abortion because a pregnancy would not be convenient to the male legislator.

I’m confused. I thought with the near total collapse of communism, that would enable the world to devote some of the excessive expenditures for armaments and armies into works to benefit the mass of humanity. I believed that beating swords into plowshares was good for humanity. I didn’t expect to see ever increasing funding for more and more complex weapons systems, and I didn’t expect to see a call for a return to the nuclear weapon level of the 1970’s.

I’m confused. I thought with the rapid advances in technology and communications, fostered by advances in science, we would be enabled to have a shared vision of reality as defined through science. But now we see alternative facts extolled even though objective reality denies their existence. We see individuals proclaim their right to their own reality, even though that reality may in fact cause risk to their own families and to society (anti-vaccines). We see legislative mandates to “teach the controversy” of evolution when there is no controversy there. We see the denial of all of the evidence of a warming world, and we declare that since trace gases in our atmosphere are such a tiny fraction, there is no way they can influence climate.

I’m confused. I thought Evangelical Christians took a firm moral stand against greed, and vanity, and lust, and unchastity, and wrath, and pride. Yet when presented with a candidate who embodies these traits wholly and completely, they unhesitatingly supported him in the Presidential election. This in support of someone whose familiarity with Christian rituals ended with the death of Norman Vincent Peale, and someone who enjoys only having his little wine and little cracker when at a service.

I’m confused. I thought this country had made substantial improvements in our environment from the days of my youth, when rivers caught fire, and soot-based smog choked the life out of unfortunate people in Pennsylvania (actually before my time). I thought that the return of the bald eagles represented the triumph of wise stewardship of the earth, and I looked forward to exporting these environmental improvements to other countries through provisions in trade pacts. But now I see wholesale and rapid abandonment of environmental progress and trade pacts, all in the name of increasing profits for business (and maybe reclaiming jobs until dwindling resources disappear).

I’m confused. I’ve heard the Republican drumbeats calling out the evils of deficits, and the need to ensure austerity in order to prevent the collapse of our government into a pile of indebted rubble. I’ve seen balanced budgets at the Federal level only once in my lifetime, under a Democratic administration. Yet I see the Republican’s gleefully hop onto a runaway train of tax cuts, aimed not at reforming our tax system, but instead swelling the assets of the top 1% while tossing animal crackers to the masses in order to persuade them of the generosity of their tax cut.

I’m confused. I thought leaders were those who were able to display the trait of reasonableness, and who were able to enunciate the principles for which they stand. I thought they would engage the nation and the legislators with cogent thoughts and well-reasoned opinions. But now I see what passes for Presidential prose as 140-character cartoon bubbles, devoid of depth, internally inconsistent, and lacking in human sensitivity. I see wrath-filled tweets sent during hours when most should be sleeping. I see covfefe extolled as gospel emanating from the fingers of the tweeter-in-chief.

I’m confused. I thought that even with the ongoing decline in educational and moral standards of this country, there was no way the people of this nation would elect a charlatan and singularly vile representative of humanity as its President. I was wrong.

 

Some will say that this commentary represents a sense of denial about the election. Let me say, no, it does not. I see the election of Donald Trump as the last stand of those who are unable to adjust to a changing world. This President has lived up to every one of my expectations of his behavior and policies. I just didn’t realize the pain that the embodiment of his misguided policies would cause as the administration lurches from one self-induced crisis to another, all the while denying there are any problems with their agenda (and besides, it’s all McConnell’s fault). My sincere hope is that for those who still believe that Donald Trump is working for the benefit of any other than the billionaire class, I hope they come to their senses and realize that Donald Trump has a singular achievement that may never be duplicated. He committed the greatest con job ever on the citizens of the US.

Misguided Priorities? You Decide

Eagle_Stadium

Photo posted on Wikimedia commons. Photo by Aerial Photography, Inc. Allen Texas High School.

Compare and contrast the priorities of two adjacent states. In an AP story today, we learned about how Oklahoma’s conservative approach toward taxes has resulted in teachers becoming eligible for a house from Habitat For Humanity, and their children becoming eligible for reduced price school lunches. See the story here:

http://wtop.com/business-finance/2017/08/charities-try-to-help-oklahoma-teachers-survive-pay-collapse/

Meanwhile, in a CNN story, we learn about the ongoing arms race in Texas football stadiums, where new high school stadiums cost as much as $70 million dollars. See the story here:

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2729443-72-million-for-a-high-school-stadium-in-texas-its-only-up-from-there

I can think of nothing that displays the misplaced priorities of the US better than these two examples. In one state, teacher’s pay has stayed stagnant for a decade, while its GOP-led legislature maintained extremely low tax rates on oil and gas extraction, and in 2014 passed legislation to cut the personal income tax in the state. This has resulted in Oklahoma per pupil spending on public education to decline by a quarter from 2008 to 2016. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Continental Resources, an oil extraction firm, says “We don’t have a revenue problem in Oklahoma. We have a spending problem.”

