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  • Judge Jim Gray

Common Ground Issues

Dare I say it: Our country has virtually no leadership today. Leadership means discerning and sponsoring approaches that will help people, even if they are presently misunderstood or unpopular. What are some of those issues? Here are five of them that expressly fit that definition and where I believe we all can find common ground:

1. Education: The failure of too many of our schools adequately to educate our children is probably the biggest problem issue facing our country today. Think of it this way: Education is probably the only area in our economy where the providers dictate what the customers will purchase. The effective answer? Empower parents to choose where the government money will be spent for the education of their children. That will bring competition back into education where good schools and teachers will thrive, and poor schools and teachers will either get better or be replaced by others who do a better job.

2. Healthcare: P.J. O’Rourke probably said it best: “If you think that healthcare is expensive now, wait ‘til it’s free.” Before the government bureaucracy became involved in healthcare we all, by and large, had high quality service for reasonable prices. But then Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society increasingly inserted government into the system. And, with each incursion, bureaucracy and prices increased and quality decreased. The answer is to get government out! But what about the poor? Good question. On a sliding scale provide them with vouchers that they can use for their healthcare needs on the open market – but always with some co-pay, even if it is modest, because totally free will both be abused and unappreciated. So, once again, competition works!

3. War and Peace: The most important issue a government can address is whether or not to go to war. Our nation’s Founders realized this and as a result expressly stated in our Constitution that the authority to declare war belongs solely to Congress. Why is that so important? Why can’t Congress continue to issue so-called War Powers Acts to authorize the president to do whatever he (or, hopefully someday soon, she) feels is appropriate? Because this would force Congress publicly to debate critical questions like who and where is the enemy? What is the threat to our security or national interests? What are our goals, and how will we know when we have achieved them so we can bring our troops home? And it would also force Congress to take responsibility for their decisions. Had we followed the Founders’ dictates it is almost certain that we would not have “gone to war” in places like Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya or the Sudan. And we would have also set goals for our actions in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, which would probably have been met after only a few months, instead of staying in combat there for 20 years! Think of the damages done to our loyal fighting troops as well as to the local populations that could have been avoided – and also think of the money we could have saved! The Founders were right, and shame on us for allowing the demands of our Constitution not to be followed!

4. Immigration: We are a nation of immigrants – and that has made us strong. But it is we who should decide who comes to our country and not the immigrants. So we should set up a system that allows and even encourages people to come and work here and to pursue the American Dream. Thus we must control our borders and, furthermore, no government welfare should be involved – except for truly emergency healthcare and the education of their children. And we should also offer those immigrants who contribute to our society a reasonable and workable path to citizenship.

5. Welfare System: Bluntly stated, just because I am alive does not mean that you owe me any money! But we will choose to help the downtrodden because we are basically a caring and generous people. No one is entitled to it, but we charitably believe that in our society there is a level below which we should allow any of our citizens to fall. What should that look like? I believe that we should use the approach suggested by Dr. Milton Friedman, which he called a Negative Income Tax. I don’t like the word “negative,” so instead I label it a government stipend, which I would also combine with a graduated national flat income tax. Then, with these numbers being used only for illustration, no one in our country would pay any income tax on their first $30,000. Then for each dollar made between $30,001 and $100,000 a year they would pay 12 cents to the federal government. Then they would pay 16 cents for every dollar made between $100,001 and $500,000 and, for those fortunate enough to make over $500,000, they would pay 20 cents for every dollar earned. But what about the poor? For those citizens who made no money at all, regardless of whether they had just lost their jobs, gone back to school, or were just plain lazy, they would receive a government stipend of $15,000 per year, probably broken down into monthly payments of $1,250. But, of critical importance, for each dollar they earned between nothing and $30,000, they would lose 50 cents of their stipend. Under this approach everyone would always have a financial incentive to earn the extra dollar – which is totally lacking in our welfare system today. And that would also mean that, except for people with truly special needs, we could scrap our present welfare system, with all of its fraud, bureaucracy and intrusions into our private lives. This approach would also effectively address the problems of our homeless people, because if they had $1,250 automatically deposited in their bank accounts each month, the private sector would quickly institute a system of board and care facilities that would charge, for example, $1,100 per month, which would still leave the recipients about $150 to spend upon their other needs.

Of course I do not have “all of the answers,” and I am open to other approaches to these issues that would be more effective. But today no one that I know of in government is doing anything other than playing it safe politically. And we all are worse off as a result of their lack of leadership. Shame on us all for not finding and supporting people who have the courage and foresight to demonstrate some leadership about these common ground issues. I think we are better than that. Do you agree?

This article is a reprint of an original post published on Judge Jim Gray's site. The views expressed in it are those of the author and not necessarily the views of the Libertarian Party of Orange County.

James P. Gray is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, and presently works as a private mediator and arbitrator for ADR Services, Inc. He was also the 2012 vice presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party, and can be contacted at, or through his website at

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