When I'm president, I'll announce a ten year plan to get government out of the business of printing physical money. That will be plenty of time for private industry to migrate to smartphone and debit/credit card payment systems alone. I'll make the move in part to save the government money and make things more convenient for everyone. But the main objective is to reduce dangerous drug use. Once you take paper money out of the system, it becomes very hard for dealers to do what they do without detection.

I'm only talking about the most dangerous recreational drugs. I'll let states decide what they want to do about marijuana. Removing paper money from the system should make it nearly impossible for kids to buy weed without being detected. And in a cashless world, marijuana won't be a gateway drug because there won't be a practical way to buy the hard stuff. (I stole this idea from a friend.)

Having solved the drug problem on the first day of my presidency, I'll have some free time to work on the economy and on healthcare. My plan is to treat those two problems as part of a whole. Allow me to weave this brilliant tapestry of conceptual awesomeness right in front of your eyes.

I'll start by proposing a new tax to any industry in the healthcare field, including businesses involved in fitness, drug rehab, and anything else that directly contributes to wellness. You hate that part of my plan, right? But wait. I'll also propose a tax exemption to this new tax for companies that hire anyone who hasn't had healthcare coverage for the past year, so long as the new job provides health coverage on day one.

The idea still sucks, right? Now you have an obnoxious new federal tax on wellness businesses, and the only way they can duck the tax is by hiring more people than their businesses require. But hold on, the clever part is coming.

Imagine tens of millions of people suddenly becoming new consumers of healthcare and wellness products. That's a lot of money getting pumped into the very industry I'm forcing to do unwanted hiring. Conveniently, the new employees will be needed to handle the new influx of business.

Obviously it's hard to add unskilled and wrong-skilled people to the healthcare industry overnight. The industry would need to provide training in many cases. But I'm defining wellness so broadly that jobs might include gym attendants, helpers to visit the elderly and make sure they take their meds, and other back office work that requires no medical experience.

Let's say this idea is still a big drag on the wellness industry. They simply can't make enough money from the sudden uptick of new business to compensate for the cost of training, paying, and providing health insurance for the new employees. That's where the next part of my plan comes in: I'd propose forcing the rich to buy stock in American companies in the wellness field at whatever amounts my team of crack economists figures would support the stock prices enough to compensate for the cost of adding new employees. Forcing the rich to buy overpriced stock in an industry that is experiencing unprecedented demand isn't nearly as bad as taxing them and then throwing their money down a government hole. The rich would have a decent chance of making a good return on their mandatory healthcare stock purchases in the long run. And it's harder for a multimillionaire to whine about forced stock ownership compared to direct taxation.

Obviously this sort of plan would need lots of attention to prevent abuse. You don't want companies hiring a new employee and firing an existing one the same day just to get the tax benefits.  I'd propose substantial whistleblower rewards to prevent cheating, and stiff penalties for the offending companies. Most of the bigger companies wouldn't take the risk of gaming the system and getting caught. And I'd exempt smaller companies from this plan.

Clearly there would be plenty of resistance to this complicated government plan because many citizens believe the government ruins whatever it touches. I am sympathetic to that view. But keep in mind that the government is already deeply into the businesses of healthcare and taxation and economic stimulation. I'm just suggesting the government could do it more effectively by goosing one particular industry in the right direction.

The magic of this plan is that the healthcare and wellness field is one of the few that could absorb vast numbers of relatively unskilled workers. That's true in part because it's a profitable industry, and partly because it requires so much human interaction. A robot can't draw blood samples, drive grandma to her doctor's appointment, teach a fitness class, or manage a rehab center. I assume most of the new employees to this field would be diverted to the fields of prevention as opposed to standard medical practice. And we know that prevention is better economics than treatment, so everyone wins.

I can also imagine companies getting creative in terms of what qualifies as health and wellness. A new employee might be asked to set up single-purpose Skype systems for elderly people living at home, so they can be reminded to take meds, and checked on regularly. Maybe another job involves organizing a neighborhood to take daily walks. It wouldn't be hard to create new jobs in that field.

When that many unemployed people get absorbed into the workforce it stimulates the economy and puts the budget back on a healthy trajectory. If you're keeping count, so far I've solved the drug problem, healthcare, unemployment, the sluggish economy, and the budget deficit. That takes care of my first month on the job as President of the United States.

