The New York Times posed 15 debate questions for the first Presidential debate. I wasn’t asked to participate in the debate despite being one of only 6 people who can legally be elected President on November 8th. Consequently, I’ve chosen to answer the Times’ debate questions below.
As indicated at www.kotlikoff2016.com I’m running as a write-in candidate. But unlike all other so-called write-in candidates, I am nationally registered. Only registered write-in candidates have their votes counted. So, while hundreds of people may describe themselves as write-in candidates, since they either aren’t registered in any states or aren’t registered in enough states, they can’t legally be elected.
- Health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs are rising rapidly. What would you do to control them?
I’d make health insurance a hyper-competitive market – as competitive as the market for oil or wheat. This would dramatically lower costs. I’d do so by replacing our four dysfunctional and unaffordable healthcare systems – Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, and tax-subsidized employer-based healthcare — with a new basic health insurance system. Uncle Sam would cover, in full, the costs of the new system. But the private sector would continue to provide our healthcare.
How would the new system work?
Each of us would receive a voucher each year to buy, in full, from the insurance company of our choice a single, uniform, identical, indistinguishable Basic Health Insurance Plan.
Yes, we’d be free to buy supplemental health insurance for things not covered by the basic plan. But every American would have the exact same basic insurance policy with exactly the same coverages, co-pays and deductibles.
Uncle Sam would pay the insurance company of our choice the amount on the voucher. Although we’d all receive the Basic Plan for free, the size of the voucher we’d receive from Uncle Sam and hand over to our chosen insurance company would depend on our pre-existing conditions. If, for example, we have diabetes, we’d receive a much larger voucher than if we were in perfect health.
The individual-specific vouchers will keep the insurance companies from trying to cherry pick those of us who are healthy and leave those of us who are unhealthy to fend for ourselves. Under this healthcare reform, no insurance company could turn anyone away no matter their pre-existing conditions. But, in addition, the insurance company would have no incentive to turn anyone away since they’d be able to make a profit on even the sickest among us. The reason is that the sickest among us would have the largest vouchers.
A team of medical experts would determine the coverages under the Basic Plan subject to the budget constraint that the sum of the vouchers not exceed 7 percent of GDP. This will keep federal healthcare spending at a level that our country can afford.
In this new system, the Basic Plan becomes a standardized commodity. Each year you receive a new voucher, based on your current health status, and you get to decide whether to stay with your current insurer or switch to another. The insurance companies would compete for customers based on the quality of service they provide because every customer would mean higher profits. All insurance companies and healthcare providers would need to use the same electronic medical record system. The records would be used to determine the size of our annual vouchers.
Since the insurance companies would receive a fixed payment to care for us for the year, they’d have no incentive to overtreat us. But neither would they want to undertreat us because we’d switch to another insurer if that proved the case. To make sure it provided just the right level of care, the insurance companies would naturally choose to operate as HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations) with their own network of doctors and hospitals.
They’d also have an incentive to negotiate with the drug companies since they’d be responsible to pay for our medication. These would be full service HMOs that include outpatient, hospital, nursing home, and hospice care.
The roughly 20 percent of healthcare costs that arise from inefficient administration, billing costs, and excessive compensation to management would quickly be competed away. Since I’m also proposing enacting malpractice legislation, doctors would no longer need to practice defensive medicine by ordering tests and procedures they feel have little value.
I would also take steps to dramatically increase the supply of physicians and nurses to meet the needs of our aging population. Finally, I would make sure our patent laws are not abused by drug companies when it comes to providing generic alternatives to medications, be they pills or biologics.
My plan is essentially what we see in many developed countries – countries that spend far less on healthcare and have far better healthcare outcomes. It lowers costs by operating on both the demand and supply sides of the market. It reduces the demand for healthcare services by eliminating the incentives to overtreat. And it increases the supply of healthcare services by expanding the number of healthcare professionals and forcing insurers to compete on the quality of their care rather than focus on cherry picking.
- Where Has American Policy on Syria Failed? Should Something Be Done Militarily to Stop the Slaughter?
Syria is in the midst of a civil war. Our country should avoid nation building and siding with one group against another in a civil war is a form of nation building. We should use our military to defeat ISIS and other combatants in Syria to the extent they threaten us or our allies. We should also use our military to ensure safe conduct of humanitarian relief to Syrian civilians trapped in the fighting or sheltering in refugee enclaves.
