Friday, July 10, 2020

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The incidence of crime in the U.S. has fallen by approximately 50% in the last 25 years.  But there were still over one million violent crime and seven million property crime in 2018 across the country.  That means about 1 in 40 of every American is affected by the commission of a crime each year.

So, it is hardly surprising then that for the most part, American do not feel safer.  In polls those surveyed consistently respond that they think crime is getting worse and list it as one of the most important issues facing the country.

The knee jerk reaction has always been to “get tough on crime.”  As a result, we have poured resources into law enforcement and incarcerated a larger percentage of our population than any other country on earth.  But there is a growing body of evidence that the indiscriminate increase in sanctions is no longer moving the needle and has many unintended and adverse impacts.  If we are going to build on the progress we have made on reducing crime in that last half century, we must develop more thoughtful, innovative data-based approaches.

How governments manage their finances gets far less attention than it deserves.  The intricacies of government finances make it a difficult topic for popular media to cover.  But as with any household or business, if the finances are not in order, nothing is going to work.

The finances for most governments today, at every level, are not on sustainable courses.  And they are racking up debt at a breath-taking pace and dramatically under investing in basic infrastructure.  At the epicenter of the crisis are the promises government has made to future retirees. This will be the most significant challenge we will face over the next generation.  It is past time for a serious public discussion about the management of our government finances.

The conundrum of designing a fair and efficient tax system is as old as civilization.  Our tax system has grown absurdly complex, as various groups have jockeyed to avoid taxation.   Billions of dollars are spent on tax law compliance alone. There is ample evidence that many parts of our tax system are neither fair nor efficient and introduce substantial distortions into our economy.  Reforming our tax systems must be a priority.

Flooding causes more damage than any of the other natural disasters in the U.S.  Of course, it has particularly devastating for certain parts of the country. Houston has suffered the most.  Damages from flooding have been greatly exacerbated by poor development practices and the under investment in flood control infrastructure.  With the likelihood of worse flooding in the future, there must be a sustainable, effective public policy that addresses this issue.

Public infrastructure is the basic framework for civilized society.  We use it provided potable water, maintain sanitary conditions, provide for mobility and communications.  We have under investing in our public infrastructure for decades. That under investment is resulting degraded public health, traffic congestion, poor mobility options, and incalculable inefficiency costs.  With burden on taxpayers already stretched, developing strategies to restore adequate infrastructure funding is critical.

As our society has chosen to live in greater densities, coordination in how individuals use their private property has become the subject of much discussion, debate and regulation.  Increasingly development regulation has been used as a tool to promote various development patterns deemed, by some at least, to be beneficial. Achieving a balance between private property rights and society’s need for orderly development will continue to be a challenge.

Homelessness has become an epidemic in the U.S.  Both the homeless and the surrounding neighborhoods are victimized by this growing phenomenon.  There are nearly as many pathways to homelessness as there are homeless, but it is clear that mental illness and addiction are a large part of the problem.  For the sake of those trapped in the vicious cycle of homelessness and those whose lives are adversely affected by the homeless, we must do a better job of dealing with this complex, multi-faceted problem.

The exploitation of human beings by other human beings is certainly nothing new.  But our society has increasingly come to view it as unacceptable and to recognize it is more widespread than many believe.  In the U.S. the overwhelming majority of trafficking is related to the sex trade. There are those who believe that the actions of consensual adults should not be regulated at all.  However, judging the degree to which such conduct is actually consensual versus being coerced is not always clear. Adopting policies that protect innocent victims of trafficking must be a priority of civilized society.

Our Founding Fathers recognized that the power to govern could not be left the good intentions of those in power.  They established a set of checks and balances in the Constitution to insure that one man or sect could unilaterally seize power.  Today we have extended and refine such checks and balances to every level of government seeking to provide efficient government that does not abuse its powers.  But attempting to do so is a never-ending challenge.

Demographics and economics are the base sciences for all public policy.  There can be no understanding of the effects of public policy without a thorough analysis of the economics involved.

Auguste Comte is credited by many with first saying that “demographics is destiny.”  And while some have challenged this adage it has proven itself true time and again. Demographics are particularly prescient today.  Immigration, the long term viability or effects of Social Security, Medicare, retirement plans, future infrastructure needs, along with a host of other  are all dramatically affected by future demographics patterns.