By Micco Fay – Sundown United // Austin
1.) Why do chickens cross the road to get to the other side?
A.) To lay an egg.
B.) To be king.
C.) To be rich.
D.) To fulfill dreams.
The American Dream. It is what awaits us on the other side of the road. We are obsessively focused on it. Been driven by it. And have relished in it. The American Dream comes from our core value of individualism. It’s linked to our freedoms. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. There is more of life and liberty not only in our nation, but in the history of the world. But Happiness? It’s hard to put facts and data against emotions, even if you’re polling people. This brings us to the question of, with all of our technology, modernization, stabilization we have today, are we the happiest as a country now? If not now, then when? And either way, why? What gives us the happiness that is tied to the American Dream? The World Happiness Index report says the top 3 are Education (1st), Living Standards (2nd) and Time Use (3rd). In this article, I posit that, in order for more Americans to catch the American Dream, we must first focus on fulfilling America’s Dream of making the United States a more perfect union by promoting the general welfare of its people.
So, how do we fulfill America’s Dream so that more of its citizens can subsequently live the American Dream? It’s been quite some time since we asked all of our citizens to do for the country, but when Americans heed this call, it yields amazing results. It’s how our country was founded in 1776. It’s what kept our country together in 1864. It’s what saved the world in 1945. It’s what simultaneously took us to the moon and birthed the precursor to the modern internet in 1969. I think it’s time we began tapping the intangible American spirit to increase our chances at happiness.
To do this, I propose we invest some of our Time Use and put it towards Americans collectively acquiring better Education and Living Standards as a nation. Wait, what?!? Did I just say that? Take away free time?!? Yes, I did. What if we each took a piece of our free time and invested it into better Education and Living Standards? Since Education and Living Standards both have a denser contribution to happiness than Time Use, this should result in increased happiness! I even have an exact, quantative number of the amount of time use I am suggesting: 8 hours a year. Let’s all collectively agree and hold each other accountable to investing 8 hours each year towards improving America’s Education level and Standards of Living.
This re-investment of free time even has a precedent for success: Google. Google shot to the top list of companies at near impossible with near impossible growth rates in a short amount of time. Nearly all of this is fueled by the constant innovation of Google products. And that constant innovation is no accident. Google hires some of the best talent across the Globe and puts them to work on projects, services and sales just like any other company. But then gives back to their employees one particularly significant perk: time for chasing dreams. 20% of a Google employee’s work week can be logged against the development of pet projects of the employee’s choosing. The employee can work on whatever they want, so long as it falls within a list of guidelines. Although this “free time” can absolutely be squandered on laziness or dead end projects, many times it has not. We have all enjoyed many fruits of its labor. Gmail. Google News. Google Talk. Google Books. There are even self-driving cars already developed and on the highways in Nevada, though still in a Beta phase, but have logged tens of thousands of miles. Google has profited from some of these, while others have just added to the overall branding and standing of Google, which itself adds to the value of the company.
However, how do we hold each other accountable for the re-investment of free time in the context of a nation, not a business? In Israel, when young citizens graduate from high schools and turn 18, they must then do public service for up to three years in the military or national service before pursuing their future, be it higher education, work, etc. This helps to foster a sense of nationalism and community amongst young Israelis. I, however, propose something different yet similar for America, something far more modest yet far more long term: Eight (8) hours of public service. Each American, starting from the age of 18 and no longer enrolled in k-12, will be asked to give 8 hours of public service a year. This can be executed within a wide range of opportunities:
1.) Volunteering for a 501c non-profit entity.
a.) Boys and Girls club
b.) Food Bank
c.) Soup Kitchen
2.) Volunteering with a government agency.
a.) Highway cleanup
b.) Homeless Shelter
c.) Animal Control
3.) Volunteering with a permit driven, public sponsored event
a.) Tutoring k-12 students
b.) Activities with the elderly
c.) After school activities with children
4.) Providing sanctioned professional services pro bono.
a.) Legal Services
b.) Medical Care
c.) Child Care
However, it’s not enough to ask. We need to provide motivation, incentive… both positive and negative. Constitutionally, the only way to hold each other accountable or provide incentive for anything in America is through time and money, better known as imprisonment and taxes. I propose we focus on using the latter as a tool: taxes. Taxes can be used as both a deterrent and an incentive for actions or behaviors. I propose we impose a progressive, national tax of 0.5% not to exceed 1% on any type of payroll or capital gains. American Citizens can have half of this tax deducted by doing 4 hours of community service and the full tax waived if they volunteer 8 hours.
To build upon this incentive, a tax deduction can be garnered if a citizen volunteers 20 additional hours or more. There would be a cap of 50 hours to which reduction would be made against. The dollar value of deduction of income would be just like a wage, something like $50 of deductions an hour. Therefore, in this example put together, a citizen could volunteer up to 50 hours and get a $2500 tax deduction against their income.
This tax cut is paid for by a reduction in dollars budgeted by the federal government towards public programs. Ideally, the extra volunteer hours would offset the reduction in dollars. The reduction would be across the board for all grants and budgets to public projects, but not government research. Additionally, the money gained from taxing citizens who do not volunteer will go towards this same budget funding the tax cut.
And there it is. A program that pushes volunteering and rewards people for it, yet provides a negative incentive for those who don’t. And it even provides a pipeline of potential revenue back for community projects! This volunteer machine that would begin churning would provide a huge boost to the altruistic sector of our civilization. This investment would make noble use of our time, increasing Education through actions like tutoring and Living Standards through additional man hours with Habitat for Humanity. And most importantly, it would empower Americans to fulfill America’s Dream of being a more perfect union; a place where we work together to cross our proverbial roads to get to our individual American Dreams.