Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Just Say 'Bah!'"

Almost any performance by the late, great William Powell (1892-1984) is a pleasure to watch. The Thin Man films are classic sophisticated crime comedy-drama without being stuffy or condescending. A typical Nora Charles comment to her low-life husband Nick when he asked the identity of a couple who hailed them from a limousine in After the Thin Man (1936) was, "Oh, you wouldn't know them, darling. They're respectable." A quick sketch of Nick's character that managed not to insult or put down. Much.

Of course, you can always get too much of a good thing. While on an audit trip in Germany once, the only film that the Armed Forces Network seemed to have was Life With Father (1947). It followed Soul Train almost every day. And preceded it, too. As a result, the scenes are engrained in my brain. Deeply.

One of these is the scene in which Clarence Day, Sr. — played by William Powell, of course — is telling his wife (played by Irene Dunn) how to feel better when she's under the weather. Father — Mr. Day — is unaware that the boys slipped some patent medicine into her tea . . . because the label said it was "good for women's complaints" . . . "And Mother's been complaining!" a young Martin Milner (later Officer Jim Reed on Adam-12) as George says brightly.

Father's pep talk to Mother on "How To Feel Better" is quintessential Father. He doesn't let anything get him down. If he feels poorly, he just banishes the illness by saying, "Bah!" and goes about his business. Self-confidence is everything. It's all how you look at it. You refuse to give in. Just say "Bah!" Mother, a Typical Incomprehensible Female, runs crying from the room wailing that "Clare" just doesn't understand, while Father stands there completely baffled at his wife's refusal to take such sound advice.

Of course, when Father finds out that what made Mother sick was a dose of something that killed the neighbor's dog, he relents and calls the doctor and the minister. Father might be pompous and bursting with self-confidence, but he is no fool.

And that brings us to the point. In today's Washington Post, Robert Samuelson lets loose with a verbose "Bah!" about the economic downturn and the remedies proposed ("Inflation is Not the Answer," 08/25/11, A15). True, he's right that inflation is not the answer. You don't get out of a hole by digging it deeper.

You also don't get out of a hole using only the Power of Positive Thinking and maintaining that all problems are due to a lack of confidence. Be confident. Just say "Bah!" and everything will be all right.

Except that the economy has been slipped a rather heavy dose of dog poison, and nobody has thought to call the doctor.

Just saying "Bah!" isn't going to a thing. What is needed is substantial tax reform and meaningful financial reform.

Okay, you've heard this before, so we'll just quickly recap.

One, eliminate most deductions, tax credits, and all the other complications that have burdened the Internal Revenue Code and turned tax preparation from a painful civic duty into a living hell. I read a few years ago that in one major corporation the IRS maintains a permanent office and staff for continuous audit, and the corporation's annual tax return is the equivalent of 45,000 pages.

Two, end payroll taxes, merge Social Security and Medicare into general tax revenues and tax all income from whatever source derived above a meaningful personal exemption — say $30,000 per non-dependent and $20,000 per dependent — at the same rate.

Three, prohibit the Federal Reserve from dealing in government securities of any type, except to divest itself of existing holdings as the debt is repaid.

Four, provide financing for new capital formation and economic development directly to the private sector by reopening the discount window for qualified industrial, commercial and agricultural paper issued interest-free (but not cost-free) by commercial banks to finance capital projects.

Five, extend such credit in ways that make new owners out of people who currently own little or no capital.

If you want to advance these goals, don't just sit (or stand) around saying "Bah!" and wondering at the ineffectiveness of your solution. Join the Coalition for Capital Homesteading. Father (we don't know about William Powell) would approve.

#30#

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