Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Political Discussion: We Didn't Change Each Other's Minds, but We Saw Each Other's Points

My brother came to visit this week, and we had a big political discussion on Sunday afternoon.  My brother is a Republican who voted early for the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket.  As for myself, while I registered as a Republican so that I could vote for Ron Paul in New York's closed primary, I ended up voting for the Barack Obama-Joe Biden ticket.  I was thinking of voting for Jill Stein of the Green Party, since I figured that New York would go for Obama anyway, and I agreed more with Jill Stein's support for a single-payer health care system and her opposition to drones, which have reportedly killed innocent civilians.  But I decided to vote for Barack Obama because of the impact of Hurricane Sandy on New York City, a city that provides a significant amount of the state's Democratic vote.  I feared that the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy could inhibit Democratic voters there from getting to the polls, and so Barack Obama needed my vote here in upstate New York.

In this post, I'd like to talk some about my political discussion with my brother, specifically where he could see my points, and where I could see his.  I should make a couple of things clear at the outset.  First, if my brother were to write this post, he'd probably tell the story differently from how I'm telling it: perhaps he'd highlight where he thinks that he presented better arguments than I did!  So I'm writing this post from my own perspective.  Second, neither one of us changed the other's mind.  He's still a conservative Republican, and I'm still, well, whatever I am----somewhat of a leftist, I guess!  We have fundamentally different worldviews.  That particularly came out when we were discussing health care: I said that I trust the government more than the private health insurance companies, and he said that he did not.  But, while it would probably be going too far to say that we found common ground, we did acknowledge the validity of each other's points, on certain topics.

I'll start by listing areas in which my brother acknowledged validity in my points (and yet calling that a concession on his part would be going too far), sometimes with reservations, then I will say where my brother got me thinking about certain issues, or made me aware of things of which I was previously unaware.

Where my brother acknowledged my points:

----My brother could see validity in the government rejuvenating the economy by spending money to improve our country's dilapidated infrastructure, especially when many in the private sector are not spending money.  But he doesn't think that the government does this all that well or efficiently, but rather that there's a significant amount of waste. 

----My brother and I were talking about pre-existing conditions.  He could see my point that a health insurance mandate could address the problem of people getting health insurance after they become sick rather than paying into the system beforehand.  As I think about the issue some more, though, I have some reservations about this.  There are reasons that people get health insurance after they get sick: in some cases, they may have had health insurance but they lost their job or moved to another state and thus lost it, and now they're sick and need to find another insurer.  That's why I think that national health insurance or a national health insurance exchange is important: a person can be covered, even if she loses her job or moves to another state, plus she'd have established a track-record of paying into the system.

----My brother said that Ronald Reagan improved a bad economic situation much more quickly than Barack Obama did.  I responded that we really cannot replicate what Ronald Reagan did and expect an economic boom to result.  Reagan reduced income tax rates from high rates to much lower rates, and that had a more stimulative effect than we would have were we today to reduce income tax rates, since income tax rates are already rather low.  My brother could see my point there, and he added that interest rates came down from high to low during Reagan's Presidency, which was stimulative, whereas interest rates are already low today.

Where I acknowledged my brother's points:

----My brother seemed not to buy into the notion that tax cuts would work the economic magic that a number of conservatives and libertarians think.  Or at least he was realistic in that he did not see tax cuts as the end-all, be-all when it comes to stimulating the economy.  But he also thought that tax increases on the rich would not help the economy, for that could discourage investment.  He also said that there are small businesses making over $200,000 a year, and a tax increase on those making that amount or more could hit them especially hard.  When I responded with the typical Democratic talking-point that the vast majority of small businesses make under $200,000 a year, he replied that small businesses making over $200,000 a year still employ a lot of people, and thus a tax increase on them could discourage hiring.  I've long struggled with this issue on this blog.  I recognize that taxing small businesses making over $200,000 a year could discourage hiring.  At the same time, I believe that people who make more money than they know what to do with should pay a higher income tax rate.  Is there a way to increase income tax rates on those making over $200,000 a year while exempting small businesses from that tax increase?  Perhaps the problem there would be that rich people could then dodge the tax increase by incorporating themselves.  I don't know.

----My brother argued that increasing the corporate tax rate could encourage companies to go overseas, where the corporate tax rate is lower.  He also said that rich people can always find loopholes, and he also stated that corporations often pass on the cost of higher corporate taxes onto their consumers.  My brother is a supporter of the fair tax: replace income and corporate taxes with a national sales tax, which would have exemptions for the low-income.  Whereas corporations can dodge paying a significant amount of taxes, the argument runs, a national sales tax would be collected when people make a purchase.  I've struggled some with this issue on this blog before.  One point that stood out to me in Mitt Romney's book, No Apology, is that corporations don't just buckle under and pay higher corporate taxes.  What that means is that raising the corporate tax rate won't necessarily bring in a lot of revenue.  I believe that we do need revenue, though, for a social safety net is important, as is paying off the deficit, and other things (i.e., defense).  I think of European countries and Canada: by and large, they have low corporate tax rates, but they raise money for their generous social safety net in other ways.  Many European countries have a Value-Added Tax (VAT), for example.  Perhaps this approach can preserve the best of both worlds: corporations are attracted by the low corporate tax rate, resulting in more jobs for the area, and yet money is raised for the social safety net.  I still have questions about the national sales tax and the VAT, however, but I'll save my discussion of that for a future post.

----My brother knows far more than I do about alternative energy.  He argued that nuclear power and wind and solar power are very expensive, in terms of construction.  He also said that we are not far along in terms of solar power, and that the government should not subsidize companies when they cannot produce a cheap solar-powered car at this point.  He did see some promise in hybrid cars, however, and he noted that oil companies themselves are doing research on solar power.  Moreover, he was open to the government spending money on research.  I'm not sure how to respond to my brother's arguments, but they do tell me that there are challenges in the area of pursuing alternative energy.    

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