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A Modest Proposal

October 18, 2017
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 Recently, two different people expressed the same sentiment with which I find myself in whole-hearted agreement.  One man mentioned he insisted his daughters pay a part of their college expense from money they earned themselves.  Another business owner stated he would never again have a standard “pension plan” that gave his employees an “automatic” benefit from the company. 

 What concept did these successful entrepreneurs share? “Skin in the Game” is the phrase they both used.  They feel that loyalty, dedication and caring stem in large part from ‘self-interest.’  Sound familiar?  It should.  It’s the foundation of the Capitalist System:  That workers are not paid what Big Brother dictates, but are paid (indirectly or directly) relative to how well their efforts contribute to profit. Therefore, they have a stake in the business succeeding: The business does well, they share in the wealth. 

 Of course, thanks to almighty government regulations, it is sometimes difficult to reward employees suitably.  I remember a client who distributed sealed envelopes to each of his 40-plus employees at Christmas.  The amount was subjective.  I asked him how he determined who got how much.  He said, “I know my people and they know me.  I try to be fair and I tell them they earned this bonus.  They know when we make money and when we don’t.”  Then he added, “Thank God, I don’t have 100 employees.  If I did, I don’t know if I could be truly fair.”  He announced at the annual Christmas party, openly and factually, how well the company had done that year and thanked them for their hard work. While they never said as much, the workers at that company always felt they were part of a team. 

 Certainly on a larger scale, Skin in The Game has become institutionalized as ‘Profit Sharing’ often in a formal regulated Plan.  Nevertheless, it is Skin in the Game.

 Skin in the Game is a meaningful concept in the broader world: not just work, but also in politics, and in democracy.  Lately, I think we are forgetting that we citizens of these United States are a team and we do have – or should have – a stake in our society. Unfortunately, the more I look around, the more I see cries of “Me, me, me” drowning out cries of “We” or “Us.”  We are divided against ourselves, and Abraham Lincoln articulated what that forebodes. It seems every little (or big) enclave has its own agenda, its own lobbyists and/or apologists; and each seeks not only to aggrandize its own patch but to scorch yours at the same time.

 I am not a fan of “social work” or social engineering. To me, it sounds like another way to wangle a handout or to salve a guilty conscience. Intellectually, I know that isn’t accurate. But that does nothing to sway my attitude. 

 Growing up in southern Delaware, I lived in an environment completely different from that of New York City, Miami or even Wilmington.  Schools were mostly segregated. Locally, there was little racial tension or strife.  In fact, there seems to be much more and more pronounced ethnic division (not just racial) today.  Confrontation is not so much to protest indignity as it is to garner headlines.  Can any and all publicity – good or bad, notorious or glorious – be equally supportive?  I think not. 

 So who has Skin in the Game? We all should. We should all be responsible for the outcomes of society, our bounty and our failures.  How do we do this?  Can it be legislated?  Yes, to some extent, it can be.  Should it be. . . .  You decide.

 Here is a modest proposal.  Let’s give everyone the obligation – assuming they are able – to participate in and support our United States Government.  First, we need to revive a sleeping giant: The ‘Draft.’  It should apply to both males and females equally and include “National Service” as an option whether as an assistant Park Ranger, a VA Hospital orderly, an NIH researcher, a mathematician at Los Alamos or a member of the Armed Forces. If nothing else, it will force diverse populations to mix with one another and get to know individuals of a group rather than as an assumed stereotype. This socialization will also encourage and facilitate the integration and assimilation of our immigrant population. Spanish, Urdu, Arabic or French will not be accepted as one’s principal language. “Participation” is Skin in the Game.

 Second, half the population pays no Federal Income Tax.  (And over half the Income Tax is paid by only 5% of the population!) That is not fair.  What stake do these people have in the federal budget or in directing government spending other than to themselves?  We should institute a minimum income tax that applies equally to all of the working population. Also, cashable income credits need to be reviewed and eliminated.  They are a disincentive to industry (as its alternative) and encourage dependency and sloth.

 Further, democracy is a ‘participatory exercise.’  As a citizen, did you vote?  If not, don’t complain that your representative is not following your desires.  If you don’t support and contribute to the nation, you really should have no standing when it comes time to complain. Of course, the free speech guaranteed you by law assures you the right to grouse freely and openly. Our constitution secures us many rights, but not that of violently attacking those with whom we disagree; the right to assembly, but not to riot or to provoke violence.

 We don’t seem to be interested in “getting along” with our fellow-citizens or even knowing them if we can just congregate with more people like us. That stifles the gene pool and creates ghettos whether physical or mental and leads to the constant reinforcement of a limited outlook.  It may be prejudice.  It may be ignorance.  A return to National Service would ‘shake up’ those limited perceptions and help our young people learn some rules of life, including the fact that There Is No Free Lunch, surely not forever. And that Life is What You Make of It as well as some other platitudes I won’t bore you with.

 The point:  Without Skin In The Game, there is little or no motivation for many of our citizens to become contributing members of society. . .   What do you think?