Next I'd deal with those pesky Iranians by offering college scholarships in the United States for the children and grandchildren of the top leaders in the Iranian military and government. My theory is that kids are the only topic with enough emotional power to make a parent forget everything that seemed important yesterday. Sure, the Iranian leaders might want to destroy the Great Satan and the Little Satan too, but what they want even more is for their kids to have world-class educations. In the short run, the offer of college scholarships might make the Iranian leaders more flexible about nukes. In the long run, the cross-pollination would be healthy. And even if the Iranians say no to the idea, it's hard to fully commit to hating a country that makes that sort of offer.

By my sixth month in office, I would run out of problems to solve.

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Jun 23, 2012
Marijuana has recently been found to be 20 times more likely to cause cancer than a cigarette. In the interests of a national healthcare system, it'll have to remained banned because the country can't afford the spike in cancer treatment if it were legalized. Also tougher penalties would be needed as a deterrent because I don't want my healthcare costs going up. If it's okay for NYC to ban large sodas in the interests of public health, keeping cancer causing drugs illegal should also remain banned.

Scott said: "And in a cashless world, marijuana won't be a gateway drug because there won't be a practical way to buy the hard stuff. (I stole this idea from a friend.)"

Bartering will take over.

[Can you provide a link to the study that says marijuana has a link to cancer? The last study I saw on the topic showed that chronic pot users had better lung capacity than non-users. -- Scott]

IMO if you were elected president the first thing you should do is write a book called the Dilbert Presidency. I'm sure it'd sell a ton. I'm surprised you haven't wrote it already. I mean asking people $25 bucks so they could read a 400 page campaign advertisement? Why haven't you written it?
Jun 23, 2012
First problem: getting rid of cash. I like it on a lot of levels. But if you think getting rid of cash is going to get rid of people paying for illegal things, dream on. A black market economy will easily spring up to handle this.

Let me state again: it is *impossible* to stop drugs, prostitution, etc., just as it's impossible to stop file copying. People will find a way. As an engineer, given a situation with an impossible to stop scenario, doesn't it make more sense to find solutions that work with the problem and ackowledge that rather than trying to make something impossible possible?

I've already bought thing using an underground economy on so many different levels. Doesn't have to be illegal.
1. Favors - I've done favors for someone for trade.
2. Trade - trade stuff. Trade sex for drugs, which people do now. How will you stop that?
3. underground economy - bitcoin. I've bought things using bitcoin. I can drugs with it, too.
The list goes on.

[Good luck trading sex and favors for heroin. At some point your dealer needs actual money. And I don't know how your dealer trades bitcoins for cash either. By your argument, we should make alcohol and cigarettes legal for kids because they will get them anyway. Do you see no benefit in making it harder? -- Scott
Jun 23, 2012
Phantom II re: [the government does NOT print money!]
Scott is talking about physical money, which the government definitely does print - the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

The Federal Reserve is pretty independent, but was established by congress and is subject to congressional oversight. The Board of Governors of the Fed are chosen by the President and confirmed by the Senate, so it can't be considered as separate from the government.
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2012
Methinks you underestimate the ingenuity of drug addicts to get what they want.

The best solution to the drug problem is to legalize it. All of it. Drug users are getting drugs anyway so what's the point of throwing money at it.

If people are buying legally you can find out who's buying it and help them instead of locking them up in jail where they'll just turn into worse criminals.

You also save billions of dollars in drug enforcement spending, stop trillions of dollars going overseas every year (thus vanishing from the economy) and put the drug dealers out of business.

If there's no profit in it then the drug pushers will stop going to schools, etc., to give away "free samples". Less young people will be exposed to hard drugs that way so less people will take hard drugs as an adult.

You also take away stuff like gangs, burglaries to pay for drugs, muggings to pay for drugs, girls being forced into prostitution to pay for their habit, etc.

Win, win, win, win.

Marijuana isn't a "gateway". That's just government cool-aid. People who are going to take hard drugs will do it with or without marijuana.

Going out to buy marijuana from criminals means they'll give you free samples of other stuff to try so it might be a "gateway" in that sense ... but that's solved by legalizing drugs. Another win for legalization.