We should undertake these military missions in conjunction with Russia to the extent the Russians are truly interested in defeating terrorists and providing humanitarian aid. We should also work with the Russians and the legitimate combatants in Syria to achieve a lasting peace. This will require Syria’s President Assad to step down given the incredible carnage he has caused.
But again, the United States’ primary role, apart from confronting ISIS, Al-Nusra, and our other direct enemies in Syria, is to let Syria find its own way ahead. We cannot chart Syria’s future.
- Where Would You Set the Limits of Surveillance by the U.S. Government?
We need to strike the proper balance between our constitutional rights to privacy and the government’s need to protect us against terrorists, domestic or foreign. The courts are here to strike that balance. We’ve seen, thanks to the revelations of Edward Snowden, how quickly our rights to privacy can be abused by the Executive branch if it answers only to itself.
The abuse of government power revealed by Snowden echoes J. Edgar Hoover’s surveillance of all manner of people he and other government officials decided, solely on their own, were national security threats. The list ranged from folk singers, like Phil Ochs, to civil rights protesters, like Martin Luther King.
Were I, as President, to learn that the system in place is still being abused with respect to privacy rights and that the NSA and other national security agencies are failing to consult the judiciary for proper authority when it comes to surveillance, I would ask Congress to pass additional legislation that limited such abuses. I would also ensure that our current privacy laws are being obeyed.
Let me also state publicly that Edward Snowden appears to have acted to protect Americans’ privacy rights. As President, I would consider pardoning Snowden after full consideration of all the facts pertaining to the espionage charges he faces.
- What Would You Do To Reduce The Extreme Income Inequality In This Country?
Economic inequality in our country is severe and growing. While Donald Trump sails around in a yacht fit for a king and Hillary Clinton rakes in hundreds of thousands for an hour’s speech, 16 million American children and 30 million American adults languish in poverty.
Together with Alan Auerbach, an economist at Berkeley, and other colleagues, I’ve been closely examining U.S. inequality. Our recent study is, I believe, the most comprehensive analysis to date of U.S. economic inequality. It shows that inequality, properly measured, is huge, but it’s far less than one might think from looking at wealth or income alone. This is thanks to our highly progressive tax-transfer system.
Understanding what the government is already doing to address inequality is critical to assessing what further steps it should take. Unfortunately, as our study also shows, one of the things the government is doing is trapping the poor in poverty by severally penalizing them for earning more money. The penalties come in the form of higher taxes and lower benefit payments. It’s not atypical for poor households to face 80 percent marginal net tax rates, meaning if they earn another dollar, they lose 80 cents either in the form of higher federal and state taxes or lower benefits, be they Medicaid, Food Stamps, welfare payments, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Obamacare subsidies, etc.
In combination, my tax, Social Security, healthcare, and Food Stamps reforms (including an annual $2,000 payment per American citizen) would eliminate the poverty trap we’ve set for the poor. My tax reform would also ensure that the superrich pay their fair share of taxes. Right now, the superrich, including Donald Trump, can easily pay literally zero taxes. My immigration policy (cutting total immigration in half and shifting the composition dramatically toward high-skilled workers) would also reduce the wage pressure on low-skilled workers. My tax reform is designed to generate massive new investment in our country from both U.S. and foreign corporations. This will raise wages and help workers relative to those with wealth. My education reform proposes using online learning to equalize the educational experiences and effectively reduce class sizes of all students no matter where they go to school. I propose replacing Food Stamps with direct food distribution to those living in low-income neighborhoods. This would come in the form of three meals a day provided to children at their schools and provision of free food to those adults requesting it via food distribution centers located in low-income neighborhoods. Anyone would be free to obtain food at the distribution centers and the presence of these centers in the poorest neighborhoods in our country would make living in those neighborhoods more attractive to higher-income workers. Their movement into these neighborhoods would improve the tax base of those localities. Finally, my healthcare reform provides uniform basic health insurance coverage to all Americans. This will help the poor relative to the rich.
- There are 43 Million People Living in Poverty In This Country. What Would You Do About This?
I’d push for enactment of my proposed platform, which is geared, as indicated in the answer to question 4, to help the poor much more than the rich.
- How Do You Propose Getting Money Out Of Politics?