Across the Red River in Texas, things are full speed ahead for funding for worship spaces for the Texas state-sponsored religion, high school football. Katy (a Houston suburb that is probably now just wanting the rain to stop) has just completed work on their $72 million dollar facility, replete with luxury boxes and a $2 million dollar video replay board. Granted, Texas does support its teachers better than Oklahoma does, with their average teacher pay about 32nd in the nation as compared to Oklahoma’s position at 48th. Still, the excess public funding for athletic facilities, and the excess adulation given to young male athletes is out of all proportion to the true value of high school athletics.

Can you imagine what it would be like to work for a school system where they passed bond issues to improve the chemistry labs for their high schools? Or one where they upgraded their biology laboratories with modern microscopes instead of using manually focused machines that were obsolete in the 1970’s? Indeed, over and over again we see that the priorities of this nation are to prevent funding for new school academic facilities, preferring instead to cut taxes once again in order to stimulate economic activity. Ask Kansas how that’s working out for them?

We suffer in this country from a surfeit of selfishness. Republicans proudly commit to the principles of Ayn Rand, advocating full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism as the only valid moral code. We no longer recognize a collective need for action and spending unless we ourselves directly benefit from such spending. How many comments on message threads state “Why should I support spending on schools? I have no children going to school.” Such flawed reasoning holds that since I have mine, and have already benefited from common societal spending, I have no duty to the rest of society to enable others to potentially gain the same benefits as I already accrued.

Indeed, you see many screeds in the blogosphere about the unfairness of being taxed at all, that all taxes represent a taking from someone who has earned everything they have. If our entire society thought and acted like that, then we would live in a world of constant violence, where only those who could spend for defensive capabilities would be allowed to hold on to their own hard-earned assets. Taxes are necessary, and the belief that lowered taxation will always result in increased economic activity, so much so that it will lift the entire society out of poverty, has been proven demonstrably false. State after state has attempted that as a prescription for stagnant economies, and in each case, the results have not met expectations. See Kansas and Oklahoma and their growth rates vs. that of California, who chose a different path.

The issue of spending on schools, both teachers and facilities, is symptomatic of the direction that this nation has taken over the last four decades. At the national level, we grew tired of a congressional appropriations process that resulted in infrastructure spending only where it benefited powerful congressmen and women. So we banned earmarks, and now have included all infrastructure spending within the discretionary spending caps which are falling further and further behind in meeting critical needs. Meanwhile, attacks on unions have created the image of the Teachers Union slackers, living high on the hog on our largesse while simultaneously shirking their responsibility to adequately educate our children.

It is certainly true that the past method for allocating infrastructure spending was fraught with manipulation and waste. That is not an excuse though for letting all of it rust away and collapse like the levees did in New Orleans. We need civic-minded politicians who are willing and able to accept the recommendations of experts, who can assign priority to the critical infrastructure upgrades that are needed. These experts must also assess the capabilities of our construction contractors. Since we have neglected necessary funding for so long, we cannot scale back up immediately with 2x or greater spending on roads and bridges. We need to ramp up the spending rate over time, and we need a plan that is longer than that of a continuing resolution in order to provide contractors with the confidence that they can procure additional equipment, and hire trained workers, and receive an adequate return on their investment. Not to mention that we need some sort of training protocol for those who would benefit from infrastructure jobs. I know, I referred to the ultimate oxymoron – civic-minded politicians. In this day and age of polarization and political fratricide as practiced by President Trump, it is nigh unto impossible to conceive of a civic-minded politician. Put your disbelief away for a while, and just imagine a congress packed with such critters.