When talking about drug legalization you have to remember that people are getting all the drugs they could ever want despite it being illegal. Being illegal doesn't create less drug addicts, it creates problems.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2012
Phantom II: "Do you ever come up with any solution that doesn't make people more enslaved to government, and which doesn't leave people with less power over their lives and less of the money they earn in their pockets?"
What is your problem?
You aren't "enslaved" by your government, the government is /your/ agency. In fact, it's the only one, since you can vote for it. How about you learn how to use it? It's there for you. And it's tame. Remember all the rules about what and how to collect evidence and whatnot so that it's admissible? Compare that with how facebook collects data and has to be fought every step of the way. (Using laws passed by your government, incidentally.)

As for "keping money I earn", great. On the one side there's the government you can have a say over and which needs to justify its expenses and on the other hand you've got a bunch of corporations you have no control over at all, each sending teams of high-flying psychologists and whatnot after you in order to manipulate you and make you buy stuff you don't need.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2012
"By my sixth month in office, I would run out of problems to solve."
You've forgotten China, North Korea and a couple of treaty obligations in that regard.
So, add another month to your presidency, before you'll have time to draw cartoons again.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2012
That was fun to read!

But the idea of placing hostages into the enemy's hands isn't a new one and it's likely the iranians know how to play that game, too. They will probably insist on a cultural echange involving at least one of Obamas daughters.
Jun 23, 2012
[get government out of the business of printing physical money] - apart from the fact that it is not the government who prints money, I think the solution is much simpler - the government monopoly of ISSUING money should be get out. This is the root cause of problem.
Anyway, if you stop to print paper money in the U.S., it won't help. In such situations people quickly start using other reliable currencies as alternative. So the dry cleaner would accept, I don’t know, Canadian Dollars instead of US$, or Mexican Peso in the south. You can make it illegal, of course, but it only creates new brunch of mafia business. (Many times during last 50 years all over the world wee situations when government money ceased to exist/lost all value, usually because of state bankrupt, and were replaced by alternative currencies, so there are a lot of case studies.)
Also, there is much more paper dollars outside of U.S. then inside. It will take long, long time before all of them will be used up.
Jun 23, 2012
Scott - tell me again about how you're an economist?

I hate to be the one to tell you, but <pause for effect> the government does NOT print money!!! I know this is a shock for you to find out, as an economist and a really smart guy, but they don't. It appears your economics courses didn't cover monetary policy. You should ask for your money back. I guess in your June 22 strip, you were talking about yourself.

The Federal Reserve Bank, which is not a part of our government, prints money. I really don't want to be insulting here, but if you're going to start out recommending something, you first need to understand how things presently work.

So let's reason together. The Fed prints the money. They control the money supply. When the government wants to spend more money, they go to the Fed, whose chairman (currently Ben Bernanke) says, "OK, US government, we'll buy your federal debt. You write us an IOU for a trillion dollars. We will then print a trillion and give it to you to spend on really important things, like investing in Solyndra. If you want more money, just let us know, and we'll buy more of your debt and print more money for you to spend."

During the Obama administration, they've done this twice and are about to do it a third time. We all worry about the Chinese - but the Fed now holds more of our debt than any other creditor.

Your idea of a cashless society is great, but it is such a moot point. The debt is the problem, not the medium in which the money is presented.

I'd love to have discussions on your ideas with you, but when you start out from a false premise and move into a solution that makes government into more of our masters than they already are, you're just exacerbating the problem. Do you ever come up with any solution that doesn't make people more enslaved to government, and which doesn't leave people with less power over their lives and less of the money they earn in their pockets?

You really do have a future in politics. Unfortunately, it's just more of the roadmap to slavery that our government has been working to perfect over the last sixty years.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 22, 2012
The no-cash idea is intriguing. Within ten years, it probably could work, and would put a huge dent in organized crime - not just drugs. Yes, there'd be substitutions and front businesses, but it would make it much tougher on the street-level crime.

The rest of the plan falls into a common trap when trying to come up with solutions: that some grand government project is the answer. That's the same hubris that brought us urban planning disasters like affordable housing ghettos, not to mention unaffordable entitlement programs. Your top-down central-planning solutions are likely to create more problems than they solve.

