DAVID BRIN's world of ideas

David Brin's "off-axis" political suggestions

Suggestion Twenty-One: Taxes, and Other Addendums, Suggestions, Distillations and Write-ins

By David Brin, Ph.D.

[image from Just for Utah Youth]

Since I first began presenting this series, a number of people have written in with "suggestions" of their own. So consider this a followup or lagniappe with even more important items to pile on the nation's (and the new president's) plate.

First let me reiterate a couple of capsule proposals in short-form! What especially interests me is the issue of fragility vs resilience, especially failure modes that add to brittleness and small tweaks of public policy that might address them. Here are five relatively small "stitch in time" policy endeavors that could add robustness to society without costing much at all:

  1. Reversing the inventory tax (e.g., Thor Power Tools) into an inventory INCENTIVE could reduce the fragility that has been given us by the same MBA dunces who invented "efficient investment instruments." I speak of "just-in-time" delivery practices that leave our industries and cities without any reserves in case of transport disruptions.

  2. A minuscule tax on un-hardened electronics -- something very, very small would do no harm but might propel us gradually toward an extremely important type of robustness. Such a tiny incentive could provide perpetual pressure on Intel, Ford and several hundred other companies to come up with chips and electronics that would not be fried by a simple EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack on the United States. The possible dire consequences of a rogue nation exploding just ONE such device above North America have been discussed extensively. The best way to prevent such an event is simply to gradually become more robust, so the US is no longer such an incredibly tempting target.

  3. Require that all cell phones have a backup peer-to-peer, packet-based system allowing simple text messages to leave an afflicted area, even when normal cell towers are down.

  4. Offer tax incentives for companies to sponsor CERT team (civil defense) training among employees and neighbors.

  5. Increase bandwidth. The USA -- inventor of the Internet -- is a laughingstock. What most people call "wideband" is a joke. We can do much better, and will have to, just to stay even.

And now....some bonus suggestions from readers:

Here is one from author Wil McCarthy: "Adding some capacitance to the power grid would be a big deal, too. The reason our current grid can't support more than about 10% wind power is because it's an LRC circuit with no C. The reason power failures can cascade out of control: same deal. The current system is very brittle. A power grid with distributed capacitance could, for example, go into a "safe mode" where all the interconnects were severed either regionally, locally, or even down the the neighborhood level, and run independently for a few minutes (or even hours) while the problem is sorted out. The ability to break up the grid for even a few seconds would make it a lot less vulnerable to spikes, EMP, sabotage, etc. Why not pay property owners to house an ultracapacitor or battery bank, the same way cell phone companies pay for towers? For serious storage, you can even go to hydrolysis and fuel cells, although that's more hazardous and requires more infrastructure.... I'm also a big fan of the Mormon practice of keeping a two-year supply of food on hand! Even a months' could save us, if everybody did it."

And from Frank Plano: Internet commerce is mature enough, at last, to stop getting the huge subsidy of complete freedom from sales tax on interstate transactions. Surely, a ONE PERCENT national tax on internet-carried purchases and transactions would not stymie commerce too much. It could then be distributed among hard-pressed states. But, far more mollifying to Netizens would be if the funds were dedicated to expanding broadband across America."

Mercantilism Isn't Free-Market Capitalism. According to renowned tech-industry analyst Mark Anderson: "It is time for the West to wake up: Japan and China and Russia are not playing by the same rules as the Western democracies. They just aren't. And competing with a "trading partner" that has no real intention of buying your goods is deeply stupid. Let's use real economic terms, describe things as they are, agree on how to go forward, and get with it. If we keep insisting that no policy is good, while our partners all have goals, we are going to continue to see our champion industries appropriated, one by one." Note that Mark is well-aware that the Great Depression was worsened by the Smoot-Hawley tariff wars. Any retaliation must be careful, and aimed at swiftly getting the other side's attention, so that negotiations can quickly eliminate mercantilist cheating and let the trade flow better than ever, with justice to all.

[image from Wikipedia]