Jo Ann Skousen

A Tribute to Andrea Rich

For nearly half a century, Andrea and Howie Rich were the dynamic duo of libertarianism. They met while serving in the New York Libertarian Party in 1973, Andrea as its first chairman and Howie as vice chairman. While Howie worked tirelessly for the cause of term limits and as the longest serving member of the…

Why I Won’t Be Watching the Oscars

I used to love the glitz of Oscar night. I saw all the movies, reviewed them for Liberty, rooted for my favorites, and predicted the winners. I looked forward to Billy Crystal’s opening monologue, the mash-up of Best Picture nominees, the performances of the nominees for Best Songs, Barbara Walters’ pre-show interviews, the schmaltzy in…

Shaming the Blame Game by Jo Ann Skousen

The following post showed up in my Facebook feed the morning after the federal government was shut down. (Again.) It was posted by a young woman whose intelligence and compassion I admire, but whose wisdom and logic are sometimes lacking:

Our “Family Values” President pays off Porn stars he slept with while his 3rd wife was pregnant and Republican controlled Congress shut itself down. I just can’t handle all this winning.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico still has no power.

Her post is typical of the 21st century grasp on politics and public policy: Someone is to blame, and it isn’t my team. So let me muddy the waters with some non-sequiturs and ad hominem attacks. Because the other side is always wrong, no matter what they do, no matter which team I’m on. Here’s how I responded:

I don’t think he’s ever been a “family values” president (whatever that means) and it was primarily the Democrats who blocked the vote to extend the budget. But other than that….”

What followed was a flurry of comments defending Democrats and blaming Republicans, ending with “Republicans don’t want a deal, they want to blame the other side, same as always.” I found this hilarious, since the post began with my friend blaming the Republicans for everything from infidelity (a bi-partisan issue if ever there was one) to shutting down the government (when 90% of Republicans voted to extend) to the hurricane in Puerto Rico.

I laughed at the irony of how circular and disingenuous a blame game becomes—beginning with my friend implying that people who value marriage and good parenting and integrity would support Trump’s infidelity.

But the federal budget is no laughing matter. Here’s what we could do, instead of looking for someone to blame for this temporary shutdown of the federal government (which has been done many times before, and has always ended in Congress voting to award back pay to those who were temporarily furloughed):

The Real Issues

How about we address the real issue? How about we stop raising the debt ceiling and kicking the can trillions of miles down the road? How about we reduce government spending and live within our means?

If we want to do some blaming, how about we blame business for an economy where two million fewer people are getting food stamps this year than last year, because they’re working now–and paying taxes! Win win for the budget (and I kind of have to share the blame with the Republicans this year, truth be told).

How about we get out of the Middle East and stop dropping expensive bombs on dusty villages? That could reduce the budget by billions and keep a few national parks open. Heck, how about we privatize those national parks?

How about we stop incarcerating people for smoking or selling pot? That could save $70,000 a year per inmate, plus the cost of a lifetime of welfare when they get out because no one wants to hire them, plus the cost of enforcing the war on drugs.

How about we consider an across-the-board spending cut in every federal department? That would motivate bureaucrats to look for places where they’re wasting money, instead of looking for places to “use it or lose it.” That’s what families have to do when they earn less than they want to spend. Balancing the budget is a true “family value” that I could support.

I didn’t vote for Trump (although I was glad Hillary lost). I’m not  defending any politicians here. I just want the blaming and divisive team politics to end. Let’s look for genuine solutions to problems, instead of looking for someone to blame.

Jo Ann Skousen is founding director of the Anthem Libertarian Film Festival and co-producer of FreedomFest, “the world’s largest gathering of free minds,” which meets July 11-14, 2018, in Las Vegas. For information go to www.freedomfest.com or call 1855-850-3733 ext 202.