Likewise, public school education has suffered from waste, and a lack of accountability. It is unacceptable to have incompetent teachers protected from losing their jobs due to bureaucratic procedures. We need to enable the system to eliminate those teachers who do not perform, while increasing the pay so that the profession attracts more capable applicants who would actually be able to pay off their student loans. But it also needs to be acknowledged that we have failed our education systems by systematically refusing to upgrade facilities, voting down bond issues repeatedly until the very roofs start caving in on the poor students caught in the public school system. The solutions identified by the head of the Department of Education involves increasing the profit potential for investors in charter schools, affecting only a fraction of the total school population, instead of offering real assistance in enabling our school systems to succeed. We don’t need curriculum mandates and charter schools, we need assistance for teacher salaries and school facilities.

America was great when we had a firm commitment to public schools, and to public infrastructure. That we have meandered so far away from that commitment speaks to our failure to reinvest in our future. Are we that selfish that we opt for a fragmented and failing society just so we can retain a few more percent of our income? But the philosophy of conservatism since the days of Reagan keeps insisting that prosperity is just one more tax cut away. Sad. So sad.

Is This Sentence Too Long For You?

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One hundred and forty characters. That is the new delineation between acceptable political discourse, and incomprehensible gibberish, according to the new world order. Twitter me this: Are we so limited in our attention span that we can only understand concepts described in 140 characters or less?

The simple answer is, yes, we have regressed back into simplicity. We are so immersed in the shallowness of thoughts induced by our addiction to our electronic devices, that we now find it uncomfortable to concentrate for longer than a single tweet. And, appropriate for a nation addicted to fluff, we have selected a celebrity leader who epitomizes our shallowness.

When did we begin to worship “the cult of the celebrity?” Certainly in the 1800’s, the emergence of celebrities began. Fostered by the development of mass media (newspapers and magazines), and the growth of cities, a critical mass coalesced whereby people could become familiar with famous people, even if they never had the possibility of seeing these people perform. Think of Jenny Lind (supported by one P. T. Barnum). Think of Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West show. Think of Samuel Clemens and his touring lectures. Certainly in the late 1800’s, it became possible for individuals to become famous for being famous.

By the early 1960’s, the cult of the celebrity was well established. In 1961, Daniel Boorstin wrote in his seminal book “The Image, or What Happened to the American Dream”, “The celebrity is a person who is known for his well-knownness”. At the time he wrote those words, it applied to a much smaller group of people. Zsa Zsa Gabor comes to mind as exemplifying celebrity culture in the late 1950’s, and even then she did have some accomplishments as a movie actress. Boorstin was definitely prescient in foreseeing the direction of the culture.

America has also harbored a strong anti-intellectual bent. One of my favorite movies, Bringing Up Baby (and it’s ’70’s remake, What’s Up Doc), personified the attitudes towards intellectuals and scientists in popular culture. Cary Grant is the hapless paleontologist who inexplicably becomes the pursued object of the alpha female Katherine Hepburn. It is Hepburn as the mob moll, spitting out the end of a cigar, who rescues the scientist from incarceration. Small point, maybe, but except for film biographies of noble scientists struggling against society, movie culture rarely pictured scientists at all, and if they were pictured, more often than not they were objects of ridicule. They were the Nutty Professor instead of the rugged individualists portrayed in hundreds of westerns.

Today, anti-intellectualism is worn as a badge of honor by many in our society. In our schools, those who excel academically are derided and bullied by those who do not value scholastic achievement. In government, our politicians state, “I am not a scientist, but…” just before they explain why they are against scientific consensus on an issue, usually climate change. Anti-vaxxers who couldn’t describe the functions of vaccines in stimulating the immune system, claim that the cost / benefit ratio of vaccines has been miscalculated ever since the invention of the smallpox vaccine. And since the latest Presidential election, the scientists of the Federal government have been demeaned, threatened with slashed funding, and have been removed from any position of power and influence. Indeed, as of early July, no one has been nominated for the position of National Science Advisor.

Science and scientists have taken the brunt of the anti-intellectualism of the Trump administration, but other intellectuals are the victims of his misguided philosophy of dismembering government as a ruling strategy. Why rely upon professional diplomats who have spent decades studying issues and learning about regional and global political issues? Let’s just go to a meeting of world leaders and wing it. What could possibly go wrong?

So now we have the Tweeter-in-Chief using stream of consciousness to posit the latest birth of a thought (A cyber-security cooperative between us and Russia!), only to come back 12 hours later saying, “Not gonna happen!” My question is who is going to end up running the Trump empire once all of the key players end up imprisoned due to their actions during the campaign and subsequent time in power. Maybe we can get a remake of the First Wives Club (or first and second and third wives club) with Ivana, Marla, and Melania? I’d pay to see that.

