How Low Can You Go? Shoot Now, Think Later


Shoot Now, Think Later

Conservatives everywhere are trying to outdo each other. Cut off welfare after two years? Make that just 60 days in some states. End social benefits to illegal immigrants? Make that legal immigrants too. Add the death penalty for some federal crimes? Why not for more?

Revolutions often set off this kind of spiral. According to the New York Times, when a right-wing talk radio host in California recently proposed offering bounties to people who shot illegal immigrants after they crossed the border, a caller suggested shooting Mexicans before they entered the U.S. so Americans wouldn't have to pay for the funerals.

Finally a right-winger who believes in prevention.


Just Compensation

In the debate over NAFTA, Michael Kinsley proposed compensation for Americans who lost $16-an-hour jobs to Mexicans making $3 an hour. A columnist in Forbes was unmoved. "Here we have an American who has for years charged the rest of us $16 for something we ought to have been able to buy for $3," wrote Steven E. Landsburg, who teaches economics at the University of Rochester. "Fairness dictates that he and others who have benefited from protectionism compensate the majority of their countrymen . . . who have borne the burden." And so, quite logically, Professor Landsburg proposed that "every American who loses his job as a result of NAFTA should have a portion of his assets confiscated by the U.S. Treasury. The proceeds can be used to fund a general tax cut."

As an academic, Professor Landsburg will doubtless appreciate the logic of a related idea proposed a number of years ago to set taxes, not according to what people earn, but according to their earning potential. A professor of economics, for example, could clearly be making much more money income on Wall Street but must be remaining in academic life only for other equally valuable, but untaxed benefits, such as long vacations. Obliging Professor Landsburg to pay taxes on his true total income, equal to that of an investment banker, will not be only more equitable; it will inspire him to earn more money and therefore help the economy grow faster.

The IRS will be waiting for his check.


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Alternatives to Public Television

The new Republican crime bill requires states to toughen up their prisons, but some state legislators want to go further. In February, three Tennessee Republicans introduced a bill to allow canings on courthouse steps, and an Arkansas House committee is working on a bill to reinstate public hanging.

Of course, public punishment was one of the earliest forms of public entertainment, going back to crucifixions and stonings. And with PBS being cut back, it only makes sense for Republicans to look for alternative forms of government-sponsored entertainment, especially those like caning and hanging that reinforce good conservative themes. Court TV is fine, but it stops just where Punishment TV could pick up. The only question is whether this is really an appropriate function for the public sector. Jones Intercable, which carries Newt Gingrich's college course, recently expressed an interest in buying PBS. That could solve the whole problem.

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