The Sneaky, Dirty, Truth about Those State and Local Taxes

New Jersey State Senate President Steve Sweeney complained to Neil Cavuto in a recent interview that “this new [federal] tax bill is going to hurt New Jersey in a big way.” Acknowledging that “one percent of New Jersey residents pay 42% of the taxes,” he warned, “We have to push the pause button on the millionaires tax” to keep millionaire residents from fleeing the state—and taking their wealth with them. He was referring specifically to the elimination of state and local taxes as a deduction from federal income taxes.

It’s about time they figured this out, because the jig is up.

The sneaky, dirty little truth about the deductibility of state and local taxes is this: High-taxing, high-spending states such as New Jersey, Minnesota, Oregon, New York, and California have been fleecing taxpayers in other states for years. How? By taking the federal taxes paid by Nevadans, Texans, Floridians, etc., and using it to refund their own state and local taxes. They could get away with their high tax rates (as high as 13%!) in part because taxes were deductible. In essence, federal taxes have been funneled into the state and local coffers of high-tax states for years.

Let’s look at a simplified, hypothetical example. Let’s suppose Floridian John Smith has an income of $2,000,000 and is in the 39% federal tax bracket, with an effective rate of about 34%. (We’re talking about the 1% here, the ones who pay 42% of the taxes, according to Sweeney.) He owes the IRS about $672,000.  (Ugh! That’s a huge amount of money!) His cousin, Jane Doe, lives in California and earns exactly the same amount of money. But she pays 13.3% income tax to California, and the real estate taxes on her modest $7 million California home are $25,000 higher than John’s property taxes. Until now, she has been able to deduct those state and local taxes from her net income, reducing her taxable income to $1,709,000. Her bill to the IRS is $615,000, or $57,000 less than John’s. In essence, taxpayers in low-tax-rate states have been carrying the big spenders in the high-tax states for way too long.

For Steve Sweeney, Jerry Brown, and legislators in other high-tax states, the game is over. New Jersey’s newly elected Governor Phil Murphy campaigned heavily to reinstate the “millionaires’ surtax” imposed on the wealthiest citizens—a tax that former Governor Chris Christie had lifted. Now Senate President Sweeney is aghast to realize that the Golden Geese can move to friendlier waters if too many of their eggs are going to be confiscated. “We can’t afford to lose thousands of people who make up a large piece of our tax base,” he admitted to Cavuto. “We have to rethink this millionaire’s tax, because they can leave.”

What a novel realization—people have choices! They can move! They can take their money with them! The besmirched 1% are finally being recognized as valuable. They run businesses, hire employees, buy homes, and pay taxes. Lots of taxes. Even Jerry Brown has suggested that California might have to rethink its budget and pull back on spending because of the new tax bill.

Most Americans are unhappy about losing the deductibility of state, local, and property taxes. At first glance, I was one of them. Why should we pay income taxes on the money we already paid in taxes? Is it “income” if you never even see it in your paycheck? But legislators of high-tax states have bilked the residents of more budget-conscious states long enough. Their sneaky, dirty little secret is out. Losing the deductibility of state and local taxes is putting pressure on legislators to be more frugal and use tax revenues more effectively. Until we can eliminate income taxes completely, that’s a step in the right direction.

Jo Ann Skousen is the founding director of the Anthem Libertarian Film Festival and the co-producer of FreedomFest, “the world’s largest gathering of free minds.” We’ll be talking about tax policy at FreedomFest this July at the Paris Resort, Las Vegas. For information go to www.freedomfest.com or call 1855-850-3733 ext 202.

 

Knights in Black Satin?

It’s awards season again, that glittery time when Hollywood elites gather to praise each other’s work, comment on each other’s clothing, and make political statements we mere mortals in suburbia couldn’t possibly understand without the help of their stunning insights.

The circuit began with the Golden Globes on January 8 and will culminate in the awarding of the Oscars on March 4. At the Globes, all the gals showed up in sexy black evening gowns to show their solidarity with women who have been mistreated, abused, harassed, or misunderstood. It made me think of junior high: “What are you going to wear?” “I don’t know, what are you going to wear?” “Muffy Sinclair is wearing plaid overalls and knee socks.” “Ooh! Me too! Me too!” Suddenly the elite of the elite were controlling what all the women would wear to the Globes. And not one dared to be different.

