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Harris Sherline: Random Observations

From seizing the assets of the rich to support the poor to the lack of progress in the wars on drugs and poverty, indulge in some food for thought.

The miracle of information and knowledge that’s available through modern media and the Internet also has brought with it the curse of overload and misinformation.

Harris R. Sherline

The many commercials that push cleaning agents imply that we are all at risk of being infected by some awful disease if we don’t use their products. But, if that were true, how is it that man has survived all these years without them? Can it be that we really don’t need the cleansers that kill 98.5 percent of all the germs on the surfaces on which they are used?

Pharmaceutical manufacturers push prescription drugs as if they are selling health foods. Buy their products and avoid the terrible consequences of just about every disease or ailment known to man, most of which we never knew existed.

If taxing the rich is the way to provide benefits for the poor and low-income workers, why don’t we simply confiscate the assets of the wealthiest among us, say, just the billionaires? After all, they really don’t need to live such opulent lifestyles, with private jets, mansions, yachts, etc. If you think that’s a good idea, consider this: According to Forbes magazine, the 400 richest Americans have a combined net worth of about $1.25 trillion. So, how effective would it be if their “excess” net worth were taken for the good of society? A little simple math gives us a clue:

» The proposed U.S. federal budget for the 2009 fiscal year is about $3.1 trillion. If we were to confiscate the entire wealth of America’s 400 richest citizens (278 of whom are billionaires), it would pay the cost of operating national the government for only about 147 days.

» Extending the analysis a bit further, if the entire net worth of the two richest Americans, Bill Gates at $48 billion and Warren Buffett at $41 billion, were confiscated, it would pay only the cost of running the government for a little more than 10 days.

» The proposed 2009 federal budget is projected to have a deficit of $407 billion. If we expropriate just enough money from the 400 richest Americans to cover the shortfall, it would be about one-third of their combined net worth.

Instead of confiscating the net worth of America’s richest citizens, how about taking the earnings of some of the nation’s most profitable companies to fund the government or to cover the budget deficit?  The Fortune 500 list of the most profitable businesses noted that the top 20 companies had combined net earnings (after taxes) of $266.21 billion. However, that’s only enough to run the federal government for about 26 days. Even if we confiscated their total combined earnings, it still would fund only a little more than 55 percent of the projected 2009 budget deficit.

Why is it that since 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty, the federal government has spent $8 trillion to $10 trillion on the effort to eradicate poverty, but the number of Americans who are considered poor is still about the same as it was more than 40 years ago?

Has the war on drugs been successful? The Drug War Clock offers the following information (as of May 18):

» Money spent on the war on drugs this year: federal, $7.7 billion; state, $11.8 billion; total, $19.5 billion. “The U.S. federal government spent $19 billion in 2003 on the war on drugs, at a rate of about $600 per second.”

» “Arrests for drug law violations in 2008 are expected to exceed the 1,889,810 arrests of 2006. ... Someone is arrested for violating a drug law every 17 seconds.”

» “Police arrested an estimated 829,625 persons for cannabis violations in 2006, the highest annual total ever recorded in the United States, according to statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

» “Since Dec. 31, 1995, the U.S. prison population has grown an average of 43,266 inmates per year. About 25 percent are sentenced for drug law violations.”

Why do we continue this war? There must be a better way.

The California Supreme Court recently ruled that same-sex marriage is a constitutionally protected right in the state. Does that mean polygamy is or should also be a right? Commenting in the Sacramento Bee, columnist Dan Walters noted, “Declaring that one is free to marry whomever one chooses makes it at least conceivable that plural marriages — polygamy — could be equally valid.”

Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his own blog, Opinionfest.com.


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