Self-reliance is not a bad policy

Thinking Right’s weekend free-for-all. Pick a topic:

● The nation has just been through a couple of weeks of alarmist insanity. Tiny prospective cuts in the growth of bloated federal spending have been greeted with alarm throughout the nation. Those who want nothing more than to convey to our children the quality-of-life opportunities our young parents worked to give us — the tea party movement, for example — are branded in Leftspeak as “extremists” or worse, “terrorists.” Good grief, what an ordeal.

● The president of the United States threatened, emptily and unnecessarily, not to post grandma’s Social Security check. Grandma shut down. So did shoppers. The only reason a president would introduce that angst into individual family budgets would be to gain momentary political advantage. For 60 years at least, politicians have spooked the old folks by introducing imaginary threats to Social Security and tempted them by promising benefits financed by somebody else. It’s the one element of politics I most despise.

● An example of the inability of politicians to make reasonable adjustments to federal programs is the cost-of-living formula for Social Security and for federal retirees, which is based on increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. Most of us change purchasing behaviors when prices skyrocket on goods we buy, as they did this spring when tomatoes were selling for $1 each. The COLA formula assumes we keep buying. We don’t. We cut back. We substitute. We don’t starve. We don’t miss a meal or go hungry. Adopting the formula that is used elsewhere in government, which assumes rational behavior among consumers when tomatoes reach $2 a pound, would save billions for young workers and the unborn — up to $300 billion over the next 10 years. For beneficiaries, the impact on cost of living adjustments would be an insignificant 0.25 to 0.30 percent. Politicians and interest groups will scream, but the elderly will not be materially affected.

● Modest reductions in HOPE come with expressed fears that we’re devaluing education and, by inference, leaving deserving students behind. Where? The middle class has earning capacity and values that should make them prudent savers for expenses that can be anticipated — and before HOPE, it did. Those on the lower income rungs have Pell Grants of up to $5,550 available to families making up to $50,000, means-based scholarships and subsidized federal loans. As a public policy issue, the HOPE-solvency revisions are being treated as something that has snatched quality education from the next Einstein. Nonsense. It means students and their families will have to rely on themselves — not a bad public policy direction. Or it may mean something beautifully expressed by Georgia State University freshman Kamala Johnson: “My plan is to get my GPA higher so I can get full HOPE.” Every public policy should push the healthy upward — upward to self reliance, upward to the virtues, like work and savings that make it possible.

● Atlanta is considering raising the “impact” tax charged to those who build single-family homes from $1,544 to $3,652. It’s the most family-unfriendly levy that government imposes. It requires new home-buyers, who are often young and financially struggling, to take on a hidden tax — and finance it with interest for 15 or 30 years. They, thus, pay twice — once through property taxes for infrastructure debt incurred before they arrived and again through “impact fees” for the parks, roads and fire stations they’ll “impact.” Politicians love levying taxes on the unborn and on classes unformed, like future home-buyers. They’re not here to object.

Jim Wooten, an Opinion columnist, writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His column appears Friday. Reach him at wooten.jim@gmail.com.

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