Back to 140 characters. It is so deeply ironic that when NPR decided this year to not only recite the Declaration of Independence, but to tweet it, that many in the twittersphere took the words of our founding fathers as disrespect against the dear leader. Can you imagine that happening in any time other than the present, that such profound ignorance would display itself in a public medium?

I am reminded of the wisdom of the National Lampoon back in the early 1970’s for their parody, Deteriorata. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ey6ugTmCYMk ). They, too, foresaw what was happening, and where we were headed. One of my favorite lines in this piece is: “Be assured that a walk through the ocean of most souls would barely get your feet wet.” What an appropriate metaphor for government of the tweet, by the twit, and for the twitted.

Obstruction, Thy Name Is Grover

It started with an effort in California to rein in property tax increases. With the enormous growth in population and property values in California reflected in the 1970’s property assessment rates, Howard Jarvis was the organizing force that enabled Proposition 13 to succeed at the ballot box in California in 1978. Proposition 13 froze real estate taxes in California and greatly limited the potential rate of property tax increase allowed. Thus began the revolt against any form of increased taxes that became the mantra of the Republican party since that time.

President Reagan in 1981 assumed the mantle of the outsider who decried and denounced the government in his inaugural address. “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem.” He then took the lead in the passage of two significant income tax reductions during his two terms. Yet he wasn’t totally committed as an anti-tax ideologue, since he also oversaw several tax increases that affected social security taxes, and broadened the taxable base, exposing formerly exempt forms of income to the new lower tax rates.

This inconsistency from the leader of the Republicans led a 29-year old veteran of anti-communist battles across the globe to create an organization that has hobbled the US ever since its founding. Grover Norquist established Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) in 1985 as requested by President Reagan, and shortly thereafter became the chief evangelist for the philosophical position that all government spending is bad, and that it should become an existential crisis if a Republican politician ever supports a tax increase. Thus began the saga of the pledge, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, that an overwhelming number of Republican legislators have affixed their signatures to, stating that they will “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and to oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates”.

So much of the polarization in Congress flows directly from the pernicious effects of this pledge, and from the personal crusading of Grover Norquist against any attempt to increase tax revenues, either at a federal or a state level. Indeed, the state of Kansas attempted to follow the guidance of Norquist and fellow economic guru Arthur Laffer by slashing their income tax rates in order to unleash a supply-side revolution at the state level. Five years later, with the state hobbled by the unforeseen consequences of the tax reductions, the legislature of Kansas overrode their governor’s veto of tax increases in order to restore the functioning of the state government at a minimal level. Governor Brownback is not chastened, though, and still champions the same tax slash and burn strategy for the Federal government.

Grover Norquist’s penchant for bullying recalcitrant Republicans is straight-forward. As the Washington Post quoted Norquist in a July 12, 2011 story, “There are times,” he boasted, “when we’ll call everybody in the congressional district and let them know that one guy signed the pledge and one guy didn’t.” Indeed, the reluctance of Republicans to seriously address needed fiscal remedies stems from the likelihood that ATR and other political organizations spawned from ATR vitriol will cause the emergence of a well-funded primary opponent in the legislator’s next race. It is well known that the influence of Grover Norquist and his pledge was one of the main reasons why the bipartisan effort to address deficits and spending in 2011 through the super committee came to failure. See this 2011 editorial from the New York Times for a contemporaneous perspective:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/22/opinion/republicans-are-endangering-national-security.html  Thus came into effect that blind ax swinger called the sequester that has run amuck over the past few years, slicing both defense and discretionary spending.

In less partisan times, the two parties could actually work together to have a legitimate debate about the true size and function of a government. We could make longer term plans to address the deferred maintenance of our US infrastructure. We could discuss ways to reduce safety net spending by improving workforce participation rates and labor skills. We could discuss how to encourage entrepreneurship and reducing artificial barriers to entry caused by state licensing requirements for many trades. But the hyperbolic partisan wrangling wrought about through generations of adherence to a flawed political philosophy means that the worst threat that Senator McConnell can issue is to force the Republicans to work with the Democrats on health care legislation. After all, as Grover has said, bipartisanship is “date rape”.

There are many areas where legislative efforts involving both parties should bear significant fruit. Indeed, overregulation has become a problem, although the wholesale shredding of environmental regulations will only bear toxic fruit. We desperately need a longer term program of infrastructure repair and replacement. We do need to simplify the tax code and reduce the nominal top business rate in order to improve our competitiveness in a global economy.