My campaign is an illustration of how you can run for office with little or no money. Becoming a nationally registered Presidential write-in candidate is far easier and cheaper than overcoming the tremendous hurdles set by the two parties when it comes to getting your name printed on the ballot. The only challenge is teaching your supporters how to spell your name and instructing them to write, for example, Laurence Kotlikoff for President, in the space provided.
My candidacy is focusing on substance, not sound bites or pep rallies. The 157-page platform book posted at www.kotlikoff2016.com is an example of how to focus attention on the analysis of our problems and their solutions. Unfortunately, traditional media is primarily focused on political theater, not on how to resolve our country’s grave domestic and foreign challenges. Yet, the internet, in combination with social media, provides the public the means to circumvent traditional media and learn exactly what a candidate for office does and doesn’t have to say. And all this can happen without money.
- What Should Be Done To Strengthen Social Security So It Can Keep Supporting Retirees Now and In the Future?
Social Security is, according to its own Trustees, 32 percent underfunded. It’s also $32.1 trillion in the red as of today! Any delays in resolving its insolvency will leave it in even worse financial shape in the future.
In addition, as my recent co-authored book, Get What’s Yours – The Revised Secrets To Maxing Out Your Social Security, indicates, Social Security is a user’s nightmare with 2,728 rules in its Handbook and hundreds of thousands of rules about those rules in its Program Operating Manual System.
As my platform indicates, I’m proposing freezing the current Social Security system, paying all retirees every penny owed to them as if nothing had changed, paying current workers all the benefits through time that they’ve accrued to date, and setting up a new progressive, personal account system to which all workers would contribute 10 percent of their pay. The government would provide matching contributions for the poor, the disabled, and the unemployed.
This system would be run by a computer with no involvement of any kind by Wall Street. All contributions would be collectively invested in a global, market-weighted portfolio of stocks, government bonds, corporate bonds, mortgages, real estate funds, and other financial securities. The government would guarantee that workers’ account balances at retirement equal at least what they contributed adjusted for inflation. And the payoff from their accounts would come in the form of monthly inflation-adjusted pension payments.
The new system would be incredibly simple, completely transparent, and fully funded. Consequently, it would represent no financial threat to our children. As for paying off the liabilities of the current system, I would do so not only by maintaining the current Social Security payroll tax, but also by eliminating the ceiling on Social Security taxable earnings.
- The Racial Divide on Policing and Politics Seems Larger Than Ever. How Could The Next President Help Turn This Around?
Like other Americans, I am sickened by the ongoing murder of innocent black men by police. The police committing these murders need to understand that they are destroying their own lives, not just those of others. When they act, in a matter of seconds, as judge, jury, and executioner and kill someone who is reaching for his wallet or holding a book or simply turning his back and running because he fears for his life, they are sentencing themselves to a life of regret and guilt, and, potentially, years in jail.
This has to stop. But it won’t stop simply via better training. It won’t stop simply by indicting police for manslaughter, as just occurred in Tulsa. And it won’t stop simply by fostering better race relations. The policeman who killed Keith Scott in Charlotte is, like Mr. Scott, African American. Nor will it change by telling policemen that the guns they carry do not make them rulers of the universe. Nor do they give them the right to brutalize the public or order the public around as if they were slaves.
Yes, these steps will help. But the actual killing will only stop when the police are armed with non-lethal weapons, be they stun guns, guns with rubber bullets, guns that shoot tear gas pellets or something else of this nature. The police should have non-lethal weapons at the ready and lethal weapons available only as backup.
This is a simple, practical solution to the problem. Police who are pulling over a motorist or have some other encounter with the public that does not obviously place them in harm’s way should have their non-lethal weapon at the ready if they feel that threatened. But they should not, for example, be approaching people in a car, which they stop for a burnt out tail light, with deadly guns drawn or ready to be drawn as their first form of subduing someone who they feel legally warrants that treatment. As President, I would encourage local police forces to arm its officers in a way that keeps them and the public safe not just against real threats, but also against policemen and policewomen’s misapprehension of the dangers they face.
- What Evidence-Backed Measures Should Be Taken To Improve The Public School Experience For Every Child?