Regardless of how I feel about their particular issue, I find it curiously troubling that these powerful women stood up for the power to speak out by controlling what other women were going to wear. Any woman who had chosen to express her own voice by wearing red or blue or white, no matter what the reason, would have been castigated by the press and by her peers. Just as women knew they had to play the Weinstein game if they wanted a role in Hollywood, they knew they had to wear a black dress if they wanted to fit in. Nothing has changed in Hollywood. You either toe the party line or move into another career.

Let’s face it: many of these seasoned women in their glitzy black dresses had to have known all about the Hollywood casting couches long before Harvey Weinstein’s shame became public. They endured it to get ahead, and then kept quiet about it when other women had to endure it. Sorority hazing at its worst. Not until it became public and, might I say, fashionable, did they join in with their #MeToo stories. Until then, they dared not risk the careers– for which they had paid dearly– by speaking out against Weinstein and his ilk. In fact, they embraced him. They played the game. Even after they were rich enough and famous enough and awarded enough that they didn’t need to. Now, to assuage their guilt and cover their shame, they’re shouting the loudest and pointing the longest fingers. And pressuring other women to play along, like it or not. It’s okay to point a finger at the men, but don’t dare include the powerful women who helped them get away with it.

We’ll all hide together in our black dresses.

Jo Ann Skousen is the founding director of the Anthem Libertarian Film Festival, where she wears brightly colored dresses while screening great movies. The film festival is included in your ticket to FreedomFest, “the world’s largest gathering of free minds.” For information about submitting your film or attending the festivals, go to www.anthemfilmfestival.com

The Smartest Girls I Know

When I first met Deja and Zhane, they were living with their mother in a Section 8 housing unit in Yonkers, New York. Their mother was what most people would describe as a “typical welfare mom”—she got a job once in a while, although the risk of losing her benefits if the job didn’t work out made it difficult to get off welfare. But she was proud of those girls! They didn’t go out on school nights, studied hard, stayed away from boys and drugs, and won numerous school awards. When Zhane was offered the opportunity to attend a scholastic camp during the summer, her mother hustled to contact everyone she knew who might be willing to sponsor the girl with a donation of $20, $10, even $5 if they could spare it. I was one of the hustled. More than once. And I was happy to help.

I lost track of the girls when they stopped attending our church, but I ran into Deja recently at the grocery store in my middle-class neighborhood north of Yonkers, where she is working as a clerk and saving money for college. She also works at a Burger King in the evenings, but she enjoys her grocery job better. “I like the customers, and I feel like ‘somebody’ here,” she said. I asked about her sister, and we caught up.

Zhane is also working two jobs, trying to earn enough money to pay off the debts she accrued after one year of college. “She didn’t want to owe all that money,” Deja told me, “so she’s working to pay it off before she goes back to college.”

Smart girl.

According to statistics compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank and the Chronicle of Higher Education, an estimated 40 million Americans are currently saddled with outstanding student loans totaling over a trillion dollars. Many of them are well into middle age now, with little hope of ever paying off their debt. In fact, student loans are the only debt that cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, and if the loans aren’t paid off by age 65, when Social Security kicks in, payments to Sallie Mae will be deducted off the top. So add student loans to the inevitability of death and taxes—and don’t plan to leave that fancy engagement ring to your heirs, because Sallie Mae will be first in line when your will is probated.

The average student debt is $30,000, but many students owe well over $100,000 when they graduate, and it isn’t unusual today for graduate students from Ivy League schools to amass debts totaling over a quarter million dollars. Unless you’re fortunate enough to land a six- or seven-figure job, those loans will never go away. Never.

