It Ain’t That Hard
A modest dose of interest group humility would cure many seemingly insoluble national problems.
Anyone wandering through media reporting of current events must be struck by the evident insolubility of the most critical national and international issues facing our nation. Let me beg to differ and argue that many such issues could readily be solved with a modest dose of humility from the relevant interest groups.
November 3 versus January 6
Democrats and much of the mainstream media were outraged by the recent, de facto filibuster by Senate Republicans of the Democrats’ proposed commission to investigate the January 6 Capitol invasion. However, the Capitol invaders were motivated by a belief that the November 3 election results were illegitimate, a belief still held by nearly one-third of American citizens. Although no court found voter fraud evidence sufficient to change election outcomes, even a single fraudulent vote cancels the vote of a U.S. citizen. The easy compromise: allow each side a full opportunity to delve into the November 3 and January 6 facts through a single, professional, bipartisan national commission. Those (including many Republicans) who fear a 2024 Trump presidential campaign should be eager to demonstrate to his followers that he truly “lost big” in 2020.
Whatever the merits of President Biden’s spending plans, his goal of finding new tax revenue to pay for them is in the national interest. Less logical is his focus on the corporate tax rate, given that corporations earn only about 12% of national income. Nevertheless, the tax rate on corporate profits (21 percent) is much less than the rate owed by many of the shareholders who ultimately benefit from those profits (37 percent). Bringing the corporate tax rate closer to the ultimate shareholder tax rate can make sense, but only if those profits are not taxed twice, an outcome readily avoided by allowing a corporate tax deduction for dividends paid to shareholders subject to U.S. income tax.
Debate rages over immigration policy, mostly without cause. For example, illegal aliens are flooding our borders because they correctly believe that they will be released and never deported if they claim asylum. Technically, asylum only applies to aliens fleeing persecution on account of race, religion, or political belief, not on account of national crime rates lower than those in Memphis, Tennessee. Most asylum applicants fail to show up for hearings, almost all who do are found ineligible, and ICE budgetary limits preclude deportation of most of those found ineligible. What a farce! The Trump administration’s policy of requiring asylum applicants to wait in Mexico, where there was zero risk of racial, ethnic, or political persecution, was sensible and worked well. Even more sensible would be requiring asylum applicants to file their claims at a U.S. consulate in their home countries or in any neighboring country to which they had fled.
Almost no one denies that illegal immigration is almost entirely motivated by an understandable desire to earn a multiple of what the immigrants could earn at home. However, their unlawful U.S. employment lowers wages and job opportunities for native Americans, and African Americans in particular. Please forget “mandatory E-Verify” as a solution: there is a better way. Employers today must report to the Social Security Administration a new hire’s name and purported Social Security Number on Form W-2 and must also complete and retain a copy of Form I-9, detailing the same information plus evidence of the new hire’s work authorization. Inaccurate or false data on either form becomes relevant only in the rare instance of a worksite inspection by ICE. If the employer wishes on its own to confirm the new hire’s work eligibility, it must then take the third step of re-entering the I-9 information into the online E-Verify system (a system seldom used by employers who know or suspect that alien employees are “undocumented”).
The obvious, easy solution to this burdensome, dysfunctional, three-step system is sitting right now on someone’s White House desk in the form of a regulation drafted by the Department of Homeland Security in 2020 named “G-Verify,” for “Government-Verification.” G-Verify would impede the hiring of nearly all illegal aliens while simplifying life for employers by replacing three cumbersome, ineffective filings with a single filing of each new hire’s I-9 data, with immediate confirmation to the employer of the new hire’s work eligibility.
Advocacy of limits on immigration is not limited to Americans who wish to preserve the culture in which they were raised. Strict immigration limits were also long the goal of labor advocates and environmentalists (until both were recently suffocated by “wokeness”). Fortunately, the path to a rational but unquestionably non-racist answer to which, and how many, aliens should be admitted is found in the immigration reduction recommendations of the 1990s Clinton-appointed U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, chaired by civil rights icon Barbara Jordan, the first Southern African American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (hardly a “white supremacist”).