How about market-based improvements:
Allow competition for health insurance across states.
Eliminate the connection between having health insurance and a "good" job (which is a carry-over from WWII wage controls that is continued only because of crazy tax treatment: companies deduct the expense, but employees don't have to claim the perk as compensation). Doing away with that tax loophole would be revenue positive and discourage the "Cadillac" plans that are helping to drive costs so high. Then everyone could compete on the national insurance market. This would drive down costs and improve results - not trying to micro-manage every aspect via regulation. The absence of the price mechanism is causing health costs to skyrocket.
Jun 22, 2012
Eliminating paper money is going to be a problem for the poor - between 17 and 30 million Americans don't have a bank account - so no debit card, credit card or Paypal.

It will be good from preventing counterfeiting though - I just read that it is estimated that North Korea makes $15 million to $25 million in US currency a year.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 22, 2012
I don't see taking away paper money stopping drug sales more just cutting credit card companies in on the action. Right now you can accept credit card payments on your smartphone rather easily or even just pay someone back money they owed you with a credit card through your phone. There are plenty of dumb business ideas that would be hard to prove aren't actually making as much money as the drug dealers are. You could start up a record label and sell some crappy albums you recorded for about the same price as a crack rock and accept credit card payment for that crack rock.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 22, 2012
Two word: money laundering. Drug dealers will set up shell businesses, or services where they perform odd jobs for cash. Sure, everything is still more traceable than paper money, and it will make operations more expensive, but there's ways around it.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 22, 2012
I think Scott's idea of digital cash is nothing short of a stroke of genius. Everyone would have to declare their incomes digitally. Could criminals just make up phony services that they say they performed? Yes...but a drug-dealer can only paint so many fences in one day. His income will effectively be capped unless he's very sophisticated about representing his financial transactions.

Seems to me that cash-in-hand dealings give rise to financial black holes which allow unscrupulous persons to get away with murder. Literally murder in some cases. The legit fence-painters have nothing to fear from declaring their incomes. The technology, of course, would have to be improved. Paying someone over Paypal is too much of a chore at the moment.

To be sure, this scheme wouldn't stomp out all organized crime. Bankers will continue to get away with fraud by hiding it behind a web of complexity. It can't be easy, however, to be that kind of criminal (or all criminals would do it).
Jun 22, 2012
I'll try to rewrite this again (first submission failed).

"But the main objective is to reduce dangerous drug use."

So then why don't we address that problem directly rather than from the periphery. Why do people need to use drugs in the first place? Start asking that question.

"Imagine tens of millions of people suddenly becoming new consumers of healthcare and wellness products."
Do you know something we don't know? Where will this sudden demand come from?

Jun 22, 2012
i seriously might vote for you in november.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 22, 2012
So much screaming every time somebody proposes phasing out the penny, or moving from $1 notes to $1 coins ... and you think you can pass a law on day one to phase out cash entirely. Dream on!

If by some miracle to did achieve this - we'd need some radical education policy to teach people how to budget in a no-cash economy. Millions of people avoid credit cards today because they know that they do not have the skills to do this (and millions more are unaware that they lack these skills and keep using credit cards anyway, paying 25%, 30% or more on revolving credit lines in these days of virtually zero interest rates).
Jun 22, 2012
Mr Future President,

How will you solve the problem that prevents solutions themselves, government Gridlock?

What will you do if 2/3 of Congress overrules every suggestion, and the Supreme Court strikes down whatever Congress missed?
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 22, 2012

I'd be interested on your thoughts on replacing a system that taxes people on their income with a system that taxes people based on their energy use. It seems like the biggest complaints would come from economy hawks, but after the dust settles I see a lot of benefits. We'd be incented to decrease energy use, we'd pay our taxes in realtime as we use energy (so no filing of taxes), and the poor would pay essentially no taxes. You might exempt energy used for food production to keep food costs down. Beef prices would rightly skyrocket, as would gasoline prices, forcing innovation and incentivizing healthy lifestyles. It would place a burden on companies and energy middle-men, but there'd be no corporate taxes, so it seems like that would be a wash. Also seems like it would eliminate fraud.

Also interested in your thoughts on getting rid of real-estate taxes to pay for primary and secondary education. A flat 1% tax on income and a system for distributing that money that removes city and county lines seems more equitable (and I agree with you that "fair" doesn't exist) and simple. The better you do in your profession, the more you give back.
Jun 22, 2012
"Imagine tens of millions of people suddenly becoming new consumers of healthcare and wellness products. That's a lot of money getting pumped into the very industry I'm forcing to do unwanted hiring. Conveniently, the new employees will be needed to handle the new influx of business."

The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.
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