Deja and Zhane might not be in college yet, but they know the difference between “aid” and “debt.” Other college students aren’t so wise. One of my own students, repeating a required English course for the third time, was rather flippant when I cautioned her that she was amassing a huge debt without making any progress toward graduation. “I don’t have to pay for it,” she said proudly. Thinking she meant that her parents or grandparents were footing her tuition bills, I reminded her that she should be more respectful of their money. “Oh no,” she crowed, “they don’t have to pay either. The school gave me financial aid!” This poor, foolish girl thought “aid” meant “help.” She had no idea that it really meant, “Let me hold the door for you as you step into a lifetime of debtors’ prison.”

At the university where I teach, I encourage my students to purchase their textbook, an anthology of classic literature, on Amazon. Cheap, used editions are seldom available at the college bookstore because the book is updated every three years, making the older editions conveniently obsolete. Half the time the new edition is the only option, and they can’t sell it back at the end of the semester because a new edition is usually about to come out. But I don’t care which edition they use. It’s classic literature, after all! Most of my students find the book online for $5 or so (one found it for a penny!), instead of paying $120 for the new edition at the bookstore. However, last semester I received an email from the dean: “Please encourage students to purchase their books at the college bookstore. Remind them that this is to their advantage, as they cannot use their financial aid if they purchase books online.” So let me get this straight: My students are better off borrowing $120 from Sallie Mae and paying 4-8% interest for the next 20 years than they would be if they simply skipped Starbucks for one day and bought the book online with cash? What kind of new math is that?

“Learn-now, pay-later” is one of the main reasons tuition has skyrocketed in the past two decades. When students can enroll without putting a penny down, they don’t give enough thought to how much it’s going to cost them later, and colleges can raise tuition almost indiscriminately. When our daughter began college at a private southern California university 15 years ago, she was awarded a scholarship that covered 50% of her tuition. We were delighted, and budgeted accordingly as we allowed her to select this expensive school. By the time she graduated four years later, however, the scholarship was only covering 25 % of her tuition, because tuition had doubled in those four years. How can anyone plan for college, when tuition is changing that drastically?

I fear for this generation whose future is being sold for a mess of pottage. Fully 60% of students accept some kind of loan for college, without ever considering the consequences. Most of them are mere teenagers when the university’s suave, educated, comforting grown-ups tell them to sign their lives away on the dotted line because “that’s the way everybody does it.” After all, it’s financial aid. The government is helping you get ahead. Aren’t you lucky.

I’m not suggesting that these loans should be forgiven. I don’t really have a solution for the 40 million Americans who are already hopelessly strapped with debts they knowingly contracted. I certainly don’t think free college is the answer. But something has to be done. Banks would not be awarding these astronomical, uncollateralized loans to unproven debtors if the government weren’t guaranteeing the loans by making them undischargeable through bankruptcy, and college tuitions wouldn’t be rising beyond the ability to pay if these loans weren’t creating artificial demand.

As I left the grocery store that day I congratulated Deja again on her wisdom in avoiding debt. By saving her own money for college, she is more likely to spend it carefully on a degree that truly interests her, and she’ll study more effectively because she won’t want to waste the money she has worked so hard to earn. She’ll live at home with her mother and sister instead of paying $1,000 a month for dorm life, and she plans to attend community college before transferring to a university, which will also help keep her costs down. She expects to have enough saved to pay for her first year of tuition by September. And she sleeps well, knowing that her savings account, not her loan balance, is growing. Smart girl.

Jo Ann Skousen teaches literature at two universities and is the co-producer of FreedomFest. Join us at the Paris Resort in Las Vegas in July when university presidents Dianele Struppa (Chapman) and Gabriel Calzada (UFM) will debate Doug Casey and Katherine Mangu-Ward (Reason) on the topic “Is College Worth It?” For tickets go to www.archive.freedomfest.com/register-now/ or call 855-850-3733 ext 202

Is There a King in America?

by William J. Federer Do you know what has been the most common form of government in world history? From the invention of writing around 3,300 BC, the world has mostly been ruled by kings. Although called by different names — Pharaohs, Chieftains, Emperors, Caesars, Sultans, Khans, Maharajas, Monarchs, and Dictators — rulers act the…