But with the political discourse from one side beginning and ending with the phrase, no additional taxes, we cannot move forward. I put forth the proposition that Grover Norquist is one of the most dangerous people in politics, and that the culture of absolutely no compromise allowed has poisoned political discourse. Only when politicians are able to overcome the siren song of simplistic solutions like the Taxpayer Protection Pledge will we be able to begin to fix the myriads of problems we face in this nation and in the world. Look at what 30+ years of adherence to this pledge has achieved! You tell me if we are on a sustainable path given the childishness we face in our politics.

There are indeed legitimate roles for a government that cannot be met by private sector solutions. And taxes, instead of being viewed as money stolen from individuals, represent the price we incur to live in a civilized society, rather than living in an anarchic world where strength is the only security available to men and women and children. I worked in the corporate world for 40 years. I do not want totally unfettered capitalism where there are no rules and anything goes, because in such an environment, we all lose.

 

Let the Games Begin

 

Let’s get ready to rrrrruuuummmmbbbblllle! The Senate Republicans have now laid down the gantlet, and it is now time for us to have a complete and thorough discussion and debate about government involvement in the health care system. One where open suggestions and ideas may be freely floated, and where hearings will bring forth legions of experts, putting forth the benefits of the case for both parties.

Oh. You mean that’s not going to happen? We’re going to barely have a week to discuss and debate this immense change being proposed to our already dysfunctional health care system, then a vote will be forced through? No other alternatives except for what 13 white male Senators came up with will even be considered?

I am truly disgusted by the spectacle of our legislators working hard to craft a bill aimed at causing the greatest amount of harm to the greatest number of people. The old adage was that the legislative and bill drafting process was akin to making sausage. That may still hold true, but it seems that a new step is added whereby the sausage has to pass through the digestive system before the new legislation is laid, steaming fresh, at the feet of its admiring partisan supporters.

It has come down to this. Both parties repudiate any notion of working across the aisle in order to craft a thoughtful comprehensive approach to dealing with the huge problem we have with excessive costs and maldistribution of health care services. Instead, one party works diligently behind closed doors to create a tax cut that only affects those who have income greater than $200,000 per year ($250,000 for joint filers). True, it also removes $19 billion in taxes imposed on medical insurers, pharmaceutical firms, and medical device manufacturers. The removal of these taxes shows the value of campaign contributions to the Senators who drafted this legislation. I saw today on TV that over the past few years, these Senators received about $0.5 million in campaign contributions from these entities. $19 billion / $0.5 million = $38,000 in tax benefits for each dollar in campaign contributions.

So we have a bill nominally posited as a health care bill, but in reality it’s a tax cut favoring the top 1% of income earners, and favoring those whose businesses greatly benefited by the increased demand attributable to the Affordable Care Act. And in order to frame this as a win for the average person, we will enable states to allow for limited insurance products, much like it was prior to the ACA’s implementation. Can’t wait to see the expression on the face of some poor schmuck who grabbed on to one of the new cheap health care insurance plans only to find out it pays a total of $400 per day for hospitalization expenses when they have to cover a heart attack hospitalization.. But it’s all good, since the health insurance consumer could have chosen a better plan (but couldn’t afford it).

Let’s have a real debate as the outcome of this faux discussion. Let’s make a determination whether we believe the US is an outlier from the rest of the civilized world, and make health care an independent responsibility, or whether we wish to join the rest of the world and enable a single-payer system to provide health care for all citizens.

My confidence that this type of discussion will occur in the hallowed halls of Congress? Less than the square root of negative 1. My reasoning? There is zero incentive for members of Congress to reach across the aisle and actively involve the opposition party in legislative negotiation. As the French have said, La Plus ça Change, la plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they remain the same. It sounds better in French.

Whatever happens with the current health care bill negotiations, I sincerely doubt whether the outcome will improve the situation for the majority in this country who are dependent upon either government policies directly, or dependent upon the structures set up by the ACA.

I call for the creation of a brand new party that is no beholden to the existing power structure. I call for a Macron-like entity to take over US politics from the completely corrupt and compromised party structures that we are burdened with. Part of our problem in the US is that we do not have a parliamentary structure. If we did, then Nancy Pelosi would have been driven from her leadership position in disgrace over the last few election cycles as her position would have been exposed as having a fatal flaw. Meaning, the vast majority of voters in this country do not agree with a San Francisco liberal.

