Saturday, July 24, 2010

Incentivize Good Behaviour

Unemployment benefits were extended this week when Democrats finally got enough votes to overcome Republican objections. The Republican's primary objection was that the roughly 30 billion dollars the extension would cost was not paid for. It would just be added to the debt. While that objection is factually correct, I believe their objections were actually based on political rather than balance sheet calculations.

I was particularly intrigued by another objection from some Republicans that extending unemployment benefits actually did more harm than good. They reasoned that many people were unemployed because it was easier and better to just stay home and collect the unemployment benefits. Cutting off the benefits would give these lazy people an incentive to get off the couch and get a job.

As I've said before, Republicans like simple ideas. Remember "Drill, Baby, Drill"? How about "Benefits Enable Indolence" or "Incentivize Work, Not Laziness"? No, too many syllables.

After I thought about this a while I decided maybe they were on to something. Some people probably do prefer unemployment benefits over a pay check.

The economy is still very sluggish. I've heard it said many times that the engine of growth is small business and they are just not creating many new jobs. Only when small business is creating jobs will unemployment come down and the economy really pick up. How do we incentivize small businesses to create new jobs?

Then the other day I heard a pundit say that we need to extend the Bush tax cuts to the very rich because many small business people are in this rich group and we don't want to hurt them. That's when the light bulb went off.

Small business is not creating new jobs because they have gotten lazy. They did very well under the Bush administration. If we don't extend their tax cuts, their income will go down. Just like the lazy unemployed, this decrease in income may be just what small business needs to get them off the couch and incentivize them to start growing their businesses. Small businesses that grow will recoup their lost income and create jobs for the few unemployed who prefer pay checks over unemployment checks. That in turn will fire up the economy.

I'm looking forward to seeing some Republican support for incentivizing small business growth by not extending the Bush tax cuts to the richest Americans. Finally something we can agree on.

Then again, maybe not. If Republicans and I are right and all we need are the right incentives for small businesses, then the economy will fire up and unemployment will go down. With the economy under control, President Obama and Democrats are more likely to get elected. Republicans are not going to like that.

So now we need to figure out an incentive for Republicans to help grow this economy.

Ethnic Profiling vs Comprehensive Reform

Opponents of Arizona's new immigration law (SB1070) say it could lead to racial or ethnic profiling. Supporters say that is nonsense since the law specifically prohibits this.

The law requires that police check the immigration status of people they believe may be in this country illegally, but only during a lawful stop, detention or arrest. Supporters insist that since police can only check immigration status once a person is being questioned for some other offense, there can be no racial or ethnic profiling.

Forty years ago a friend and I were driving across Kansas (or maybe it was Colorado) on our way to the Rockies in my friend's brand new Camaro. In the middle of nowhere about 11PM at night we were pulled over. The officer said our head lights were not properly aimed. The officer asked for my friend's driver's license and the car registration, which we had trouble finding. We were both college students and my friend's mom had just bought the car for him. It was clear we were not going anywhere without showing the registration, which we eventually found buried in the glove compartment.

We were sent on our way after promising to have the head lights checked. Many miles down the road we found a gas station and borrowed some screw drivers to aim the head lights. I'd done this before. We pulled the car up to a wall at the gas station to adjust them. The car was brand new. There was nothing wrong with the lights.

Naive me. It was sometime later that it dawned on me that we were pulled over for some other reason. There was nothing wrong with our headlights. I have no idea why we were pulled over. It wasn't racial profiling, we were both white kids and it was at night. The point is that when the police want to pull you over, they can. This is not a knock against the police. But, when someone tells you that this law can't lead to racial or ethnic profiling because the police must have some other reason for questioning you, you can bet you are not talking to a minority.

I do not object to checking immigration status out of sympathy for illegal immigrants. I object for the people who are here legally, especially citizens, that will be harassed and inconvenienced if this law is implemented the way it seems to be written.

My understanding is that the law allows citizens to challenge police if the citizen believes the police are not checking immigration status when they should. This is a just a way pressure police to make this a priority. It is clear that Arizona legislators are afraid police may not work hard enough to enforce this law. This pressure to identify illegal immigrants may also lead to to profiling.

I would wager that more people are killed by speeding drivers in Arizona than by illegal immigrants. Why not empower citizens to challenge police whenever they seem to ignore someone driving over the speed limit? The answer is that Arizona wants to harass illegal immigrants and they don't really care if legal immigrants or citizens are caught in the middle.

If Arizona is serious about finding illegal immigrants, they should call for a national ID and require everyone to carry their ID at all times. Or better yet, why doesn't the entire Arizona Congressional delegation stand up and call for comprehensive immigration reform?

The answer from Republicans is that the border must be sealed first. We've been talking about sealing the border for years. During both Republican and Democratic administrations. It is not easy to seal the border. It isn't going to happen any time soon, if ever. If there are enough incentives for people to be in this country illegally, they will find a way to get here.

Part of the purpose of comprehensive immigration reform is to decrease the incentives for coming here illegally. We have been trying to seal the borders for years with limited success. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have put money and people into border security. Why not continue to work on the borders at the same time we work to reduce the incentives? Why not work on comprehensive immigration reform now?