Writing off billions of dollars of college debt for economically struggling graduates has become a “thing” for many Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. As for the strugglers, I feel their pain, having myself left college and law school with substantial student debt and a family to maintain. However, those who were never privileged with a college education (and even those who were and have paid off their debt) may rankle at having their tax dollars used to write off the debt of those who had that privilege and now want a free ride. Nevertheless, all of us might sympathize with fellow citizens who made an educational bet that failed to pay off, especially minority students who were encouraged through affirmative action to reach beyond what was realistic given their pre-college academic records. However, a simple, random write-off of most student debt would magnify our already perilous national indebtedness and unfairly gift those who benefited from learning experiences not enjoyed by most working-class Americans.
The solution is so simple and obvious that conservative economist Milton Friedman discovered it many decades ago: Don’t write off the college debt of financially struggling graduates, but rather limit their debt repayments to a percentage of their incomes. Since 2007 the Department of Education has offered such a program to college and graduate students, enabling them to fund their tuition with loans, the repayment of which will be calculated as a percentage of income and the ultimate repayment of which will be forgiven if their post-graduation income is insufficient to pay off the loan in full. However, that program does not apply to pre-2007 college debt, to college debt not funded by the Department of Education, nor to debt that funds tuition exceeding specified, relatively low, amounts. The fact that the mechanics of such a program are in place would facilitate enactment of a more universal Friedmanite alternative to blanket forgiveness.
With “white supremacy” having become the standard explanation of the relatively low educational and financial achievement of African Americans, nearly every topic of national discourse has become obsessed with identifying how our national norms impair the interests of the relatively small percentage of our population who identify as black. However, a fact of life is that nearly every identifiable racial, religious, or ethnic group in our country performs better or worse than every other group. For example, while Asian Americans are seen to be top performers, the disparities among Asian Americans of different national origins are in fact nearly as wide as those seen between any other American identity groups. The extent to which American disparities are attributable to the various races having developed in geographic separation over millennia or having imbibed cultures that simply give less weight to the progress-inducing psychology of the “Weirdest People in the World” (as articulated by Joseph Henrich) is beyond my comprehension.
I do, however, know this: married African American men perform about as well economically as white men with the same education. It was not me in 2021, but Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965, who concluded that the most serious impediment to black progress after the Civil Rights Movement was the breakdown of the African American family, as unwed black mothers came to rely for sustenance on government welfare and 70 percent of their children were raised in families without fathers. Fortunately, there are grounds for hope. According to the Pew Research Center, 75 percent of black Americans trust in their (overwhelmingly Protestant Christian) churches to help them advance towards equality. Might the billions being spent by governments and private foundations on getting Ivy League Schools to admit more black students and getting multinational corporations to appoint more black directors be better spent on working with the widespread, influential black church community to urge black men to abide by their faith and marry the women they impregnate?
Lastly, the challenges to a U.S.-friendly world order posed by China and Russia are giving rise to nightmares among Western leaders and foreign policy professionals. Please take a deep breath. Until its collapse, the Soviet Union posed an existential threat to the Western liberal order, seizing control of virtually all neighboring countries, sponsoring attempted communist takeovers of many developing countries, and having its model copied by the world’s most populous nation. Nothing today is the same. Russia’s economy and global standing are weak; it threatens neighbors only as needed to maintain Putin’s own domestic reputation.
China has abandoned Soviet-style global communism in favor of dictatorial ethno-nationalism, which limits its interest in foreign conquests or upheavals to neighboring Taiwan. Apart from Taiwan, there is nothing on the horizon that would conceivably give rise to a third World War. Rather than sit and fret, should we not instead seize this opportunity to deal at last with the superabundance of nuclear weapons in the U.S., Russia, and China? A major reduction in those arsenals would eliminate the threat of global annihilation and might even persuade countries like India, Pakistan, and North Korea to abandon their comparatively minuscule arsenals.
William W. Chip recently served as Senior Counselor to the United States Secretary of Homeland Security.