One significant portion of our children’s education should be provided via uniform online courses presented by our nation’s best teachers. They should be provided to each student at their own desk and proceed at the student’s own pace. This is just one of a host of educational reforms, including funding pre-K education for all children and permitting all students to borrow for college and graduate school at the government’s long-term bond rate, that I discuss in my platform book.
- What Are Three Important Initiatives You Could Accomplish Despite Congressional Gridlock?
We need to fundamentally reform our tax, Social Security, healthcare, banking, energy, immigration, and education policies. As an independent who gets along with both parties and who has designed policies that will appeal to both parties, I expect to have all my proposals enacted. I say “my,” but these are common sense policies that the vast majority of Americans will embrace and that I developed in consultation with leading economists.
- How Would You Minimize The Domestic Threat Of Home-Grown Terrorists?
We have been far too slow in dealing with ISIS. We sat back and watched them occupy major cities in Iraq and Syria and convince far too many young people in Europe and the U.S. that they were actually achieving victory. ISIS and similar groups need to be crushed and humiliated — and very quickly. This will limit the degree to which they can continue to influence would-be domestic terrorists.
In addition, we need to deputize a large and extremely well vetted number of Americans to carry non-lethal weapons, which they can use to defend themselves and others, including police, when they and others are attacked by terrorists. Allowing deranged gunmen to systematically slaughter people in a school or a movie theatre or a night club or a mall or anywhere else in our country without giving their intended victims any means to defend themselves makes no sense.
Whether it is guns with rubber bullets, stun guns, guns that fire tear gas or smoke grenades, the public needs to be able to defend itself from what has turned into weekly terror attacks.
- It Is A Widely Accepted Fact That Climate Change Is Real And Potentially Catastrophic. What Specific Actions Will You Take In The Next Four Years?
I am calling for the immediate imposition of a carbon tax of $80 per ton of CO2 emissions. No other candidate is calling for a carbon tax of this or any magnitude.
My proposed tax on carbon would start out high, but fall through time. This will give dirty energy producers an extra incentive to delay their extraction and supply of fossil fuels. What we need is a slow, not a fast burn of fossil fuels to limit climate change and ensure the planet does not reach a tipping point such as the melting of the West Antarctic ice shelf.
13. What Specific Actions Or Tactics Would You Use To Fight The Islamic State That The Obama Administration Hasn’t Already Tried?
I would immediately destroy any remaining ISIS-controlled oil and gas production and transportation facilities. I would also recapture, in conjunction with our allies in Europe and the Middle East, all major cities held by ISIS. This is the general game plan of the Obama Administration, but it has been implemented at far too slow a pace. I would also engage the Russians to undertake joint military missions to eliminate ISIS’ control of major population centers.
14. What Would Your Administration Do To Reduce Gun Violence and Mass Shootings?
I would implement much better scrutiny of gun purchasers, enforce the gun control laws we have on the books, and ban assault weapons. But my main response would be that given as the answer to question 10, namely deputizing large numbers of extremely well-vetted Americans to carry non-lethal weapons and be prepared to use those weapons to protect themselves and others against criminals and mass shooters.
15. Sanctions and Global Condemnation Haven’t Deterred North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions. What Would You Do?
I would, subject to Congressional approval, declare an immediate cessation to nuclear weapons testing and missile testing, of any range from any platform, by North Korea. North Korea would be warned that any future weapons or missile testing or preparations for such testing would lead to the immediately destruction of that country’s nuclear facilities and missile launching platforms, including its submarines.
Yes, this is a very strong position to take. But if we don’t act now, that rouge nation, which daily swears our destruction, will, in short order, have the means of our destruction.
The nuclear missile crisis with North Korea is similar to the Cuban missile crisis. The main difference is that the leaders of the Soviet Union maintained control of the missiles placed in Cuba. No matter their ideological delusions, they were rational people. The same cannot be said of North Korea’s leaders.
In announcing the militarily enforced ban on weapons and missile testing, I would also stipulate our country’s willingness to end hostilities with North Korea, to recognize it as a sovereign country, and to establish full diplomatic and trade relations with North Korea. The conditions for this normalization of relations would include North Korea and South Korea’s formal recognition of each other’s sovereignty and a formal declaration of peace between all parties to the Korean war. This normalization of relations with North Korea would be contingent on North Korea’s elimination of all its existing nuclear weapons as well as all its nuclear weapons manufacturing facilities.