Nothing will happen unless enough of us speak out and demand change. Even then, there is no guarantee that we will see significant change. But I do know that if no one speaks out, there will be no change. I am speaking out, here and now.

Pay Me Now, or Pay Me Later! Guess What? It’s Now Later!

Computer desk IBM 360 Desk Console

Want to cut down on the size and ineffectiveness of the Federal government? If so, then you will need to shell out significant dollars to replace the decades-old IT systems that the government uses for many of its programs. And you will need to rework many of the procurement practices and political machinations that have hamstrung efforts to update IT systems in the past.

It is not a secret that the IRS is at the rear of the organizations that are updating their IT systems. Two of the main systems for the IRS are IT antiques dating back over 50 years ago, running on IBM mainframes, with programming that is written in assembly language code. There have been requests to modernize the systems involved, but since the IRS is viewed as anathema to the Republicans dominating Congress, the trend over the past decade has been to cut IRS spending, not upgrade the systems. I actually remember IBM mainframes – the IBM 360 was the workhorse of the university computing systems at our school. The fact that essential government functions still run on a similar system now should bring shame to any who care about efficient government services. Indeed, it appears that up to $60 billion per year across the Federal government is being spent trying to nursemaid these antiquated systems through yet another day.

Not only does the government incur substantial costs for keeping these antiques running, it cannot achieve the efficiencies in service delivery that are possible if we use modern computer systems. I worked for over 20 years for my company installing and upgrading our business enterprise software. Our system was SAP, and in the early 1990’s I began work at a chemical plant implementing the mainframe version of this system. Beginning in 1999, I worked full time on SAP implementation for our department, and I understand the complexity involved in uprooting existing systems and implementing brand new business processes. The period immediately before and after go-live was always traumatic and stressful. But it is only after going through these efforts that it is possible to reap the benefits of improved IT. The increase in direct IT support costs is greatly outweighed by the reductions in support staff at the plants and in central offices. Not only are overall costs lowered, but the information that comes from such a system is up to date and accurate. When I began working at a plant, it took a clerk in each process in a plant multiple days to assemble the information needed for monthly cost reporting. These reports were circulated in a preliminary form among the management of the process, and eventually they were issued. Then the plant accountant would assemble all of the overhead cost sheets, and the allocated costs would be figured. All of this meant that cost information was never current, always subject to significant revisions, and provided only a snapshot once a month.

By the time I retired in 2015, cost data was available instantaneously for all products, including labor costing and allocated overheads. The manpower was greatly reduced at a site, the information was better, and managers could focus on factors within their control instead of trying to manipulate the reports to put their operations in a better light.

The Federal government cannot achieve the efficiencies that private industry has achieved, because the impetus to upgrade IT systems has not been sufficient to enable the departments to get the funds to implement the upgrades. In fact, lately this effort has gone in the opposite direction. According to the Government Accounting Office (GAO), Operations & Maintenance spending on IT systems has been rising year by year since 2012, while spending for modernization and development has declined. From fiscal years 2010 to 2017, such spending has decreased by $7.3 billion.

Even when funds are appropriated for upgrades, current procurement practices preclude efficient implementation. I am aware of an effort to implement a portion of business enterprise software for the army. Supposedly the contract for this project was approved in late 2016. However, due to the nature of government procurement, a competitor who was unsuccessful in the bidding process appealed the awarding of the contract. It has been six months, and there has not been any update on the resolution of the situation. Meanwhile, those employees who would have been assigned to the project are awaiting actual productive work at the government contractor. Such delays lead to projects running behind schedule and much above budget.

One reason why the funding has decreased for modernizing IT systems has been the sequester process for budgeting. With funding for discretionary spending flattened by decree, it has been increasingly difficult to gain support for funding for IT improvements. But for fiscal conservatives, it should be a primary goal to ensure that if the government must spend tax dollars, they should do it in a cost-effective manner, and in such a way that overall government employees could be reduced. Unfortunately, this approach has not reached the top 10 list of the Grover Norquist acolytes who view any increase in expenditure from a government agency as sacrilege.

Since the current administration is full of folks with business experience, maybe these types of modernization efforts may finally gain traction. This is one area where I do find agreement with the priorities of the Trump administration. This past week’s gathering of tech business executives with the administration did discuss IT modernization. My fear is that in this administration’s pogrom against discretionary spending, once more we will fall further behind the IT curve. Future archeologists will excavate data centers complete with mainframes and tape drives intact, and will marvel that these relics maintained their usefulness long after they had been abandoned by the world of business.